Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History

ne37During the several years I worked as a publisher, I helped produce and print many genealogies, family histories, and memoirs. From that experience I developed strong opinions about when, how, and why a family history should be published. I believe strongly in the value of hard-bound, archive quality paper book over e-books, though there is a place for the e-book. The printed family history should, must, contain stories. Not only pictures tell a thousand words, but any image; including certificates, deeds, hand-written letters, charts, etc.; helps bring to life the lives of our ancestors, and helps create an historical perspective words alone cannot yield.

No matter my personal opinions on what a finished book should look like, what makes a published family history a success, a book worth reading, depends mostly upon the work and decisions made by its creator and/or author(s). There are skills to learn, standards to follow, and creative decisions to make, long before a book goes to print. Many of these tools and standards change over time. So, if you are thinking about, or have even started the process of, publishing a family history, then I have a recommendation for you.

The Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History is an easy-to-read, easy-to-follow, up-to-date book on family history publishing. Authors Penelope L. Stratton and Henry B. Hoff cover the process of writing and publishing from beginning to end. Learn what you need to know before you ever start writing. In these pages you will learn proper genealogical styles and formatting, learn to make tough decision about what to include and what to leave out, decide which images to include, learn about design and layout, and much more.

I personally appreciate the authors’ inclusion of enough details to help you complete much of the work on your own, while providing pro and cons to seeking professional services when appropriate. Knowing enough to know your own limitations, even if your only limitation is time, is an important skill to master if you ever want to finish your project.

One unique feature to this guide is coverage not just for writing a book but also for writing with the intent to publish in registers, journals, and/or magazines. There is even a chapter dedicated to writing “short or informal family histories.”

A significant bonus to the family history writer, is the 24-page, detailed Genealogical Manual of Styles included after the appendices. The guide cover “all your questions about how to present genealogical information: how to treat alternate spellings of names, when and how to insert lineage lines, how to include adopted children and stepchildren, and more.”

Information about ordering your own copy and a short bio on the authors can be found below the contents.



Using This Book

Part I: Preparing

1: Getting Started

Part II: Writing

2: Writing in Genealogical Style

3: Making a Stylesheet

4: Writing When Questions Remain

5: Adding Citations

6: Incorporating Narrative

Part III: Getting Ready to Publish

7: Reviewing and Revising Your Draft

8: Selecting Illustrations

9: Considering Design and Layout

10: Indexing

11: Tying Up Final Details

Part IV: Writing Articles and Other Types of Family Histories

12: Writing for the Register and Other Journals

13: Writing for American Ancestors and Other Magazines

14: Writing Short or Informal Family Histories


A: Using Microsoft Word for Genealogical Writing

B: Sample Questionnaire for Relatives

C: Resources for Writing and Publishing

Genealogical Manual of Style

Illustration Credits


About the Authors

About NEHGS and Newbury Street Press


Copies of Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History are available from Family Roots Publishing; just click the book title to order.


About the Authors

“Penelope L. Stratton is Publishing Director of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. She oversees the publication of books and periodicals, including books published under the Newbury Street Press imprint and books for the Great Migration Study Project. Prior to joining the NEGHS staff in 2006, Penny worked in both educational and trade book publishing. She has contributed article sot American Ancestors magazine and has given numerous presentations on various aspects of writing and publishing family histories.”

“Henry B. Hoff, CG, FASG, a member of the NEGHS staff since 1996, is editor of The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Previously he served as editor or consulting editor of The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record. Henry is the author of more than 200 genealogical articles in genealogical periodicals, and is the co-author, editor, or co-editor of several books, including two previous writing guides published by NEGHS.”

The World War II Research and Writing Center Website


With the release of the British 1939 Register at the FindMyPast website, we’re once again discussing WWII research. When I got involved in genealogy forty years ago, WWII was a rather recent occurrence and many of us just skipped right over it while doing our research. Now – with 70 years separating us since the war, genealogists are scrambling to locate information, and in some cases interview the few remaining WWII veterans. Many of us are writing about what took place during the war years.

Turning to American WWII research, my friend, Jennifer Holik, has a website that is of help to anyone wishing to research and write about their WWII ancestor. Her site includes a number of wonderful resource pages. From the home page, click on any of the horizontally rotating illustrations. They are:

Jennifer’s website also includes the following pages:

My Books Good stuff!
Research Another place to click for the resources listed above.
Writing This includes themes, prompts, books, websites, and more!
Research Collective People who perform WWII research on specific branches or theaters of war.

I am using the website and its resources to help in my own research. I highly recommend it to my own readers.

150 Resources to Help You Write Better, Faster, and More Persuasively

Most genealogist’s tend to write… Sometimes we write a lot… Now there’s a website where we can get help with our writing. I recommend the 150 Resources to Help You Write Better, Faster, and More Persuasively found at the Open Education Database website to everyone.

The following teaser is from the site:

It doesn’t matter if you’re a student or a professional writer: there’s always something new to learn and ways to make your writing more refined, better researched, and more effective. Writing is essential for students who want to succeed, whether they’re enrolled in one of the top online colleges or an Ivy League university. As essential as it is, learning to write well isn’t easy. The best practices for writing and research can sometimes be subjective, and the finer points of syntax and style often take a backseat to looming deadlines and strict citation guidelines.

Luckily, there are many helpful resources that make it easier to build on your existing skills while learning new ones. We’ve compiled links to sites dedicated to helping students, bloggers, and professional writers improve their techniques while also becoming better editors and researchers. Browse through the following list or focus on categories you need most. It’s organized by subject and resources are listed alphabetically within. With more than 150 resources to chose from, you’re bound to find something that can make your writing life a little easier.

Click here to see the list of 150 great resources.

The Pocket Genealogist: Building A Genealogical Sketch

ne28Last week I commented on the fact there has been a recent rush in the genealogy publishing market to produce two to four page laminated guides. These guides have proven very popular as they typically provide a high density of basic information on a single topic. Guides reviewed on this site cover everything from researching a specific ethnic group or nationality to areas of specific research, like Ellis Island records or U.S. Census Records, and even dating specific types of photographs. Now the New England Historic Genealogical Society has jumped on the bandwagon, and is producing a series of laminated guides called The Pocket Genealogist.

With all this help in researching and organizing your family history, it won’t be long before you need The Pocket Genealogist: Building A Genealogical Sketch. Maybe you are already there, ready to put your family history to pen and paper, to publish your work.

When genealogists set out to tell stories, the author or publisher may take a certain amount of creative leeway in page design. However, when creating a genealogical sketch, effectively a descendancy or ahnentafel report, there are some basic formatting guidelines useful for producing a clean and easy to read book. This pocket guide provides all the details needed to construct a full genealogical sketch, parents and children, generation by generation. Learn numbering and name styling, generational numbering, using lineage lines, and other key stylization and formatting techniques.

Covered are both Descendancy Format as well as Ancestor or Ahnentafel tables. There is also a list of common abbreviations used in sketches. Like other pocket guides, this one is a four-page, three-color, laminated print, prepunched for easy insertion into a binder. The Pocket Genealogist Series is produced by the New England Historic Genealogical Society.




Examples of Genealogical Formats

Descendancy Format (Register Style)

  • Main entry
  • Children’s List

Ancestor Table (Ahnentafel)

Recommended Resources


Order The Pocket Genealogist: Building A Genealogical Sketch from Family Roots Publishing; Price: $6.81.

Click here to see a full list of laminated guides.

Exploring Our Lives: A Writing Handbook for Senior Adults

You don’t need to be a “senior,” or even close, to make use of and enjoy Exploring Our Lives: A Writing Handbook for Senior Adults by Francis E. Kazemek. As the title suggests, this book is designed to help people write their own life stories. Perhaps Francis simply feels that being a “senior” simply means having enough experience to have enough to say, even if the person doesn’t believe it themselves. That said, this book is unique.

There are many books about the subject, and many follow the same pattern and offer roughly the same advice. Exploring Our Lives takes a different approach. In addition to offering some of the typical topics and basic writing concepts, this book also offers a unique approach to seeing our own lives in different ways, and explorers different writing styles in which to express one’s memories and feelings. In these pages, Kazemek covers more than the typical narrative, additional styles are explored, such as poetry and fiction for sharing memories. The author comments:

“In over twenty years of conducting writing workshops with Seniors, I have found again and again that people who are convinced they can write only biographical stories in prose are surprised and excited at their latent ability to write poetry, fictional short stories, and children’s books.”

This books helps the reader look at their lives from different angles. Considering alternative writing methods, such as poetry, short stories, and others, helps promote stimulate the creative side of the brain and helps the reader take a look at their own lives from those alternate angles. Each chapter reviews a different type of writing, along with tools for reviewing and editing one’s writing. Mixed in are the memory recall guides and topic suggestions found in many other books; but still, with the author’s own twist. These, of course, help round out this book, making it a complete guide to memoir writing.



Introduction: Honoring Memory

Chapter One: Getting Started

Chapter Two: Writing & Writers

Chapter Three: Remembering Our Live

Chapter Four: Writing about Memorable People

Chapter Five: Form Poetry

Chapter Six: Writing Our Lives

Interlude: Fathers and Sons

Chapter Seven: Photographs and Writing

Chapter Eight: Free Poetry

Chapter Nine: Fiction

Chapter Ten: Children’s Picture Books

Chapter Eleven: Diaries & Dream Journals

Chapter Twelve: Writing Groups and Writing Resources

Coda: Living with Grace, Force, and Fascination


Find new ways to share your memories in Exploring Our Lives: A Writing Handbook for Senior Adults, available at Family Roots Publishing; Item #: SM264, Price: $14.65.

Personal Historian

Personal Historian 2 makes a fantastic addition to your genealogy software. Produced by the folks at Roots Magic, this software package helps the family historian bring their own life, along with the lives of others, to life through stories.

There are few individuals who will sit and write their life story without prompt or assistance. Even writing the biography of a beloved family member can seem daunting to many. Personal Historian provides the assistance most need to get their story written down. The software helps by breaking one’s life stories down into manageable pieces. This is done by taking advantage of numerous facilitators. The program will help the user unload their thoughts and memories as they come. The software also makes use of timelines, historical events, cultural facts, and questions to prompt the writer’s memory.

Taking memory prompts to the next level, Personal Historian can also import names, dates, events,notes, sources, and pictures from genealogy software. The built-in word processing and writing analysis tools help make sure content is easily captured and relatively error free. Story organization is both fun and easy with an interactive timeline and search features.

Because the same tool can be used to write one’s own story or the story of others, Personal Historian, becomes a great tool for preparing a published family history. In fact, the software offers publishing features, including book creation with chapters, indexing, added photographs, and more.

Get past the overwhelming anxiety you feel when considering writing your own story. Personal Historian make the process easy. The software also makes a great gift anyone you are trying to cajole into writing their story–parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.


Order copies of Personal Historian 2 from Family Roots Publishing; Price: $29.95.


Personal Historian Features

General Information

    • Runs under Windows 7, Vista, XP, and 2000
    • Single-file database format
    • Support for international character sets through Unicode integration
    • Integrated backup and restore help safeguard your data
    • Free technical support
  • Easy to Learn and Use
  • Easy file management
  • Easy to use Explorer-like help system
  • Sidebar on main screen makes filtering easy
  • Use of Wizards simplifies tasks

Organize Your Personal History

  • Write unlimited stories
  • View the list of your stories on screen
  • Filter the list of stories
  • Just double click story in list to edit the story
  • Customize the story list layout
  • Quickly add a journal entry story
  • Edit random stories (great for writer’s block)

Story Editing

  • Use multiple fonts in stories
  • Use paragraph styles
  • Add images to stories
  • Wordwrap text about pictures
  • Readability Analysis
  • Full screen edit mode
  • Spell checking
  • Live spell check
  • Thesaurus
  • Adding footnotes
  • Text-to-speech reads your story back to you
  • Speech-to-text takes dictation
  • Add new paragraph styles
  • Import styles
  • Export styles

Story Organizing

  • Organizer lets you create an outline for each story
  • Brainstorm to add items to Organizer
  • Add subitems to Organizer
  • Easily rearrange outline items
  • Copy outline to the word processor

Search Features

  • Search for text in the current story
  • Search and replace in the current story
  • Full text search across all stories

Story Filters

  • Filter the master story list
  • Filter the stories included in the published book
  • Save and reuse filters

Publish Your Personal History

  • Print to any printer connected to your computer
  • Customize headers, footers, margins, and fonts
  • Include any stories in your personal history
  • Include cover and title pages, copyright, dedication, acknowledgement, preface pages
  • Include index of people in the story
  • Create multiple customized personal histories for each person
  • Save books to PDF (Adobe Acrobat)
  • Save books to your word processor (RTF)
  • E-mail books directly from the print preview
  • Include index of places in the story


  • Date calculator when entering dates
  • Pop up calendar when entering dates
  • Gazetteer to look up places
  • Place name standardization and geocoding
  • Display places on map


  • Direct RootsMagic import
  • Direct Family Tree Maker import (version 16 and earlier)
  • Direct PAF import (version 5)
  • Direct Legacy import (versions 3 and later)
  • GEDCOM import
  • Import text data (tab or comma delimited)

Reading and Writing Cannot Exist Without Each Other

Two very popular books stand out in mind when discussing reading (understanding) and writing genealogies and family histories. The first is  More What Did They Mean By That? A Dictionary of Historical and Genealogical Terms Old and New. Genealogists cannot begin to write about their ancestors if they don’t fully understand and appreciate what they have read about them. More What Did They Mean By That? provides an understanding, in modern terms, for words used in the past. Many of these words, used historically in everyday conversation to describe items, jobs, events, and the technology of the day, are no longer in use, or are used today with a different meaning. This book provides the background family historians need to grasp the meaning of letters, documents, and sources from the past.

More is 193 pages of terms, words, and phrases come and gone in the English language. Many of the terms are derived form foreign words and others from various Native American languages. Other words may have appeared in certain areas, usually loosing out over time to another derivative. For example, schnecke was a popular pastry from Pennsylvania Dutch. Today, we would recognize the more English sounding name of sticky buns or cinnamon rolls. Click here to read a complete review of this book.

Once the genealogists fully understands the mean of what they have read about, or in the words of, their ancestors, then the they may ready to write about their forebearers. Helping make the writing process easier, and thus more enjoyable, many have turned to the ever popular Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century: A Guide to Register Style and More. The book contains just about everything a person needs to begin writing down family stories and genealogies.

Preserving the past is so much easier with expert guidance and this book could come from better experts. Through this book the reader learns to write with style and skill from New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) staff and expert contributors. There are tips for writing article for genealogical journals and magazines, compiled genealogies, and even websites. There is even a chapter on using Microsoft® Word. Click here to read a full review, including Table of Contents.

Together, these two books make an excellent choice as a holiday gift for your favorite genealogist, even if that person is yourself. Through implementing the knowledge and skill learned in these books, one can prepare and write fabulous family histories, a gift left for generations to come.

Find both books at Family Root Publishing:

Buy both together and take advantage of Family Roots Publishing’s Holiday Shipping Special…FREE Shipping on any Order over $25. Good though Midnight MST 20 December 2012.

Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century: A Guide to Register Style and More

Having both written books and published many family histories for other, I can say the biggest stumbling block anyone will face is their own self doubt. Time and again, I heard people tell me they just didn’t feel like they could do a good job or write well enough to publish their family history. First of all, nonsense. Anyone can publish a family history and feel successful afterwords. However, for those needed a little reinforcement, and perhaps some skills assistance, there is Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century: A Guide to Register Style and More. Everything a person needs to start writing family stories and genealogies are in these pages.

Learn to write with style and skill from New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) staff and expert contributors. There are tips for writing article for genealogical journals and magazines, compiled genealogies, and even websites. There is even a chapter on using Microsoft® Word.

Now in its second edition, this New England Historic Genealogical Society publication adds new chapters. Having published The New England Historical and Genealogical Register since 1847, the NEHGS has a long running institutional records for writing and publishing genealogical works. The members and staff are well versed in creating quality works. Their expertise is shared in a way to make it easy for any to follow and benefit.


Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition

Preface to the First Edition



1 Writing as You Research: A Problem-Solving Tool Your Family Will Appreciate

Patricia Law Hatcher

2 Writing for The New England Historical and Genealogical Register and Other Genealogical Journals

Henry B. Hoff and Helen Schatvet Ullmann

3 Writing for New England Ancestors and Other Popular Genealogical Magazines

Sharon DeBartolo Carmack

4 Writing for and Other Websites

Michael J. Leclerc and Rod Moody

5 Writing Genealogical Books

Michael J. Leclerc

6 Writing and Style

Gabrielle Stone and Carolyn Sheppard Oakley

7 Writing Using Word for Genealogy: Utilizing Microsoft Word in Genealogical Documents in Register, or Modified Register [NGSQ], Format

Alvy Ray Smith

Appendix A: Abbreviations and Acronyms

Appendix B: Commonly Used Symbols

Appendix C: Geographical Abbreviations




Order Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century: A Guide to Register Style and More from Family Roots Publishing; Price: $11.71.