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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Entries in writing (5)


    Peek Inside My Office and Chat at The Armchair Genealogist

    It's nearly the midway point in the Family History Writing Challenge, and if you're like me, it can be hard to maintain focus on a writing project about halfway through. I get excited about starting and ending a project, but many times, the middle can be a bit of slog and I have to pull all kinds of tricks to keep working. 

    Last month, during the blog book tour for How to Archive Family Keepsakes, Lynn and I talked about the book's focus on organization as a first-step toward becoming a more effective researcher and family history writer in A Coffee, A Comfy Chair, and a Q&A with the Author. On Thursday, 14 February, we continue the conversation at The Armchair Genealogist to talk about the writing, publishing, and marketing aspect of authorship. In these days of e-books, blogs, and self-publishing, it's not enough to simply write a book; authors have to be ready to take on many roles to get the word out about their work.

    Lynn's questions made me feel so "professional" that I was motivated to clean up my desk and snap a few pictures. My office doesn't always look this tidy, but I sure do feel more in control when it's like this.

    DML office


    DML desk

    Sometimes, a mid-project "tidy up" is all it takes to help me get over the slump and back to work. Other times I have to employ other tricks, like playing games with word counts or promising myself a special coffee treat. Whatever it takes, it's worth it if it can keep me moving and avoid the dreaded "writer's block."

    You might notice in the photos that my desk faces a wall in my office. I've thought about hanging a gallery of photos around the bulletin board, but I know it would probably tempt me to drift off into who-knows-where so I keep putting off that little decorating project. There is a wall of windows at my back, which isn't great for glare, but the trees outside the window and sheer curtains and blinds keep it pleasant. I don't work with music or tv, in fact I work best when it's pretty quiet and find that neighborhood noise is an unwelcome distraction. My office is quite small, about 9 x 12, but just right as a cozy niche for a day with words.

    I hope you'll join us this week at The Armchair Genealogist as we talk about writing, publishing, and marketing a family history book. I've got an extra chair in my office too!


    Are You Ready for the Family History Writing Challenge?

    FH WritingChal badge

    Researching family history is one thing; writing about it is another. The Armchair Genealogist has thrown down the glove and challenged family historians to pick up a pen and commit to writing about their family history. "If not now, then when?" asks Lynn Palermo, writer and creator The Family History Challenge.

    The 28-day project runs throughout the month of February. The event is simple, you choose --

    • who or what you want to write about
    • how many words per day to write
    • where to write

    The best part 

    • No Judge, No Jury
    • Just write, edit later

    When you sign up for the challenge, you receive an encouraging daily email and can participate in the challenge forum to share ideas and inspiration. Still not sure, check out the Family History Writing Challenge website for "28 Days of Motivation" and the Challenge Blog for posts from last year's event.

    I'm picking up the glove; are you?


    Chasing Descendants and Finding Family History

    We've just returned from a trip to London and France and It's no surprise that our two-week itinerary looked a lot like a genealogy research plan. Priority #1 was to meet the newest leaf on our family tree and spend time with the big brother and parents. And like any careful plan, we discovered unexpected surprises and new adventures along the way.

    It's been a very long time since Mr. Curator and I traveled without a genealogy research agenda. Last year at this time, after a New England research trip, I was writing 10-12 hours every day on my new book and nursing a fractured elbow. It seems like one thing rolled into another and now here it is December once again and finally time to step back and take a breath. I do remember a time when a vacation included a break from mail, phones, and daily routine, and I miss it sometimes. 

    For this trip we decided to forgo the wonderful travel apps on our iPhones and use the devices in wireless mode to retrieve email and as handy unobtrusive cameras. Limited cell-phone coverage also meant limited blogging, and and days filled with playing firefighter, snuggling baby, and exploring the neighborhood shops and parks gave new meaning to "social" network. 

    "Unplugging" technology, even minimally to wireless-only, sounded a little scary, but it added so much freedom to our travels that I'm thinking it would be worth doing more often. Instead of shooting out a quick tweet or status post as an instant reaction to sights, and events, pocketing your cell phone gives you time to sit back and reflect on an experience and spend some time thinking about what's going on around you.


    St. Luke's Church, London

    As it was, it took about a week for that "aha" moment to occur when I realized a particularly unique feature of our itinerary. Each night we went to sleep within earshot of church bells, whether we were in a London neighborhood, a Paris hotel, or the Cathedral square of Strasbourg. What a treat to begin and end each day hearing chimes and bells calling out the hour. That doesn't happen at home, but it did make me think of how so many of our ancestors' lived within a parish where everyday life was directed by the sound of church bells. (I think there is a post for The Catholic Gene in here, too.)

    We also experienced a taste of ex-pat life as we celebrated a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the midst of London's Christmas preparations. I was surprised to see that the local grocery store sold turkeys and all the fixins from fresh cranberries to Libby's canned pumpkin pie mix. Turkey is a more traditional Christmas dish in England, so there weren't too many to choose from and they were rather small. Size was vital, we discovered, because the range oven was smaller than American ovens. 

    Mr. C carefully measured the oven and went back on the streets out to stalk our Thanksgiving bird. He didn't have to go far, just around the corner to the local butcher who took the order for the next day -- 5.44 kilos (12 lbs) "dressed" to roast. When I unwrapped that bird I knew it was going to be delicious. Unlike our U.S. grocery store turkeys that arrive in plastic and emerge gooey and messy, this bird was wrapped in white waxed butcher paper, trimmed of excess fat, cleaned of bit of gore, washed, dried, and tied with twine. The "innards" were neatly wrapped in a separate package for the stockpot.

    Behold: The Bird! Why doesn't my U.S. supermarket prep poultry like this?

    We didn't need to do more than season the turkey and slip a little butter under the skin. Our daughter-in-law mixed up her grandmother's special dressing using local sausage in place of Italian, and we made another grandmother's signature sweet potato and apple dish. The only thing we missed was Auntie's Cranberry Jello dish (that hardly anyone eats anyway). In her honor, we made orange finger jello (brought from the U.S.) which was a huge hit with the pre-schooler. It was a wonderful meal. When family members can't be present at a holiday table, food is the next-best way to savor a memory of the past. 

    Ex-Patriot Thanksgiving founded on family recipes.

    Thanksgiving isn't exactly much of a holiday in Britain, and we emerged from our turkey coma to see that the countdown to Christmas was in full swing along the streets of London. Twinkle lights cascaded down storefronts, illuminated trees decorated lampposts and starry banners crossed the streets.

    London Holiday Decorations

    The Story of Dick Whittington and His Cat,
    as told in Fortum & Mason's Chrismas window displays

    We trekked to the local tree lot and brought home a tall fir to decorate. Grand-boy was more interested in the salesman's hatchet than the tree, and decided that every fireman needs a yellow hatchet in his pack.

    Grocery shopping, cooking family recipes, celebrating traditional holidays with a new generation was an early Christmas gift. We had time in Paris and Strasbourg for our own adventures, but it doesn't get much better than chasing descendants around the walls of the Ding Ding Church.


    Book Review: My Life & Times


    As my dad approaches his eighth decade he has become more interested family history and genealogy. But, like many people he doesn't know how to start writing, or recording, the stories he wants to share. My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories by Sunny Morton is the perfect gift for Dad's big 8-0.

    The hardbound journal is a handy 7x9-inch size in a 3-ring binder style. The format makes it easy to remove pages for easier writing or to add more pages printed out from the included CD-Rom. The first chapter even outlines what kind of paper you will need to match the book's paper stock.

    Each of the ten chapters begins with a thoughtful introduction and suggestions for recording your memories. Sunny's experience as a writer and genealogist shows in the book's organized approach to recording a family history. Chapters move logically from recording basic details like birth, family, occupation, residences, military service, to stories about early life, childhood, and adulthood.

    Writing prompts for information about specifics like "About My Mother" are spaced throughout the book, making it seem like less of a homework task than a fun and interesting journal. Sunny's comments on writing memoir and on memory will be especially helpful to non-genealogists who want to record special stories but need a little help and encouragement.

    Anyone who has attempted to write personal history knows that some subjects are especially difficult.  I think readers will appreciate Sunny's positive approach toward recording family history --

    You may choose not to include certain events or time periods in your life. You have a right to privacy; recording your life story is not a tell-all confessional! The flexible format of this book means you can share only what you want and omit certain pages or sections.

    Sunny not only gives the reader-writer permission to share selective stories, she offers carefully framed questions that give any writer considerable freedom to explore their memories.

    Parenting With My Partner: How did you feel when you learned you would be a parent? How did your partner feel?

    How did your daily lives change when you had children?

    My Life & Times is as much a journal for exploration as it is a journal to record personal history. Some pages have room for memorabilia as well as stories. The option to print more forms gives creative types room to add special sections, including pages that are included on the CD and not printed in the book.

    I think my dad will enjoy using this journal to record his past, although I do wish the font were slightly larger and darker to make it easier to read.

    Sunny Morton writes the Family Archivist column in Family Tree Magazine, as well as feature articles on various genealogical topics.

    My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories , by Sunny Morton (Family Tree Books, 2012)


    1. Gathering Your Family Stories
    2. Statistics About Me
    3. Stories About Early Family Life
    4. Stories from Childhood
    5. Stories from High School
    6. Stories from My Professional Life
    7. Storeis About a Family of My Own
    8. Reflections on My Personal Life & Values
    9. Preserving Your Memories
    10. Special Forms

    CD-only Pages

    • Adoption
    • Memories of My Child's Adoption
    • Me and My Child
    • Homeschooling
    • Summer Camp
    • Me and My Teenager
    • Travel Log
    • The End of Our Relaitonship
    • Solo Parenting
    • Unemployment

    WIN A FREE COPY of My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories ;courtesy of Family Tree Books.

    All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment after the review or Like the review on the Facebook post (one entry per name, please). I will include names from both places and one name will be randomly selected to win the book. Your name will stay in the hopper from week to week, so you will have more chances to win in the weeks to follow. The winner will be announced the following week on Facebook and on The Family Curator so you can send me your name and address to receive the book.

    If you've read the featured book, please add your thoughts or other recommendations.




    The Big Book That Could: Announcing Amy Coffin's New Blog Book


    Goals really do come true could be the 2011 motto for Amy Coffin who is the author of a brand new, hot off the presses e-book on genealogy blogging. My preview copy arrived this morning and delivers everything you might expect from the author of the WeTree blog -- great ideas, lots of encouragement, witty language, and clear direct style.

    The Big Genealogy Blog Book: 201 Topics Plus Tips and Tricks for Your Genealogy Blog presents just about everything a genealogy blogger needs to write better articles, connect with readers, encourage comments, and come up with new ideas. The book also includes a helpful encore of Amy's popular 52 Weeks... series on better genealogy and blogging.

    It hardly seems like nearly a year has gone by since Amy and I met for our ritual holiday meet-up while she was in town visiting her in-laws. We must have been feeling spunky, or bored, or both, because our happy-hour conversation shifted from current research to "So, what are your New Year's Genealogy Resolutions?" After some amount of head scratching we each came up with three things we wanted to accomplish in the next twelve months: a research goal, an organizational goal, and a writing goal.

    Amy has completed all three goals with nearly two months to spare. Lucky us, because her latest project gives the rest of us lots of ideas to get through these holiday weeks with fresh ideas for our blogs.

    Congratulations, Amy! I am looking forward to our annual meeting and your goals for 2012.

    What You Will Find in 
    The Big Genealogy Blog Book:
    201 Topics Plus Tips and Tricks for Your Genealogy Blog

    • Why Start a Genealogy Blog?
    • 6 Blogging Myths
    • Tips for Writing Good Blog Posts
    • How to Get More Blog Readers
    • How to Get More Blog Comments
    • Quality Control: A Blogger's Checklist
    • Jump Start Your Genealogy Blog: 52 Ideas, 52 Weeks
    • 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy
    • 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History
    • 25 Great Topics for Genealogy Society Blogs
    • 20 Blog Topics for Professional Genealogists

    Now available as an e-book download through Lulu and Amazon Kindle PDF and EPUB

    Amazon Kindle

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