Ready to put pen to paper?

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31 May 2013
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Wondering how to write your family history? This is something we often chat about at Family Tree, so we asked published family hi

Wondering how to write your family history? This is something we often chat about at Family Tree, so we asked published family history author, Jan Worthington, just how she did it...

Family Tree: Was it easy to choose a topic for your book?

Jan: It has been easy to choose the topic for the family histories I have written over the past 30 years. In every family there is invariably one person, one family or one generation who stands out from the crowd. Elijah Tucker, a printer was the key character in Inky Fingers and Benjamin Jelly Worthington, a customs cutter captain was central to Coopers and Custom Cutters (published by Phillimore in 1998 after 14 years research). They have become the focal point or the pivot of my stories. If your family has not left enough footprints to write a book, you can usually find sufficient information to write a short story.

Family Tree: How do you know where to start?

Jan: ‘Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’ said Alice in Wonderland. I am frequently asked by potential authors, ‘where do I start?’. Every family historian gathers documents associated with the family and once you are ready to compile and write a family history don’t worry about the starting point, simply pick up the first piece of paper and start writing. Take no notice of Alice. Your starting point may end up in the middle or at the end. Just begin, as it doesn’t matter where. In my experience a book has a way of finding its own style and pace and dictates to you where it would like to start and finish.

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Family Tree: Do you think the historical background is important?

Jan: Elijah Tucker’s story, as told in Inky Fingers, was sourced from his obituary and supported by further research. His printed books, hand written letters and carte de visite photographswere given to me by family members and helped to flesh out the story. I consider the wider historical context is vitally important for any written family history. Not only does it add ‘flesh to the bones’ but answers the questions why, how and when certain events took place in the lives of our ancestors and how history affected their lives. So analyse every document you obtain during the course of your research and look for the clues which reveal, explode, contradict, confirm and lead you along the path to furtherdiscoveries. Do this several times during the writing process, as it is easy to miss something when you first start that suddenly has greater significance later as the story-writing advances.

Family Tree: What make you choose to publish in hardback?

Jan: I published in hard back for several reasons. The size of the manuscript suited a hardback book. Iwanted the book to last for future generations. Thirdly, having put in years of research and expense I felt the story was worthy of being presented in the best possible way. Six copies of Inky Fingers were also printed and bound in the hand tooled leather and marbled board style used by Elijah Tucker in the early 1840’s. Some of these special copies have been deposited in major libraries.

Inky Fingers is available from www.sag.org.au/shop/overseas/inky-fingers-detail.html and www.worthingtonclark.com/books.php in hardback, priced £25, NZ$45 and Australian$40 plus shipping. NZ stockist Garth Worthington, Worthington Clark (NZ) Pty Ltd; [email protected]