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How to Write a Better Family History Through Editing

5 steps for editing family history over a red pen marking up a manuscript

After writing a family history, you must edit the manuscript before you publish your genealogy book. Did you know there are five steps to editing?

Did you know that editing a family history story involves more than knowing where the commas go and fixing spelling errors?

In this video, I explain the five stages of editing your family history and how they can improve your final book.

You don’t have to fear the editing process! It’s extremely worthwhile.

Why do the editing phases matter to family historians?

After working with a client on writing her family history, I discovered that many people don’t understand the phases of editing. When we don’t understand the editing process, we become frustrated and waste valuable time that could enhance our story. Let me share with you what I’ve learned about editing a family history.

Before you edit, you must WRITE the family history stories. Then editing happens AFTER you have written a story. When you allow your inner critic to edit while you write, you never complete the project.

What are the five steps to editing your family history story?

The five steps to editing a family history are:

  1. Developmental Editing

  2. Content Editing

  3. Copy Editing

  4. Line Editing

  5. Proofreading

The following sections explain these editing steps in further detail. Use them and your family history stories will dramatically improve.

Step 1: Developmental Editing

It is my understanding that developmental editing often happens before traditional fiction and non-fiction writers draft their books. However, when writing family histories, this phase happens after you transform your genealogy facts into paragraphs.

Once you know the scope of the stories you have to tell, then you can:

  1. Choose your audience

  2. Narrow your scope

  3. Determine the final format

After you make these decisions, you rework your drafts to fit your selections. If you want to fix grammatical mistakes you can, but you should really hold off until Step 3 and 4.

Step 2: Content Editing

Once you have revised your family history story, the next editing step involves sharing your story with others. They’ll explore the following:

  1. Information Gaps

    1. What details am I lacking?

    2. Do I explain a story well?

    3. What facts have I assumed my reader understands?

    4. Have I transitioned well between different stories within my overall project?

  2. Flow

    1. Should I rearrange elements in the story?

    2. Do I transition well from one story into another?

    3. Do I introduce facts (people, places, and things) abruptly?

  3. Citations

    1. Have I cited facts that do not need to be sourced?

    2. Have I not cited facts that do need to be sourced?

  4. Readability

    1. Am I consistent in my writing style?

    2. Do I use the correct language for the audience I chose in the development stage of editing my family history?

Once again, you haven’t tackled grammar and spelling because these checks should happen after you have the content of your story finalized.

Step 3: Copy Editing

After writing and revising the bulk of your family history story, you will begin copy editing. Copy editing analyzes your draft word-by-word for the following mechanical errors:

  1. Spelling errors

  2. Word choice -- including explaining jargon and unfamiliar terminology

  3. Syntax errors -- arranging of words and phrases in the correct grammatical format

  4. Punctuation- such as commas, semicolons, and quotation marks.

After completing a word-by-word analysis, the next phase compares sentences and paragraphs.

Step 4: Line Editing

When each sentence is grammatically correct, this family history editing step focuses on:

  1. How do the sentences and paragraphs work together?

  2. Does the story have a consistent tone and style?

  3. What sentences and paragraphs can be eliminated to reduce verbosity?

↪️ Do you want to write a family history book?

Grab your copy of this FREE Writing Guide:

laptop and writing notes with title Free Guide: 5 Steps to Quickly Write Family Histories

Step 5: Proofreading

After completing steps 1-4 for editing a family history, you can add photos, images, tables, documents, and so forth to your manuscript.

Proofreading then checks the format of your proof before you print it in a bound book. Little to no grammatical editing happens in this stage.

You’ll want to watch the video to see examples of what to check for when proofreading your family history.

Further Reading

For information about preparing your family history for printing, visit

VIDEO: 5 Ways to improve your family history book

Watch this video on YouTube.

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