Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How Shall I Organize My Book?

That is a great question that I am asked quite frequently. There are several different ways to organize the material in your book. (Just as every person is unique, each book should be unique.) The layout and design of your book, where you put the pictures, and the way you organize the information is part of the creativity & uniqueness of your book. If you don’t know where to start, you can get ideas from looking at other printed histories from family, friends or genealogists and see which style you like best. If you find a layout that you like then use the same one, otherwise you can do it any way you would like. Don't think that you have to make your book look just like other histories, unless you like it. Go ahead and get opinions and advice from others, but most importantly, don’t be afraid to do it the way that you would like.

Here are some common ways to organize your history. For personal histories, chronological order is frequently used. For genealogical histories the two most common are: 1) Start with the oldest ancestor and work your way to today. Or 2)Start with you, then your parents, then your grandparents, etc. If your history is about multiple cousins of the same generations, the two most common ways are: 1) Alphabetical order; or 2) Put them in order by families in birth order.

Pictures and documents can be placed in groups or scattered throughout the book. I prefer to put the pictures throughout the book, close to where they are talked about in the text. If you are going to print some pictures in color, you can save some money by combining the color pictures on the same page, but other than that feel free to put the pictures and documents where you would like to have them.

Remember, make it your way.

Chris Stevenson

Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How Important is an Index?

All books will be a much better book with an index (exceptions are novels or children’s books). You are very familiar with what is in your book and where it is, but everyone else doesn’t have this knowledge. An index will aid the reader and researcher to find exactly what they are looking for and know for sure if the information they are looking for is in your book.

There are a small number of family histories that can use automatically generated indexes. Most histories will need to be manually indexed. One of the main problems with any kind of automatic indexing is that we don’t have a person’s name listed exactly the same way each time. For example, one time we may list someone by their full name, the next instance my just list their first name, and then we may have another story that just uses their nickname. Only a manual index will be able to have all three of these listed correctly for the same person.

Most people are familiar with the index card method of indexing a book, and that way still works, but I have a little easier way to manually create an index. As you are working on the book and typing it up, make a new file called “index” and begin listing all of the names that you would like included (listed surname first). Include key place names (towns, counties), important events (world wars, accidents), as well as people in your index. For female members or instances where the family name changed significantly in spelling, consider using cross-references to maiden and married names or alternate spellings used by the same individual.

When you are finished writing, proofreading, and editing the book and it is all ready for the publisher, have your word processor alphabetize the list of names that you have typed. Now as you go through the book for the last proofreading (usually from the printer’s proof) add the page numbers for each person and your index is done. Pretty slick.

Some people judge a book by its cover. Most genealogists judge a book by its index.

If you would like to look further into using an indexing program, here are some good links for you to find more about them.

Some indexing programs you can buy are listed on this site:

Here are two articles about the limitations and disadvantages to using an automatic indexing program:

Chris Stevenson

Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Copyright, To Do or Not To Do, That is the Question.

I am asked from time to time if a client needs to copyright their book. My usual answer is that will depend on one thing; if you are going to sell your book as an income source for many years to come, then you will want to get a copyright. If not, then you won't need to bother with a copyright. Many genealogy books or family history books have limited interest to close relatives and don’t need to have a copyright. Keep in mind that obtaining a copyright isn't very expensive and doesn’t take much time, so if you are wavering on this, then go ahead and copyright it.

Here is a link to the U. S. Copyright Office web page for frequently asked questions. If you don’t find your answer here, then let me know and I’ll see what I can find out for you.

Chris Stevenson

Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


This time of year, I am reminded of the importance of deadlines as well as the lack of importance of deadlines. That my sound funny, so let me explain. First, I think that it is common knowledge that we need deadlines to push us over the top to finish projects. A couple of examples that I can think of is how many sports teams really push hard to get ahead in the last two minutes of a game. And how students study extra hard and long just before a final test. We definitely need deadlines to help us.
But I want to point out another side of deadlines when it comes to publishing a family history. Every year I have some people ask me when is the last date that they can finish writing it and have it published for Christmas. We discuss the different deadlines and then I usually say something like this, "I just want to remind you that it is wonderful to have you book completed for Christmas, but your book will be around for a hundred years and so it is more important to have it just right than to meet a deadline." This is wisdom that I learned from my father. He used deadlines to help propel him forward, but he never cut corners. Maybe that is the perfectionist in him.
Keeping deadlines in their proper perspective is so important as we do these very large projects, like writing and publishing a family history. Use Christmas, a family reunion, or other occasion as a deadline to work towards, but remember that your book will be treasured for years to come. Make it a legacy that you will be happy with not one full of regrets.
Chris Stevenson
Email questions and I’d be happy to help.