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Writing for a genealogy newsletter


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"Writing For a Genealogy Newsletter" presentation given before the Hudson County Genealogical and Historical Society, 11 April 2015

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Writing for a genealogy newsletter

  1. 1. Writing for a genealogy newsletter Daniel Klein, MLIS, APG Hudson County Genealogical and Historical Society April 11, 2015
  2. 2. “I don’t like to write, I like to have written.” Frank Norris? Dorothy Parker? George R.R. Martin?
  3. 3. Theory
  4. 4. What is writing? • The physical aspect of writing is using an instrument to record words in an analog or digital format • The creative aspect of writing is capturing events, ideas and information from real life or from imagination, processing it and recording that processed information • This is true of all writing: poetry, prose, plays, advertising, scriptwriting, news and sports writing, business writing and yes, genealogical writing • In a word: Storytelling
  5. 5. It’s all about storytelling • A story is: “A narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.”1 • Storytelling is: “…the conveying of events in words, and images, often by improvisation or embellishment.”2 • There is an entire branch of nonfiction writing devoted to inventive storytelling called Creative Nonfiction. This genre is dedicated to telling true stories, in a creative and interesting manner. 1 “Story,”, accessed 22 Oct. 2014, 2 “Storytelling,” Wikipedia, Accessed 22 Oct. 2014,
  6. 6. Creative Nonfiction examples • All The President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein • The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote • The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  7. 7. What is genealogical writing? • Narrative – A story from your family’s history • Methodology or “How-to” – How to conduct certain types of research • Case Study – Similar to a “how to,” but uses a particular story to illustrate methodology • Review – An opinion on a book, movie, TV show, software program, web site, etc. • Essay – Writing that doesn’t fit into any other category, for example, your thoughts on genealogy, theory and criticism
  8. 8. Mechanics
  9. 9. What are you going to write about? • Do you want to tell a story about your family or a historic person or place? • Do you want to tell a story about your research? • Is it interesting to you? • Do you think it will be interesting for others?
  10. 10. Do you have an elevator speech? • Get your idea focused to the point where you can get it to one (or two) short sentences
  11. 11. “Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes.” Sir Robert Wilson-Watt
  12. 12. What is structure? • “Structure is a fundamental, tangible or intangible notion referring to the recognition, observation, nature, and permanence of patterns and relationships of entities.”1 • For our purposes, structure is the way a story is put together. • It can make a story more interesting or more confusing. 1 “Structure,” Wikipedia, accessed 22 Oct., 2014,
  13. 13. The inverted pyramid “Inverted Pyramid,” Wikipedia, accessed 22 Oct. 2014,
  14. 14. “Once upon a time…” • Linear storytelling. • Tells a story chronologically – A happens, then B, then C,…, then Z. • Simple but effective.
  15. 15. Bookends • Tells a story beginning with an event, then flashing back (or maybe even flashing forward!), then ending with the original event.
  16. 16. Thesis • Standard high school/college thesis paper style • Open with a thesis paragraph, making a statement as to what you intend to prove, make your case, and end with a summary paragraph. • Good for scholarly or legal writing. • Could be on the dry or boring side.
  17. 17. Know Your Ending • By knowing your ending, you have something to work towards. All roads must lead to the end • No horizontal movement unless it affects the narrative
  18. 18. “I didn’t have time to write a short article, so I wrote a long one instead.” Another old newspaper saying
  19. 19. “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” Ernest Hemingway – A Movable Feast
  20. 20. Attribution • Attribution is when you put words into someone’s mouth (figuratively) • In 99.9% of cases, a simple “he said,” “she said,” or “[insert name here] said” is sufficient • Do not add adverbs to attribution (i.e., “he said jokingly”) • Only direct quotes in quotation marks
  21. 21. Interviews • Always identify yourself as a writer if you plan on talking to someone on the record and use their quotes. Even if you’re not going to use direct quotes, it’s important to identify yourself • Ask them to spell their name and give a title • Taping is a good idea, if allowed by the interviewee • Save the awkward questions for the end
  22. 22. Taping interviews • Always ask if you can tape first • Turn on the recorder, identify yourself and give the date, the time and where the interview is being recorded • Introduce the interviewee and again ask them for their consent in being recorded • Always take notes, even if you’re taping • Never tape surreptitiously
  23. 23. “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Old newspaper saying
  24. 24. Grammar
  25. 25. Taming the grammar monsters • Bad grammar (and spelling) is hard on the reader • Bad grammar (and spelling) doesn’t reflect well on you • Bad grammar makes editors cry
  26. 26. Active voice vs. Passive voice • Active: It is this editor’s opinion that the active voice is better. • Passive: It is the opinion of this editor that the passive voice is better. Active Voice Wins!
  27. 27. The split infinitive • An infinitive is a dictionary form of a verb (e.g., to go, to buy, to run) • By placing an adverb between the preposition and the verb you are splitting the infinitive • It used to be a big no-no (see Strunk and White’s Elements of Style), but is less frowned upon now.
  28. 28. “To boldly go…” Is the world’s most famous example of a split infinitive. Photo via WikiMedia Commons
  29. 29. Its and It’s • If it’s possessive, there’s no apostrophe • “The genealogical society is having a gathering of its members.” • If it’s a contraction of “it is,” there’s an apostrophe. • Say it to yourself: If you can replace the “its” with “it is,” then there’s an apostrophe
  30. 30. Apostrophes • Possessives – Use ‘s for singular nouns • Danny’s laptop • Kansas’s team • Use s’ for plural nouns • The Murgittroyds’ home
  31. 31. Style
  32. 32. Style refers to… • …a series of rules to make copy more cohesive • …setting a standard for spelling • …standardizes attribution and titles
  33. 33. All Caps • A long time standard: Surnames written in all capital letters in genealogical publications • Why? • Easier to find on a page • Moving away from that standard • More documents have indexes and online publications are keyword searchable • Avoids confusion (e.g., DEMOTT vs. DeMott)
  34. 34. Ethics
  35. 35. “ ” The act of using another person's words or ideas without giving credit to that person; the act of plagiarizing something “Plagiarism,” Merriam-Webster, One of the great sins of writing.
  36. 36. Fabrication • Fabrication is the act of inventing parts or the entire article • In my eyes, it’s the greatest of all journalism/historical sins
  37. 37. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit