family history, History

Week 17: Document

Here it is! It’s week 17 of 52 for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks genealogy blogging challenge! “Document” is this week’s prompt for my genealogy post. I’ve been trying to document the Frederick line in book form for the last couple of years.

My working title…

It’s been about five years since I first started this quest to write a book on my Frederick ancestors. It’s been a journey, to say the least. While I have made progress, I still don’t have the finished product in my hands. I’ve run into some bumps along the way, and there are just not enough hours in the day. So here are a few things that have held me back.


I started this project on Shutterfly, but I just didn’t feel like I could get what I wanted out of it. It felt very clumsy and cumbersome to work with, but I am sort of a picky person when it comes to presentation. I am putting a lot into this, so I want it to look good! Shutterfly wasn’t cutting it, so I looked elsewhere.

My first attempt on Shutterfly

I discovered MyCanvas shortly after that, and I loved the design features. It was also very easy to pull information from your account–they linktogether! I made a TON of progress using the platform, and I was loving the way it looked. And then I believe it was Adobe’s Flash that was being obsoleted at the end of 2020. Guess what website used Flash? I was about to lose all of the progress I had made. Yes, I essentially had to start over. MyCanvas would not give me the files that I was losing without buying a bunch of other products from them. So I decided to screenshot all of the work I did, just to have a reference. It felt like starting back at square one. Once the website changed, I felt like it lost a lot of the creative features I liked.

Sample pages from MyCanvas project

Currently, I am using Microsoft Office Publisher. It is a really nice program, and it allows me to customize however I would like. The only problem is that it is on my desktop computer that is getting old, and I don’t have the option to share it on my laptop to work. That makes it very frustrating when I do work while visiting a library, historical society, or genealogy center and having to transcribe all of my work back on my desktop when I get home.

I am currently looking at getting the Family Book Creator addon for my Family Tree Maker program. It will allow me to pull information from the trees saved on my computer. I am hoping I can get them on my laptop and desktop so no matter where I am I can work on it.

I would really appreciate any feedback on programs/platforms people used, and how they liked them.

Researching vs Writing

Another challenge in this quest has been to shift from researching and emphasize writing more. Let’s be real, family research could go on and on and on and on and on and on….you get the point. I just want to make sure I have as much information as I can, and I don’t want to leave anything important out. I just keep discovering more to add as I write this thing.

While I have a good start on the writing, I don’t just want this to be a book of names, dates, and places. I am trying to add historical context and experiences my ancestors had. In the chapter about my great-great-grandparents’ journey from Prussia to Wisconsin, I’ve tried to fill in the details of what they had to do to get permission to travel, how they traveled, when they traveled, and the reasons why they emigrated. I’ve been reading books on similar immigrant experiences, contacting an immigration museum in Germany, sifting through newspapers, and reading up on ways people traveled in America in the mid-19th century. It’s a lot of work, and it takes time. I think this will help any reading have a better understanding of the whole picture.

I will say that these weekly writing prompts are helping me to write more. Some of my posts I plan to incorporate into my book. Week 16’s post about my folks’ barn fire back in the 1980s was something I knew I wanted to put in the book but never knew where to start. The writing prompt helped me, and I interview my folks and siblings about the fire.


Lastly, how do I lay this thing out to be pleasing to read, make sense, and tell the story I want it to tell. I’ve put together outlines, used other people’s projects as a reference, and checked out many”Writing Your Family History” books from the library. Like I’ve said before, I am very particular and want this thing to be AWESOME!

Here are some rough (really rough) drafts of some of the new pages I am putting together. Yes, I know there are some errors and headings are cut off. I still have a lot of work to do to fine tune this.

As of right now, the format I have for the book is by generations descending. It starts with my great-great-grandparents and ends with me–five generations. I try to cover various topics in each chapter relating to something I know about the ancestor. For instance, I know my great-great-grandfather’s neighbor was murdered in the 1890s, and he was part of an inquest in their township to figure out what happened. I want to try and incorporate histories like this in to add context and depth to my ancestors’ existence.

I’d like to hear from you and get some tips about how you did a project like this. Any help would be appreciated. I’ve never done anything like this before, so the more help the better.

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