Shortly after I began work at NEHGS about ten years ago, we went into all-hands-on-deck mode. The occasion was the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference, which was in Boston that year and bringing many visitors to the building. A newbie, I was assigned the non-genealogical task of welcoming people at the door. The first person arrived, pulling a wheelie bag behind her. “Hello!” I said. “May I store your bag?” Everyone froze. A hushed silence fell. Finally someone clued me in: “Penny. That’s her research!” Oh. Continue reading The genealogist’s friend
Hints for Success
I recently saw an interesting infographic about writing success. Although the focus is on writing novels, several of the hints apply to writing a family history:
- read more
- write, write, write
- read your work aloud
Let’s look at each one of these in turn.
Read more. When you undertake a family history, you’ll be drawing information from various records and notes and documents. But how do you write? How do you put one word in front of the other as you collate all the facts with family lore and contextual information from other sources? Continue reading Writing family history
I have always enjoyed musing on names and their origins. The dictionary we had in my childhood home had a back-of-the-book listing of “common English names.” I read it voraciously and repeatedly, making lists of potential names for my future children.
As it turned out, my husband and I chose family names for our children, so all that dictionary research was unnecessary. My daughter, Emma, was named for her great-grandmother and great-great-great-grandmother, and my son, Samuel, for my father and great-grandfather and great-great-great-grandfather. (See “The Name Game.”) Continue reading What’s in a (family) name?
Over the centuries, families have kept their own records of their history – by writing it in family Bibles; by sewing it into samplers and other needlework; by having it engraved onto objects; and sometimes by writing it into preprinted family registers. NEHGS has launched a new database of family registers that have one thing in common: all were originally engraved by English-born Richard Brunton, who lived in New England in the years during and after the Revolution. Continue reading Richard Brunton’s family registers
Yesterday, Alicia Crane Williams wrote about the steps she takes when indexing the Early New England Families Study Project, showing the extensive work that makes it possible for us to find ancestors in database searches. But what if you’re not creating a database, but writing a book instead?
In the course of your research, have you ever picked up a family history and, to your dismay, found no index? With this experience in mind, if you are writing a family history, you must have an index for your work—at the very least an every-name index. Continue reading A good index guides the reader
I simply love Register style as a way of presenting descendants of a particular ancestor. Chris Child’s recent post made me realize just how much I love it. It is such an elegant and efficient way of presenting genealogical information that I wish I had invented it. Continue reading Loving Register style
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 4 February 2015.]
Bonus note: Vita Brevis blogger Penny Stratton is retiring from NEHGS today after ten years on the Publications team. In honor of her departure, I asked her to pick a post to run again. The finalists involved one about apostrophes; one about changes in technology during her career; one about her late father; and the one here—about family names. Penny will continue to do occasional work for NEHGS and promises to contribute more posts to Vita Brevis, and to continue to correct grammar and punctuation in whatever publication she is handed.
When my daughter was born, we chose the name Emma for her. Like many first-time parents, we considered and discarded many names. But we kept circling back to Emma because it’s a family name, and it follows an interesting pattern:
Emma Powell, born 1836 in Bristol, England
Ella Byrt, born 1860 in Chicopee, Massachusetts
Emma Ladd, born 1886 in New York
Ella Clark, born 1915 in Richmond Hill, New York Continue reading ICYMI: The Name Game
[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 7 October 2014.]
Last week, I was happily recalling my 2012 trip to Finland, specifically a visit to my ancestral village, Teuva. I had the great good luck to meet cousins there and see the land that my ancestors farmed – and even the foundation of the tiny house where my grandmother grew up.
When first planning that trip, I had no idea how to proceed. I could look at a map and find Teuva – and the nearest train station with a rental car facility – but I had no idea how to go about identifying living relatives. Continue reading ICYMI: Planning an ancestral trip
- Read it multiple times.
- Read it tomorrow.
These recommendations are particularly apt for family histories, which are chock full of names, dates, place names, abbreviations, and special formatting that just cry out for at least several thorough reads. When I am editing or proofing a family history – mine or someone else’s – I often read through it once for sense and grammar, and then skim through once each for the following: Continue reading Proofing your family history
When writing your family history, it’s important to decide what to omit. This almost sounds like perverse advice, doesn’t it? And yet, when I read a recent New Yorker article on that topic by John McPhee, I realized that omission is an essential part of the process of all writing: whether it’s a letter, a memo, an essay . . . or a family history.
McPhee describes the process of writing as selection. You begin, he says, by choosing “one word and only one from more than a million in the language,” and then you choose the next. Continue reading Writing family history from A to Z