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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

How To Revise and Update Published Genealogies

Are you fortunate enough to have published family histories for your ancestors? Do you read them and find them acceptable for the skills of the past but lacking for modern and future family members?

Today’s viewer mailbag has an awesome question that I am sure many genealogists have considered.

Barb Lee wrote,

"I have quite a few written histories by ancestors - all now deceased - and I'd like to publish or otherwise share them. Most have grammar/spelling errors. A couple of them contain family stories that have been proven incorrect. The grammar/spelling errors aren't the real concern for me. The factual errors in the narrative are. I am torn between wanting to leave them as is, in honor of their work, and making corrections.

How would you recommend handling this?”

Watch this video.

What Revisions Are You Considering

To make this question more applicable to more people, let’s consider why you might want to revise a previously published genealogy.

  • Add source citations to published books that lack them.

  • Correct grammatical errors.

  • Correct errors in relationship and identity.

  • Correct disproven family stories.

  • To tell a more complete and exciting story about family members.

There might be other situations that come to mind. Let me know in the comments section.

Lack of Citations and Grammatical Errors

If you want to correct for lack of citations or grammatical errors, be like Barb, and don’t let that concern you. In other words, don’t bother updating the previously published family histories.

Instead, build your family tree online and use citations. You can link to the published genealogies as part of those citations, just don’t rely on the uncited sources.

Then direct your relatives to the latest versions of the family tree rather than published genealogies.

Correct Errors in Relationships, Identity, and Disproven Stories

If you have the new and correct information to add to a previously published family history, consider doing an update. You can respect the work of previous generations by titling your book in such a way that it looks like a second or third edition.

Granted, the original book didn’t think it would be the first of multiple additions. However, you can make a “revised edition” for family members to see what’s new and so forth.

In this edition, you can ALSO make up for any lack of citations or grammatical errors from the previous edition.

The point is you’re adding significant changes that warrant a new edition.

Set up your file in the same style as the previous book.

Make any additions as needed:

  • Reformatting citations

  • Add sub-heading for narratives

  • Add appendixes for debunking stories after including the facts in the main section of the genealogy.

  • Insert digitized documents and artifacts.

However, consider updating a digital family tree if you need to correct one small story or relationship detail.

Tell More Complete Story

If you’re going to build off what was previously published and tell a more complete story that utilizes many of the techniques that I have shared on this channel and my blog, then absolutely revise a previously published book.

Set up your file in a similar format to what was previously created.

However, recognize you’ll likely make significant revisions. But, by building off what was previously there, you already have that pesky first draft written. Now, you’re in the editing stage. No writer’s block for you!

↪️ 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

How to Enhance a Previously Published Genealogy

In a previous post, How to Critically Read a Family History, I developed a list of questions to ask based on a sample from the book Descendants of Reinold and Matthew Marvin of Hartford, Ct., 1638 and 1635. Read that post to view the entire list of questions based on the text.

However, here’s a short sampling of questions to ask and address in an update to this book.

Descendants of Reinold and Matthew Marvin of Hartford, Ct

In examining this sample, I would like to clarify a few things quickly.

  1. How old were Edward and Margaret Marvin when Reinold was born?

  2. How long had they been married?

  3. Did either have previous relationships?

  4. What is Reinold's birth order?

  5. Where is Great Bentley, England?

  6. What are the culture and geography like?

  7. What religion was St Mary’s church affiliated with?

  8. What historical events took place in 1594?

  9. Was it a peaceful time in England?

  10. Who was on the throne?

Notice how many details need further explanations in these two brief pages?

And that's not even all of the questions. Again, more are found in this blog post.

If you critically analyze what was written previously and expand on the stories, I fully support you revising the genealogies published in the past.

Have fun, and let me know how it goes.

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