02 October 2010

PRESERVING

     I am a day late posting my blog this week. I have been immersed in creating a family history book, a project I have been putting off (placed on the long finger, as the Irish would say) for a long time. The task seemed insurmountable, but as the photographs fall into place, and the pages bloom one by one, I find I am enjoying the process so much that I wonder why I have procrastinated.
     I think part of the reason revolves around my indecisiveness regarding the best way to preserve the records, information, and photos that I have collected. I have my "hard data" stored on a computer genealogy program, and I also have binders in which I have all the records organized. For me, this is how I like to view family history--give me a collection of the raw data and let me draw my own conclusion, my own story in my mind. But, I have found that my binders and charts are of no interest to most of my family members. Their eyes glaze over as I attempt to interest them in page after page of census records.
     My worry is that my binders will also be of little interest to generations yet to come. So my question is, how do I best preserve the family history in a way that will interest and inform other people, while retaining the integrity and accuracy of the records?
     I have made three family history books through the years. Two were composed of copies of all the records that I have collected. I took the copies to a local copy/business center and had them spiral bound, then distributed them to family members. I found that most of my cousins were grateful, but I doubt that they spent much time examining the hundred or so pages of documents. But, I feel that at least the records are "out there," all together, and that they will be preserved for at least a few generations.
     One cousin of mine mentioned that she liked reading stories of the family history. To be truthful, my own eyes glaze over when I read most people's family stories. It is beyond my talents to make an interesting, accurate story of the generations. I find most family stories tend toward the mundane (John married Jane, their children were Zeke, Zoe, Yetta, Xavier...), the elaborate (five pages of World War I history lifted from Wikipedia), or the heavily footnoted (I can't help it, I was an appellate lawyer, I footnote every phrase!). I have been attending a memoir writing class, and some of the essays knocked my socks off, so I know that some people can pen a beautiful memoir. One man in the class is writing a very detailed personal history, and his book should be donated to a local museum or archive, it is so rich in detail and history. But I don't find many family histories like his--engaging and accurate at the same time.
     So this time, I am combining many methods into one book. I was inspired by a book authored by a friend of mine, Rosemarie, who is part of the Irish American Family History Society that meets in South Jersey every month. She put together a beautiful, hard-bound book that contains her grandfather's poems, their family history, and photographs. This eclectic approach worked for me. I found myself glued to the book, even though it was not about my own ancestors.
     Before I began, I explored several options for creating and publishing the book. I found that there can be a HUGE difference in price and product, so please shop around before deciding on an online publisher. You might want a publisher that arranges your book automatically for you, or you might want full creative control over the process. Rosemarie used Blurb.com, and I am using that service also. I found their prices to be the best. I did have difficulty navigating their BookSmart program at first, but once I got familiar with it, I was running full speed ahead. So much so, I forgot to write my blog posting yesterday!
     My book will be a mixture of personal essays, photos, and records. I hope that this mixture will accomplish both my aims: to preserve the family records and to interest family members. I will let you know once the reviews are in whether or not this approach is successful. For now, I am enjoying the process immensely.