Tag Archives: Book Reviews

You Can Write Your Family History by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack: Book Review

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review and I have received other books from Genealogical Publishing Company, also for review. However, my opinions are my own and not influenced by outside sources.

My review of this book came about in a slightly different way than all of the other books I’ve received from Genealogical Publishing Company. Most of the time, books randomly appear, unannounced, in my mailbox.

You Can Write Your Family History by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack was offered to me for review after a recent blog post discussed the process of writing a family history.

Another difference is that the majority of books that I receive from a publisher are either newly on the market or are updated editions. Carmack’s book was first published in 2003, but due to her subject matter, this book is not at all out of date, except perhaps aside from newer options for self-publishing online.

Table of Contents At a Glance

Introduction: A Labor of Love?
1 What Type of Family History Will Your Write?
2 Defining the Scope of Your Project
3 How Much Genealogical Research Is Enough?
4 Determining the Plot and Structure
5 Isolating Themes in Your Family History
6 Revisiting Genealogical Sources
7 Researching Social Histories
8 Gathering and Organizing Your Research
9 Making Choices About the Narrative
10 Bringing Your Ancestors to Life as Characters
11 Describing Your Ancestors’ Setting
12 Using Family Stories in Your Narrative
13 Including Suspense, Humor, and Romance
14 Blending Social History with Family History
15 Including Documentation
16 Adding Illustrations
17 The End Matters
18 Getting Ready to Publish
19 Publishing and Marketing

Appendix A the Charles Fearn Family Narrative: Frontier Military Life
Appendix B Example of Reverse Chronology Structure: “A Place Among Nations”
Appendix C Writing Courses, Contests, Organizations, and Conferences

Let’s face it! Writing a family history book is both challenging and overwhelming for most of us. In spite of that, have you thought about writing your own family history? Maybe you’ve even had a go at starting, but weren’t quite sure just how to complete the project.

Sharon DeBartolo Carmack has done a superb job presenting step-by-step directions on how to get started, how to engage our readers by mixing the narrative with social history, documenting sources and how to eventually market and publish a family history book.

I really liked the style of presentation of this book. With information presented in a logical, as-needed order, anyone considering writing their family history should have Carmack’s book on their reference shelf.

The process of decision making is clearly laid out in simple steps with many examples.

Consider, for example, how much of your family history you want to write about and how you might begin. Will you write about a single surname, tell the life stories of your four grandparents and their descendants or jump right in, covering all the families in your pedigree chart?

Exactly how much research should you complete before writing? How should social history be blended into your story? Will you include photos, documents, maps or other illustrations? How should family lore and/or sensitive topics be handled?

All of these questions are answered and the author presents those answers in a way that makes writing a family history seem not so daunting. In summary, everything one needs to know about writing a family history is contained in this book.

As mentioned earlier in this review, the only part of the book that is really outdated is the section that provides URLs (e.g. The International Society of Family History Writers and Editors is now only on Facebook) and contact information for publishing options (e.g. Picton Press closed in 2016 after its owner, Lewis Bunker Rohrbach, passed away.)

However, the outdated items are few in number and there is absolutely nothing outdated in the decision making and writing process so clearly explained by Carmack.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with plans to beginning writing a family history. By following the author’s recommendations, readers will find that the process from an idea to publication is actually very manageable.

You Can Write Your Family History (2003) by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack can be purchased online at genealogical.com in paperback for $26.50 or hard cover for $35.50.

Genealogy: Essential Research Methods by Helen Osborn – Book Review

I decided to start off 2024 with a review of a book that I actually bought several months ago – Genealogy: Essential Research Methods by Helen Osborn.

I’m always on the lookout for good reference books and I learned about this book from fellow blogger Teresa, author of writing my past.



  1. The Challenges of Genealogy
  2. Effective Searching – Technique and Belief
  3. The Records Framework
  4. Find What You Need
  5. Has It Been Done Before?
  6. Analysing and Working with Documents
  7. Planning and Problem-solving
  8. Recording Information and Citing Sources
  9. Organize, Store and Pass On
  10. Prove your Research and Meet Your Challenges

Recommended Short Reading List
Other Sources

Although this book was first published in 2012 (my printing is 2018) and the sections at the end of the book are mostly geared towards U.K. researchers, that doesn’t take away from the quality of the book’s content. Additionally, the fact that all of the research examples within the chapters are all from English records isn’t an issue either because the historical record sets available in the U.K. aren’t all that different that of American or Canadian records.

What I like about this book is that the author presents information in a very straightforward, easy to understand way that promotes efficient and effective research methods. The chapter titles are self explanatory. The book is what I classify as an “easy read.”

The book opens with an overview of common conundrums faced by researchers and methodically progresses from how to search to where to search and then to reviewing and analyzing various types of records that provide useful information.

I especially liked Chapter 9 – Organize, Store and Pass On, which reminds us that,as much as we as individuals enjoy the challenge of the hunt, it’s important to reach out, share and save our work with a plan for it to pass on to others, whether it be via software or family stories that we have written down.

My second favorite chapter was the last one, challenging us to prove our work. In other words, don’t be the copy-and-paste name collector. Do you own research and document the facts!

It’s also to the author’s credit that a 12-year-old book covering a topic like genealogy (and all its many changes due to technology) remains modern today, due to its emphasis on methodology rather than websites that come, go and change. This is a book that belongs on the reference shelves of British, Canadian and American beginning or intermediate genealogy researchers.

Genealogy: Essential Research Methods by Helen Osborn, published in 2012 by Robert Hale Ltd. (which ceased operations in 2015), can be purchased online. Prices vary wildly. Instead of everyone’s favorite mega-giant shopping place (where prices are $44+), check out eBay, where copies of the book can be found for as little as $9.00US.

The People of Argyll, Bute, and Dunbarton 1600-1699 by David Dobson: Book Review

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review and I have received other books from Genealogical Publishing Company, also for review. However, my opinions are my own and not influenced by outside sources.

Boy, do I wish I had more Scots ancestors! The People of Argyll, Bute, and Dunbarton 1600-1699, the newest book by prolific author David Dobson, is a 174-page guide to residents who lived in Argyll, Bute and the western portion of Dunbartonshire during the 17th century.

The book opens with a short introduction to the history of the area, followed by References where the people cited were found, lists of the parishes of each of the three locations, clans listed, an image of Dunbarton Castle and a map of Argyll.

The main text of the book of simply an alphabetical list of all the people who Mr. Dobson located in the various records and it makes for really interesting reading even for those, like me, who have no known family tree ties to this area of Scotland.

Sample entries:

Buchanan, John, probably from Dunbarton, was captured at the Siege of Worcester in 1651, then transported via London aboard the John and Sarah bound for New England in November 1651

McPherson, John, who fled to Ireland, was the father of Jane Stewart’s child in Kingarth, Bute, in 1693

Strang, Bessie, wife of Thomas Craig in Drumore, Kilmichael, who died in May 1692, parents of Janet, Isobel, James, Andrew, and Elizabeth, an inventory, date 4 May 1694

As seen by these examples, there is tremendous variety in the types of facts uncovered about each person. Personally, I would love to learn any of these about one or more of my Scottish ancestors!

David Dobson’s works are excellent reference aids and The People of Argyll, Bute, and Dunbarton 1600-1699 is no exception.

If you have known ancestry from Argyll, Bute and/or Dunbarton, this book should be in your home reference library.

The People of Argyll, Bute, and Dunbarton 1600-1699 was published by Clearfield Company in 2023 and can be purchased on Genealogical.com for $31.00.

Be sure to check out the year-end sale on through 31 December 2023 and the new My GPC Library (subscription), too!