The National Institute for Genealogical Studies


The National Institute for Genealogical Studies - LEADERS IN ONLINE GENEALOGY EDUCATION

Beginning My Next Course: Writing for Genealogy

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Writing for Genealogy
Mark Twain. ds 05448 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Mark Twain. ds 05448 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

By Shannon Bennett, Student

Until a few years ago I didn’t think of myself as a writer. Lab reports, I could write those, they were methodical and easy. Or at least I thought so. Too many times through my education I was told that I didn’t have “it” for writing. Mainly the “it” referred to the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The bane of my primary school years were all those rules that made my head hurt.

However, give me a good creative writing assignment and I was off. In fact in 9th and 11th grade I placed in school-wide writing competitions that didn’t necessarily care about the intricacies of the English language, but focused on the content of the prose. Now that I am researching and documenting my family history I write more and more each day.

With the increase in my writing came a knowledge that writing for the purposes of genealogy was a whole new ball game for me. What in the world was I in for? At the time I read genealogy magazines and journals looking at them like they were a foreign language. Blogs on every topic were available, and I quickly fell into writing my own. My writing evolved and took on a life of its own. But, was there more to it than what I was already doing?  I honestly didn’t know.

Which is why I am here. This course, Writing for Genealogy: Articles, Blogs, Research Reports and so much more , looked fascinating to me. Secretly I hope that I will learn some pointers on becoming a better writer as well as learning  more about what it means to write in the genealogy world. Really, any pointers would be great.

From the syllabus it looks like our instructor, Jennifer Holik, covers many forms of writing that a genealogist could be involved in. Everything  from small scale to large publications and society level to national. Students who takes this course should have a good starting point for any type of genealogical writing they may want to do.

In particular I am interested to hear what she says about blogs (since I write one), marketing (because everyone should know a little about that), and her opinions on speaking (particularly contracts). I am certain I will pick up something new, and if you are just getting started the syllabus looks like a very complete guide to get you off and running on this endeavor.

Off I go to start the first modules.

See you online!


Grammar, Writing, and Writing Groups

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Writing for Genealogy
Chilling Time For Writing The Plan /Courtesy

Chilling Time For Writing The Plan /Courtesy

By Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

Alright, Module 1 of the course Writing for Genealogy: Articles, Blogs, Research Reports and so much more spoke to me. Remember how I confessed I am not a grammar person and spelling eludes me in the introduction post to this course? Well, yeah, guess what Module 1 covered? Yep, all that fun stuff. Oh, and education. Specifically education on writing. WIN!

Our instructor subtly chastised those of us with poor grammar and who are spelling challenged. Yeah, I know it’s important, but for some reason my scientific mind just won’t let that stuff penetrate. It’s like my brain sees the rules coming toward it and an invisible field pops up bouncing it back and a blank confused stare comes across my face. I will endeavor to be better, and stop bothering friends to edit my work. Well, I will try to not do it so often. How about that?

I was excited to see the large number of resources listed for further education. Pages in fact on so many topics that will help you write better. Currently I am trying to locate some of them either through the library or on sale. You can never have too many books. In addition to books there were also websites you can take to help with your writing education. I looked a few of them up and there was some really good websites listed.

One that is mentioned that I have some experience with is Lynn Palermo’s The Armchair Genealogist.  Lynn’s website is amazing and every year she has a month of prompts and writing guides to help you become a better writer. Everyone should check it out if they are trying to get started.

To be honest I was fascinated by the section on writing groups. It is something that I know people do, and it’s a cool concept, but honestly I had no idea what they were for.  After reading  about all the different types and how they are supposed to work, it  makes me want to run out and find a local group.  Or heck, start my own.

In particular I could see how a writing group of people from different backgrounds and writing styles who came together to receive honest feedback on their work could be very useful. I know I would benefit from getting criticism of my writing from people who could be honest, blunt, and constructive.

In the next modules it looks like we are going to cover writing for business and societies.  Topics that are important to many people for a variety of reasons.  Should be good!

See you online!

Writing as Volunteer Work

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Writing for Genealogy
Mary Pickford at writing desk. Library of Congress. LC-DIG-ppmsca-18840

Mary Pickford at writing desk. Library of Congress. LC-DIG-ppmsca-18840

By Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

Like many genealogists, I have a service heart. I like giving back to the community and helping others in any way that I can. Which is why I think that Module 4 of the course Writing for Genealogy: Articles, Blogs, Research Reports and so much more was a very important one.  This module covered how to write for societies and ways writing can give back to the genealogy community.  Let’s face it, sometimes it is easier to write if you are volunteering than if you are trying to actually work for yourself.

Like me, you may be involved with a genealogy society.  If not now maybe you will be in the future. After a while of being a “regular” at meetings you might find that some of the members want you to take on responsibilities.  Trust me, it happens.  That is why I loved that the course author, Jennifer Holik  discussed  ways to write for societies.

She covered president’s reports and secretary responsibilities, but I had hoped she would write even more about newsletters.  The secretary section covered a lot of the items a newsletter should have, but I think that working on a newsletter is one way people can really get their writing feet wet.  It is much less intimidating to write for a local newsletter than to try your hand at a large publication.  Trust me!

Of course we couldn’t have a post about volunteer writing and not cover indexing projects.  They are easy, fun, and essential for future generations.  I helped out with the 1940 US Census project as an Ambassador and indexer.  It was a great project, and similar ones are happening now, not only through national organizations but on the local level.

Many people are nervous about doing indexing or transcription projects.  I think this is a great way to not only give back but also to hone your skills. Oh, and get to know your area better. If you are a new transplant to your area, projects like these help you learn about the local records and make friends at repositories.

Once again, as with all skills, the more you do the better you get.  Jennifer includes guides on how to get started indexing, resources to read so they are not frightening, and suggestions on how to start your own project.  She sets it up nicely so when you have that inspiration you are ready to start.  Which was great, but had me making a list of potential projects for myself, friends, and genealogy society.

The last suggestion, which I think tends to freak a lot of people out, was on submitting pieces to contests. If you are self-critical, shy, or simply unsure of your work this might seem like something that you would never do. Jennifer takes the time to walk you through the different types of contests, how to find others, and a simple checklist of things to do.

I was nearly sick to my stomach when I submitted my first piece to a competition. Nerves were on edge and I was petrified about being told it was horrible.  While I didn’t win that competition, the feedback was invaluable and what I needed to grow as a writer. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and take that plunge!

Okay on to the next set of modules.

See you online!


Writing Reports

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Writing for Genealogy
Flora Payne Whitney Miller, three-quarter length portrait, seated at typewriter, facing front. Library of Congress. : LC-USZ62-97743

Flora Payne Whitney Miller, three-quarter length portrait, seated at typewriter, facing front. Library of Congress. : LC-USZ62-97743

By Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

These last two modules of the course Writing for Genealogy: Articles, Blogs, Research Reports and so much more is chock full of information. It was very hard to pick which subject I wanted to tell you about since there is not enough room to talk about them all here!  However, I picked the information on writing reports from Module 5 to focus on and I am sure some of you are groaning right now. Trust me, keep reading.

I can hear some of you now “I am never going to be a professional” or how about “no one is ever going to see my research.” Well, how do you know?  Besides, don’t you think the work you do for yourself should be the best you can offer?  I do. Creating professional quality reports for your own research is a great way to let future generations, or even the current ones, know you take your work seriously.

In the introduction for Module 5 the instructor takes her time walking you through why knowing how to write reports are a good idea. One thing that I had not really thought about before was creating a report for individuals who request help from my genealogy society. I would expect a professional type report from a library or archive but I can see how it would make my society stand out from other groups if we took our answer one step further.

Thankfully our instructor takes the time to go through the different types of reports that you can create.  There are four in total: narratives, standard report, letter, or formal report. In my opinion, narratives would be what most typical family historians would write. However, letters I think would be the next.

I am sure you can guess what a narrative report is. These reports are told like a story focusing on biographical information more than the methodology. I have seen reports like these written and then collected together for sharing at family reunions or other functions after a person has completed their research.

Letter writing is another common report people should know because of the amount of correspondence most people do in conjunction with their family history. Knowing how to create a good letter that contains all the information from your research can lead to a great correspondence chain.  Even if it is just an email, you can’t deny a great letter will get your attention!

Excuse me while I go write some letters!  Oh, and take my final.

See you online!

Finishing Up My Writing Course

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Writing for Genealogy
Woman Playing Laptop by Just2shutter/Courtesy of

Woman Playing Laptop by Just2shutter/Courtesy of

By Shannon Combs Bennett, Student

Wow, what a course.  Not only is Writing for Genealogy: Articles, Blogs, Research Reports and so much more  great  for people who are considering putting their work out there for all to see, but its also very informative for those who want to stay private. It was full of information designed to take anyone’s writing  to the next level.

My mind is buzzing with ideas and projects. I feel like I need to write to the instructor and tell her that she is not helping with my to-do list. Thankfully I don’t actually have enough time in my day to do them all, but maybe one day.

I was grateful for her clear instructions, ideas, and suggestions. At times I was literally smacking my forehead in disgust that I had not even thought to look at a particular resource. Once again, it just proves that no matter how long you do something there is always more to know.

Of course the list of resources for each module was extensive. I am still investigating and going through them all. The suggestions for helping with editing, finding writing groups, business advice, and more have proved beneficial to my future as a writer in this community.  Of course some of the book suggestions are making my pocketbook, and husband, groan but that is why there are wish lists!

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