Cover image for The complete idiot's guide to writing your family history
The complete idiot's guide to writing your family history
Rutledge, Lynda, 1950-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Indianapolis, IN : Alpha Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxx, 418 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
CS16 .S74 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



This book will help readers researching into their past and finding the story of their families lives. Through easy-to-follow instructions entire family records can be tracked down and written in a professional format. - Lynda Rutledge has collaborated on over 14 books. She teaches you all the right interviewing techniques and the right places to go to access the information needed.

Author Notes

Lynda Rutledge Stephenson is a freelance journalist who has contributed to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Houston Post, Women's World magazine, and Midwest Living. She is also a professional writer who has collaborated on more than 14 books, including Give Us A Child and StarLIFE . A native Texan, Lynda lives with her husband in San Diego.

Table of Contents

Part 1 Writing Your Family Historyp. 1
1 What Is a Family History?p. 3
The Difference Between You and Everybody Elsep. 4
The Difference Between Great-Granny and Annie Oakleyp. 6
Gone with the Windp. 7
The Difference Between Family History and Genealogyp. 10
Love Letter to the Futurep. 11
2 Going Beyond Genealogyp. 13
Stories, Stories, Storiesp. 14
You-Shaped Destinyp. 14
Plot of Our Livesp. 16
Stories 'R' Usp. 18
You, O Storytellerp. 24
3 What Kind of Family History Should You Write?p. 29
Author! Author!p. 29
Inner Family Historyp. 31
Your Own Family Shaped Inventionp. 32
Journal Your Journeyp. 39
Journal Jogged Memoriesp. 40
Journals 1, 2, 3p. 43
A Journal Guaranteep. 45
Journal Down the Genealogical Trailp. 45
4 How Big Is Your Appetite?p. 47
Focus, Focus, Focusp. 47
How's Your Ancestral Math?p. 48
More and More Moresp. 50
Great-Grandparent Tallyp. 50
In Search of Missing Granniesp. 55
Ready, Set, Go Genealogyp. 57
Part 2 Becoming Your Family's Investigative Journalistp. 59
5 Climbing Your Family Treep. 61
The Paper Trail Overviewp. 62
Primary Sourcesp. 64
Secondary Sourcesp. 68
Scoping Out Your Paper Trailp. 70
You as Your Great-Grannyp. 71
Researching Baby Stepsp. 72
The Forest for the Treesp. 73
6 Tools for the Taskp. 75
Pedigree Chartp. 76
First Genealogical Writing Lessonp. 77
Pedigree Chart Tipsp. 77
Family Group Recordp. 78
Individual Ancestor Recordp. 78
Descendant Charts/Drop Chartsp. 80
Research Logp. 80
Correspondence Logp. 81
Historical Research Timelinesp. 81
Computer, Typewriter, Pencilp. 81
In Praise of the Printed Pagep. 82
Let's Talk Note-Takingp. 83
Now What?p. 84
Which Way to Go?p. 84
Journaling Down the Genealogical Trailp. 85
7 Getting It Right from the Get-Gop. 87
The Name Gamep. 87
A Boy Named Shirleyp. 91
Got the Right Ancestor?p. 91
Geographical Checkp. 92
Learning from the Countyp. 92
Don't Believe Everything You Readp. 97
Proof and More Proofp. 98
Sloppy Genealogyp. 98
Do You Have Standards?p. 99
But What About a Great Story?p. 99
Journaling Along the Genealogical Trailp. 99
8 Where to Beginp. 101
First Step Backp. 101
All About Youp. 101
The Late, Great Youp. 102
Yourself in History's Paradep. 105
Filling In/Filling Outp. 106
Second Step Backp. 106
Look Backwardp. 106
Third Step Backp. 107
Look to Both Sidesp. 107
Fourth Step Backp. 110
Looking Around Townp. 110
Looking "Home"p. 111
Guess What?p. 112
Journaling Down the Genealogical Trailp. 112
9 Looking in All the Right Places--at Homep. 113
In Your Memoriesp. 114
Heirlooms Tell Talesp. 115
Old Junk Tells Tales, Toop. 117
Mom and Dad's Atticp. 118
Saved from Garage Salep. 118
At Weddings and Funeralsp. 120
Crazy Aunt Edna's Stories and Why You Hated Themp. 122
Interviewing (Crazy Aunt Edna Has Her Day)p. 122
Your Own Memories, Revisitedp. 128
Journaling Down the Genealogical Trailp. 128
10 The Family Investigator on the Casep. 131
How to Research Like a Sleuthp. 131
How to Think Like an Historianp. 137
How to Report Like a Reporterp. 146
11 Looking in All the Right Places--Library and Beyondp. 149
You, the Genealogical Jugglerp. 149
Library Researchp. 150
Census Researchp. 154
National Archivesp. 157
Military Researchp. 160
Immigration Researchp. 161
Land Recordsp. 163
An Internet Adventurep. 163
Journaling Down the Genealogical Trailp. 165
12 Looking in All the Right Places--in Hometownsp. 167
Searching for Your Schmoesp. 167
The Hometown Libraryp. 168
The Daily Hometown Tattlerp. 168
Courthouse Researchp. 171
Cemetery Researchp. 174
Following the Literal Trailp. 179
Journaling Down the Genealogical Trailp. 180
Part 3 Getting Organizedp. 181
13 Writing All the Right People Rightp. 183
Your Collateral Ancestors' Valuep. 183
Cousin Connectionp. 184
Saving Your Ancestorsp. 185
Reaching Outp. 185
Letters, We Get Lettersp. 189
Becoming a Superb Correspondentp. 190
What a Good Letter Can Dop. 190
Simplify, Simplifyp. 191
Do Your Homeworkp. 192
Thank-You Lettersp. 193
Journaling Down the Genealogical Trailp. 193
14 Your Do's and Don'ts Checklistp. 195
Do Find Lettersp. 195
Don't Let Time Slip-Slide Awayp. 197
Don't Ignore Your Crazy Aunt Ednasp. 198
Do Collect All Those Old Photographsp. 199
Don't Let Your Organization Gop. 199
Do Browsep. 199
Do Use Common Sensep. 200
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Helpp. 200
Don't Take Help Without Questionp. 200
Don't Be Tempted by Relative Shortcutsp. 201
Do Let Your Curiosity Be Your Guidep. 201
Do Respond to Responsesp. 203
Don't Treat Computers as Filing Cabinetsp. 203
Do Treat the Internet as a Big Indexp. 203
Don't Believe in Generic Genealogyp. 204
And That Goes Double for Heraldryp. 205
Do Find and Use Ethnic Resourcesp. 205
Do Check Lesser-Known Resourcesp. 207
15 Kissing Kin, Black Sheep, and Granny Gapsp. 209
Granny Scandal or Granny Romance?p. 209
Your Personal Black Sheepp. 211
How to Handle Family Secretsp. 212
Why They're Called "Kissin' Cousins"p. 212
Alive vs. Deadp. 216
Myth vs. Realityp. 217
Bridging Your Granny Gapsp. 219
16 How Much Is Enough?p. 223
How Big Should You Go?p. 224
What Were Those Formats Again?p. 225
Oh, No! Where Did That Paper Go?p. 226
Creating an Indexp. 226
Creating Your "Oriental Box"p. 226
Computer Filing Cabinetp. 229
What About Those Genealogical Numbers?p. 230
Dueling Number Systemsp. 231
Where Does It End?p. 232
For Future "Trekkers"p. 233
About That Extra Roomp. 233
Part 4 Creative Jumpstartsp. 235
17 Evoking Your Memoriesp. 237
Your Own Oral Historyp. 237
Exercises to Rememberp. 238
Stirring Up the Memoriesp. 240
Learning to Wax Philosophicalp. 247
Topics Galorep. 247
Journaling Down the Genealogical Trailp. 248
18 Telling Your Own Storiesp. 249
Cross-Training Is Good for Youp. 249
You're Just Warming Upp. 250
Listing Your Memoriesp. 250
Your Description Warm-Up: How Did They Look?p. 252
Your Characterization Warm-Up: How Did They Act?p. 256
Your Dialogue Warm-Up: What Did They Say?p. 257
Your Dramatic Tension Warm-Up: What Happens Next?p. 259
Your Tense Warm-Up: When Did It Happen?p. 260
Your Tone Warm-Up: What's Funny About Humor?p. 262
Using Reflective Humorp. 263
When Funny Can Be Seriousp. 263
Journaling Down the Genealogical Trailp. 264
19 Telling Other People's Storiesp. 265
What to Do with Crazy Aunt Edna's Memoriesp. 265
Listing Your Memoriesp. 266
More Cross-Training Exercisesp. 266
A Whole New Point of Viewp. 266
Ready, Set, Exercise: Point-of-View Warm-Upp. 267
Choosing Where to Beginp. 268
Ready, Set, Exercise: Beginning Warm-Upp. 268
The Value of Writing Shortp. 268
Ready, Set, Exercise: 2,500/500 Words Warm-Upp. 269
Your Description Warm-Up: How Did They Look?p. 270
Ready, Set, Exercise: Descriptionp. 271
Ready, Set, Exercise: More Descriptionp. 271
Your Characterization Warm-Up: How Did They Act?p. 273
Ready, Set, Exercise: Characterizationp. 273
Your Dialogue Warm-Up: What Did They Say?p. 273
Ready, Set, Exercise: Homework and Imaginationp. 274
Dramatic Tension Warm-Up: What Happens Next?p. 274
Ready, Set, Exercise: "And Then..."p. 274
Ready, Set, Exercise: Action/Reactionp. 275
Getting Serious About Humorp. 276
Journaling Down the Genealogical Trailp. 276
20 Time to Structurep. 277
Revisiting Formats and Focusp. 277
Revisiting Your Pile of Researchp. 278
Your Work Is Talking to Youp. 278
Reassessing Your "Readership"p. 279
Your Format Test-Drivep. 279
Flexing Your New Writing Musclesp. 288
Journaling Down the Genealogical Trailp. 288
Ready, Set, Writep. 288
Part 5 Finally, Finally Writingp. 291
21 Making It Happenp. 293
Getting Seriousp. 293
Remembering Key Conceptsp. 297
The Bugaboo of "Purple Prose"p. 299
The Glory of Restraintp. 300
That Wonderful Formatp. 300
The Miracle of Outliningp. 301
You Know the Drillp. 302
Your Format and Your Outlinep. 302
Your Outline--Where Are You Going?p. 303
Do It Againp. 303
Hushing Your Internal Nitpicker (for Now)p. 304
Progress Reportp. 304
22 Imagining the Tellingp. 305
Reviewing Your Researchp. 305
That Wonderful Formatp. 307
The Boon of Reading Historical Nonfiction/Fictionp. 308
The Bane of Reading Historical Fictionp. 308
Putting Words into Your Ancestor's Mouthp. 309
Allegedly, He Saidp. 309
Imagining a Lifep. 310
Imagining Your Ancestor's Diaryp. 311
How Much Freedom?p. 312
Progress Reportp. 312
23 How to Startp. 315
And You're Off--Beginningsp. 315
Hooksp. 316
Them, Not You--Avoiding Self-Indulgencep. 322
Editing Your Genealogical Slide Showp. 322
Ending the Beginningp. 323
What Lies Aheadp. 323
Progress Reportp. 323
24 Getting It on Paperp. 325
After the Beginning--What?p. 325
The Miracle of Outlining, Revisitedp. 326
It's Over When It's Overp. 326
Writing Parts of the Wholep. 326
Ready, Set, Write Somethingp. 327
Gagging the Internal Nitpickerp. 327
Time and Place, Revisitedp. 328
Avoiding Muddle in the Middlep. 328
A Jumpstart Trick for Tomorrowp. 332
Eyes Too Big for Your Stomachp. 333
Ready, Set, First Draftp. 333
Progress Reportp. 333
Part 6 Making Your Writing Singp. 335
25 Mistakes You Won't Makep. 337
Being Reference Sloppyp. 343
Progress Reportp. 346
26 Writing Is Rewritingp. 347
Free from That Whirling Dervishp. 348
Dead Give-Awaysp. 348
Your Writing Processp. 351
Some Self-Testsp. 353
Your Ancestors' Eyesp. 358
Beginning, Middle, Endp. 358
Who Do You Trust? (Feedback)p. 359
Progress Reportp. 359
27 Editing--Unleashing Your Internal Nitpickerp. 361
Your Internal Nitpicker (a.k.a. Your Inner Editor)p. 361
You Are the Camerap. 362
Nits Needing Picked Checklist--Going Beyond Spellcheckp. 363
The Usual Suspectsp. 363
Some Unusual Suspectsp. 367
More Nits Needing Picked--Playing in the Professional/Amateurp. 370
Who Do You Trust? (Proofreader)p. 372
Progress Reportp. 373
28 Publish or Perish?p. 375
Why a Book Endures and Why You Carep. 376
What Is Your True Purpose?p. 376
Size Doesn't Matterp. 377
Making It Look Like a Bookp. 378
Magazine Publishingp. 380
Want to Try the Big-Time?p. 381
Self-Publishingp. 382
Be Proud; Say It Loudp. 384
Progress Reportp. 385
A BookMarks--for Further Referencep. 387
B Sample Formsp. 391
C Glossaryp. 395
Indexp. 399