By Eilene Lyon
Some family history writers use their blog as a place to keep in-depth birth-to-death reports on their ancestors, primarily for their own use and for close relatives. This is not for them. If, on the other hand, you are a family historian seeking a wider audience for your blog posts, here are a few tips to make your writing more accessible.
- Orient the reader. No matter where you and your family live now, your ancestors have lived all over the world. Sometimes I find myself more than halfway through a story before I even know what country it takes place in. Avoid using just local place names. Get the setting of your story into the first paragraph or two so the reader can orient themselves geographically. A particular location may be of special interest to many readers. Be sure to include that place in your tags.
- Tell a story. Many family history posts cram an ancestor’s entire life into one piece. It becomes overwhelming to read. Instead, look for one incident or personality trait that you can focus on. Then learn everything you can about it before writing your story. The time she used the wrong hair dye. The battle he fought during the Vietnam War. How she saved the neighbor’s toddler from drowning. His hobby of whittling wooden toys. A love of trains. A family reunion. A sparkling wit. The dog eating Thanksgiving dinner. With this approach, you’ll never run out of material for your blog, and your readers will enjoy it more.
- Begin with the end in mind. Always keep in mind how the story will end. You may want to give a hint about the ending early in the piece. Or perhaps you will string the reader along in a delightful way and give them a big, juicy surprise at the end. Each story needs a beginning, middle, and end. Be succinct and edit out unnecessary information. Unless your story is especially spell-binding and loaded with lots of intriguing images, keep the overall length under 1000 words.
- Come up with a creative title. Generally, you won’t want to use just the ancestor’s name. If you are writing for a prompt, such as 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, don’t use the prompt as your main title. It should be relegated to a subtitle. Prompts are great for focus, too. Even the WordPress Daily Post prompt can stimulate an interesting family history story.
- Citations. If you are relating a personal anecdote, particularly one you have experienced, citations are unnecessary. But if you are relying on outside material, especially if you are paraphrasing or providing factual material from public records or published works, then you really should add citations for several reasons: a. You will add credibility to your work. b. You will be helping other family historians who may be researching that family, that geographic area, or just seeking additional sources of information about their interests. c. It’s good practice if you plan to publish anywhere other than your blog. d. Credit should be given where it’s due.
- Proof-read several times. I won’t swear a typo or grammatical error never gets into one of my posts, but I re-read and edit a dozen times or more. Look for repeated words and phrases. Omit needless words. Make it tight and energetic. Use action verbs and don’t go overboard with adjectives. When previewing, check to see how it looks in desktop, tablet, and phone view.
Feature image: My grandmother, Clare Davis Smith, as I never saw her – on horseback! From the collection of Laurence M. Smith. Location unknown.