Genealogical writing styles

Alicia Crane WilliamsSome Vita Brevis readers have sent me really nice samples of what they are doing using the Early New England Families Study Project format model. Thanks, you are all “on point” and doing a great job. Plenty of questions have been sent, too, so let’s address some of those.

Register style” vs “Early New England Families format”

First, there is no right or wrong way to use the Early New England Families format. It can be expanded to include as much information as you want, you can put information into any category you feel is appropriate, and you can add or delete categories. It is an organizational tool, particularly useful for summarizing the information you have gathered, and it can be used by itself or as a stepping stone to a more expansive work in Register style.

Register style is an industry standard for publishing genealogical material. It does have rules and regulations, but it is a logical system once you get used to it. Even with the rules, there are no penalties for not being “perfect”! The only unbreakable rule of any style or format is consistency. The reader has to know where to find the information for which he or she is looking, and it has to be presented in a clear and consistent form.

Here’s a short reading list that might be helpful (all available in the NEHGS store, of course):

The Portable Genealogist series (handy laminated 4-page pamphlets):

  • “Organizing your Research,” by Rhonda R. McClure
  • “Building a Genealogical Sketch,” by Penny Stratton
  • “Genealogical Numbering,” by Penny Stratton
  • “Editorial Stylesheet,” by Penelope L. Stratton
  • “Indexing,” by Leslie A. Weston

And for the full plunge, Penelope L. Stratton and Henry B. Hoff’s book, Guide to Genealogical Writing.

Differences between Register style and Early New England Families format

The latter is based on the former, so they are very closely related, and as noted above, you can adjust the Early New England Families format to suit your needs. The most notable difference is that Early Families arranges information by type of record (Land/Property, Estate, Court, etc.). Within those subjects, information is usually arranged chronologically. Keeping information from a record group together can help greatly in managing “input” from your research.

Register style can also be arranged by type of record, but more often information is presented either in chronological order or in whatever order best serves the case being presented, so that deeds, court, military, community records, etc., are intertwined. Register style allows you to expand more on a problem, demonstrate a time line, or provide information on collateral branches, for example.

Early New England Families format is not meant to replace Register style. It is a tool to help us gather information. If you want to use this format for your family genealogy, you certainly can – it is neat and compact. If you feel you have more material than will comfortably fit within this format and/or if you need to present an argument for a case that requires more flexibility, use the Early New England Families format to organize and then formalize your presentation into Register style.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.View all posts by Alicia Crane Williams