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Noeline Kyle, Writing Family History Made Very Easy: a beginner's guide.

Noeline Kyle, Writing Family History Made Very Easy: a beginner's guide, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2007, viii + 312 pages; ISBN 978 1 74175 062 1. Given the growing popularity of tracing genealogy in Australia in recent years it is surprising that there has not been a corresponding increase in the number of personal family history titles being published. Yet while researching family history and accessing genealogical records is becoming easier by the day, the challenge of writing it all up is still too daunting for most. Where to begin, when to 'stop researching and start writing' and how to put it all together combine to ensure that writing up the family history is nearly always left on the 'to do' list.

This new publication by Dr Noeline Kyle joins a number of texts already on the market which encourage family historians to write up the results of their research. Dr Kyle has a long involvement in helping those who have never before put pen to paper. With her background in researching women's history, running writing groups and three other genealogical texts to her credit, she comes to this subject with a good deal of useful experience. As is stated in the preface, the book aims to provide 'practical and useful strategies' to encourage researchers to begin to write, and to guide them through that process so that they end up with a professionally produced family history book. Although described as a 'step by step guide', the book is really more an exploration of a wide range of writing themes and anyone who is looking for specific direction from a 'how to' guide could be disappointed by its more abstract content. There are some useful tips. The author discusses issues such as finding the time to write, deciding when you are ready to begin writing, and how to overcome the fear that others might think you silly for sharing what by its very nature is often a very personal account of family members and collective memories. Most importantly, she makes the point that researching and writing go together, that one does not follow the other. She urges the reader to begin writing while still undertaking research, pointing out that it is often only when the research is turned into a narrative that gaps appear which only further research will fill. Many think they need to 'finish' the family history before they write it up, not realising that the recording of a family's history is an ongoing venture that can have no clearly defined finishing point.

There is also useful guidance on how to avoid using nostalgia and sentiment in a family history--the problems many people face when they are trying to write objectively about family members they knew personally, or of whom they have fond memories from their childhood. Hints on how to avoid the clichrd descriptions seen in so many genealogies where 'devoted wives, hardworking men, dear children and pious daughter' statements describe generation after generation are also included. Yet there are also shortcomings which surprised me. The issue of copyright is an important one for family historians, with so much of their research based on personal letters, photographs, diaries, manuscripts and documents held in archival institutions and private collections. Can you reproduce grandma's wedding certificate because you bought a copy of it from the Registry? Can you include a photo that a distant cousin found somewhere on the internet? These are important issues for those who are making their first forays into publishing. Unfortunately the writer devotes less than two pages to this and corresponding subjects of plagiarism, defamation and libel and in a text of over 300 pages more coverage of this very complex subject would have been expected. The book closes with a short appendix titled Genealogical Software Programs. For a 2007 publication this topic deserved a chapter in its own right, but in this format it is treated as if it was an afterthought. While the subject of Kyle's book is about writing family history and she concentrates only on printed works, her cursory mention of genealogical software suggests she is not fully conversant with the features available in many of these commercial programs and their widespread use in genealogy. More could and should have been made of this. It might also be useful if future editions looked at publishing family histories on CD and DVD as well as on the internet, as these are now becoming widely accepted publishing formats embraced by the genealogical community. Notwithstanding these points, Writing Your Family History Made Very Easy is a useful addition to the texts already on the market which encourage researchers to start writing up the family history. Extracts from the work of many of Kyle's former students are used to illustrate the book, and clearly demonstrate that it is possible for anyone to turn their genealogical research into an interesting and worthwhile text which will have broad appeal.

Heather Garnsey, Executive Officer, Society of Australian Genealogists
COPYRIGHT 2007 Royal Australian Historical Society
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Garnsey, Heather
Publication:Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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