Wednesday, January 12, 2011

(my) Writing Wednesdays, #1

Or also known as: how I am trying to write a family history even my grandkids will want to read
I have been collecting information for about 15 - 20 years now, but the detail work on the family history just never seems quite cooked (or I may have convinced myself to believe that because the task ahead is so daunting!). However, consistent with my New Years resolution for 2011, I decided I had better start writing. Now. As in today... I was waiting to dot every "i" and cross every "t", but I wasn't getting any information "out there" for my kids and grandkids. Quite simply, with a few thousand names I was working on (including siblings, etc.), I was overwhelmed. And I do have a day job. So before sitting down to write, I had to figure out how to divide my task into workable "chunks" (and then recognize that I might occasionally be issuing "supplements" for family members as new information become available - let's get realistic here). 

At this point, my first step was to find a good organizing theme. Although I could start "in the beginning" and organize from greatest grandparent forward, even I find this a bit tedious and at times downright confusing to be readling and simultaneously trying to keep track of everyone. I could also start "at the end"
with the greatest grandchild (as it now exists), but that didn't solve anything for me. Worse yet, these two organizing formats implied I would have to keep writing until everything was done, and I might not live that long! Nor did they help me "chunk" things up into workable pieces.

To resolve my dilemma, I reflected on my life (better known as a glass of wine in front of the fireplace). It came to me that the family history was a form of giving birth... and we know what that feels like (or at least have heard about it...). Not that I can truly identify with OctoMom, but which would you rather do - have eight separate pregnancies or give birth to octuplets? (ok, maybe there are economies of scale, but I would vastly prefer the former - in this day and age I should be able to decide that I was done when I wanted to be done). There had to be a better way.

After stewing on it for a while (another glass of wine), Eureka! I could more or less organize separate family histories around the intersection of geographic areas and basic time periods. I wasn't going back as far as the Pleistocene era, after all, so this seemed doable. In terms of time frames, I decided to start with, you guessed it, the first to arrive (in North America) in each geographic area. To make sure I didn't miss any gems from across the pond, I also could go "backwards" to the earliest possible ancestor in appropriate sidebars, so each chapter would be "complete." 

With the "First immigrant" [and back] by Geographic Area structure, I figured I was pretty well set. But I also supplemented a bit with some other (in my mind) natural categories, creating some additional chapters. So at this point, my plan of attack is to create different volumes in my family history (still a work in progress but first volumes are on the Christmas list for next year!). I have "chunked up" these volumes as follows (alphabetically presented): 
  • A River of Dreams: Settling along the Hudson in Beverwijk, Esopus, Rensslaerswyck, Schenectady & Beyond
  • Back in the Old Neighborhood: Our Family in Nieuw Amsterdam
  • Gathering of the Clans: The Scottish side of the Tree
  • Holding Court: the Royals
  • Moccasin Trails: Our First Peoples
  • Notre Famlies Canadienne- Français et Arcadien (our French Canadian & Arcadian Families)
  • Pilgrims Progress: Stepping aground at Plymouth
  • Sons of Liberty (or not): Our family in the Revolutionary War
As I am currently planning, each of these volumes (separate books) will have the following basic structure:
  • Front matter, including dedications, acknowledgments, table of contents, etc
  • What I call my "context" chapter, setting out the organizing theme for the volume and what will be found in it, as well as  some background information, and the like. At the end of this chapter, I plan to include:
    • Who came over on what ship (if known)
    • A map that shows property locations of each of the families in the volume (who looked over whose fence) and any "migrations"
    • Other summary details that may be volume specific
  • "Family" chapters: These chapters will include all of the various families that belong in a given volume. Each chapter deals with a different family (beginning with the immigrant ancestor) and then goes several generations until the volume butts up against another volume (such as Sons of Liberty), or the family has moved to one of the other geographic areas. At the end of each chapter will be:
    • the complete lineage from start to present day, coded to show where the next part of the line (who) takes up in terms of the other volumes.
    • generate a "map" of this family vis a vis the other families in the volume (this is technical, and I will explain it in a later post, but the idea came from my "day job" as a researcher of things other than genealogy)
    • other summary details that may be volume specific
  • "End" matter, including appendices, all my references & resources, and both a place and name index.
  • Whew!
The first of my "tomes" will be Back in the Neighborhood. So check back next Wednesday for the continuing saga... 

Meanwhile, if you have any suggestions, cautionary tales, see glaring errors/omissions in my format thus far, or find any logic errors, please chime in!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your comment and help over at my blog. It sounds good. I still haven't done it yet, but I will get to it.