Most family histories read like a series of encyclopaedia entries. But who reads an encyclopaedia from start to finish?
Which begs the question: Why not?
Because they are fact-filled and date-filled which makes them tiring to read.
So how do we craft compelling family histories when our research has turned up little more than a list of date-filled facts?
Exploring how to do so is the aim of this course.
NB. Some lessons show Carol "live to camera" throughout the lesson, others only at the start and end. While she had hoped to re-record the lessons so she is "live to camera" throughout, it takes a day to record a lesson and her subscribers felt that her time would be better spent producing new lessons.
This course includes the following lessons:
Crafting Compelling Family Histories – overview (18 minutes)
Crafting Catchy Titles (68 minutes)
Crafting Well-Structured Family Histories (63 minutes)
Crafting Intriguing Birth Descriptions (103 minutes plus reading time)
Crafting Engaging Marriage Descriptions (85 minutes plus reading time)
Crafting Poignant Death Descriptions (85 minutes plus reading time)
Crafting Vivid Sentences that Hook our Readers (64 minutes)
Crafting Vivid Scenes from Dry Facts (63 minutes plus reading time)
Crafting Vivid Stories that Grip our Readers (77 minutes plus reading time)
Crafting Boxed Voices that Entertain our Readers (38 minutes)
Annual Members can access the course through the login portal on the top-bar navigation menu.
This is an overview lesson that discusses the lessons contained in the course Crafting Compelling Family Histories. It also includes the contents page for each lesson handout.
Video duration: 18 minutes
Crafting Catchy Titles
Most family history book titles are boring: The Christie Family History, Our Watson Story.This is because most genealogists don’t know how to craft good titles. But what if there's an easy way to do so, one that helps us craft titles that are catchy, intriguing, even amusing?
In this lesson, Carol Baxter provides structures you can follow and words you can appropriate to generate titles that will produce a twinkle in your readers' eyes or a twitch of their lips.
The lesson also includes a sealed section, one that the straight-laced should skip entirely.
Video duration: 68 minutes (4 videos)
Handout: Yes (21 pages)
To write a family history, we must convert our ancestral information into paragraphs of prose. But how do we group the resulting paragraphs to produce a coherent structure?
We start by asking ourselves what we wish to achieve. Are we writing a family history that focuses on a surname line? Or one that covers all of our ancestors, or all of our descendants, or all of the ancestors and descendants of a particular person.
And how do we craft an individual biography? Do we produce a family history that is a group of stand-alone biographies or one that has a narrative-style flow?
These and other subjects are discussed in this simple guide to crafting a well-structured family history.
Video duration: 63 minutes (2 videos)
Handout: Yes (9 pages)
No doubt you've all read biographies that commence with sentences such as "John Smith was born on [...] at [...]" or words to that effect. Not only is this boring for our readers, it’s a waste of an incredible opportunity.
Because our ancestors didn't exist in a state of limbo. They were born into a historical, regional, political and social environment. Thus, our birth descriptions provide an ideal vehicle for setting the ancestral scene at the start of our biographies.
The bigger the backdrop in terms of its historical importance, the more we can use our birth descriptions to engage and intrigue our readers so they’ll want to keep reading.
Video duration: 103 minutes (4 videos)
Handout: Yes (21 pages)
In the previous lesson, Crafting Intriguing Birth Description, we explore ways in which we can write about the births of our ancestors or other biographical subjects. In this lesson, we look at the relationships that produced that next generation of the family.
Most parents bore children within the legal confines of a marriage. When describing these marriages, genealogists often write: “John Smith and Mary Jones were married on [...] at [...].” Unfortunately, these types of descriptions are dry, formulaic and clichéd so they fail to engage our readers.
While this lesson is called Crafting Engaging Marriage Descriptions, it’s much more than that. Some of our ancestors enjoyed relationships that were “without the benefit of clergy”. Some couples were betrothed but failed to walk down the aisle with their affianced.
This lesson communicates ways in which we can craft descriptions of all of these relationships, descriptions that will engage our readers and motivate them to keep reading.
Video duration: 85 minutes (3 videos)
Handout: Yes (25 pages)
The deaths of loved ones are among life’s most difficult experiences. Yet most genealogists ignore this suffering – both the suffering of the dying and that of their family members – and merely write “So-and-so died on [...] and was buried on [...].”
Additionally, in the same way that a birth description can be used to set the scene – to offer a broad introduction to our ancestor’s life story – a death description can be used to conclude our ancestor’s biography, to round up their life story and close the door on their world.
In Crafting Moving Death Descriptions we also look at how we can craft prose that is poignant, that moves our readers in a way that fact-filled descriptions cannot do. But we don’t do so by telling our readers what our ancestor or their loved ones were feeling or what we should be feeling. We show the reader through our choice of words.
Video duration: 85 minutes (5 videos)
Handout: Yes (27 pages)
Crafting Vivid Sentences
that Hook our Readers
As every writer knows, word choice matters. In fact, every famous author has access to the same words and the same sentence structures that we do. They are famous partly because they have worked out how to use their words and sentence structures to maximum effect.
Little differences can have a huge impact on our prose: verbs with more oomph, nouns that communicate a detailed picture, adverbs that resuscitate a weak verb, figures of speech that add sophistication to our prose, and so on.
This lesson is about choosing the best "parts of speech" (nouns, verbs, &c.) and "figures of speech" (similes, metaphors, &c.) from the English language. When we do so, we engage our reader's imaginations and motivate them to keep reading.
NB. This lesson is longer than the similarly-titled lesson in the Helpful Miscellany series.
Video duration: 64 minutes (3 videos)
Handout: Yes (6 pages)
NB. The section covering the "parts of speech" has been expanded in the 10-lesson Words, Words, Words course.
We’ve learnt how to craft vivid sentences in the Crafting Vivid Sentences that Hook our Readers lesson. But how do we combine these sentences to produce a vivid scene, especially when we have little information to work with?
This lesson describes the process of crafting descriptive prose, using practical examples from Carol’s own writing. It explains how she began her description of a particular historical event with very little information, then she followed one path after another in a desperate attempt to find something … anything … to make her description more interesting.
You too can apply the same descriptive writing strategies to your own research and writing projects, whatever the subject.
Video duration: 63 minutes (2 videos)
Handout: Yes (8 pages)
Crafting Vivid Stories
that Grip our Readers
Family historians tend to focus on the facts when they write their family histories. They forget about the "experiences" that produced the records that document these "facts".
The problem with this approach is that when we list "fact" after "fact" after "fact", our readers soon get tired and find something else to do.
"Stories", however, keep them awake and alert and eager to learn what happens next. Stories are our way of communicating the experiences that produced those documented facts.
In this lesson, Carol shows you how to tell a gripping story to include in a family history or biography.
Video duration: 77 minutes (3 videos)
Handout: Yes (6 pages)
Crafting Boxed Voices
that Entertain our Readers
Most genealogists write the body of their biographies in the expository writing style (otherwise known as the encyclopaedia or academic style). Unless their prose is crafted skilfully, these biographies tend to merely list the facts so they can be dry to read. However, as this is the easiest literary style for a work of nonfiction, it is – not surprisingly – our natural choice. So how can we find other ways to make our biographies more engaging for our readers?
Think about a physical page in a family history publication. It doesn’t only include words. It includes photographs, maps and charts. These graphics sit in “boxes” positioned in suitable locations on our page.
What else can we place in those boxes?
Prose written in different voices. This lesson explores the many ways we can use the “boxed voices” of other people – especially our own – to craft different styles of prose that will entertain our readers.
Video duration: 38 minutes (2 videos)
Handout: Yes (5 pages)
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Crafting Compelling Family Histories
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