Guest Authors Share Their Expertise | The Armchair Genealogist
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Guest Authors Share Their Expertise

In 10 days we launch into our 5th annual Family History Writing Challenge. I am thrilled to announce our line-up of guest authors joining us this year. They bring a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge and I'm always honoured that they take the time out of their busy schedules to share their expertise with us.

Returning for her 4th year with us, Sharon Debartolo Carmack was a constant guide for me in my early days of learning to write family history stories. I often referenced her book as I learned to write my family history stories. This year Sharon is going to teach us about creating tension in our family history stories. Keeping our readers on the edge of their seats. 

 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 Nonfiction, Brevity, Steinbeck Review, Portland Review, Hippocampus 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,

Lisa Alzo is well known in genealogy circles for her writing expertise. She shares openly and her love of writing is apparent in all her endeavours. She's been a good friend to The Family History Writing Challenge these past five years. This year,  Lisa is going to share tools for writing your life story. 

 Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A., is a freelance writer, instructor, and internationally recognized lecturer, specializing in Slovak/Eastern European genealogical research, writing your family history, and using the Internet to trace female and immigrant ancestors. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1987 and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Pittsburgh in 1997. Lisa is the author of nine books, including the award-winning Three Slovak Women, and hundreds of magazine articles.  She has published Ancestry Magazine, Discovering Family History Magazine, Family Chronicle, Family Tree Magazine, Internet Genealogy, Reunions Magazine, NGSNews Magazine, Western Pennsylvania History Magazine, and The Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly. Lisa is a contributing editor for Family Tree Magazine, and teaches online courses for Family Tree University and The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. She is frequently invited speaker for national conferences, genealogical and historical societies, and webinars. An avid genealogist for 25 years, Lisa also chronicles her family history adventures on her blog, The Accidental Genealogist <>. Visit <> for more information.

This is Jennifer Holik's first time writing for the Challenge. Her passion for writing is a bright beacon in our online community. Jennifer loves to write military stories, so I've asked her to share with us some tips around this particular topic. I'm looking forward to learning from her.  

Jennifer Holik is a Chicago-based military and genealogical researcher, speaker, and author. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History in 1999 from the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Jennifer has published articles in the National Genealogical Society Magazine, the Czech and Slovak Genealogical Society of Illinois Journal, the Utah Genealogical Society’s Quarterly Crossroads, and writes a monthly column for The In-Depth Genealogist magazine. She focuses her research and writing on the records of World War II across all branches: Army, Air Corps, National Guard, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines and is a member of the staff of the World War II History Network ( She lectures on researching and writing the stories of World War II soldiers. Her blog provides weekly insights into World War II records and issues not discussed related to the war, the missing, and the dead. She is the author of several books including Stories of the Lost, The Tiger’s Widow, Stories from the Battlefield: A Beginning Guide to World War II Research, and a series of genealogy teaching books entitled, Branching Out. In 2015 she will release a new series called Stories from the World War II Battlefield which will provide an in-depth look at how to begin World War II research across all branches, where to find records, and explore the most commonly used records. She will explain how to reconstruct a service file and explore issues related to the records and war. On her website you can visit her World War II Toolbox (, learn more about her services, purchase her books, schedule an author presentation, and sign up for her newsletter. Her website is

Our final guest author has also been a great supporter of the Challenge over the years. Biff Barnes, our resident publisher is going to impart on us some advice in the choices we face in publishing our family history. 
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.

There you have it, our four guest authors. You'll receive their articles along with 24 other articles on writing family history when you join us for The Family History Writing Challenge, Feb 1st-Feb 28th.