Have you written a family history? Are you hesitant to print it for fear there are mistakes from the grammatical to the historically accurate? Why not publish a proof copy and share with a few family members? You’ll soon learn the best reason to share a proof copy, is feedback.
My goal in 2017 was to finish the final draft of the book about my grandpa Lewis Brown. I’ve shared stories about him on this blog before, and I use his story often when I teach how to write family histories. However, Lewis’ story needed to leave my computer and reside on my bookshelf so my children will know about this beloved great grandpa.
To edit my drafts, I had used Grammarly.com to catch most of the glaring mistakes. Several errors might still slip through, but the book wouldn’t be excruciating to read due to the obvious spelling and grammatical errors.
I cited all of my sources, but I still need to establish a consistent style. There is the genealogical standard, but there’s also MLA, APA, and Chicago. I grew up using the MLA standard. I haven’t read a convincing case that other styles are better for my purposes. There is a Citation Machine that allows for free source formatting for a limited number of citations per day. It will even pull information from websites for, further simplifying the citation creation process. Since I won’t submit my work to a genealogical journal ar archive that is nitpicky about where to place a comma or the order of the pertinent details and there are no Citation Machines for the genealogical citation style, I’ll stick with MLA. I just need to ensure I’ve applied it to all of my citations equally. I’ll have enough citation information to establish my source. From my journalistic background, that’s good enough for media and government work, so I’ll go with it. (Yeah, I know. Some genealogists will gnash their teeth at me.)
After formatting the book, I used Lulu.com to print a soft cover version of the book. Since it’s under 69 pages, the cost was around $4.00 without a sale. That’s a STEAL. At that price, I ordered a few books to share with my two aunts and shipped them proof copies. I sent them a letter that specifically said it was in need of review before I printed copies for their children and mine.
Here comes the best part…
When my older aunt received her book, she sent me a text expressing her excitement. She was thrilled to have the book and would certainly help with the edits. In a few weeks, she mailed back the marked-up copy of the book. Yes, a marked-up copy!
It’s a proof copy! I wanted her to edit the heck out of the book and share any further details she uncovered.
Since she has a strong literary background, she found the grammatical errors that Grammarly missed. But then she added a few more details.
She recorded her reaction to a photo of grandpa, her father.
She added more details! I never knew Grannie housed borders.
She added the name of this friend of my grandpa who is a stranger to me.
I loved her feedback! I can revise the book further with the extra details she included- names, stories, and more! She also helped me do the math with regards to when her children were born. In my attempts to write about the summer she was pregnant, I forgot to work backward from her daughter’s birth date. I wrote the summer after she was born. Oops!
For me, the greatest treasure was the lovely note wrote expressing her gratitude my work. She is looking forward to sharing it with her grown children and her growing grandchildren. Although she mailed her feedback in November, I consider this is my Christmas present – gratitude and encouragement to complete more biographical family histories.
Take time to share proof copies of your family history projects with your family members. If you want to have others excited about the work you do, make sure the first attempt is someone they knew. Lewis was my aunt’s father. She knew him. In fact, he died when I was a wee child. For me to write as much as I did without knowing him, impressed her. Send out your proof copies. Not everyone will respond, but those who do will share great feedback.