09 May 2010

How I Write a History—a Simplified Outline

1 Gather together all letters, journals, documents, photos that I have about the individual.

2 Consult other family members for any information they may have.

3 Consider doing interviews of anyone who may have personal knowledge about this person.

4 Enter the information I have into my available family records management software, showing him or her both as a child and as a parent.

5 Look for holes in the data and research further where needed. Find this person in all available censuses; look for additional records about the person and about each family member, parents, brothers and sisters, spouse and children.

6 List locations where the individual lived and search for additional town, county or national histories that will broaden my understanding of those places.

7 Research local newspapers for a flavor of the time and place, especially articles about the individual and his or her family.

8 Construct a timeline showing life events and locations (this may be derived at least partially from the records management software).

9 Begin my narrative with a dramatic or life-changing moment in the person’s life to catch to the reader’s interest.

10 Continue to write, using the resources I have gathered.

11 Have someone else proofread my history and make suggestions for improvement.

12 Organize and prepare the illustrative photos and documents by scanning (using a high resolution), transcribing where appropriate, and deciding which items I would like to use. Look for any additional photos, etc. that would illustrate what I have written.

13 Use typesetting software to integrate the illustrations with the text.

14 Submit the resulting document again to another person for editing suggestions.

15 Publish and share my work.


  1. Thanks for the outline. When you say "Family Management Software" do you mean a genealogy program?
    What is typsetting software?

  2. Thanks for your comment. Yes, "records management software" is a genealogy program like Ancestral Quest, Ancestry, Family Tree Maker, PAF, etc. Typesetting software would be something like QuarkXpress or InDesign. You could even use MS Word to do the typesetting and produce a PDF for publishing.