Sunday, August 08, 2004

Preserve Your Research

The key to preserving research is publishing. Not just your GEDCOM online, not just on CD-ROM, but in actual book form. Who will buy your book? What is the best way to organize your book? Where will you get the time to do the work?

There are two main types of family histories; the descendancy book, which is all the descendants of one or a couple of ancestors, and the ancestral book, which is all the ancestors of a person or family. Think about how you have done your research, and you'll know which form to choose.

The question of who will buy your book is important, because the wider the scope of your book, the more possible buyers you will have. If you choose to research all of the descendants of a seventeenth century couple, you will have a LARGE book, and hundreds or even thousands of potential purchasers. How will you find all these people? Hopefully your research has led you to contacts with many cousins, with whom you have shared research tasks. These cousins will become your partners in the writing and publishing, right along with the research. If you have not found cousins yet, start posting data and queries to the genealogy mail lists and message boards! See How to Use Rootsweb for some ideas on getting started. Become the beautiful flower drawing the bees and butterflies to you, with the nectar of your shared research and queries.

No matter what type of book you write, or how large it is, be sure to include an index. As you write and compile your book, you will find the word processor to be your best friend. Even if you use your genealogy program to "write" your book, you will want to use that automatically generated text as a rough draft only. Family stories and your own voice are what bring a book to life, and the stories are worth telling even if your research has proven parts or all of them incorrect or mistaken. If you can't put the story in your own words, quote a family member, with their permission. The more you speak in your own voice, and allow family members to be heard, the better your book will be. Let the past come alive! I use the word processor Open Office, which is open source and FREE. It is available for Windows and Linux.

I hope you will consider including copies of documents and photographs in your book. Also, you should explain your reasoning, your proof for the relationships you assert. Notice I said YOUR proof, not the documents' proof. Documents can only document; it is your task to prove your arguments. If some relationships are cloudy, it is even more important to include copies of documents, and your explanation of various possibilities. Remember, your book will not be the last word. Once your fellow researchers have your book in their hands, your reasoning will be tested, and perhaps disputed. Isn't that great?

Where will you get the time to do the book? You are already writing your book! You are finding documents, pondering their implications, and writing queries based upon your findings. Your book is just the organized collection of these parts. In fact, some people choose to write small books - say, 3 generations of one family - so that this task is manageable. Once you have the text, included documents and pictures, and index just the way you want them, visit your local copy shop, and ask their advice about publishing. You may be able to print out the text and index on one of their printers to make the best possible copy for reproduction. Even if you decide to write a major work and publish in hard-cover, your copy shop will be able to help you in pre-press and photograph preparation.

Once you have a master copy, it's time to reproduce and bind. Consider having a few extra master copies made, because with family history, there are some interesting possibilities open to you. One is the Allen County Public Library, who will photocopy your unbound master copy, and bind the photocopied book to place on their shelves. They will return your master copy, along with a free bound photocopy! Pretty cool offer. I found this mentioned in the Genealogy Blog, here: To use this service, "mail your unbound 'master copy' to Steve Myers, Assistant Manager, Historical Genealogy Department, PO Box 2270, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-2270. Include a note that reads, 'Photocopy Exchange Program.'" Thanks to Curt Witcher for writing about this great service to genealogists all over the world.

Another way to get your book circulated is to donate a copy to the Family History Library. If you permit them to microfilm your book, you will get a free microfilmed copy of your own, along with your original master copy back. For more information about this service, see:
Of course, you can also donate a bound copy of your book. People will be able to consult your bound copy only at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Books do not circulate to the Family History Centers unless they are microfilmed.

You may want to donate a copy to your local library, or libraries local to the subject family. Your book will become much better known if researchers who travel to the localities where your family lived are able to consult your book. Be sure to include contact information in the book, if you want to continue to sell copies!

I haven't written my first book yet. This collection of ideas has come from my history as the newsletter editor of my local genealogy society, The South King County Genealogy Society, as well as speeches and workshops I've attended, and good genealogy books published by fellow researchers. As I refine my ideas, this post will be updated.

As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

When you put your hand to the plow, you can't put it down until you get to the end of the row. - Alice Paul, 1885-1977, US lawyer; founded the World Woman's Party, 1913; author of proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution

No comments: