Writing your memoir is a great way to preserve family history. Many people think their life is too mundane to share. You don’t have to have lived a miserable childhood, suffered some tragic fate or hobnobbed with the rich and famous to write your memoir. Everyone has a story to tell. Telling your story is a great way to preserve your legacy and show others how you came to be the person you are today. In addition others will learn valuable life lessons from your experiences.
It does not have to be a Pulitzer Prize novel like Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes or a great family saga like Alex Haley’s Roots that is published for the world to see. Just write down your recollections of people, places and events in your life and share it with your family and friends.
My mother wrote her memoir in which she described her life growing up and living in Washington, DC from the 1920’s forward. She wrote it out in long-hand on notebook paper. We typed the information, supplemented it with pictures and other memorabilia and had it copied and bound at the local copy store. My mother’s memoir is truly a family treasure that can be passed on to future generations.
In addition to preserving family history, writing your memoir is also a great way to preserve local history. Florence Coleman Bryant wrote her memoir titled Memoirs of Country Girl which contains her recollections of growing up in a farming community in Caroline County, Virginia during the Depression. I used the book as a resource when researching Union High School in Caroline County, Virginia in preparation for writing a book. Ms. Bryant’s memories of Caroline County and Union High were a value asset to preserving the history of the county and school.
Here are a few tips for writing your memoir:
- Pick an area of focus. It is not necessary tell your life story in chronological order starting at birth. You can write about a particular time period in your life, a particular event, or a person who influenced you. Your memoir can be a collection of unrelated stories about your life.
- Just write. Your first objective is to get your memories on paper. You can either type or write them, whichever you find easiest. Make a list of memories as they occur to you. Don’t worry about the details, spelling, grammar, punctuation. You can make changes later. Just let your thoughts flow and write.
- Be Yourself. Write in the first person in your natural voice.
- Take Your Time. Don’t’ try to write everything at once. Write for awhile, put it down and come back to it later. Some people find it useful to write every day for at a certain time in a special place. Others write whenever a thought comes to them. Keep a pen and paper or digital recorder with you at all times so you can record your memories when they occur.
- Be truthful but tactful. You want to be truthful but it is not necessary to write a tell-all novel that spills the family secrets or divulges all your personal business. Some information may be too personal or painful to share.
- Be gracious. Refrain from make disparaging remarks about others. Be aware that the statements you make will impact their life. Be sure you are able to support what you say.
- Use photographs and memorabilia to jog your memory. Look through photo albums, scrapbooks and memorabilia and write down what you remember.
- Use periodicals to jog your memory. Browse magazines and newspapers and make a list of national, state and local events. Write down your memories of these events and the impact they had on your life.
- Listen to music. Listen to old songs and write your memories as they come to you.
- Fill in the details. After your finish the draft add some background to put your story in the proper context. Searching the internet is a good place to find information. Search for events, people and places you mentioned in your story. Do research to confirm your recollection of historical facts or well-known events is accurate. For each story you have written, ask yourself: What was the occasion? Who was involved? When did the event occur? Where did it take place? How was my life impacted by the event?
Early I wrote a post about the Washington High DC School Cadet Corps.
A few months ago while performing research at the Martin Luther King Library in downtown Washington DC, I came across several photos of Washington High DC School Cadet Corps. I was surprise to find a photo of a female cadet corps since everything I read about the cadet corps indicated it was for males only.
I decided to post them here to compliment my earlier post.
One of my early childhood memories is practicing writing my name so that I could get my own library card. I wanted to be a big girl like my siblings and check out my own library books instead of having my mother check them out for me. Once a week my mother would take my siblings and me to the local library where we would check out shopping bags full of books, magazines and records. For big research projects, my mother would take us to the main library downtown where we had access to a larger selection of materials.
The library system has grown a lot since my childhood days. It is now possible to obtain a library card for a variety of library systems. In addition to providing access to items in the library, the library card also provides access to a wealth of online resources.
Here are a few tips for accessing resources outside of your community library.
- Community College – The community college in my county allows residents who don’t attend the college to obtain a Community Patron library card. Check with the community college library in your community to see if they have a similar program.
- Reciprocal Library Agreements -Some library systems have reciprocal agreements with the library systems in nearby communities which allow patrons with a library cards to obtain a free library card by showing a card from their library.
- Nonresident/Out-of-Region Access - Library cards are not always limited to residents of the community. Some libraries will also give library cards to people work, go to school or own property in the community. Other libraries will give a library card to nonresidents for a small fee. I do a lot of research in Caroline and Spotsylvania County, Virginia. These counties are serviced by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library (CRRL) system. Since I have no ties to the state or counties, I do not quality for a free library card. However, I am able to obtain a nonresident library card for an annual fee of $30.
- College Libraries – Many college libraries will grant library cards to alumni and staff. Additionally they may have Friends of the Library Program which will give library cards to people who make donations to the school. College libraries are excellent source for research because they provide access to theses, dissertations and other resources not available at your community library.
- Library of Congress – For those you who live near Washington, DC, the Library of Congress provides access to prints and photographs, historic newspapers, maps, manuscripts and film and a host of other materials. Most material must be used onsite, but the Library of Congress is an excellent place for research.
- Interlibrary Loan Program (ILL) and Worldcat – Most libraries have an interlibrary loan program (ILL) which allows the user of one library to borrow books from another library. Worldcat (http://www.worldcat.org) provides access to library collections around the world. I use Worldcat to locate books of interest and then request them through my local library’s interlibrary loan program. The books are sent to my local library branch where I can pick it up and return it when I am done.
If you follow the above suggestions you will have access to a wide variety of materials in libraries all over the country which will greatly enhance your research.
I try to be very organized when I am performing research. Before going on a research trip, I identify the ancestors I will be researching, check the library’s catalog to determine what resources are available and make a list of questions I would like to answer. However, some of my best genealogy finds have happened when I was not looking for the information. When this happens, I jokingly say my ancestors are talking to me.
Here are some examples of some great information I stumbled upon while performing genealogy research.
- My 2nd great Aunt Matilda Shakespeare had several children while she was enslaved. One was a son name John Henry Lewis. At the end of the Civil War Matilda married Dingo Rollins and they had several children. I found their marriage certificate and the family in the 1870 and 1880 census. I also found a death record that indicated Matilda died on June 27, 1882. I could not find any more information on the Rollins family after the 1880’s. One day I traveled to the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center in Fredericksburg, VA for a research trip. The volunteers were very helpful as I searched for information on Dingo Rollins, his children and John Henry Lewis. Unfortunately, we did not find any information on the Rollins family.
A few days later I was contacted by the volunteer who was helping me on my research trip. She told me she had located documents for a court case involving John Henry Lewis and Dingo Rollins’ children. She happened upon the information when she was looking through a box that was sitting on the shelf. Another volunteer told her the box had been there for awhile. The court documents contained a wealth of information on Dingo Rollins and his children including the married names of his daughters and their spouses, as well as the fact that they had moved from Caroline County, Virginia to Washington, DC. I was able to use this information to further trace the family line and locate some of Matilda and Dingo’s living descendants. They shared with me a family Bible which had a lot of birth, death and marriage information, as well as, numerous photographs.
- Two of my ancestors were born, lived and died in Washington, DC. I assumed they were married in the city as well. On several occasions, I looked for their marriage certificate at the DC Archive and did not have any luck. One day while on a research trip to the Library of Virginia, I was scrolling through a microfilm for marriage records when I realized I had scrolled past the name I was looking for. I looked closely at the microfilm and to my surprise I had stopped on the marriage certificate for the ancestors I believed had married in Washington, DC. They were married in Alexandria, Virginia which is a little more than 10 miles outside Washington, DC. Since, I had known both the bride and groom to have lived in Washington, DC all their lives; I never thought to look elsewhere for the marriage certificate.
- Emma Woolfolk is the sister of my great grandfather, Overton Woodfork. She married Barnett Hawkins on February 22, 1883 and they had a son name William (Willie). Willie married Fannie Turner on February 25, 1909. They are listed in the 1910 census and in a 1916 deed, but then the trails went cold. A few years later, I was at the Caroline County Court researching schools for a book I was writing. I was flipping through a Chancy Court book to locate a certain page and realized I had gone too far. I glanced at the page as I prepared to flip back a few pages and the name Fannie Hawkins caught my eye. I had unknowingly stopped on the page that contained the divorce decree from Fannie and William Hawkins.
What about you? Share some of your stories when you accidentally discovered information that was helpful to your research.
Summer is almost here. Families will be gathering for barbeques, cookouts and reunions. There will be many stories of days gone by and lots of photo albums and memorabilia to share. As you are visiting with family this summer, why not use it as an opportunity to preserve history. Not only will you learn family history, you may also learn that you have history makers in your midst.
Beryl Jackson is such a history maker. She shared her memories of being in the first group of students to desegregate the Caroline County School system when I interviewed her for a book I was writing on Union High School in Caroline County, Virginia. In 1965, Beryl and a few other students transferred from Union High (the high school for Blacks) to Caroline High ( the high school for Whites). Although her experience did not make national news and is not recorded in history books like the story of the Little Rock Nine, it did change the Caroline County School system forever.
Your family member’s memories have historical significance, not just for your family but for the community as well. Here are a few topics that are likely to come up during family discussions:
- Way of Life –What was the lifestyle of the people living in the community?
- Employment – How did people in the community earn a living? (ex. farming, working in steel mill)
- Migration – Did family members come to America from another country? Move from one area of the country to another? What was their experience?
- Clubs/Social Organizations – How did family members socialize with other members of the community?
- Institutions – Where did family member go to school or church? What impact did these institutions have on their lives?
- Community/Neighborhood –Communities change overtime. What was the community like when your family member lived there?
The next time you go to a family gathering be sure to take your digital recorder and/or video camera and preserve history.
My last two posts contained self-publishing tips. I decided to take a break and publish a research tip. The next post will continue with the self-publishing tips.
I recently discovered information on three of my ancestors in the Confederate Citizens Files while performing research using fold3.com (formerly footnote.com). The Confederate States of America (aka the Confederacy) was a government established by the eleven southern states that seceded from the United States during the Civil War. The Confederate Citizens Files were created during 1861-1865 and mainly consist of papers relating to civilians who were members of the Confederate States of America. These files contains papers such as bills and vouchers from individuals for services and supplies provided to the Confederate Government and claims against the government for damages.
The document titled Perpetuating evidence of slave abduction and harboring by the enemy is of particular interest when seeking information on enslaved ancestors. In 1861, the Congress of the Confederate States of American passed “an act to perpetuate testimony in cases of slaves abduction or harbored by the enemy, and other property seized, wasted, or destroyed by them”. This act allowed slave owners to appear before a judge or appropriate representative and make an affidavit of the loss of their property. Other individuals could submit oral or written evidence in support of the person’s claim. After all the evidence was collected the judge or his representative would state in his certificate of authentication whether the evidence was credible. This act was not meant to imply that the Confederate States were liable for making compensation for any of the property.
I located several documents in the Confederate Citizens File of Jefferson Flippo that provided information on three of my ancestors. My 3rd great grandparents, Sancho (aka Sanker) and Lucinda Shakespeare and their children were enslaved by Elijah Wigglesworth in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Elijah died in the 1840’s and the Shakespeare family was separated in 1846 when his estate was divided among his wife and children.
Three of Sancho and Lucinda’s children: Richmond, Nancy and Matilda were then enslaved by Elijah’s daughter Almira and then Jefferson Flippo of Caroline County, Virginia when Almira married him in 1854. I have found a lot of information on Matilda both during and after slavery and have located some of her living descendants. However, I have not found much information on Richmond and Nancy.
The perpetuating evidence document for Jefferson Flippo was filed on October 21, 1862. It contained a list of individuals who were enslaved by Jefferson Flippo and secured their freedom by leaving with the Union soldiers. As I scanned the list I noticed the names of three of my ancestors: Richmond (age 26), Nancy (age 20) and Susan (age 1). From early research I believe that Nancy had a daughter named Susan in April 1861 while she was enslaved by Jefferson Flippo. Based on their ages I believe Richmond, Nancy and Susan listed in this document may be my Shakespeare ancestors.
As I looked further through the document I found several statements by individuals that provided additional insight. There was a sworn statement signed October 7th 1862 from Jefferson Flippo where he stated he was the legal owner of the slaves, Richmond, William, Nancy and Susan [illegible] until about the 1st day of Jun 1862. His statement also indicates that Richmond and William left on or about the 1st day of Jun 1862 and Nancy and Susan left about the middle of July.
Another page of the document contains the oral evidence given by Nelson Beasley and John T. Goodwin, neighbors of Jefferson Flippo and provides further insight. In addition to corroborating the information provided by Jefferson Flippo, they also indicate my ancestors were last seen in Fredericksburg. The final page in the document contains the certification of legal ownership by Philip Samuels, Justice of the Peace.
I now have some insight into what happened to Richmond, Nancy her daughter Susan but I still do no know what became of them. I now have many more questions. What surname did they use after they obtained their freedom? Where did they go? The oral evidence states they were last seen in Fredericksburg. Did they remain there or move to another location? Did they ever reunite with their family? Many of my Shakespeare ancestors did reunite in Caroline County, Virginia after slavery. However, I have not found any information to indicate Richmond and Nancy joined the rest of the family.
My great grandmother Louisa (who is Nancy’s sister) had a daughter named Susan whose age is very close to Nancy’s daughter named Susan. Are Louisa’s daughter and Nancy’s daughter the same person or different people who happened to be born around the same time? If they are the same person, does that mean something happened to Nancy? If so, what happened to her? These are all questions I must answer as I continue my quest to locate my Shakespeare ancestors.
Confederate Citizens Files are an excellent resource for researching the family history of both slave holding families and the individuals they enslaved. Unfortunately, the names of slaves are not indexed; therefore, those searching for their enslaved ancestors will have to search for the name of the slave owner and read each document to locate their ancestors.
Division of the Negroes and Money belonging to the Estate of Elijah Wiglesworth and Lot No 6. Drawn by Almira W. Wiglesworth. Will Book R, 1843-1846 Part 2 Page 271 Repository: Spotsylvania Court House, Spotsylvania, Virginia.
“Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861-65,” digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 26 November 2011), record for Jefferson Flippo, Caroline County, Virginia, Papers of Jefferson Flippo for perpetuating evidence of slaves abducted and harbored by the enemy, filed October 21, 1862, National Archives Record Group 109, War Department Collection of Confederate Records.
This is the second blog post in a series of self-publishing tips. The tips are based on my experience writing Memories of Union High: An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia 1903-1969. The first post gave tips for preparing your manuscript to be worked on by an editor and designer.
This post focuses on gathering the information you will need when you seek out the services of an editor and designer. Communicating your vision with the editor and designer upfront will minimize the number of revisions that occur during the design process which will help keep the cost of your project down.
Having answers to the following questions will help simplify the design process and give the editor and designer the information they need to transform your manuscript into the book you envision.
- What is your anticipated budget and timeline? This is a very important question. The design process is not cheap nor is it fast. There is no sense wasting your time or other people’s time if the cost of their services is not within your budget or they can not complete the project in the necessary timeframe. Some free-lance professionals are willing to give you a discount if you explain the project is self-financed. You can do some fundraising to help raise money for your project. I created a commemorative calendar for Union High School to use as a fundraiser for my project. Think of similar fundraising ideas to help finance your project.
- What is the subject matter? You should summarize the subject of the book in a few sentences. Links to a website, news articles or other information that can explain your project are also helpful. My book preserved the history of the only high school for Negroes in Caroline County during the era of segregation. I created a page on my website about the Union High History Project. I had several newspaper articles written about the project as well. When I contacted editors and designers I included a brief summary of the project along with links to my website and news articles in the email. Keep in mind that some people my not be inclined to visit a website or read news articles, so your summary should contain the information necessary to explain your project.
- Who is the target audience? What are the characteristics of the people you want to read your book: age, sex, ethnicity, special interest or geographic location? You can have a primary and secondary target audience. The primary audience for my book was people who were associated with Union High School. I wanted them to be able to read the book and go down memory lane. The secondary target audience for my book was people who were interested in local history. I wanted them to be able to read the book and become familiar with an aspect of Caroline County history they may not have known.
- How would you like to present the information? What look and feel do you want for the book: formal, coffee-table photo book, or scrapbook? I wanted my book to tell the history of the school and preserve the memories of those associated with it. I wanted it to have the look and feel of a memory book with a lot of pictures and quotes containing people’s memories.
- What elements will your book contain and how do you want it organized? Will it contain photographs, charts, tables, graphs, sidebars, lists, quotes etc? Do you want the photographs, charts etc located in one location or interspersed throughout the text? Will the inside pages be in color or in black and white? Do you want the book to be black and white with one section for color photographs?
- What are your ideas for the cover? The cover is the selling point for your book and must appeal directly to your audience. It is helpful to have examples of covers you like. Go to amazon.com and create a list book with covers you like.
- What is the cover type and binding style? A book can be hard cover or paperback. There are many different binding types. For paperback there are: perfect bound, saddle stitched, wire bound, plastic comb. For hardback there are case warp and dust jacket. Hardcover books are expensive to print and many of the other binding types for paperbacks are not sturdy or practical. Therefore, I recommend a paperback with perfect binding.
- What is the word count? This will help the editor or designer determine the rough page count of your book. If you are using Microsoft word, you can determine the word count by selecting Tools from the menu bar and Word Count from the pull-down menu. Keep in mind the higher the page count the higher the cost to print the book.
- What is the trim size? Trim size is the final size of your book in width by height. Books are printed on larger sheets of paper and then cut (trimmed) to the correct size after they are printed and bound. A book with a small trim size will have a higher page count than the same book with a larger trim size. There are also industry standard and non-industry standard trim sizes. I recommend that your book be an industry standard size because there are additional cost associated with using a non-standard size. Createspace has an excellent table that lists their trim sizes, the page count ranges and identifies which trim sizes are standard. They also have a table that shows the book trim sizes and maximum page counts.
- How are you going to print your book? There are several options for printing your book: traditional offset printing, digital printing and print on demand (POD). Traditional printing is usually used for quantities over 1,000 which is not practical for most people self-publishing a book. If you select digital printing you will be responsible for distribution etc. Print on demand is the best option because the printer also acts as the distributor. You don’t need to keep an inventory because you can order the quantity of books you need. Lulu.com or createpace.com are two popular print on demand companies; however, there are many more. Do your research and wait until you have selected your editor and designer before you make your final selection.
If you have any questions about the information in this post feel free to submit a comment and I will reply.
Next Post: Self-Publishing Tips (Part 3) – Selecting an Editor and Graphic Designer