google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist

Angie Harmon Connects with Her Ancestor's Land

Angie Harmon and Daughters Connect with Ancestor's Land
Picture Courtesy of TLC 

This Sunday, on Who Do You Think You Are? (March 22, 2015, at 10/9c on TLC) Angie Harmon brings us her family history story. 

Angie who believes she was Greek, Irish and native American will be surprised to meet her 5x g-grandfather, Michael Harmon who immigrated from Germany as an indentured servant and winds up gutting it out as a soldier in Washington's regiment at ValleyForge. After a bleak season in hell he mutinies against the Continental Congress in protest for his basic rights of food, clothing and shelter…and succeeds! After the war Michael becomes a well to do land owner in Kentucky where Angie will get to pay her respects to what is still Harmon owned land today.

Watch this Sunday, as Angie makes a  connection to her ancestor's land and their values. 

Here's a sneak peak!!

Who Do You Think You Are? Returns Sunday

Hard not to be a family historian without knowing about the popular series, Who Do You Think You Are? Genealogy shows are finally hitting their stride, the additions of the Genealogy Roadshow and Finding Your Roots, have all contributed to genealogy becoming a mainstay in television.

However, Who Do You Think You Are? broke new ground for genealogy shows and remains ever popular. Who Do You Think You Are? allows the viewer to sit on the shoulders of these celebrities as they discover their roots. We travel with them to ancestral hometowns and archives as they come face to face with the ancestors who helped shaped their paths. We are emotionally drawn into their stories, as their family history becomes real, as they find an emotional connection to these past lives. Whether we watch in hopes to one day have the same experience for ourselves or because we understand the emotional draw of learning about the sacrifices and difficult decisions our ancestors endured, we are hooked.

The beloved TLC series, returns this Sunday, March 8th, with new celebrities facing their pasts and learning the full power of knowing their history. Executive producers Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky have lined up 8 new celebrities for viewers. This season includes Julie Chen, Angie Harmon, Sean Hayes, Bill Paxton, Melissa Etheridge, Josh Groban, Tony Goldwyn and America Ferrera.

Who Do You Think You Are? begins Sunday March 8th on TLC at 10pm EST, 9pm Central

Here’s a sneak peak of what’s in store for viewers.

 Who Do You Think You Are? 

Choices in Publishing Your Family History Book

Today's post is courtesy of our guest author Biff Barnes from Stories to Tell. 

As you near completion of the manuscript of your family history book some of your focus shifts to the next step in the process:

How do I transform the finished draft into a bookstore-quality book?
Very few family histories will appeal to a large audience, so most of us will not find a traditional publisher ready to offer to pay us for the privilege of publishing our book. So we need to explore other options for getting our books into print. You might begin with the question:

How much help will I need?
The first thing to realize is that two important steps follow writing a book – editing the manuscript and designing the books interior layout and cover. A traditional publisher takes care of them as a part of the publishing process. When you don’t have a traditional publisher you have to take care of them yourself.

Many novice authors think of editing as checking the punctuation and spelling before moving on to publication, but editing is much more than that. Editors can offer three different kinds of advice to improve your manuscript:
  • Developmental editing focuses on improving the content and organization of a manuscript by suggesting where to add detail, delete redundancies, or move text to make it more effective.
  • Content editing polishes your writing style by improving its clarity, cohesiveness, and effectiveness.
  • Copy editing, sometimes called proof-reading, focuses on sentence-level correctness in syntax and mechanics.
All are essential to producing a quality book.

Once the manuscript is ready it’s time to design the book. Professionally designed books are usually created in Adobe Creative Suite using InDesignIllustratorPhotoShop, and Bridge. These tools are used to layout the text in fonts and styles that will enhance readability, prepare photos, charts, graphics and other illustrations, and create a striking cover to grab your reader. The final step in the design process is to create a PDF suitable for the digital press that will print the book. The PDF most of us have in Adobe Reader is not capable of doing this. You’ll need Adobe Acrobat, and you’ll need to know the printer’s specifications for the PDF that will be suitable for his use.

If editing and design sound complicated, they are. Unfortunately, many self-publishing authors think self-publishing means DIY. They have a few friends “edit” their books, try to design it in Microsoft Word, and think they are good to go. When a printer rejects their file, or they see an amateurish book when they look at the proof copy, they’re frustrated and disappointed.

Before going ahead to edit and design your book on your own consider whether you or the friends you’ll ask to help you truly have the skills, experience and software tools to do a quality job.

Best-selling author Guy Kawasaki in his book on self-publishing, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book, advised, “Unless you’re a professional, hire a professional.”

Whether you decide to do your own editing and design, to have friends with skills in those areas help you, or hire professionals to do them for you:

When you complete the design of the book, who should publish it?
If you enter self-publishing into your browser’s search bar a number of large corporations – Author Solutions, Author House, Xlibris, and Outskirts Press among others – will dominate the results. These publishing companies offer packages including editing, design, cover, publishing, and marketing. It looks like a simple way to get your book published, but before you hit the buy button, take time to look a little more deeply at two questions.

Who will own the rights to the book? One of the most important considerations when publishing a family history book is making sure that you own the rights to your book. If you check copyright law you will see that a copyright is established as soon as you create the manuscript. A legal copyright registration is important only if there is ever a dispute over the ownership of the rights to the book.

However, when some publishing companies design your book the contract you sign with them states that while you own the copyright, the company owns the book file. If for any reason, you were unhappy with your relationship with the company and wanted to republish your book elsewhere, the company would not release the file to you, or it might require you to pay a significant fee to buy back the file that you paid to create in the first place!

We always advise Stories To Tell clients to make sure that the rights to their books and book files remain securely in their possession when they choose who should print them.

How much will printing the book cost? Authors almost always talk about publishing their book, but when you self-publish a family history what you really need is a printer, not a publisher. What’s the difference?

A publisher prints your book, provides opportunities for inclusion in catalogues from which bookstores or libraries may order copies, makes the book available online through portals like, promotes and publicizes the book and charges you for doing so by retaining a percentage of the sale price of each copy of your book. If you are saying, I don’t need those things, my book is only intended for a limited audience of family and friends, you don’t need a publisher.

A printer, on the other hand, charges you only the cost of actually printing the book. You don’t pay for publicity and marketing services you neither want nor need.

Most family historians are on a budget when they publish their book, so they are concerned with a final question:

How can I control my costs? 
Begin by doing as much of the work as you can yourself. You may hire a professional designer, but there are things you can do to reduce costs. For example, if your book has photographs, do your own scanning. If you need images for the cover, find them yourself rather than paying the designer to do it. Talk with your designer about other things you can do to reduce costs.

You can make publishing choices that will help control costs. The principal factors to consider in the cost of printing a book are:
  • Hardback or soft cover
  • Color or black and white
  • Trim size of the book
  • Number of pages
If you have a large number of photographs or want to include extensive pedigree charts or family group sheets, or a number of documents, this additional content can increase production costs. Inserting a CD inside the back cover or creating a website which will allow readers to access content can save you a significant amount of money.

Look for ways to share costs with relatives who will want copies of the book. Two methods that have worked very well for family historians are:
  • Presell the book – Work with your printer and designer to establish what it will cost to print the book. Consider you costs in creating the book such as hiring professional help. Establish a price for the book and send out a letter or email announcing that it will be available by a particular date (family reunions are great for this) and allow recipients to pre-order it from you. This will give you some cash to use to print the books, and it will give you a pretty good idea of how many you’ll want to print. Always order a few extra for those people who didn’t order one and decide they have to have it once they see it.
  • Offer online distribution utilizing print-on-demand – When you make a book available through an online bookstore like, the author doesn’t pay for production of the book. The person who orders the book does. The book isn’t printed until someone hits the buy button. The second benefit is that whenever someone orders your book, you receive a royalty. While the royalties from a family history book with a limited audience will hardly make you rich, they will help to defray some of the costs you incurred in creating the book.
We’ve only provided an overview here of the issues faced by a family historian who wants to get her book into print. If you have questions about the process, contact us at Stories To Tell. We specialize in helping family historians get their books published. We’ll be happy to answer your questions.

Biff Barnes Biff Barnes is a writer, educator, and historian who has published extensively about San Francisco. He was a William Robertson Coe Fellow in American History at Stanford University. His experience with historical research, oral history, and academic writing is invaluable to family history authors as they plan and organize their books. Biff Barnes is part of the Stories To Tell team of editors and book designers who help authors to create memoirs and family history books. They have worked with hundreds of authors to develop their fiction, non-fiction, and creative non-fiction books. As an editor, he helps to plan the book's content, edits text and images, and design a professional, unique book for his clients. Biff offers great writing advice in his Stories to Tell Blog

Meet My New Editor - Grammarly

I write a lot. You would think that would make me an expert when it comes editing my work. Ha!  Nothing could be further from the truth.   

When I write, I turn off my internal editor, a skill I learned early on. Therefore, before I share any work it needs a good edit, often several. I find myself too close to the work. I see the content and have a hard time switching my mind to see the punctuation and grammar.

Most of us will turn to Spell Check in Word to edit our work. That’s a good place to start, but I have never found it to be enough. Of course, authors and publishers will tell you to invest in having your work edited by a professional, and I completely agree. This is great if you’re publishing commercially and making a living at it. However, for those of us self-publishing, writing blogs or producing a family history book for the family, the cost of a professional editor is just unrealistic. We have to rely on other means, sometimes that’s a family member or friend. I have a few teacher friends I lean on. But they have lives, so I needed some extra help.

Recently, I decided to invest in grammar software. I felt it would close the gap between Spell Check and a professional editor. I felt the amount of writing I was doing warranted the small investment. I chose Grammarly for Microsoft Office Suite.

I downloaded the program and it quickly and easily integrated with my Microsoft Office programs. It now works with Word and with my email through Outlook to correct grammar and spelling errors. Grammarly watchs for punctuation, sentence structure, style, spelling and grammar. I love that it offers you a thesaurus. If you’re overusing a word, it suggests some alternatives. It will also check your work for plagiarism. You can also choose the kind of document you are writing, such as a blog post, creative non-fiction, essay, report or research results are a few of the options.

I love that Grammarly offers grammar explanations with examples. It becomes a teaching tool. I find myself actually catching my mistakes now before I look at Grammarly for the explanation. Maybe there is hope for me.

If you’re like me and like to write distraction free including turning off that internal editor, you have the option with Grammarly. You can disable Grammarly and write focusing on the content and creativity of a piece. Enable Grammarly and edit away. Grammarly opens in a window alongside your Word document. It does not change your text. It highlights the errors it sees and makes suggestions. It keeps you in control as you decide the changes you wish to make to the document.

Grammarly is a great tool for those who aren’t quite in the position that warrants the price of a professional edit. It’s ideal for bloggers and family history writers. It’s another set of eyes and has become my first line of defense in my editing process.

Grammarly approached me to do this review and offered me a 1-month subscription. I was already a happy user and thrilled to be offering my readers a chance to win a one-month subscription to Grammarly.  Fill in the ballot below for a chance to win.  

Re-Visioning and Editing Your Family History Narrative

Today's post is courtesy of our guest author by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, MFA, CG

As a writer, you should look upon the act of revising not as unavoidable drudgery, but instead as a blessing, a luxury…. Most people look at revision as “fixing” mistakes. For them revising is not a luxury; it’s a pain. But when you believe in what you are writing, when you’re interested and invested in the words you put down, … revision is no longer punitive.
—Ralph L. Wahlstrom, The Tao of Writing: Imagine. Create. Flow.

In my graduate course on creative nonfiction writing, many of my students dread the final assignment: Substantially revise one of the essays they’ve written for the class. I tell them that the idea is to tighten and focus, while improving with new material, new structure, new shape, or new or deeper meaningYes, it’s a challenge, and that’s what I love about revision. But many think that revision is editing, or editing is revision. These are actually two unique and important processes.

Editing vs. Revision
When you edit, you are checking for proper capitalization, word usage, punctuation, and spelling: the mechanics of the writing. While it’s beneficial to learn how to be a good self-editor, this is a task that should also be delegated to another pair of eyes. We’re too close to the text, so it’s a wise idea to have someone with good editing skills review your manuscript. But revision, ah, that’s all up to you!

The word “revision” literally means to “to see again,” to “re-vision” your work. When you revise, you’re adding sentences and words, but you’re also removing unnecessary sentences and words. You’re moving and changing the placement of sentences or words. And you might be completely restructuring your narrative from say a chronological, this-happened-then-that-happened arrangement to something more interesting and creative.

Where to Begin Your Revision
Like writing, revision is also an art. Or, as Michelangelo allegedly said about sculptures, “You take a rock and chip away all the parts that aren’t the statue.” You take your writing and delete all the parts that aren’t part of the family history’s focus. What could be simpler?
Stephen King’s formula for revision, as he says in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, is “2nd Draft equals 1st Draft minus 10%.”

Or, here’s advice from Dinty Moore, author of many creative nonfiction writing guides and editor of Brevity, from an interview he did for The Fourth  River

Here is what to eliminate: anything that doesn’t make your essay better, or anything that you’ve said elsewhere in the essay in a better way. You know you are done when you can read the entire essay aloud to yourself and not stumble over a single sentence or idea; when you read it all the way through and honestly feel a completeness.

Granted, he’s talking about essays here, but can you do the same thing with each chapter of your family history.

Here are two additional ideas to help you determine how and what to revise:
  1. Write the back cover copy. Imagine your family history is going to include a summary on the back cover that tells readers what the book is about. This summary should be no more than 150 words.
  2. Now cull down the summary even further—into one sentence! Imagine your book is going to be listed in the New York Times Bestseller listing. What is the book about? What is the main point or theme?
Let’s look at an example from Rebecca McClanahan’s The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013). Here is the back cover copy. It’s 134 words.

Are we responsible for, and to, those forces that have formed us—our families, friends, and communities? Where do we leave off and others begin? In The Tribal Knot, Rebecca McClanahan looks for answers in the history of her family. Poring over letters, artifacts, and documents that span more than a century, she discovers a tribe of hardscrabble Midwest farmers, hunters, trappers, and laborers struggling to hold tight to the ties that bind them, through poverty, war, political upheavals, illness and accident, filicide and suicide, economic depressions, personal crises, and global disasters. Like the practitioners of Victorian “hair art” who wove strands of family members’ hair into a single design, McClanahan braids her ancestors’ stories into a single intimate narrative of her search to understand herself and her place in the family’s complex past.

Based on that description, do you have a good idea of the family history’s focus? Now here’s a one-sentence blurb from Kirkus Review:

The account of a writer’s quest to understand her place in the grand generational scheme of her family.

While not as in-depth of course, this one sentence sums up the main idea of the family history.

Once you’ve summarized your family history, then reread your entire manuscript. Keep referring to your summary and one-sentence blub. Now revise to ensure everything points to your primary theme and focus.

Naturally, one of the most difficult parts of family history writing is the temptation to include everything. This is why I suggest to my clients and students to write a two-part family history with the narrative story as part one and the compiled genealogy as part two. By having a compiled genealogy that records everything, you won’t feel as driven to include every fact and every person in the narrative. You can focus the narrative, or story, more tightly.

As Rebecca McClanahan said in an interview I did with her, which will appear in the March 2015 issue of Writer’s Chronicle and will be available to read on my website,, after the print issue is out:

Though I labored to stay true to fact—by citing precise dates, census records, historical events, interview responses, specific documents, or artifacts—my first allegiance was always to the larger story, the journey of the family tribe, which I suspect is the journey of other families, other communities. To stay true to the larger story, I had to exclude most of the facts I’d gathered.

Those facts can all go into the compiled genealogy of your book, so you, too, can stay true to the larger story of your ancestors. Keep the focus of the larger story in mind as you revise your manuscript.

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.

— Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

Additional Reading
For more on editing your family history, here are two helpful articles:
For more on revising your family history, you may find these articles helpful:

Sharon CROPPEDb (2)Sharon DeBartolo Carmack is a Certified Genealogist with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing. She is the author of eighteen books and hundreds of articles, essays, columns, and reviews that have appeared in nearly every major genealogical journal and publication. Some of her books include You Can Write Your Family History, Carmack’s Guide to Copyright & Contracts: A Primer for Genealogists, Writers & Researchers, and Your Guide to Cemetery Research.
Sharon’s work has also appeared in numerous literary publications: Creative NonfictionBrevitySteinbeck ReviewPortland ReviewHippocampus Magazine (where her essay, “Switched at Midlife” won “Most Memorable” and was selected for the Best of Hippocampus, May 2013), and Phoebe: A Journal of Literature and Art (where her essay received Honorable Mention in the 2012 Creative Nonfiction Contest). Sharon’s essays have also been finalists in contests for the Bellingham Review’s Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction and in Creative Nonfiction’s True Crime contest (“The Ghoul of the Queen City”), and for publication in River Teeth and Calyx.

Sharon teaches graduate courses in Creative Nonfiction Writing for Southern New Hampshire University’s MA in English and Creative Writing Program. She is also part of the adjunct English faculty for Ashford University, and she teaches personal essay and memoir writing online for Writer’s Digest University. Additionally, for Family Tree University, she teaches Irish genealogical research, and for Salt Lake Community College’s online Certificate in Genealogy program, she teaches the Immigrant Origins course and a new course in Genealogy and Family History Writing.
She can be reached through her website,