Writing for a Society Publication

English: N.E. Historic-Genealogical Society, S...

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I write for the Seattle Genealogical Society’s Bulletin and it is an experience in learning how to put together a great article on family history. Having learned the ropes of how to research family trees and how to look up records in various sources, I’m able to put all of that data together in a comprehensive article to share with the community.

Many societies need new material for their newsletters and journals on a regular basis. Local, county, and state genealogical societies often have at least a newsletter. Some have journals of varying publication schedules: quarterly, semi-annual, and/or annual. Lineage societies such as the Mayflower Descendants also have journals and publications you can write for.

Journals other than those of the national societies such as the National Genealogical Society’s Quarterly and the NEHGS Register often have broader standards for article submissions. While the Quarterly and Register articles often are written by professionals and peer-reviewed, many society journals have somewhat lowered standards for quality and source citations.

There are a number of considerations for writing for a society publication, such as their focus on a particular area, time period, or subject matter. Societies also have their own guidelines and styles of presentation.

Focus Areas

Finding a genealogical society or journal for a topic area is easy. One of the best ways to find an appropriate journal is to ask a reference librarian at your local library. The genealogy librarian is often familiar with the different journals and their focus areas and able to tell you which ones for which you might consider submitting an article.

A newsletter is often more appropriate for general articles. For a focused article, such as a compiled family tree, or ancestry genealogy, you might consider submitting it to a journal, rather than to a newsletter.

Speak with the society before you submit an article to query the editor for its appropriateness to their journal or newsletter. If it is, they are likely to accept and publish it. The article then becomes the property of the society, restricting your ability to re-publish or submit it to another society. If, on the other hand, a society doesn’t accept an article, you are free to submit it to another. Always follow up, within a month or two of submission to see whether the society has plans for the article.

Guidelines and Styles

Be sure to check for guidelines and style guides on the society’s website or contact them and ask if they have any idiosyncrasies. For instance, the Seattle Genealogical Society’s Bulletin uses the word “county” in its text and end-notes on its first occurrence. As an example: “Seattle, King County, Washington Territory.” After that, they just use the city or county name, as appropriate.


The benefits of having written an article for a society newsletter or journal are three-fold. You benefit the communities of society members, people interested in the topic area, and genealogists or family historians who read the publication.


© 2012 N. P. Maling — Sea Genes – Family History & Genealogy Research

T4G: Punctuation and Text Formatting

Hyphens are punctuation, a part of the text; en and em dashes are not, they are formatting marks. I’ll talk a little about the differences and genealogical applications of each. A brief resources section to highlight significant sources used in this article is also given.

The hyphen, en, and em dashes discussed here are part of the standard font package. The hyphen is in the Basic Latin section and the other two are found in the General Punctuation part of the font’s special characters listings.

Punctuation and Text Formatting


Hyphens are punctuation, a part of the text. In the old days of the typewriter and early days of the computer, hyphens were doubled and tripled to substitute for dashes. This is unnecessary now as we have proper dashes available. The hyphen is also distinct from a minus sign, but mathematical expressions occur only rarely in our type of writing.

En Dash

En dashes are what Bringhurst (see resources section) calls analphabetic characters. His thought about the handling of them is different from traditional usage. The differences he considers significant take into account more languages than English, which most fonts are designed for.

In genealogical writing, the en dash is the strongest visual indicator for date ranges. En dashes are meant to separate the two ends of a range such as 1582–1752. Some textual terms can also benefit from its use. En dashes emphasize a separation between a prefix and a word in a compound term such as post–1945, or pre–marriage.

Em Dash

Em dashes separate thoughts. They represent missing data in some cases as in unknown surnames (—?—).

In terms of formatting, there are several micro-stylistic thoughts to consider. One is how much spacing there should be around the em dash.

Bringhurst would have us use spaces around the en dash as an alternative to the (subjectively) lengthy em dash as in “… – …”. Doing this would lead to putting a non-breaking space between the last characters before the en dash to keep the two together, possibly affecting a text’s justification.

One of the faults with Times New Roman is that the em dash is too long. Most professionally designed fonts compensate for the length of the em dash by making the capital M a more realistic width. Times New Roman was designed for a specific purpose: newspapers, and should only be used by that type of publication. Linux Libertine, on the other hand, was designed for more common publications such as this one, and books, so its readability is greater.

Illustration: Linux Libertine and Times New Roman em dashes

Illustration: Linux Libertine and Times New Roman em dashes

Hatcher, and Leclerc and Hoff (see resource section for both), differ on whether there should be spaces around an em dash in text. I would prefer the latter, and include the spaces. Doing this also requires that you pay attention to justification and word breaks at the beginning, so the dash doesn’t sit by itself at the beginning of a line.

My own thought on doubling or tripling the em dash for missing names is that it’s unnecessary. A triple dash, or in Unicode terminology a “horizontal bar” (―) can stand in. It is shorter, and more representative of the strong emphasis necessary. I prefer to denote missing data with just an em dash or as (—?—) [opening parenthesis em dash question mark em dash closing parenthesis].

Dumb and Curly Quotes, Redux

Using real quotes (curly “ / ”) raises the tone of what we read. It’s also what we’re most brought up to see in printed published materials. Online it’s another matter, though, since most early computer systems couldn’t handle curly quotes and kept the dumb quote from the teletype repertoire.


The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographical Style, version 3.2, Point Roberts, Washington: Hartley & Marks, Publishers, 2008. See in particular chapter 5 “Analphabetic Characters.” on punctuation and textual markup.

Patricia Law Hatcher, Producing a Quality Family History, Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, Inc., 1996.

John D. Lamb, Notes on OpenOffice Writer: Large and Complex Documents, n. p.: n. pub., 2009. Available online at the author’s home page. See in particular Chapter 2 “Characters, Fonts and Highlighting,” on the details of the characters and their handling.

Michael J. Leclerc and Henry B. Hoff, eds., Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century, Boston, Massachusetts: NEHGS, 2006.

Peter Wilson, A Few Notes on Book Design. Normandy Park, Washington: The Herries Press, 2009. Available online at the LaTeX archives . See in particular, chapter 5 “Picky Points,” on punctuation and textual markup.

© N. P. Maling — Sea Genes – Family History & Genealogy Research

Your Narratives Suck

Late last year I found some genealogy software narrative and “journal” reports on Google Scholar. I knew immediately which program they originated from. The style and the sentence structure were dead giveaways to which one. It sucked! The research in the reports also sucked, but that’s beyond the ken right now.

Writing a great narrative means taking the given facts and assumptions you’ve made and entered into your genealogy program better. The only way to write an inviting, and readable report is to write it yourself.

Genealogy programs are tools, templates, for organizing data, not writing your reports for you.

A narrative contains all the facts about a person. A narrative also includes information about those facts. A narrative goes beyond the facts and fact metadata. A biography is a narrative based on a simple premise: This is a story about x, illustrated by y.

That word, “illustrated,” is the key part of writing a great narrative. What is the story? The illustration. Take, for example, Hugh Fiske (not a made-up name, but it works for now). There was an extensive set of facts (who, where, when), but not what, or why. Not even how! Ok, here’s the thing, remember those five (six, actually with how) Ws from high school? A narrative needs all of them to work well.

The report included excerpts from Mr. Fiske’s will, placing him in relation to his surroundings but the report just “excerpted” all of the facts, as is. That’s not a narrative, that’s a list. You need to show, not tell, in a narrative who was doing what.

If you want to illustrate, you need to start with the story of Mr. Fiske and his will.

“On 1 May 1549 Hugh Fiske, a landholder and minor functionary in Hoxfield, County Suffolk, England, wrote his will. His wife, children, and various members of his extended family were included.”

Ok, now what?

Who was Mr. Fiske? He was a son of James and Martha. You list out his birth, marriage, and death dates; those of his wife (and maybe parents); his siblings; and, his extended family, if any. Then you continue writing with full, simple sentences the rest of his story. The data only fleshes out the scene of the story about the will writing. It shows who was there, when, and most importantly, what they did, and how.

What did those other people do? Research them and write about them in their context to Mr. Fiske. Put them in their context. It also helps to know a bit about Hoxfield, where it is, and its relation to Mr. Fiske’s, surroundings, not just Mr. Fiske and his family.

Putting source information in footnotes or end notes is necessary to show where the information in your narrative comes from makes sense. It’s not only common sense, it’s necessary to add authenticity when you write non-fiction like this.

Parts of the excerpted will should be worked into quotes in the footnotes, but not in the text. The narrative will become more than a simple story if you do that, so don’t.

A recent example of an excellent biography is Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty, by John M. Barry, published by Viking in 2012. This sets Mr. Williams fully in his and shows the effect he had on his surroundings as well as the effect his surroundings had on him.

Find out more about the “illustrated by” premise in The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-standardized Text for Writing & Life by Marion Roach Smith, published by Grand Central Publishing in 2011.

To be continued.

© 2012 N. P. Maling

Comments, anyone? Please tell me what I’ve written is wrong. Thanks!

Genealogical Writing

Genealogical writing is somewhat different from most other forms of communications. It is more technical than say writing a blog article. The majority of writers of genealogical materials need to pay attention to details found only in this type of communication.

There are a number of styles and guidelines that share common features, among them are stylistic details the writer needs to include, such as:

  • properly superscripting the given names of the family members
  • following a specific style of generational numbers, and
  • making sure indents and formatting marks conform to a specific style

Most genealogists follow two major journal styles. For New England-based families, the New England Historic and Genealogical Society Register (NEHGR) style is common. For families based in other parts of the country, or just because it makes more sense to the particular author, the National Genealogical Society (NGS) style is used. The NEHGR and NGS styles are similar in most respects but have significant differences in the way generations follow each other.

Having an editor review and revise an article before submission to a journal or newsletter speeds the process of acceptance and publishing. As well, if an author is planning to publish a family history, having an editor review it for accuracy and completeness is a good move. Copy editing and proofreading are also important to producing a high quality, publishable family history. An editor or proofreader is likely to catch, for instance a person’s name, spelled one way in one sketch, but another way in a different sketch. To make sure that it is the same person, the editor corresponds with the author and corrects one or the other under the author’s guidance.


Joan Ferris Curran, Madilyn Coen Crane, and John H. Wray. Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin, Revised Edition, Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society. 2008.

Michael J. Leclerc and Henry B. Hoff, eds. Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century. Boston, Massachusetts: NEHGS. 2006.

This post originally appeared in slightly different form on 09 October 2009 on the Seattle Book Scouts’ Blog as “Genealogical Writing”

© 2009, 2011 N. P. Maling – Sea Genes Family History & Genealogy Research

Consolidating Blogs

I will be consolidating my blogs this month. The Seattle Book Scouts’ Blog and the roman Type blog have been taken down from public view. Their genealogically related content will be moved to the Sea Genes Family History & Genealogy blog.

The blogs being consolidated will remain as “private” blogs due to domain name mis-use so they cannot be repurposed for something not related to their initial intent. All of the posts, including their comments, have been archived off-site, so a historical record remains available to future researchers.

Almost all of the interesting content from the Sea Genes FH & GR site on Blogger has been moved to WordPress. Its content has been archived. It will also remain as a “private” blog.

Anyone who has subscribed to the old blogs is encouraged to unsubscribe from them, and to subscribe to the Sea Genes FH&GR blog at WordPress.

Thanks for reading.