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Author to share tips on writing a family history

Author, historian and genealogist Dina Carson will share tips on writing an interesting family history Wednesday. Photo detail from her book “Publish Your Family History: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing the Stories of Your Ancestors”
Online event is Wednesday afternoon

Borrowing tricks from fiction writing can help you write a more interesting family history, while still telling the truth, according to author, historian and genealogist Dina Carson.

“One of the important things to remember is to include description and detail,” she said. “When writing from dry historical documents, people forget there’s a lot of information out there. You can do extra research and pump up the story while still making sure it’s accurate.”

Like fiction writers, authors of family histories should try to flesh out their characters and settings.

“If you don’t have a diary left behind, look at an archive in the place they settled or traveled through. You’ll find similar information to what they experienced,” Carson said. “What was it like being in a covered wagon train for seven weeks? What was it like to practice medicine during the Civil War?”

Carson will share these tips and others on writing an interesting family history from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Wednesday during a Zoom presentation. To register, see rvgslibrary.org/FormPage.asp?FormID=10.

The event costs $10 for Rogue Valley Genealogical Society members and $20 for nonmembers. Registration closes at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Based in Colorado, Carson is the author of a string of books about writing and self-publishing family histories. She noted almost nobody who undertakes a family history project is a professional writer, and most have rusty writing skills.

“When people finally have the time, their last high school English class was usually 50 years ago,” she said.

Telling your family history in chronological order is usually easier. Jumping back and forth in history and using flashbacks is not a natural writing style for most people who don’t write a lot, Carson said.

But be careful not to fall in the trap of providing a plodding account.

“Just retelling what they did on this date and what they did on this date and what they did on this date is boring,” she said.

Telling the story from the point of view of one character can make a family history more engaging and personal. It also makes the story easier to follow and less confusing for readers, she said.

Carson said print-on-demand technology is so accessible these days that people shouldn’t feel pressured to put their whole family history in one book, or even to write a book-length story. You could choose a nuclear family, then research, write and publish that short story, then move on to your next project.

Focus on the ancestors whose stories are meaningful and interesting to you.

Carson said one of her favorite ancestors is a woman who played professional golf at a time when there were few opportunities for women to be professional athletes.

“It’s better to do one story and to do it well than to try to tell the story of every descendant of an immigrant family. You can’t possibly tell 500 people’s stories well in a single book,” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.