Doing It Right

return to Home Page


     Family history has long outgrown the notion that you can maintain a collection of unsubstantiated information. In fact, it has become a serious academic pursuit where proper methodology is the rule. There are a number of ways in which you should be making an effort to "do the right thing."

      If someone told you that your great grandfather Teeple had been born in New York State, how would you treat that news? - - - Well, if you were of the old-style family historian, you might just jot the info into your file on ggf. If, however, you are of the new 21st century style family historian, you will use that news as a research guide only, call it a hint if you like, and you will start looking for serious proofs that ggf was in fact born in NY.

     Proofs are the backbone of family history. Primary sources are proofs lodged in original documents; they offer the best guarantee of accuracy. Secondary sources are proofs lodged in second-hand accounts of various kinds. You want to find the best possible evidence, but you will collect and evaluate everything that comes your way. However, only when you are really satisfied that your proofs are strong will you feel confident, say, that ggf was really born in NY. This task may take years - - - and years!

     Take a look at some of the items which I've included as common proofs. See if you can determine which of them would be classified as the important primary proofs. If you've been at this kind of task for a long time, perhaps you can add other proofs to my list for sharing. Let me know.

Writing Things Up
     I've been writing things up for twenty years and yet, I still haven't the courage to sit down and compose my own family history. I say this to let you know that if you've been sweating over the prospect of getting something down in print, I can sympathize fully with your anxiety. I think I have to overcome the feeling that the moment my opus comes off the presses, someone will send me a brand new piece of substantial information. Anyway, that's my problem to solve.

     What I don't need to worry about is how to do the actual writing. I've collected a few good how-to books and they've stood me in good stead when I'm writing other things. I'd like to pass them along for you in hopes that they may be just what you've been wanting in order to learn how this or that is done properly.

     My first hint has to do with those proofs I mentioned above. Suppose you've finally acquired your ggf's birth certificate and you're smirking with pride in a good proof. What you now need to learn next is how to present that proof on paper. Others who read your report should be able to follow your information and find that proof for themselves - even if it means tracking it down to the family bible on your bookshelf!

     My second hint has to do with organizing the overall presentation. One way to begin is by taking a look at the way other people have put together their books. Examine chapter organization, page layout, proof presentation, use of photographs. See how they have divided up their families, set up their family lineage charts. Have they included an index? - How many times have you put down a book in disgust because there's no index!!! Is the book hard-bound? in a ring-binder?

     There are no end of internet pages offering to help you get on with your writing. You'll find something to suit your taste. Just be sure you do family history proud by including all those wonderful proofs you found so that your readers don't have to (a) write to you and ask "where did you get so-and-so info?" or (b) tramp all over the green earth just as you did to find for themselves what you could have given them in the book.