Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past

A few weeks ago I came across a fabulous family history blog written and maintained by Marian Wood. In addition to her blog, Marian is the author of “Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past”. This book is a concise guide to organizing genealogy materials and passing family history to the next generation.

I reached out to Marian for an interview to get some insight into why she decided to publish this book.

1. What was your inspiration for writing this book?

After nearly 20 years of family history research, I realized I needed to make a plan for what will happen to all my genealogy stuff after I join my ancestors. I wanted to protect the records and photos of my family’s past by ensuring a smooth transition to the next generation. Also, I was downsizing from a house to a condo and facing challenging decisions about what to keep and what to give away. No book seemed to address these important decisions, so when I settled into my new home, I began to outline chapters for what became Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past. In the early days, my working title was actually “What Will Happen to My Genealogy Stuff?”

2. Why did you decide to self-publish this book? What’s the process to self-publish a book?

The purpose is to share my ideas and practical experiences with other people who are also facing decisions about their genealogy collection. I never considered working with a traditional publisher, because I wanted to present the process in my own voice and I wanted to keep the price affordable. My husband has self-published three novels on Amazon’s CreateSpace platform, so I was very familiar with the steps involved in moving from a working manuscript to a polished, professional book and ebook.

The first step was to write, write, and then rewrite. I created an outline of topics and wrote chapters out of order, then fine-tuned the organization of content. I asked several “first readers” to go through the entire manuscript and tell me what they thought. Incorporating their feedback, I rewrote to clarify content and add key points, followed by another few rounds of proofreading. (Be prepared to proofread over and over so you can catch and correct any mistakes or typos that would distract readers.)

Once my manuscript was written and proofed, my husband helped me format the book as it would look in printed form, adding headers and chapter breaks. To make the book as useful as possible, I developed a detailed index of topics covered and put in a section containing sample forms. And, as my husband had done with his books, I paid a designer to create an attractive and unique cover. The goal was to communicate the genealogy theme and make the book stand out on a tablet or phone screen and on the store shelf.

Because my book includes dozens of hotlinks to websites and online resources, I also paid to professionally convert my finished manuscript into an ebook, complete with fully-functioning links. This means that readers of the ebook can simply click on a link and immediately be taken to the site or resource being discussed. Self-publishing doesn’t have to be as elaborate as this, but I wanted to be sure my book was easily accessible in both print and electronic formats.

3. Were you surprised or disappointed with the success of the book, and what did you learn from this experience?

I was delighted to discover that this book meets a real need in the genealogy community! As I give presentations on this topic all over the Northeast, I get comments and new ideas from audiences all the time, posting updates on my genealogy blog. Happily, my relatives began to show a little more interest in genealogy and family stories after I gave them copies of my book. Two have already volunteered to be the caretakers of my family history collection in the future.

One very important lesson learned from this experience is that different people solve the same problem in different ways. Some people share the stories and milestones of their family by creating photo books for each ancestor or each branch of the tree. Others use their technical know-how to combine photos, movies, and stories into a DVD. I’ve also seen creative examples of family trees done on quilts, painted on walls, and burned into wood. There are so many possibilities for keeping family history alive into the next generation and beyond! My book barely scratches the surface with idea starters. I do hope other people continue to share their experiences and how they’re meeting the challenges of passing family history to the next generation, whether they choose self-publishing or blogging or presentations or another method.

4. Have people approached you with any interesting stories or special thanks for this book?

In my book, I describe finding new homes for items that the family wants preserving but don’t necessarily need to keep in a personal collection. At first, I made the rookie mistake of aiming way too high, asking the Smithsonian whether it would want some items. (It didn’t.) Through trial and error, I soon found institutions that gratefully accepted donations of items like a World War II war bond wallet featuring General MacArthur’s likeness (the MacArthur Memorial Museum now has it) and decades’ worth of Broadway Playbill magazines (the theater library of a university now has them).

I’ve heard from people who have similar items and don’t want them to wind up in flea markets or dumpsters. One person showed me a bag of old photos left behind in a senior center and never claimed. She’s going to ask a local historical society to take a look, and possibly preserve the photos in their archives. Another person told me he decided to donate his mother’s World War II nurse’s uniform to a museum in their hometown, along with a paragraph describing the mother’s wartime experiences. How wonderful that these items will be kept safe for others to study and appreciate in the future.

5. What is your personal history with genealogy and family history?

My family didn’t tell many stories when I was growing up, and even when they did, I wasn’t particularly interested as a youngster. Everything changed 20 years ago when the genealogist of my mother’s family tree asked me to tell her a bit about my father’s family tree. Oh, how I wished I could climb into a time machine and go back a few decades to ask the questions I never thought to ask when older family members were alive to tell the stories.

Taking baby steps, I first tried to fill in the birth and death dates on my father’s family tree—but it took me about five years to uncover where and when my paternal grandfather died. Fast-forward to 2017, when my sister rediscovered my mother’s 60-year-old address book and my cousin found letters from his mother to her aunt. Those two seemingly unconnected clues led me to identify the rest of my paternal grandpa’s siblings and a happy reunion with my second cousins. Cousin connections are very dear to my heart! Read more about this in this blog post.

6. What advice can you give to others who might want to write a book, either about their family’s history or how to do genealogy research?

Just do it. Seriously, sit down with a pen and paper or go to your keyboard and start to write. I like to outline the main topics, and then jot notes in every section as they occur to me. Over time, I flesh out the notes into sentences and connect the sentences into coherent paragraphs and chapters. If you write a little at a time and stick to your plan, you’ll wind up with a book that tells the story your way.

If you’re writing about your family, be sure to include stories and photos and factoids that bring ancestors to life for those who never met these people. What historic events did they live through? Were they pioneers or immigrants or entrepreneurs or matriarchs? Why did they make the life decisions they made? Cite your sources so, in the years to come, other people can retrace your steps and understand the conclusions you reached about your family’s past. Anything you write down will add to what descendants know and remember about your ancestors. If you do nothing else, caption your photos to give the next generation a head start on who’s who in your family tree!

Where can this book be purchased?

Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past is available in paperback or Kindle format from Amazon. In addition, the New England Historic Genealogical Society carries the paperback version in its Boston bookstore and online.

  1. Amazon Kindle/Paperback
  2. NEHGS Bookstore

About Marian Wood

Marian Burk Wood is a college textbook author and avid family history researcher. Born in the Bronx, she earned her MBA at Long Island University and her BA degree from the City University of New York.

In 2017, she made presentations to the New England Regional Genealogy Conference and the International Jewish Genealogy Conference, as well as speaking to local genealogy groups around the New York area. Marian blogs about her genealogy experiences at