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31 July 2017

How to Critically Read a Family History Story

Critical Reading Skills

So you think your family history has all been done and you have a family history book on your shelf to prove it. When was the last time you read that family history book? Was it easy to follow and did you understand everything with in?

My grandmother is an adopted daughter of parents whose ancestral line extends back to Colonial America and could connect me to cousins who were first ladies. Except for that whole adoption thing, I could be a member of DAR. Yet, that doesn't really matter. Regardless, my grannie loved her Marvin family line which anyone with ties to Hartford, Connecticut in the 1630s, just might be related her multiple-great grandparents and uncle, Reinhold and Matthew Marvin, who were two brothers originally from Great Bentley, Essex County, England.

As such, their research has been traced solidly into the 1600s. So, their work would all be done, right? There is a book available on Google Play (or library shelves) detailing the early descendants of the brothers. But, have you read the book? Um. It's about as enjoyable to read as a fact-filled textbook. Sure the facts are cool, but reading a textbook is not something you curl up for story time.

25 July 2017

Celebrating Lilian's Writing Success

Celebrate Lilian's success

Have you written a family history? If no, what's stopping you? Lilan Magill from Sydney, Australia recently finished writing a family history for her family and published it too. I couldn't be more giddy about her success unless I were a member of her own family. Read how Lilian succeed.
During RootsTech, 2017, I attended Andy and Devon Noel Lee’s workshop titled, ‘Start Writing Your Family History Today.’ Even though I had written blogs, about different family members, mainly as ‘cousin bait,’ I was still procrastinating about actually writing at least some of my family history, in greater detail. This workshop and their book, ‘A Recipe for Writing Family History,’ inspired me to take the next step. 

21 July 2017

Friday Funny: Zolas Lessons in Avoid Scams

Apparently, scams and con artists are nothing new but Emile Zola, the French novelist, playwright, journalist,  a major figure in the political liberalization of France, and a Nobel Prize in Literature nominee teaches us how to handle such situations.

Couldn't Fool Emile Zola

The agent of the forthcoming county history called upon Zola, the novelist. 
     "Of course," he said, "you can't afford to have you biography omitted from a work like this. You will want your picture in it, and it will cost us $25 to have it engraved. You can write the biography yourself, and we'll run it in just as you write it. All you have to pay will be the $25, and we give you a copy of the work free of charge. We wouldn't do that for everybody, I can tell you, but we want to do what we can to boost you along and help to get the name of Emile Zola enrolled in the list of the immorales."
     "My name is Emile Zola, all right," said the novelist, "but I'm not quite so E. Z. as that." 
     And he kicked him out.

Friday Funny with Emile Zola
Émile Zola [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks for the humorous story Emile. Now the only question from this critical genealogist is this: Is this a case of fact or fiction? Stories like these are how family legends begin.

(Article appeared in The Tacoma Daily News: Tacoma, Washington on 8 March 1904 but seems to be a reprint from the Chicago Tribune.)

17 July 2017

Finally Accessing the Original German Lutheran Records

Lutheran Church Records from Germany on

For decades, I've had a record access roadblock. My Zumstein relatives were from Obermiesau, Bavaria as the children were born in this area after 1816 when the Kingdom of Bavaria was established in this area. Family paper group sheets had recorded the descendants of Paul Zumstein and Phoebe Moulter's birth and christening dates before they migrated to Ontario, Canada around 1850.  But no one had copies of the original church records. So, could the derivative records be trusted?

12 July 2017

Failing in Family History

Every beginning genealogy class should start with stories. Everyone has stories. Everyone knows stories. So, why don't we start there more often?

When I want my children engaged in family history and learning about their ancestors, I share stories with them. But I can't share stories that I have forgotten. I want my children to better prepare my kids to face this world. That's why I share family history every chance I get. But sometimes, what they need less of is the heroism or agony of defeat. Often, they need humor.

10 July 2017

Overcoming Challenges in Family History Trips - Family History for Children Blog Link Up

Heritage Tours With Children - Family History For Children

It's the middle of summer in the US and family trips are on many minds and itineraries. Touring our ancestral towns is difficult, and not always enjoyable as they kids whine and complain and wish they were at Disneyland. My children didn't enjoy visiting Ontario, Canada where I learned about my Zumstein and Comfort family lines. Connecting with my German Canadian roots was a dream come true for me, but they weren't feeling it. So, what's a mother or father to do to teach their children about family history?

08 July 2017

See you July 25-28 in Provo!

BYU Family History Conference Speaker

Who is ready for a family history conference? I am!!! I'm looking forward to seeing everyone who is in the Provo, Utah area for the 49th Annual BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy from July 25-28. There will be over 100 classes, of which I'm teaching three!

Some amazing presenters on the schedule that I know bring it when they teach are:

  • Peggy Lauritzen
  • Janet Hovorka
  • Melissa Finlay
  • Diana Elder
  • Ron Tanner
  • Sunny Morton
  • Diahan Southard

I hope to meet more presenters as well. My classes are scheduled for: 
Tuesday, July 25 - 4:00 PM - Stop Researching and Start Writing 
Thursday, July 26 - 11:00 AM - Scrapbooks: Purposes and Possibilities 
Thursday, July 26 - 2:45 PM - Beginners Guide to Photographing Family Treasures

A PDF is available for you to download to review the full class schedule. Here's the link

On Tuesday, it will be my father's birthday. If he were alive, he would be 71 and bragging about me o anyone who would listen. His baby girl is teaching at another big conference. All I have to do, is make sure I live up to his praise. I share this so that if you in Provo on Tuesday,  give me a big squeeze. 

On Wednesday and Thursday, stop by my booth! My amazing mother- and father-in-law will be helping to staff the Family History Fanatics booth where we will have Andy and my six books available for purchase. We'll also have a camera set up so you can record questions for us to answer in a future video on our YouTube Channel. 

If you haven't registered for the conference, be sure to visit this link, Register for the BYU Conference,  to do so. 

06 July 2017

5 Steps to Creating a Cover for Your Self-Published Book

5 Steps for Creating a Self-Published Family History Book Cover

Oh, the pesky front covers. They can make or break your self-published family history book. Thankfully, there is a lot of hand tips to making a book cover but I'd like to show you the process. In February, I released the book, A Recipe for Writing Family History. This month, I've redesigned three book covers. I'll show you the before and after for these three books later, but first, let's walk through the steps of creating a Book Cover

Step 1: Inspiration

The first step is to find inspiration. For my book, I searched Amazon's for books about the writing process. The covers that caught my eye had a few things in common.

Looking for Cover Inspiration
Books on Writing available at

A Recipe for Writing Family History is a how to book and it's a basic writing book. I wanted to include symbols that emphasized these two factors. However, the area of focus is family history and genealogy. I wanted imagery that incorporated that niche of writing.

After looking through numerous book offerings, I sketched my ideas 'old school' with pen and paper.
Designing A Family History Cover: Step 1 Sketch
Sketching my cover ideas

After creating these book ideas that are heavy on iconography, I moved from pen and paper to digital design using Photoshop Elements.

When you're looking to publish your family history projects, which are more biographical or memoir in nature, you would follow the pre-design step. Review book covers in a library catalog or Find the ones you like and then sketch out the elements you prefer.

Step 2: Create Mock-Ups

Using Photoshop Elements, I attempted to transform the sketches into a book cover. I found stock graphics online and used many of my digital scrapbooking skills to develop three ideas from the sketches. The other sketches did not appeal after I transferred them to digital. Here are the three designs that first made the cut.

Designing A Family History Cover: Step 2 Mock-Up 1

Designing A Family History Cover: Step 2 Mock-Up 2

Designing A Family History Cover: Step 2 Mock-Up 3

After I created these first digital samples, I showed them to my husband. He's my co-author, so he had a say in the project! He didn't like the cover with the keyboard letters. For the other two options, he was indifferent. At this point, I wanted to have input from folks who support my goals and were not biased.

When you create your cover design, consider using Photoshop Elements or Microsoft Publisher. You can even design a cover using OpenOffice, MS Word, or Apple Pages. The question is how fancy do you want your covers to be.

Step 3: Solicit Feedback

In a few Facebook groups, I posted my two sample covers and invited people to weigh in on their preferences. I also shared this on my newsfeed for my friends and family. I was surprised and fascinated to see the opinions. If I was a psychologist, I would love to have analyzed each person's impressions. Instead, I'm a self-published author and I wanted to see what the overwhelming majority of my network thought about my books.

There was no consensus of opinion, however, the tan cover won out if I would keep tweaking the design. The biggest complaint is that no one could read the recipe card and didn't like the imagery I was attempting to convey. Most people thought the recipe card implied a cookbook, not a writing book. So, I tried again.

When I change the cover I needed to lighten the tan background and change the photo.

Don't be afraid to share your cover design with others. There are times when someone will see something you have overlooked (such as the recipe box implies cooking not writing). Some feedback is not helpful or to you likely. Thank anyone who participates in providing feedback and make adjustments.

Step 4: Adjust Cover Design
The next step was to find a cover image that would emphasize writing rather than a cooking recipe. I kept the keyboard and the recipe basket. Those two symbols were important to me. I printed off a number of family history icons and asked for feedback once again.

Designing A Family History Cover: Step 4 Alternate Photo 1

Designing A Family History Cover: Step 4 Alternate Photo 2

Designing A Family History Cover: Step 4 Alternate Photo 3

Designing A Family History Cover: Step 4 Alternate Photo 4

When I shared these photos again with those who contributed to the first design discussion, most felt the family tree with the ovals was the better graphic.

Designing A Family History Cover: Step 4 Alternate Photo 5

One fan said they did not like how the title was separated by the photo. That comment led me to further research titles on covers and it was correct. I was attempting to be creative but I was creating a subtle annoyance. I don't want to do that!

Designing A Family History Cover: Keep Title Together

After moving the title together, I understood the feedback and was so happy someone pointed it out.

One person also suggested that the colors were too "Christmas-y" for their liking. I really appreciated that feedback. My theme color has always been maroon or burgundy. I threw in green to capture the color most associated with family history. I could not see the Christmas color scheme until someone pointed it out.

Additionally, another recommendation was to kill the script font. It was too dated for cover designs. I wanted a different font so that it added more interest to the cover. As I exchanged comments with the person who made the recommendation, I learned that changing the font size or the color will be just enough of a variation in the title to emphasize "Writing".

Designing A Family History Cover: Change Color Schemes

Designing A Family History Cover: Change Color Schemes 2

After changing the colors of the title to blue and green, I finally fell in love way it looked. The feedback remained positive but a request that the ovals have photos and titles in the boxes below was finally headed. I had hoped to get away with not using photos, but I like to please my fans. So, photos it is!

Designing A Family History Cover: Step 5 Final Cover Design

Finally, the cover conveyed what I intended. It's a book about writing your family history and it's as easy as following a recipe.

When you design your cover, you may correct it after one round of feedback. Hooray for your mad skills if you are that successful or if you don't want feedback. For those who enjoy having feedback so you can create the most well-received book as possible, be prepared to try, try, try, again.

Step 5: Export Your Design

After you create your cover, you need to prepare it for printing. If you're using a service such as or to print your books, you'll receive a template that finalizes your book dimensions and informs you what format save your file to in order for the company to use in printing your projects. Follow each company's instructions and never hesitate to use their helpline you don't understand something. The want you to have the best book possible.

You Can Change It Later

I know you want to get the cover correct the first time. However, let's say you have a second edition of a book that you're ready to publish. That's a great time to update the cover of your book. Let me show you the three "How To" Books Andy and I redesigned. I think they're much better. Don't you?

How to Fail English With Style Cover Design

Power Scrapbooking Cover Design

Family History Scrapbooking Cover Design

Those are my 5 steps to creating a book cover. Was it helpful? What steps would you have? What steps do you want to learn more about? Leave a comment below.

To order A Recipe for Writing Family History, visit

03 July 2017

Beginner Basics: Discover What Has Been Done

Beginner Genealogy Research Tips

One of my favorite things in the world is teaching beginner genealogy researchers how to start compiling their family history and looking for more details about their ancestors. Within the last decade, the question I ask has changed from 'what can you tell me about your family" to "what has already been done?"

Since I can't be with everyone in the world as they start out, I'd like to share the five questions that you should investigate when you begin your genealogical journey.