Sunday, June 28, 2015

52 Ancestors #26: Writing a Family History

Ancestor: Robert Muir (c1800-1869)

As many of you know, I've been writing a book about the descendants of Robert and Henrietta (Brown) Muir, my three times great grandparents, since October 2014, including their 13 children, 78 grandchildren and as many other generations as I can trace. I promised my father I would write it because it was his only line he couldn't research as they originated from Scotland. Since Dad did much of his research pre-Internet, that made it hard. As a result he didn't know much about his maternal grandfather's side of the family.

Early on, I decided not to copyright or charge for my Muir book because my research has been so enriched by collaboration with cousins or descendants of "by marriage" families from many different countries -- Scotland, Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, and New Zealand. I also knew I wanted it to be an electronic book people could download as they found it on the Internet. But how to go about it?

After several false starts -- me fighting with and swearing at several different publishing software packages -- I decided to write the book using a publishing platform I knew well, a blog: The Robert Muir Family.

Home page of the Robert Muir Family blog; the pages changes day-to-day
as I publish one or two posts per day

The Sources page includes a bibliography of the general sources I used in my research. At the end of each post, I include a list of sources specific to each person. At the end of each volume is a Sources post. I copy-and-paste all the sources from the individual people posts to that page. It is published as a post at the end of each volume. The People page includes links to indexes of people contained in each volume and a list of people (and links) to people in the volume I am currently writing. As I complete each volume, I include an Index post at the end and copy-and-paste the index I've been maintaining on the People page to that post. Then I delete the completed people links from this page, and add a link to the post under the appropriate volume number heading. The Family Tree page includes links to my trees on and The Books page includes links to completed electronic book volumes, downloadable genealogy reports, and an errata listing of things I've learned since I published the electronic book. The blog is updated to include all of the information contained in the errata so I can republish any volume whenever I would like to do so and it is up to date. If I republish a volume, I'll delete the errata information.

The errata information for Volume I; all of that information has been
included in new or updated blog posts dated on the appropriate date so
the newly discovered information appears in the correct order on blog and
in any electronic volume I choose to republish

A blog as a publishing platform has pros and cons:

I tag each post with only one category. Doing so enables me to create "mini" volumes in the future about specific topics, such as ancestral military service. These are the categories on which I've settled:

Categories used to tag posts on the Robert Muir Family blog

I've numbered each ancestor (direct and collateral) by generation and by birth order in the family, using a simple outline format. Spouses have the same number as the ancestor to which they married. For example, my great great grandfather, James Muir, has the number 2.12 as he is the second generation and 12th in the birth order. His children become 2.12.1 through 2.12.11 and so on. After writing about my ancestor and their spouse(s), I write a "Children of" post and list all their known children in birth order. If they lived to adulthood, I simply write their stories will be detailed in future posts. If they did not, I write about them on the "Children of" post. Here's an example:

Narrative for a person who did not live to adulthood

As I write about a family group, I add them to my tree on Here I maintain only birth, death, and marriage dates, along with the source citations for each. I keep my full tree on, but wanted anyone who was interested to be able to access the tree without paying. I include a link to each person on that tree. The downside to this, as I recently discovered, is someone may come along later and delete or change your information. It's what I hate about the "one-tree" concept.

As I write about each person and publish the post, I add a link to the blog Index page and to the person on my and pages. I hope others researching the same people will click on the link and discover the blog/books.

Originally, I intended to publish one electronic book but after writing about Robert and Henrietta's oldest daughter, her husband and known descendants, I realized one book would run to a few thousand pages and be too large for "blog-to-print" applications to handle well. So I decided to publish in volumes. One for each child of Robert and Henrietta Muir who lived to adulthood and had known descendants. That means eight volumes. I have completed two volumes and am currently writing and posting the third volume. I wish I was halfway through! Maybe by the end of this year...

Cover of Descendants of Robert Muir: Volume II; this
volume took 4 months to write, included 263 posts about
231 people

As I complete each volume, I donate an electronic copy to the Library of Congress and to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I also send electronic books to the appropriate local history or genealogical society, depending on where people covered in that volume lived.

I think research is only half of what a family historian does. If we don't share our work in a blog or book, we're leaving the job, avocation, or obsession half complete. We must share what we know for future generations. Who knows? Someone who may not even yet be born may find your work and carry it forward.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme Halfway.


  1. I am in awe of the work and organization! You are doing a wonderful job. Hope you are halfway through by the end of the year.