Entitlement—CoronaLife Day 586

I have finally gotten around to working on the title pages for my mom’s genealogy book.

Working with the image I chose to use for my title pages proved a little more difficult than I had anticipated due to my own software limitations, but I figured it out and am now proceeding happily.

I had decided to use a basic outline map of the British Isles as my title page backdrops.* My mom’s lineages come mainly from Ireland and Scotland, so I divided the book into sections. The Country Title page has the appropriate country as the backdrop.

Then, with each section, I have the surname chapters. The appropriate county is still the backdrop, but in gray, with color highlighting where the family came from in that country.

I figured since I am paying for a full-color book, I should make the most of it! Using  this scheme is a great way to have the reader oriented without having to use a separate map page. Since many readers may not know where these places are, and are not familiar with the geography, I had wanted a way to provide this info.

Hopefully the title pages look nice as well as being informative.

*Thanks to Base map © maproom.net

Photo Finish—CoronaLife Day 565

I am continuing the progress on my mom’s genealogy book. I have completed all the photos pages with the pictures I have.

We are tracking down which of my aunt’s six kids has the “old” photo album with the intergenerational pictures in it. Once we locate it, I will borrow it and scan some of the relatives I am missing from there and add them.

That book hopefully will solve a mystery for us. We have a photo of my grandfather with his siblings. We know who they all are, but the two oldest girls were only a year apart, and we don’t know which is which. We have no other pictures of Caroline, but we think there is a photo of Annie in the album. If so, we should be able to determine which is which, as they look very different.

So what remains? The chapter title pages. I think the first one will be the hardest, as I figure out how to work with the multi-layered image I am using. Once I figure it out, the rest should be able to be tweaked easily. I also have the cover to do, but I can’t really do that until I know how many pages the book will be and get the template from the printer.

I have secured proofreaders for my book’s text, so that is set up. Hopefully by the end of November I will have all the parts together and I can do the final formatting and cover.

With luck, I can have it ready for order by Christmas. However, I know there are supply chain issues in publishing right now, so it may take a little longer. But my goal was to have it ready to order by the end of the year, so I’m hopefully on track for that.

I am moving forward on my project. How about you?

Finding Our Footing—CoronaLife Day 544

We have a few days of school under our belts now, and we are starting to find our footing. I am getting used to having time to myself again, after a full 18 months of remote learning/summer. So far I have not been using my time wisely, but that is typical for me at the beginning of the school year. It’s almost like having so much free time paralyzes me with choices. But I know that will settle down.

My daughter is also starting middle school, so that’s a big change for her. But she, too, is starting to find her footing in more ways than one. We are also transitioning from her walking boot to a walking brace starting today, and hopefully her ankle will be back to full strength October 1st, when the brace is due to come off.

Although I have been spending time doing a lot of “catch up” work (little things I never seemed to find time for while my daughter was home) and searching out last-minute school supplies that I didn’t realize we needed until we actually got there, I HAVE made progress on the genealogy book.

I should finish indexing the final chapter today. Whoo hoo! After that, the equally painstaking job of formatting the book properly, making sure the margins and page numbers are correct, and that page breaks do not fall at inopportune places, begins. Once that’s done, I will send it to my proofreader to catch all the mistakes I thought I caught but didn’t.

Finding our footing has been a bit harder this year, as we spent the last 18 months in a period where every day was much the same, and time seemed to stretch endlessly. Then, abruptly, on Friday, everything changed and we were back in the world. It is disconcerting and a bit overwhelming.

But we will get through it, as we do every September, and hopefully COVID will not hit our school and send us back to remote. Whatever happens, we will adjust.

We always find our footing.

Busy Week – CoronaLife Day 530

Summertime is hard when you don’t have a 9 to 5 job, because it is so easy to lose track of what day it is. I forgot yesterday was Wednesday, and I hadn’t written this blog!

It’s been a crazy busy week for me: two meetings in my Board of Education capacity, plus a financial review with the local PTA. Lots of preparation time for those, plus the time for the meetings themselves. After so many months at home, these bursts of activity (especially in-person/social activity) exhaust me quickly.

Because of those other commitments, I have not gotten a ton of work done on my genealogy project, but I did make some progress. I now have three chapters to finish proofing and indexing. Then I will need to fix the formatting in the compiled book, and start working on the photos and other inserts. So I am edging closer to the finish line.

Going shopping for school supplies for my daughter tomorrow. We combed through her “art room” and found lots of things on the list, so it’s much shorter than it was originally. Biggest thing will be her backpack, which I waited far too long to order online and will now not arrive here until later in September. We will have to make do with the older backpack, which is still serviceable, but too small for everything she will need to carry.

In other news, Zippy the fish, although still with us, is probably not long for this world. He has been expanding with some sort of internal tumor for a couple of months (we had another fish that died of one), and although he still eats every day and swims, his behavior makes us think he is winding down. He rests a lot and “pastes” himself against the walls sometimes, as if for support. We thought he was dead yesterday, but he wasn’t—just hanging out at the bottom of the tank.

My crazy week is at an end, and hopefully I can push through those last (fairly long) chapters in the genealogy book this coming week.

I hope the last few weeks of summer are treating you all well!

Indexing Headaches—CoronaLife Day 523

I have spent the entire day with the Norwegians.

One line of my mother’s family goes back to Norway. The connection is very far back, so far that much of it may be more properly classified as “lore” rather than provable fact, but it’s fun any way you look at it.

The Norwegian chapter is a long one, spanning some 200+ years, and is an epic adventure of the Orkney and Shetland Islands, as well as vast reaches of northern Scotland. Between the Norwegian names and the many places touched upon, it is enough to make any proofreader’s head hurt.

I am familiar enough with these people now that the spelling is not much of an issue for me. What really hung me up was the indexing. I spent pretty literally the whole day on it. Some of it was my own fault, because I forgot what I had done in previous sections.

For instance, I forgot I had put the kings of Scotland under the heading “Scottish Royalty” because I was also placing their children under that heading. So today I entered them all as “Kings of Scotland” and then had to go back and change them.

Or I forgot that when I indexed a woman as the wife of someone, I put that info in parentheses, not just offset with a comma. Luckily there were not many wives, so it was not as laborious as it sounds.

Then there are just the crazy indexing errors that are basically typos. When entering the index coding in Word, if you don’t do it exactly the same each time, it will show up as a separate person. For example, “Gans:Kerry”, is not the same as “Gans:Kerry ”. Most of the time I avoided having issues by simply copying and pasting the same code for the same person, but occasionally I’d run across someone I’d missed and have to re-type it from scratch. Or it would be a person I had entered far earlier in the book, and had forgotten exactly how I had entered him (but THOUGHT I remembered), and then when I would check the index there he’d be, twice.

I have gotten all the Norwegians indexed now, however, and can move on to my next chapter. Seven chapters left to wrap up the summer with.

An Unexpected Break—CoronaLife Day 516

So there I was, chugging away at my maternal genealogy book. Compiling and indexing until I was dizzy. Deciding who was important enough to add to the Name Index, what places I would tag in the Place Index. Figuring out how to insert section breaks and make my indexes into two columns. Coming along well and then…an unexpected break.

My daughter broke her ankle.

She broke it walking. Inside. On a flat, clean, carpeted floor. She was texting her friend, and she likes to pace while she texts, and somehow…she broke her ankle. All I know is that she started yelling, “Mom! Mom! I think something snapped!”

Sunday was the emergency room. Monday was the orthopedic urgent care. The end result was a boot and crutches. Tuesday we both recuperated. Today I went to the library to get her a bag of books to read over the next few weeks.

Therefore, I have not gotten much more work on the genealogy book this week. On the other hand, I HAVE been getting a good workout running up and down the stairs bringing stuff to my daughter, since she can’t carry anything up and down the stairs. I might lose some weight out of this deal.

My plan is to get back to the book tomorrow (well, today by the time this posts). Aside from a follow-up on Friday, things should be quiet. The ankle break was very small, so perhaps we will get the go-ahead to be weight-bearing on Friday. It would be great if we do, because my daughter has mostly ignored the crutches anyway and just hops around the house. I worry she will injure her good leg, and then where will we be?

Hopefully things stay quiet, because our Norse Lineage awaits!

The Quick and the Dead—CoronaLife Day 495

After being away last week, I tried to get back into the swing of things once we arrived home. We’ve had a heat wave, eerily red suns from smoke from Canadian wildfires, a tornado warning, and a heavy thunderstorm that gave us a pond in our backyard. I also took a trip to the ER with a calf muscle injury that I am 98% recovered from at this point.

So, not exactly conducive to concentrated working.

I hunkered down, however, and actually have had a pretty productive week. Since I last wrote, I proofread 40,500 words of my mother’s family history book. And still found mistakes when I went back to quickly look at something in a chapter I had already proofread. I will likely need to read the entire thing one more time before giving it to someone else to proofread. My second read-through will probably be out loud, since most of my problem is shifting tenses, and hearing it will help me catch that.

I also updated several family trees that will go in the book. Apparently, I have been working on this a lot longer than I thought, since people in the trees who have died were still alive, and children who are alive now had not been born. One chapter had no tree at all yet, so I created that one from scratch.

Lastly, I found an image I plan to use in multiple places in my book. One spot will likely be the back cover, and the other places will be as backgrounds for chapter title pages. I had wanted to use maps of Ireland and the UK in strategic places, but could not find one I liked that was not prohibited by copyright. I finally found a line drawing of the British Isles that allows use for reprinting in books with no copyright attached. I will, of course, be using attribution, as they requested.

So I am making progress. After I finish the chapter I am proofing, I have five more to proofread, and one chapter to write from scratch. It is very hard to write a family history book while you are still actively researching, because you keep finding more information to add!

Although there is much work remaining, it is work I enjoy, this strange co-mingling of the quick and the dead. Through my pen, the dead live again, and hopefully my work will live on after I am dead. Those who think time moves only forward never viewed the world through the eyes of a genealogist—the past is ever with us, and colors every aspect of the present.

Do What You Can—CoronaLife Day 348

Everyone I know is hitting the pandemic wall. As we approach a year of CoronaLife, many of us have exhausted our reserves of patience, grace, and stay-insidedness. I, for one, have actually felt worse anxiety and stress since the vaccines came out, a desperate feeling of “so near and yet so far.” Like starving on the street and seeing food on the other side of a shop window.

So seeing as I—and many of us—am mentally and emotionally drained, it is hardly surprising that my creativity has crashed and burned. As much as I want to get to writing, I just have nothing in the tank nor the quiet space needed to go there. I am far from alone in this—many, many writers have commented on the same phenomenon. They have the time to write, but just…can’t.

Not being able to write drives me to berate myself often. The lack of productivity makes me feel not like myself, further unsettling me in this time of upheaval. So what’s a writer to do?

Do what you can.

For me, I decided to turn to non-fiction and my favorite hobby, genealogy. Many years ago, I published a book on my father’s side of the family. I began one for my mother, but never seemed to complete it. This month, I decided to try and get to THE END.

I have revamped several chapters, including updated information newly discovered since last time I looked at it, including indicating which ancestral couples have DNA matches to them. I am now wading through the rest of the chapters, finding them in various states of disarray. Some are written but the source citations are missing, some are partly written, and one hasn’t even been started yet.

Years ago I made a hasty mistake that has come back to haunt me (and would cause all of my college professors to cry). I failed to source my notes. You see, my mother’s line leads back to royalty, so a number of her families have a substantial amount of scholarly research on them. I read some of the works, jotted down notes in my genealogy program, made note of the book’s citation—and didn’t cite page numbers. Even worse, I didn’t cite which pieces of information came from which book, and just had a long prose piece on each person that mixed all the info together.

I have placed orders with the Interlibrary Loan people (who got these books for me before), and hopefully as they come in I can scan them quickly and reunite facts with sources. With my luck, all the books will arrive at the same time, and then I will have only 2 weeks to go through 6 books. I also ordered 2 books via ILL that were completely new and I will have to read in full to write the chapter that I haven’t even started yet.

So far, my plan has been fruitful. I am making progress and feeling productive. A little bit like my pre-pandemic self.

So for all of you, writers or not, who are struggling to feel more like yourself, know that aspiring to pre-pandemic productivity and goals right now may be making you feel worse rather than better. And if it is—as it was with me—take my advice and reset your goal:

Just do what you can.

Research and Citations: Save Time, Get It Right From the Start

Cover of Kerry Gans' The Warren Family of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and their Ancestors, a genealogy research bookI’ve written a family history book for my father’s side of the family, and I am now at work on one for my mother’s side. The book for my father’s side took forever, but not because of the writing—because of the research.

Obviously, genealogy takes a lot of research. Over 20 years I have documented evidence from everything from tombstones to letters to photographs to legal documents for birth, death, and marriage. I have a genealogy program where I enter all the data, and cite my sources for each data point.

The problem? My citation entry proved insufficient.

Marriage Certificate of Mary Hobson Warren and Daniel LeinauAs I wrote my father’s book, putting the data into readable prose fell smack into my wheelhouse. But I wanted other researchers of those lines to have a fully sourced genealogy at their disposal. When a genealogist finds a source (such as this book) where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, that provides a paper trail, and has sources so you can judge for yourself the reliability of the data, it’s like striking gold. I wanted to give this information to people gift-wrapped, as a way of paying forward all the help I had gotten from those who researched before me.

Family Bible birth entry for Isaac Kite, 1754Since citation-supported research was a main goal of the book, I needed to have clear citations for every piece of data. I found in going back into the data that I had often been lax in my citations. While more prevalent in the early days when I often didn’t know better, I also found other places where I had taken shortcuts.

  • I had vague citations: “Tombstone.” Well great, except I didn’t say what cemetery. “Marriage License.” Whose? Issued where?
  • I found incorrect citations: “Scotland Birth Registry.” No such entity exists. I either meant the Scotland Old Parish Records, or the Scotland Statutory Records Index (depending on the date).
  • I had no citation at all. This baffled me the most because I clearly did not make up the information. I got it from somewhere. Often it required me to dig through the information I had to finally find the source.

Screenshot of genealogy database program for organizing researchSo the biggest time-suck writing my genealogy books is the source citations. I often have to stop and track down the original source so I can properly source it. Then I have to fix it in the genealogy program before I add it to the book. The upside, of course, is that when I am finished the books my genealogy database will also be in tip-top shape.

What does this mean for your writing research?

I know most of you are not writing genealogy books. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from my mistakes.

  • If you write historical novels, have a database where you list every historical detail you use and where you found it. That way you can defend that detail if needed, and it gives you a go-to list for more in-depth research if needed.
  • If you write contemporary novels and people helped you out with details of setting, character, or culture, write it down. In the many years it can take from first draft to publishing, you may forget who told you what, and when it comes time for the acknowledgements, you don’t want to forget someone.
  • If you write fantasy or science fiction, track every bit of real science or history you used to inform your world. Not only will you be able to discuss and defend your points, you can then go back to those sources later to see if there are updates to the science or cultural history that you can use in future books set in the same world.
  • If you write thrillers, mysteries, or police procedurals, you’ll need insider knowledge of the justice system and perhaps technical knowledge for things such as planes, submarines, and weapons.
  • Another advantage to all these research notes is that you can use that information to support blog posts and presentations, non-fiction works about the same subjects, and as resources to refer readers to if they want more information.

We writers pull information from everywhere, and we collect data on a wide variety of subjects. We need to know where all that research comes from. Don’t waste time later having to go back and retrace your steps to double-check a detail. Get it right from the start.

Do you keep track of your research? How do you organize the data and sources?

Genealogy Book Update

Some of you will remember that I have been chipping away at a genealogy book for my dad’s side of the family. I hope to have it finished and ready for my family around Christmas, but it may slide a little if other things that are in the works happen—you know, life getting in the way of your plans!

I did reach a milestone today, though. I finished going through all the endnotes and putting them in proper format. I had been cutting and pasting the source material from my genealogy program (Legacy), but it doesn’t put it in proper endnote format. What was there might have been all right, except that when I do something, I want to do it right. If I want this book to be taken seriously by other genealogists, I need to have the sourcing done properly.

So I laboriously went through every endnote (some chapters have 80-90!) and put them in the right format. And that helped me, too, because I found some source material that needed to be more clearly marked—or that I couldn’t remember where I got it. And I added to each endnote where the original material is housed: in my possession, in other archives, in church or cemetery offices, etc. That way people can duplicate my research easily if they want to find the primary documentation.

How close am I to finishing? I need to tweak the illustrations—some are facing the wrong way. I have to put final touches on the chapter title pages. I have to line edit the entire thing, including picture captions and family trees. I have to fix weird glitches in the Index where things are italicized or bolded for no apparent reason. I am hoping to get a few more photos from people before I “go to press.” Oh, and I have to design the cover. So, not too far—but not too close, either. If I have a few concentrated weeks, I should have it done by early December.

Then comes the fun part—figuring out how to properly format it for Print On Demand (POD). I will likely use CreateSpace. It should be an interesting challenge to get everything formatted the way I want! But I geek out over that sort of stuff, so I’m sure I will enjoy it, even with its inevitable frustrations.

So that’s where I am with my genealogy book—hit a milestone, but still a ways to go. And when I finish this one, I have my mom’s side of the family to do. I learned a great deal from this book, so hopefully the other one will go faster as I will do things correctly the first time. So maybe by next Christmas!

How about you? Any pet projects you are working on?

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