By Jayne McGarvey
Most of us will spend years researching and collating our family history, but once we have researched, collated, revised and reviewed our information often our thoughts will then turn to the subject of writing up our genealogy and our family history in particular.
Before you begin, before you even start to think about the information you may wish to include, or exclude, or how you see your hard work developing there are two very important questions, the first and possibly the most important question is –
Who is your intended audience?
And the second question –
Why this audience?
Your answers may be multi-faceted, you may have more than one audience in mind and you may have many reasons – but the answers to these questions will decide many elements of content, presentation, style, layout, citation work and their locations, along with other decisions for you.
If your audience is one of the genealogical approval bodies or you intend to produce a commercial publication for sale then you will need to ensure your citation work is perfect and that’s just for starters.
If, at the other extreme you want to capture the hearts and interest of your family and a few immediate friends (who perhaps to date may have shown little interest or even disdain about your all consuming passion in genealogy and family history) the approach, tone of writing, content, style and layout may need to take a very different approach.
Another important pre-preparation decision is how you intend to disseminate the information. From hard copy weighty tomes on quality glossy paper with an array of high resolution photographs and documents, to eye catching photo books and carefully crafted scrapbooks the physical production options are enormous.
Equally vast are the array of on-line options now available to the family historian – do you favour a public website, an e-book, an e-photobook, a digital scrapbook or an on-line family tree? Will your end product contain family videos, audio records of family speaking? Will your intended audience be able to access a “virtual” publication? If Great Aunt Gertrude neither owns nor knows how to operate a computer, a digital anything will simply not be accessible to her.
Are there any surprises in your family tree that are likely to upset, or even devastate other family members? If so, who will be allowed to see this information, and why?
Will your work contain more than one-family line? Do you have family members who, while happy to share “family” information with “family”, will be unhappy, possibly even “up-in-arms” if they perceive that “family” information, even if it is not “sensitive” family information is shared with individuals who they do not consider to be “their” family? Does that matter?
No longer is a one-size fits all approach the format for family history. Professor X may be more interested in your citation work and the accuracy of your analysis than Great Aunt Gertrude who may favor pictures, maps and stories about her relatives. Both will want the information to be accurate and relevant. Both may well want to know where you got your information, particularly if you have discovered that a few of your family’s fables are just that! Great Aunt Gertrude might just want to see the birth certificate for her father that shows he was born on the eighteenth of April when everybody knew he celebrated his birthday on the seventeenth of February!
Professor X however may be more interested in the methodology of how you have dealt with the difference in information and reconciled that you are dealing with one person with two different reported birth dates, and not two people of the same name born a few weeks apart.
Deciding why you are choosing your intended audience(s) is a very useful exercise. There are no right or wrong answers to either of these questions but simply put, if you want a product that is fit for purpose – it is much easier and less stressful if you know and understand what that purpose is before you start the design process!