Have you thought about writing your family history but aren’t sure exactly how you want to do it?
In the “olden” days (like, more than 20 years ago!), if you were a self-published author, writing a book was pretty much done on a typewriter, taken to some type of printing company to run “X” number of copies and then sent to a bookbinder.
The writing process was slow, sometimes taking months or even years, and often meant having 400 our of 500 books left over, sitting in the garage. That was besides the expense of printing the volumes.
Thankfully, the genealogical writing process now offers many choices to an aspiring writer. Many of those options are free, or very inexpensive, and have the decided advantages of being able to be shared with close family or the entire world and everything in between.
21st century tools that you’ll be using to create your family history stories include two that are probably not far from your hands at this very moment – your computer/laptop/tablet and your cell phone.
Are you ready to jump in and get started?
First – Before you begin your project, you need to know your end goal, as that will definitely influence HOW you create your project.
For example, do you want to share family anecdotes? If so, you might want to use a storytelling app.
There are a number of storytelling apps available for free, along with some fee based products. Scroll down to the links at the bottom of this post for some possibilities.
Is your goal to find other, more distant family members and/or reach a wider audience of genealogists? Then your choice could possibly be starting a blog.
WordPress and Blogger are the most common programs used by bloggers today and both are free. I have never used Blogger, but WordPress can be hosted for free or the writer can choose to self host (which is not free!).
If you are seriously considering beginning a blog, don’t be intimidated! Both WordPress and Blogger are fairly easy to use, right from the beginning.
To help you decide how you might want your blog to look in terms of formatting and the content you was to include, take a moment and visit GeneaBloggers TRIBE, which numbers over 3,000 bloggers in their membership. There are also some great links, including Resources, which can guide you through the decisions to be made getting started. You’ll also be able to browse through the blog list and visit a few blogs that are up and running.
Do you want to create a book that covers many family generations? In that case, something as simple as Word (and as sophisticated!) might suit your needs.
I spent many years researching my husband’s Williams family, mainly because I decided I wasn’t going to let little things like a common surname, life in burned counties and frequent moves stop me from identifying them. I wrote a book, using Word because I wanted to format the chapters myself, with the goal of untangling all the messed up Williams branches. Rather than detailing the lives of each family, I wanted future researchers to know who belonged to whom and from whence they all came. You may have a completely different purpose for your writing.
After you decide your writing goal and format you’d like to use, check out these links to various tools.
Turning your thoughts into notes:
Scrivener – is a program available for both Windows and Mac that helps you organize your thoughts through story boarding to produce a well written family history. There is a free 30 day free trial available (30 days of use, not 30 calendar days), but then it must be purchased.
Trello – an app that allows you to organize and share your work; free
Mind Mapping Tools:
MindMappingSoftwareBlog – Mind mapping is similar to story boarding, except that mind mapping helps your create streams of related thoughts that you might like to integrate into your story. Story boarding is more akin to arranging those thoughts in a logical fashion allowing the story to be told in an interesting way.
Coggle – mind mapping and collaboration
To record stories/information:
Audacity – free version to record stories, thoughts or whatever else you may want.
To create visual stories to share:
Adobe Spark – create stories and videos to share; free & easy to use
Sway – Microsoft product similar to Adobe Spark; create and share stories; free and easy to use
PowerPoint – for slide presentations, available with Microsoft Office
Using timelines to tell family stories:
HistoryLines – a subscription site at which you can enter information about ancestors and an interactive timeline in historical context appears.
Timetoast – Use a timeline to organize research about a specific person or family or time period.
Digital Note Taking:
There are a number of apps available, some free and some by subscription, for telling family stories. Here are just a small sampling. Many of these companies are start ups and may or may not be around next year. Hint – back up any stories you create on them.
Cozi – online family organizer, free
Famicity – a private social network to share family stories, memories and events
Legacy Stories- write, record and curate your family history online and share
StoryWorth- weekly questions are sent out to family members and then collected into a keepsake book
Treelines – get inspiration for telling your stories and then share with friends and family
Websites that focus on family history writers:
FamilySearch Blog: 10 Steps to Writing an Engaging Family History
The Accidental Genealogist by Lisa Alzo
The Armchair Genealogist by Lynn Palermo
The Family Curator with Denise May Levenick
The Family History Writing Studio – fee based course, but you can browse the website
Several great reference books to keep you on track:
Guide to Genealogical Writing by Penelope L. Stratton & Henry B. Hoff, CG, FASG, 3rd edition, 2014, available for under $20 from the New England Historic Genealogical Society
On Writing Well, William Zinsser, Harper Perennial, 2006
Writing About Your Life: A Journey to the Past, William Zinsser, Marlowe & Company, 2004
The Elements of Style, 4th Edition, William Strunk and E.B. White, Pearson Education, 2014
I’ve only shared a handful of resources to help you get started telling the stories of your ancestors. If you’ve found a great product that I haven’t included on my list, please leave a comment and I’ll check it out.