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Organization Key to Removing Obstacles to Your Family History Writing

There comes a time in your research when you decide to take all the documents, artifacts and photos you’ve accumulated throughout the years and formulate them into stories. One of the biggest obstacles we face as writers is the overwhelming task of getting all that information organized so we can begin to write.

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of reading a book that I believe will serve as as wonderful tool in helping family history writers get ready to write their stories, How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records by Denise Levenick.

Many of you will be joining us next month for the Family History Writing Challenge. Over the next couple of weeks we will talking about planning and organizing our research in preparation for writing. We want you to meet with success in The Challenge and part of that formula for success comes from organizing and planning before you begin to write.

Before starting to write a family history it is extremely important to have your research organized.

What can happen if you’re not organized?

  • It’s hard to see what to write about and create a story plan when your research lacks organization. When your files are in disarray it's hard to see a clear vision for your stories. 
  • If your information is not easily accessible, your writing process becomes disrupted. When this happens it becomes hard to stay in a creative mindset. 
  • If you’re constantly being disrupted looking for stuff you will easily give up in frustration. 
  • If your research is not organized you don’t know what you have and therefore you can’t identify your research needs before you begin to write. Inevitably, you turn your focus back to research and the writing becomes stalled.

After reading Denise’s book it became clear to me she had written a book that stood at the core of helping authors prepare to write.

Denise states “People who inherit family archives often take on one of three roles: the Curator, the Creator or the Caretaker.” Because we are seeking to use our archives to write our family stories we would most likely identify with the creator. As creators we’re turning our research, our photos and even our artifacts into a resource to create our stories. How to Archive Family Keepsakes will be immensely helpful in preparing your research for writing.

Here’s a few examples of how Denise’s book How to Archive Your Family Keepsakes can help you prepare for writing.

1. Specifically chapter 6 through 8 will help you to organize your archival papers, photos and artifacts – once you worked through these chapters you’ll have a clearer picture of the content you have to work with to create your stories. The process of creating your archives will help you identify what information is missing and where more research may be required.

2. Denise offers practical advice like how to create an inventory of collectibles and research so you can access your information quickly and easily. Less time looking for stuff more time writing.

3. Getting as much of your family archives digitized will go along way to making your information more readily accessible to you while you're writing. Denise walks you through the process of digitizing your family archives giving you easier access to your facts through the writing process.

4.Creating a filing system for your computer will also aid your writing organization. Denise takes on creating a filing system and tips for sticking with it in Chapter 12.

5. Once you have all your current research organized, holes and missing pieces will reveal themselves. This will also undoubtedly happen once you begin to outline your story plan and even as you write. Inevitably, you’ll find you’ll need to acquire further information and research. Tap into Denise’s research strategies in Chapter 13.

6. You want to be sure you have a system in place for organizing your source citations. The minute you begin to write it will become instrumental in locating your sources quickly and easily. A good citation system will also aid in compiling a complete bibliography and can accurately cite your sources for your readers. Don’t wait till your knee deep before you realize you need a system for your citations. Denise addresses organizing your citations in Chapter 14.

Tomorrow, join us for a special Q and A with the author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes, Denise Levenick.  Denise is going to answer some of my questions about getting your archives organized and the obstacles we face in what can be an overwhelming task. I’ll hope you will stop by an ask your own questions and leave your thoughts. By commenting you'll also qualify for a chance to win an archival kit including a copy of How to Archive Your Family Keepsakes. 

Be sure to read my Q & A with the author. 



10 comments:

  1. Hi Lynn,
    This looks like a great resource. With 25 bankers boxes of family archives (increasing to a lot more as my and my brothers' stuff gets added) we found making 2 spreadsheets extremely helpful. One is for the content of the boxes, each with a number (Box 1, 2, 3, etc) then on the columns to the right an entry for each item (sometimes grouped, like: "World War II correspondence"--not each individual letter). We made a second spread sheet with dates and as we looked at each item it went first onto the "contents' spreadsheet, and then, if a date were involved, added to whom the date referred, the date, itself, and a brief comment on the significance of the date. (e.g.. "9/26/1911 - Lisi Ebner - arrived in New York on the ship, KaiserWilhelm II." This has been super helpful because as I've gone through the boxes in more detail, when I come across a new date, I simply add it in the proper chronological order on the spread sheet. I'd still like to get this book to see what additional advice could help me as I prepare the archives to go to a Chicago Research Library. Thanks for another great recommendation.

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    1. Linda, I was completely thrilled with Denise's book. It is so very practical. You'll enjoy the Q and A tomorrow. And be sure to leave a comment maybe you'll win a copy. I'm sure she be happy to discuss with your very large archive.

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  2. Having "inherited" over 140 loose leaf binders of family history, I've spent a lot of time sorting, organizing and sharing. After a blogging break I'm ready to return to the process and hopefully begin publishing the family stories. I love this work and I'm always looking for advice and encouragement. Thanks for sharing this info.

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    1. Happy to share, stop by to tomorrow for our interview with the author.

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  3. I am ready to begin assembling a library that will assist me in being more methodical in doing research - I've gathered information, and need to make sure it's organized in a way that allows me to meet my goals in the Family History Writing Challenge. This looks like the perfect book to begin my library!

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  4. Hmmm...tried to leave a comment several hours ago...won't repeat myself, but I must say that this sounds like a 'must-have' book - exactly what I need to read at this point!!

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  5. You mentioned this book before in a prior post. I was interested then but now think it's one that I really need. Can't wait to see what you come up with the Q and A's.

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  6. I have been the recipient of much of my family's and my husband's family papers. I have been thinking a lot about how to organize them. This book sounds like it would be a big help. I'm also trying to write my first family story and have gathered (I think) most of what I'll need, but as a novice, it is a bit overwhelming.

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  7. I've just begun digging into my family history, but what got me started is a desire to get down on paper all of the wonderful family stories that I heard growing up. I've already amassed 500+ people in my family tree and I'm already feeling overwhelmed by the task of organzing the documents I've collected. Luckily, most of them are digital. I'll be taking a look at this book and the Q & A post for sure!

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  8. I see how this book could give me the self-esteem I need to start writing family history stories if it got my thoughts and information organized. I'm glad the book tour stopped at your blog, I'll be back.

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