Book Review:Write Your Family History

Most genealogists, at some point in time, decide they want more out of genealogy than just collecting facts about their ancestors.  Nothing less than writing a family history book will satisfy their ambitions.

Family stories cut to the core of what makes us unique as human beings and fuels the desire to capture and share our story.  After all, there is no time like the present as: interest in genealogy has surged, family records are available at the touch of a button and cheap self-publishing options abound.

Most of these folks just want to convert their hard-earned genealogy research into a page turner of a family history book, but have no idea how to go about it.  The problem is that there are very few trustworthy resources to turn to for guidance.  Most books on writing creative nonfiction are geared for journalistic writing or memoirs and provide little guidance on the peculiarities of writing about long passed family members.

I was excited to stumble across Lynn Palermo’s “Write Your Family History” series of books.  The series is structured as workbooks with practical exercises designed to support your writing project with ample space to capture your thoughts.

Writing a Family History is a Daunting Task

You may question the need to seek external resources to aid in the writing process, but what appears as an intuitively simple task can require quite a lot of perseverance to complete.  Most writing projects exist as unfinished drafts shoved into desk drawers to be completed at some yet to be determined later date.  Why is that the case?

Like many creative endeavors, writing a family history book is difficult because it lacks structure.  There are just too many decisions left up to the author, each providing a golden opportunity for procrastination.  This is where Palermo’s books excel.  She keeps the author focused on elements of the writing process that are important to creating an optimal outcome.

The first book focuses on basics such as identifying the scope and span of your book with sage advice on finding your plot and theme, organizing your research, improving writing habits and creating the workflow you will need to write your book.  Each successive book focuses on a particular theme such as “Bringing Your Ancestors to Life through Characterization”, “Finding the Story: Plotting Your Ancestor’s Journey” and “Crafting a Scene: Showing Your Ancestors in Action”.

I personally found the series to be helpful with its guidance on how to write about ancestors we don’t know.  Maybe you are writing about someone who died 100 years ago that you never had a chance to meet.  In cases like these we must use our family research coupled with social history research and our opinions to construct a reasonable image of our ancestor.  You must have the courage to take a stance and explain the events of your ancestor’s life through your own perspective.

Lynn has honed her craft through years of dispensing practical writing advice to readers as author of The Armchair Genealogist blog, freelance writing jobs for major periodicals and coaching engagements.  It is certainly wise to take advice from someone with many hard-earned years of experience who is a leader in their field.

Whether you a struggling writer just starting out or an experienced writer with published works under your belt, consulting these indispensable nuts and bolts guides will help you meet your goals.  If you wish to purchase a copy, I have provided links to them below:

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Genealogy Quick Start Guide for Beginners

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5 Genealogy Mistakes to Avoid

Google Genealogy Research Toolbox

Find Records

Requesting Vital Records

Researching Ancestors through Military Records

Using the National Archives (NARA) for Genealogy Research

Using U.S. Census Records

Finding Homestead Records

Canadian Genealogy Research using the Internet

Researching British Genealogy


Genealogy Source Citations Made Easy

Finding Family History Books

Listening to Genealogy Podcasts Made Easy

Using Cyndi’s List for Genealogy Research

Researching Ancestors Using Obituaries