April Seminars & Heritage Walks
3: Port Adelaide heritage walk: Government precinct
6: Understanding SA land record: WEA Centre
17: Riverbank: Swans, bridges and a stadium heritage walk
May Seminars & Heritage Walks
4: History Month seminar day: Strathalbyn Library 11:00am–4:00pm
1. Where did I come from? Organising, recording and preserving your family history
8: Adelaide SE corner heritage walk: Village within a city 2:00–4:00pm
2. Identifying and dating 19th century family photographs
3. Pitfalls in family history research
11: Researching your Irish ancestors: WEA Centre 6:30–9:30pm
22: North Adelaide heritage walk: Cathedral precinct 2:00–4:00pm
29: Adelaide Central East heritage walk: Clerics, clerks and courts 2:00–4:00pm
All bookings must be made with the hosting organisation.
All heritage walks are hosted by the WEA.
See the seminar program
for more details and bookings.
Online Irish parish registers
When 10 million Catholic parish registers went online in February at the National Library of Ireland the search proved impossible without knowing the name of the parish. This has always been the barrier to progressing Irish research. Now the records have been placed on FindMyPast it is a completely different kettle of fish because here they are fully indexed and thus searchable.
When I mentioned in my last newsletter that I get little feedback, I was not seeking it but nonetheless I received a flood of responses—well a flood as far as I am concerned! Thank you for all the kind words.
Online Irish parish registers
Writing a family history
Glandore SA 5037
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Graham Jaunay uses
Genealogist - for UK census, BMD indexes and more online simply because it contains quality data checked by experts.
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| Writing a family history
Some family historians after accumulating much data decide to take the next step and write a family history. This is an admirable step but one that needs to be the subject of some considerable thought and understanding about books and readers, not to mention the need to be a good writer. Over the years I have written a number of family histories for my own family and others and I know what a daunting task that can be.
Before even venturing on such a project the budding author needs to consider the above issues and a number of other factors. Should such a project be attempted? In my opinion and experience for many the answer is clearly no!
Records are very important and I suggest many family historians would be far more fruitful in their endeavours if they set to work and ensured their collection of records is preserved correctly, clearly sourced and well indexed. That they have determined the fate of their work when they join their ancestors is often neglected and much work is lost to future generations. No family history should be attempted before the records are in order.
Often I read family histories only to discover they are not really what they claim to be! A family chart in words supplemented with photographs, illustrations and maps is not a family history. It is the genealogy of a family; an essential part of family history but just a part of it. A family history requires the inclusion of story. Not only is page after page of text along the lines of Genesis just a genealogy but it is boring reading and far better presented as a chart.
17. Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.
18. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.
19. Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.
20. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock.
Many family history writers consider themselves to be historians and/or feel the need to clog up their stories with general history. There is a fine balance between setting the environment the family experienced and writing page upon page of historical background. A recent 250 page family history I read contained no less than 62 pages about religious persecution and in all those pages never mentioned their family once! The only history in a family history is that of the family. If your ancestors experienced persecution then write about their persecution.
A great failing of many writers of South Australian family histories has to be the segment often entitled—a typical voyage—where the writer talks about a typical voyage in the mid-nineteenth century to Adelaide from Britain. There is no such thing as a typical voyage—they all differed. Often such material is found in stories where the pioneer journey to the colony remains a mystery but somehow the writer has to get their ancestors on to South Australian soil. Unfortunately the typical voyage is not always original material but this is rarely acknowledged. The author would be far better off spending the energy trying to locate the appropriate vessel or, if it is already known, seeking out first-hand accounts of the specific voyage.
Another, often inappropriate, inclusion in family histories is the material relating to heraldry. Usually the inclusion of such material is totally out of place because the shields and so forth illustrated have nothing to do with the family in question! Just because people in your story share their surname with someone in the past entitled to a coat of arms, does not have anything to do with your family. Such material should only appear in your book if there is a proven link to the particular person.
So what makes a good family history? Here the writer should take a leaf out of the writers of fiction. Fiction is read because it has certain attributes including well-crafted and very readable writing, interesting characters, drama or excitement. The reader should want to continue reading. Too many family histories I have read and particularly those I have termed family charts in words, are plain boring to read and their only value is to sit on the shelf as a referenced book waiting to answer someone’s query, ‘When did Uncle Bill die, Mum?’ A well-written family history will turn Uncle Bill from a statistic into a personality!
Of course in taking the lead from fiction writers we need to avoid the fiction. Our aim is to use the techniques of a fiction writer in a non-fiction environment. One thing not found in fiction is the sourcing details telling the reader where the information outlined was found. This is a very important aspect of non-fiction writing. To authenticate the material the reader needs to know its origins, but this material should not get in the way of a good read. The best way round this problem is to employ footnotes or endnotes. Which form you use is a matter of choice as both have their supporters. I personally like footnotes, as the reference is immediately available on the page while others prefer endnotes. Avoid the Harvard style of in-text citation, as this tends to disrupt the flow of reading. If you have a significant amount of material that supports the story, such as a diary you feel you must include, then employ appendices to the rear of the book to feature this material.
In looking at fiction we can find a number of ways to vitalise a story and maintain its integrity. In my 1989 award winning book about my mother’s family the story commenced:
In August 1847 a little family group stood on a dirty Southampton dock. They were about to undertake a great venture. An adventure that would take them to the other side of the earth in a tiny sailing ship subjected to the whims of the weather and elements. They were destined to be the pathfinders of our family in Australia—pioneers in a strange faraway country. Who made up this little group and what was to be their destiny?
The story did not start are the beginning. It started at a very eventful stage in the life of the Johnsons. The start was designed to grab the reader’s attention and keep it. All good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it's these parts that are the makings of a readable family history. Look for the most interesting aspect of your ancestors’ lives and start with that. Do not worry that it occurs in the middle of the story—it is your beginning. There are a multitude of writing techniques to fill the reader in on the rest of the story. In the above extract I used the musings within a grandmother’s letter. I could have just reproduced the letter but instead I paraphrased it in my words to build up the interest.
There is a place in family history writing to speculate as long as it is quite clear that it is speculation. Consider the following from another of my books:
Why did he emigrate? This is a question often asked by modern day family history researchers and rarely is the answer obvious as we cannot account for day-to-day unrecorded decisions made more than a century ago. The great majority of settlers to early South Australia came for a better life. Lawrence’s grandfather, Samuel, was a very wealthy man indeed, but of course he had many sons and Lawrence’s father, Lawrence, was the youngest and perhaps he thought he could do better for himself elsewhere. The virtues of the colony of South Australia were widely advertised and perhaps this brought about his decision? The fact we cannot find his name on any list of assisted passengers, suggests that he may have paid his own way to the colony.
This extract raises another point. It is from a book I wrote as a commission. I was engaged because the family felt they did not have the time or skills to research and they certainly did not consider themselves writers. Not all of us can be Olympic athletes or Grand Prix drivers and likewise we cannot all be writers!
A published family history needs to look like a book and that means it has all the features expected of a non-fiction book. The reader should expect to find a table of contents, a comprehensive index, an ISBN, the author and printer’s names, captioned images acknowledging ownership and a bibliography. A preface or introduction by the author or a guest is appropriate too. Surprisingly some of the more significant of these are often not evident! An ISBN indicates that the author has complied with the legal requirements placed on all published works and has deposited copies with the appropriate legal deposit libraries.
All writing needs to observe copyright and indeed failure to do so could place one in considerable difficulties if the copyright owner decided to protect their intellectual rights. This means acknowledging other people’s material if employed within your book and observing the rules. Lifting maps and illustrations from other publications and websites for your own purpose, even if acknowledged, could be breaking copyright. Using maps from other publications should be avoided and maps specific to your own family history are far more appropriate. Today the web offers the chance to engage cartographers from all over the world to draw your maps at very reasonable prices. You then own the copyright! There are a number of websites that offer this and other services. Take a look at a site called Upwork.
In Australia we have a number of conventions and standards when it come to the writing itself. While they are not rules, they are certainly well worth observing. The Style Manual should be purchased and followed. Basically for writers of family history some of the key points outlined in the Manual not previously mentioned in this article include how to use or not to use:
• jargon, clichés and trendy words
• contractions and acronyms
• foreign words
• units of measurement in relation to time
• numbers in digit or word form
• quotation marks
The manual also gives very useful information on layout for self-publishers, but that is another story.
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