Write every day, and other tips for budding genealogists

From left: Harry Moatz, Sean Agranov, Jeffrey Miller and Edward Fox look through self-published family histories. Photo by Samantha Cooper

Bob Schnapp had gathered so much historical information on his family that he thought he had a book in the making. Then he got stuck.I haven’t looked at it in about two years now,” said the Reston resident.

That’s why he came to the workshop on writing and self-publishing a family history, sponsored by the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington.

Beth Galleto, who has written four books about her own family history, gave the 70 people gathered at B’nai Israel Congregation on Jan. 27 her rules for getting a book into print.

“You do not have to be a professional writer or editor to write a book about your genealogy,” she said. “But it’s a lot of work.”


Her rules include:

Write a little bit every day. Galleto said to have a word count to hit or write for a set amount of time every day.

Do not wait until all the research is finished to start writing. “The problem is, you’re never really ready,” she said. “You’re never really finished. Every time you discover something, it just opens up a new question.”

To write a book, “you must also “feel a strong desire to tell your stories,” she said.

The book shouldn’t just be a dry accounting of events. They should include stories. Even if you don’t have a record of what happened, you can imagine it, she said. “You have to write such things as you imagined they occurred.”

Qualify what you don’t know for sure. “In my books, I have compromised by using such expressions as ‘she must have felt’ or ‘he probably said,’” she said.

But each person must decide how they want to go about telling their story, whether it means making up dialogue completely or only writing what they know for sure.

The Jewish Genealogy Society encourages members to share their research. On a table in B’nai Israel’s social hall, members left their self-published histories for others to peruse. If they desired, they could donate copies to the Rockville synagogue’s Jewish genealogy library for others to use for research.

Exploring family history can take genealogists into unexpected territory, as Al Bauman discovered.

Bauman, a Potomac resident, was researching his mother’s family, the Shenemans, on a Jewish genealogy website when he stumbled on a part of the family he hadn’t known about.

“Completely accidentally, I saw the name Steigman and it struck a memory, a very distant memory, that my father had a cousin whose last name was Steigman,” Bauman said.

“I started reading the little blurb that a woman had posted and she said she had a letter from her mother that mentioned she had cousins that lived in New York.”

The cousins were Bauman’s parents.

“This woman is an opera singer in Italy and her grandfather and my grandmother were brother and sister. And between the two of us, we filled in a lot of blanks on our family tree,” he said. “It was quite amazing and very accidental.”

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