Friday, July 19, 2013

Recycle your writing!

One way to increase your writing output without adding a large amount of work time is to recast the underlying material into a different form. It occurred to me that -- in addition to news about the community (who got credentialed, which genealogy business has bought another), there are basically three kinds of genealogy writing:

(1) technical -- proving identities, relationships, and lineages. Usually this kind stands alone only when it's an especially difficult problem, or in a client report. But it is the foundation for everything else. Examples are in every issue of NGSQ, NYGBR, NEHGR, TAG, and The Genealogist. Each one may contain fragments of stories (#2 below), but they are only present insofar as they provide evidence to construct the proof.

(2) stories -- telling the life stories of ancestors and lineages. This is the stuff all genealogists and many non-genealogists crave, often even when the stories are terrible and sad. Without #1, the stories may get distorted or attached to the wrong people, but this is the payoff.

(3) instructional -- explaining how to accomplish #1 and #2. This is the meat of most popular genealogy magazines (the ones whose titles always start with a number), professional publications (like the APG Quarterly), many blogs (such as Kimberly Powell's at, or's expert series), and much of the traffic on genealogy mailing lists and social media discussions. Technology tips fit here too. (Theoretical articles, of which genealogy has few so far, are at the high end of this range.)

Of course all of these are far more valuable when they cite their sources.

Here's the point. Each family or part of a family provides material for all three kinds of writing. Years ago I found my Gedney ancestors on a New Orleans ship list from the 1840s, where their surname had been written "Kidney." That was a humble kind of technical finding (#1), and of course could play a part in an instructional article or talk (#3). But there are hints of stories there as well (#2): my recently wed great-great grandparents, William Flint and Mary Gedney, were on that cramped boat for two months with their extended family, and it seemed likely that her father bankrolled the emigration. Then again, I could tell those stories better if I did just a little more research . . .

Harold Henderson, “From England to St. Clair Via New Orleans: William and Mary Gedney Flint,” St. Clair County (Illinois) Genealogical Society Quarterly 26, no. 3 (2003):141-44.

Harold Henderson, "Recycle your writing!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 July 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

1 comment:

Cathi at Stone House Research said...

Or you can recycle your mentoring emails into blog posts...

Thanks for the great tips, Harold!