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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Essential Books: Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century

Programs like Family Tree Maker and Personal Ancestral File are great for compiling data, but when the time comes to publish a family history, the reports such programs output don't always live up to the standards set by the New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Those wanting to accurately emulate the "Register style" should seek out Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century: A Guide to Register Style and More, edited by Henry B. Hoff (Boston, MA : New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002).

Genealogical Writing is a slim volume, but full of good advice—whether you choose to stick with Register style or not. The book is especially important if you intend to submit an article for publication in any of the major genealogical journals, magazines, or websites. Brief extracts from each chapter follow:

Chapter 1: General Advice about Writing and Style

For the Register and compiled genealogies, dates should be written as day, month, year (12 August 2001). For all other NEHGS publications, dates should be written as month, day, year (August 12, 2001). [p. 3]
Chapter 2: Writing for the New England Historical and Genealogical Register and Other Genealogical Journals

The basic unit for presenting Register style is the family group. The earliest head of a family group is assigned the number 1. Following the given name, a superscripted number informs the reader how many generations from the immigrant this person is removed. His or her name is followed by a "lineage line" in italics, giving the name of each progenitor back to the immigrant — and sometimes earlier if known. [p. 16]
Chapter 3: Writing for New England Ancestors and Other Popular Genealogical Magazines

One of the best ways to get ideas for articles is to read or scan all the popular magazines and attend national conferences. You'll notice that there are only a few core topics in genealogy and most of them revolve around types of sources, methods for using sources, and research/problem-solving techniques. [p. 21]
Chapter 4: Writing for NewEnglandAncestors.org and Other Websites

Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, are the standard for print publishing. For electronic publishing, however, sans-serif fonts should be used. [p. 34]
Chapter 5: Writing Genealogical Books

If you plan to write a family genealogy, think about how far you will include female lines. Deciding to include these lines will mean many more surnames to research. Nevertheless, it may be the right choice if none of the family histories has been previously compiled or if you are dealing with a group of interrelated families. [p. 37]
Note: A nice addition to the text is the template for Microsoft Word provided by one of the book's contributors, Helen Schatvet Ullmann. A VHS companion lecture titled Genealogical Writing: Style Guidelines and Practical Advice is also available.

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