Monday, February 6, 2012

"What Virginia Knows", Our Family History Newsletter

Just got out another issue of "What Virginia Knows", which is our family newsletter. It's just a simple thing by all of for all of us... and only we would be interested in reading it:) Lots of old pictures of people you don't know, and history and stories about same.

What makes a good family history newsletter, I asked myself repeatedly as the months pass? I've come to some conclusions about that, and feel free to chime in with your own observation and post comments if you like!

First, it's really worth the effort! I put the first one together in an effort to capture what Mom knows about our collected family history, thus the name. Then Aunt Betty brought some good history and stories to the party! And the cousins too. As time passes, I think the newsletter benefits greatly from everyone throwing in their offerings of shared memories.

This issue was 9 pages long and I think that's a pretty good number of pages. If it's too long - one issue was about 15 pages of way-too-long stuff - readers get bored with it, and who can blame them? Six to 12 pages is manageable, depending on how many people are contributing and how many picture you have.

Our newsletter covers the Williams family (Mom's side) as well as the Kelly family (Dad's side) and goes out by email to about 25 people. What with the two families and extended families, it can be a problem if the two sides don't know each other, which most don't. However most grew up in the same area of Western Maryland and that helps.

Very few people outside of hard core genealogy types relish looking at old pictures of someone elses ancestors;) It's important to balance out the offerings for each side and to mix it up. In our newsletter there's a page of pictures for the Williams side and a page for the Kelly side. Seems about fair.

I'm really lucky in that the cousins are a bunch of writers. It's really a challenge when you're the only writer working on the newsletter project!

JC likes to give us mood pieces and they often focus on some aspect of the seasons when we were all growing up, with photos to go with. Cousin Steve is writing his memoirs about enlisting in the Navy when he was just 18 in the late 1960s, going to basic training and then Vietnam. It's a really good series that's going to have maybe 10 or 11 installments with photos. My brother Pat tends to write funny pieces about his memories of stuff he or Dad did. Let's call it True Confessions;) Other cousin have thrown in a memory or two to fill out the pages and sent along photos as well. These cousins mostly have kids and now grands too so it's a place to share and capture some multi-generational stories.

Mom and I are the most likely suspects to contribute hard-core genealogy pieces, but Aunt Betty also contributes beautiful offerings with properly identified photos! Thank for the thousandth time, Aunt Betty! We three try to include at least one article about the "way back" ancestors in each issue. And no, there are not footnotes... we don't want to freak our readers out;) But sources are "softly sited" and provided for those who want to know, hey, were did you get that?

One of the most important things we all can do to make a family history newsletter appealing is to have a balance between text and pictures. Pictures are the sizzle that sell our steak. Each page has at least two photos and usually some clip art. I like clip art, and the more zany the better. Cousin Steve's Navy narrative has allowed me the opportunity to grab up a bunch of Navy clips and cartoons... that was fun:) Brother Pat did a story about ducks - and I'll say no more in an effort to protect the guilty - that included a lot of crazy clips! Clip art is fun and it's free.

We let it all hang out, as the old saying and song goes! Hey, the statute of limitations has run out and Brother is a criminal defense attorney, so why not?! Plus, we just love telling juicy details of the scamps and scoundrels in our lineage. Got to have some sinners to balance out the saints, don't you think?

As to format, I use Word in a 2 column set up. I made a masthead in PhotoShop, but that's not really necessary. I'm using Windows 7 and when the issue is finalized I save it as a PDF file, compressed version for emailing... the option is in the Save As box. It's easy. But before that when I was working on Windows XP, a genealogy friend told me about CutePDF. If you are using XP just google "CutePDF" to find the download and instructions.

Starting our family history newsletter has been one of the very best things I've done as a budding genealogist. Each issue pays me back a hundredfold for the small amount of time I spend gathering it up and arranging it.

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