New to Online Book Marketing?

If your publisher is distributing your titles, then tell them you will handle the distribution.  That will give you sole ownership and control over who gets it.  If you only had editing, cover and formatting, then you don’t need to worry about ownership of the titles.  The marketing plan I’m recommending requires that you be a self-published author allowing Amazon to have exclusive distribution rights.  Without giving Amazon these rights, you can’t get into programs like Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Ads and promotions.

For $5,000.00 payable through Paypal only to:  jamesmusgrave2122@att.net.  I can provide the following services per book:

  1. Establish your Amazon publishing account with Author’s page and fully revised descriptions of your titles for best algorithmic keywords and associations to bestselling competition titles.
  2. Establish your YouTube account channel for use with Mailchimp campaigns, your author website, and direct mailings to your subscribers.
  3. Research competition for one book and obtain prospective reviewers for your book to increase your Amazon Bestseller Rating (ABSR).
  4. Create YouTube video to promote your book.
  5. Brainstorm with you and create an eMail campaign and Facebook ad promotion based on a giveaway and/or raffle.
  6. Create promotion blogs on your website for best search engine optimization and eMail author newsletter signups of new readers.  If you have no website, then I can get that for you for an extra fee.  This website will be able to host your authorial presence, YouTube Channel, as well as to implement a private mailing list software program (PhpList) as opposed to the MailChimp service.  With the private mailing software, you will have no subscriber limits, which MailChimp imposes after you reach a certain number.
  7. Run a three-month advertising campaign based on the best keywords analyzed by using KDPRocket software.  You must have an account established for this purpose at Amazon Marketing Services.

That’s about it.  This will give you an inroad to new readers and also a way to progressively market and monitor new sales and advertising efforts.

Get Your Readers Involved in Your Fiction

I have just begun a new historical mystery series called Portia of the Pacific, starring Clara Shortridge Foltz, Esq., and many members of her family.  My third mystery, The Stockton Insane Asylum Murder, is set inside the first-ever state asylum in 1887 northern California.  I did my due diligence and became immersed in the history of mental health in California, and especially as it concerns this specific state asylum in Stockton.  I had completed the first four chapters, when I realized the possibility of getting my readers involved in the actual writing process.  Why not have five “winners” of a raffle become five mental patients inside my asylum and inside my mystery?

If you want your readers to become enthused with your subject matter, and possibly increase your purchases, then here are the steps you can take to do this:

  1. Think of a way your reader can become a character in your book and then hold a raffle to do this.  See my current raffle using (free) Rafflecopter software.
  2. Promote your raffle on your author’s website as well as in Facebook ads.
  3. Let them read sample chapters from the novel in which they will be appearing.
  4. Be certain to also promote this inside your other books in the series.
  5. Post the “results” on your book series Facebook page so others can share in the excitement.
  6. Do a mailing to your reader’s mailing list.

That’s about it.  It takes some loneliness out of the writing process, and it just may increase your motivation to please your readers.  That’s not too horrible, now is it?

Birth of a Story

Mara Salvatrucha Gang Members, El Salvador

When I wrote my short story, “Incognito,” I attempted to shine a light on the realities about which most Norte Americanos have no clue. For example, many Trump supporters believe these people who come in caravans to the border from Central and South America are attempting to “smuggle” their illegal children across. In truth, there are very specific laws in the U. S. that allow people coming from war-torn or violent countries to be able to apply for asylum. This is what they are trying to do, for the most part, although one cannot assume for all.

In my story, I chose a Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) family, who is also half indigenous or mestizo. During the Inquisition in Spain, many Sephardi Jews came to South America to escape death. They never became Christian and were thus persecuted. The native tribal people have always been discriminated against. So, my fictional family from El Savador already has two strikes.

Then, I added another layer of problems. First, the Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13, has infiltrated their village, and a group has targeted young girls. My narrator’s sister, Guadalupe, is one of those targets. However, because my narrator is also called a “genius” by his mother for his intelligence at twelve years old, he also sees “visions.” His ability to talk to the gang’s leader, “Smiley,” saves his sister from prostitution, but his brothers are kept to cook meth as insurance for the family’s transport down south to the land of “freedom,” the United States.

The story incorporates a coming-of-age motif for the narrator, Felipe, as well as a unique way for me to explore what I believed about the symbolic connection between all peoples in the Jungian dreamscape of the Collective Unconscious. I am able to weave into Felipe’s visions a creation story based on the Brahma and Shiva myths, as well as the root of Justice in Judaic teachings.

At one point, the gang leader is reading the newspaper, as he is an educated gang leader (there are even educated criminals–what a concept!), and he sees that President Trump has called the MS-13 animals. He remarks that Trump allows his rich gangster friends from Russia to stay at his hotels and create “anchor babies,” but he won’t allow any South or Central Americans, who are poor, to be, in any way, associated with MS-13.

I also added some actual gang practices and rivalries (with Barrio-18) into the story, and contrasted them with the visions that my narrator is having. The reader is made well aware of the contradictions.

So, I tried to add a bit of irony to the story. At any rate, like most of my work, it will not be published in any mainstream press (most likely), but it does my heart good to be able to explore the reality that exists for many people seeking asylum and who are turned away by the greedy and arbitrary laws of this administration.

If you’ve read this far, then perhaps you might want to read the complete story, in case it doesn’t find publication space. Please message me, and I’ll give you a private Docs link.

Philip Roth Will Never Die

A tall figure in the “literary” pantheon has fallen, and he just so happens to be a Jew. As a white kid in the heart of anti-Semitic Orange County, California, I knew nothing about Jews or about their culture. In fact, when I attended a Catholic school, St. Anthony’s, in Long Beach, just over the line from Orange County, we were not “allowed” to read the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures, as my Jewish wife later explained was the proper title). Later, when I took a Bible as Literature class in college, I finally got to study it, and I knew why. It was filled with great stories about sex, violence, and revenge. Those Christian nuns were really not into that kind of stuff.

Philip Roth was, to me, as a writer, somebody who could use his imagination to break taboos. In one of his last interviews with the New York Times, he stated the fact that “writers are people who have great imaginations, which separate them from the rest of the population.” He was also asked if he had anything to say now that his writing career was over. “No, because everything I ever wanted to say was in my books.” How can you not love a guy like that? He’s so anti-tRump, without even mentioning politics.

As a twenty-three-year-old, just out of the service, when I read PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, I was awakened to the possibilities of fiction. Alexander had this psychological malady that any male kid in America could relate to. When I heard that Roth was getting criticism from his own “people,” the Jews, about his portrayals of the characters in this wildly comedic and imaginative book, I instantly became a protector of Mr. Roth and his “message.” In my mind, he was speaking Truth to Power with his art.

I believe Mr. Roth will be forever read because he could create books that, as Kafka said, “become the axes to break the frozen seas within us.” Each one of Mr. Roth’s novels took chances with imagination and never attempted to become a “best seller” through the use of formula plotting or identifiable, lovable, and non-controversial characters.

Many publishers and even authors today attempt to heap Mr. Roth’s genius into a category: literary. To the commercial hawkers of books to the masses, this spells “boring,” “non-profitable,” and “high-brow.”

To me, and to other writers who have any kind of an imagination, Mr. Roth and his work were an inspiration to do the same and not a genre of fiction. If a writer studies what Roth does in just that single book PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, he or she can learn about how to create a world so funny, so conflicting and so full of human pathos that it makes the so-called “real world” look pretty dimwitted and chaotic. This, my friends, is why we writers spend so much time in front of blank pages. We pray, nay, we gird our creative loins, hoping to have the inspiration to fantasize such memorable stories.

Mr. Roth, you will be missed by your friends and family, but you will not be missed by us writers. We have you in our midst, to read, to study and to bask in the warmth of your imagination. Until the next Hitler comes to burn your work, we will attempt to carry your bright torch of free thought into the future. Baruch Hashem.

THE FOURTH WAVE: ANOTHER WORLD CRISIS

Alvin Toffler, the famous futurist, ended his exploration into the technological realm of new developments with what he called the “Third Wave” of technology.  These new computerized systems, he said, would be transferred to the Asian powers, mainly China.

Now, in 2018, we have seen that transfer of technological power.  It has been so successful, in fact, that an American “outsider,” Donald Trump, was elected on the jingoistic isolationist slogan of “Make America Great Again!”  He promised to “bring those jobs home” from China and the other countries that had allegedly “stolen them.”

Most experts say that China will overtake the United States by 2029, and China, in fact, already leads the U.S. in purchasing power.  Whereas the U.S. has been investing in the Military Industrial Complex (with its military in over 140 different nations), China has been seeking expansion through the direct economic development of other nations.  This not only adds to China’s world-leading purchasing power (they make loans to these countries in exchange for using their natural resources and other industrial growth resources China needs), it also provides them with future allies.

Whereas the U. S. has been intervening in other countries militarily and making a “quick money killing through regime change,” China has not taken that road.  Instead, they have been joining with the industrialists in other countries to constructively improve their economies and assist them in a more progressive agenda of stabilization.

Examples?  Well, one merely has to look at the state of the Middle East, especially Iraq, to see how the United States has been wasting money and resources.  Certainly, some cherry-picked corporation, such as Haliburton, made out like literal bandits, but nothing in Iraq has been improved overall after the fall of Saddam Hussein.  The Iraqis are in the same predicament, economically speaking, as they were when Saddam ruled the country.  In fact, some would argue, they were better off under Hussein.

The Gallup Poll of 2011 showed that the citizens of Iraq have become increasingly pessimistic about their economy and job outlook.  Whereas the United States, under President Barack Obama, failed to investigate the trillions of dollars lost to the fraud of corrupt corporations in Iraq during the war (Obama said it was “water under the bridge”), which, in my opinion, was one of the worst failures of his two terms in office.

However, what is happening now, under the Republicans and Donald Trump, is far more dangerous than trying to close the barn after the corporate wartime profit horses have escaped.  We are now in the imminent path to fulfilling the unilateralist goals of the Neocon Movement in the United States.  This means an even faster movement toward reliance on the MIC for economic progress than has ever been seen in the history of the modern republic.  This “progress” will come in the form of (once again) regime changes.

The Trump Administration is, step-by-step, breaking down the safety net of systems established to protect its citizens from banking corruption, food pollution, and environmental devastation.  Over in China, on the other hand, there is an international economic expansion going on that defies everything going on over in the U.S.  In fact, the China Development Bank (CDB) recently overtook the World Bank in the number of loans to other countries in 2011.

In addition, instead of propping up losing corporations, the way the U.S. did after the economic crisis of 2018, China is now shutting down corrupt corporations and even imprisoning its executives for a long time.  This was the most recent case in the Anbang Insurance Company scandal.  It seems that if you’re corrupt in the U. S. you get a raise, and in China you get a jail cell.

Of course, China also spends quite a bit less on its military infrastructure compared to the United States.  In fact, the Trump Administration is expanding its nuclear arsenal and hardware in the coming years.  This graph shows how fantastically more reckless the United States has become in military spending.  The U.S. spends over 100 billion dollars more than all the major industrialized countries (including China) combined!

At this point, I want to bring in my hypothesis for these developments.  If both major players (China and U.S.) continue development in their current ways, it could erupt into a stand-off of devastating proportions.  I will first turn to the alliance between China and the theocratic nation of Iran.

Iran has been established as a military and economic “enabler” to many Israel and the United States foes in the Middle East, including Syria’s dictator Assad, the Hezbollah, the Palestinian Hamas, and many others.  In addition, Iran is mostly behind the rebel support in the current proxy war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.   Iran is supporting the rebels with both hardware and manpower against Saudi Arabia and the U.S. interests.

Will China play a direct part in this war in Yemen if it gets too bad?  Russia intervened on behalf of its economic partner, dictator Bashar al-Assad, and the rebels in Syria are certainly suffering for it.  Why can’t this happen in Yemen?  Perhaps it already is, indirectly.  However, it’s not playing out the way one would expect.  Beijing is already supporting the Saudi government by giving the Saudi-backed government in Yemen millions in economic aide.  How much of that aide will reach the people caught in the middle is, of course, another question.  But, because China has military aspirations of its own in the Middle East, it is willing to risk its alliance with Iran and pay both ends against the middle for the time being.

The Fourth Wave will be a confrontation between the world’s Military Industrial Complex and the world’s Progressive Industrial Complex.  As it stands right now, in 2018, I believe China is winning that confrontation.  Of course, as it did in World War Two, the United States may be willing to “risk it all” by playing its military might against world opinion.  But, whereas we had the world behind us after World War Two because of our lend-lease program in Germany and our direct assistance to Japan’s reconstruction, we no longer have that international “safety net” to allow the United States to have a “get out of jail free card” in the event of a world war.  Let’s face it.  If Trump uses nukes on Iran, North Korea, Russia or China, the game will be over.  Carl Sagan and his “Nuclear Winter” warning will have come to pass, and poor Carl will be spinning in his grave (and so will most of the world’s population).

Stop the Computers, I Want to Get Off

The Fourth Wave of Technology is the increasing reliance on computers in the form of artificial intelligence.  Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking had grave fears about AI and its inevitable power getting into the wrong hands.  Vladimir Putin, as that other hand, believes that the nation who controls AI can control the world, and he thinks that’s a good thing.

We have already seen AI’s perniciousness in the form of the Wall Street “flash crashes,”  near-miss nuclear missile assaults, and the encroaching development of robotic and technological speed for profit, over safety for quality assurance.  Unless these developments in artificial intelligence are controlled in order to protect human consumers, they will line the pockets of the owners, but they will endanger the lives of the population.

I propose that our world should have a meeting of scientists and not a meeting of politicians.  Give these world-renowned scientists some political power in order to discover the ways in which we can cooperate in a “non-nation” and “non-political” way, in order to improve the human condition instead of separating humans for profiteering interests.  Unless this occurs, almost immediately, we will be headed toward a military confrontation of historically mammoth and dangerous proportions.

The Dangers of Telling “Truth” to “Power”

Since I was a journalist before I became a creative writer, my heart has always been fixed on the purpose of “telling truth to power.” That means that no matter how seemingly offensive or politically incorrect some words are, I must use them if they are true.

I have been criticized by authors, mainstream publishers and readers because of my adherence to this philosophy. Let’s face it. We live in a unique point in history when both sides of the political spectrum have their “sacred cows.”

To some on the Left, the proper use of English grammar rules can be a “political weapon of discrimination against people of color and the LBGQT community.”  To some of the Right, anybody who doesn’t speak English in public, or who wears “ethnic clothing,” becomes a suspected terrorist.

I want to give three examples of my work that would never be published in today’s mainstream press because the contents would offend some audience out there and thus would reduce sales.  Who cares if it’s historically accurate and/or the truth?  It’s the almighty dollar that matters.

You Can’t Use That Title!  It’s Offensive!

Here’s an exchange I had with a fellow historical fiction author.  I had approached her in a friendly attempt to have my novel Chinawoman’s Chance reviewed by her on her website.  I thought it would be appropriate because she was living in China, and this would help me widen my audience.

Right away, she refused, simply because of the title I used, which, to her, was completely offensive to readers.  I had to give her a brief history lesson as to why I would never change my title, and how my entire purpose for writing the Portia of the Pacific series was to expose the racism, sexism and prejudice that existed in the 1800s of the United State of America:

Hello A:

Respectfully, the title “Chinawoman” was used in the 1800s quite regularly, as well as “Chinaman.” In point of fact, the expression “Chinaman’s chance,” came from the practice of the railroad owners, like Leland Stanford, who would send the coolies out with explosives to blow-up the mountains to make tunnels for the trains to use. Until dynamite was invented by Alfred Nobel, they were regularly killed doing this dangerous act. Ergo, the racist term, which was used down through the years until it became a common expression for “having little or no hope.”

If my readers don’t appreciate the “facts” of discrimination and racism that existed in the United States in that period (which is one of the main purposes that I wrote my series), then they should never read my fiction at all. I use the latest research (I was a college professor for over 25 years) which shows the terms and denigrating treatment of the Chinese in vivid ways.

The narrator for my audio book is also of Chinese decent and she lived in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and she did not find the title offensive in the least. I used other terms that were constantly being used at the time, including chink, coolie, Yellow Peril, pagan idolaters, and demons. Chinawoman is the least offensive of the lot.

At any rate, I bought your book, and I am enjoying it. I will write a positive review, no doubt, unless your mystery takes a plunge for the worse.

Take care, and thanks for your opinions.

Jim

My next example comes from a novel I wrote that received quite favorable reviews from readers and from fellow authors.  However, some people were “offended” because of two reasons:  1.  I was writing as a Black narrator and I was white.  2.  I was “making light” of people with disabilities.

Freak Story: 1967-1969Everybody’s a Freak?  How Dare You Say That!

With the recent death of “new journalism” author, Tom Wolfe, I don’t pretend to be carrying his prestigious mantle.  However, since my novel was compared to Tom’s work by another prestigious author, Dr. Jacob M. Appel, I must explain that my work is an exploration into the 1960s and its range of emotional experiments into revolutionary thoughts and actions.

My “theme,” if you will, is that we are all freaks under the skin, and we are also subject to the same pressures to conform.  My little exploration does not translate well in these times of “political correctness” and “fake news,” however, and I will live with that.

The readers who can see through the defense mechanisms of the present “new journalism” will understand why we must all realize our “freakishness” in order to survive.

My final example is a novel I wrote quite some time ago.  Like my hero, Thomas Harris, I dared to make a serial killer somebody who had an existentially “noble purpose.”  We all know serial killers must be all bad, all the time.

Russian Wolves

You Can’t Show Children Being Killed!  Serial Killers Can’t Be Noble!

I based my thriller upon a real-life serial killer of the 1980s, Andrei Romanovich Chikatilo.  Like me, he was a teacher.  Like me, he came from a dysfunctional background.  Unlike me, he had a psychotic breakdown after seeing his family eaten by fellow “comrades” during the Ukraine’s worst winter on record.

This novel breaks a lot of commercial fiction’s taboos.  However, since most of the murderous descriptions are based on fact, I stand my ground.  The book was never published in the mainstream, but it does have, if you’ll excuse the expression, “cult following” by readers who enjoy historical thrillers.  The same goes for another, even earlier novel, I wrote called Sins of Darkness, about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.

In fact, SOD was so realistic, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan’s lawyer called me on the phone to ask about “the evidence I had found concerning Sirhan’s being hypnoprogrammed to kill.”  Such are the dangers of writing truth to power.  I enjoy it one hell of a lot.  I hope you do to.

Genealogy Guide

The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Genealogy

About Rachel Hey Rachel here! Thanks for making it to the end of my guide, I know it’s not exactly short :p Hopefully I’ve given you everything you need to get started with the world’s most popular hobby. In a little over 2 years I’ve managed to trace my family back to the 1600s – something I’m very proud of. Now it’s over to you…! Follow Us facebook 0 Followers Search Hobby Help

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Genealogy is a captivating hobby that not only brings the past alive, but also informs you of your place in the present: how did you come to exist?

You may be surprised to discover the influence that your ancestors have had on your life in the present day.

And you may even learn a cool family story or two about Great-Aunt Irma’s life aboard a pirate ship or Cousin Christopher’s job in the White House.

This guide will help you get started with your research. It will explain:

  • step-by-step how to organize your findings
  • which records to examine first
  • how to conduct oral histories
  • and more.

But first, in case you still need convincing…

what genealogy is so great

6 Reasons You’ll Love Genealogy!

1) Learn more about your cultural heritage

where do all your family traditions come from?

From food and holiday celebrations to music and hobbies—so many beloved aspects of our lives are often passed down to us by our ancestors.

Once you have a solid grasp of your family’s history, you’ll know why you live where you live, speak the language you speak, and more. Plus, you’ll finally know how your third cousin twice-removed is actually related to you!

2) Connect with living family members

Maybe your grandfather fought in WWII or your great-aunt immigrated from Poland or your distant cousin was imprisoned during a high-profile protest.

Get to know your relatives better by speaking with them as you piece together your family story. Additionally, if you opt to order DNA tests, you may discover living relatives you never even knew about!

3) Find out if you qualify for citizenship in another country

Different countries have different rules, and things can get very complicated. But if your family has close ties to another country, then you might have a chance of acquiring dual citizenship. More on this topic below.

4) Hone your research skills

Compiling data, synthesizing and organizing it in a sensible way, interpreting a variety of source material, and learning how to navigate libraries and archives are all crucial and transferable research skills.

5) Indulge your love of history

Genealogy offers a fascinating mix of local, family history and much broader historical trends.

As you research, you’ll likely find that your family members have been involved in or affected by major world events.

Wars, plagues, famines, mass immigration movements, environmental disaster, large-scale religious conversions, changes in labor and production, new technology: you’ll gain an appreciation for how your family members adapted to their surroundings. Plus, you’ll learn a ton about history in general.

6) You might just get hooked

I’m not saying you should quit your day job to become a professional genealogist, but stranger things have happened!

What’s the difference between genealogy and family history?

In many ways, what you get out of genealogical research depends on what you want to learn.

Here we can draw a distinction between genealogy and family history.

Some enthusiasts are super into genealogy: they want to identify as many ancestors as they can going as far back as possible and to understand the web of relationships binding them together.

Other people are more into family history, which has a narrower focus.

They may concentrate on a small handful of ancestors or trace only one line back through their family trees, but they learn everything possible about that narrow slice of history.

Often, family historians seek to craft a cohesive narrative telling the story of a branch of the family.

Of course, there’s plenty of overlap between genealogy and family history, and in fact, with enough time on your hands, you can do both!

5 steps to getting started

Endless records (or frustrating gaps in records), dozens of cousins, and an absolute glut of potential resources to use…Many newcomers to genealogical research find it daunting, and rightly so!

That’s why I’m boiling it down to a step-by-step process.

This guide is long and packed with info, but you don’t have to do everything all at once!

Here are the first few steps you should take as you begin to explore your past:

1) Get (and stay) organized

Decide now how you’ll keep your research organized.

Do you have somewhere—a filing cabinet, a set of folders, or some binders—to keep track of any paper documents you acquire?

Perhaps a photo album for images?

Do you want to arrange things alphabetically by surname, chronologically by birth year, or according to some other system?

Will each individual ancestor be kept in a separate file, or will you group family units together?

Next, consider computer programs, such as Family Tree Maker or RootsMagic 7, and decide if these programs will help you organize your findings. Alternatively, look into online platforms such as Ancestry.com.

family tree maker

Finally, remember to keep information standardized.

One general rule of thumb is to use birthnames; people change their names for various reasons, often for marriage, and consistently using birthnames will make it easier not to confuse people.

Same goes for nicknames—maybe your great-grandmother went by her middle name instead of her first, or everyone called your distant cousin by a nickname.

When this comes up, simply decide how you want to refer to them, and keep it consistent.

2) Make a family tree

Whether you’re a budding genealogist seeking to trace your family back to ancient Rome, or a family history fan tracing just a few family members, it’s helpful to draw up a family tree to stay organized.

As you go through the process, you’ll discover what format for organizing your tree works best for you.

This tree will serve as a valuable framework that helps you keep track of everyone and the relationships between them. Sort of like making a character map for a complicated work of fiction like Game of Thrones!

Here’s a list of 20 online family tree builders so you can get a sense of the possibilities. And remember it’s just fine to start out low-tech with a pencil and paper.

3) Consider what you want to know

Deciding what is most important to you will help you decide where to start.

Have you always wanted to know more about Grandpa Joe’s wild stories?

Are there unconfirmed family legends that you’re related to a celebrity?

You have to start somewhere, so it’s often best to start with something that intrigues you.

4) Talk with your oldest living family members

Ask them to share stories about their own lives and about their parents, grandparents, and other members of the older generations.

Do they have old photos, records, or historical items they can show you? You’ll likely want to record these interviews so that you can revisit them later. Jump to our section on oral history below for more tips.

5) Go to census records

Once you’re ready to take the research plunge, consider starting with census records.

These records tend to be very accessible: online and searchable! And they’re quite simple and easy to interpret.

Census records are therefore an excellent first foray into the vast world of family records and documentation that awaits you.

All about records

Here is an overview of the many and varied kinds of records you will use to learn more about your family.

Census Records

1940 census poster

The census is a solid record of people living in the United States all the way back to the 18th century.

Since 1790, the United States government has conducted a census once every decade to obtain information on the country’s population and the composition of its households. There are gaps in census records however—for example, most of the 1890 census went up in flames!

Where can you find census records?

They are accessible online through Findmypast.com, as well as through HeritageQuest, available at some libraries.

Another option is to visit the National Archives or one of its branches, or a Family History Center.

You can also check in with your local public library to see if it has census records available, or if it can order them for you through interlibrary loan.

What does the census tell you?

It gives the name and living place of a given person and their household members.

Because of the way the census is set up, it can sometimes be hard or impossible to tell that two people are related simply by census records. It can even be tough to determine who was married to whom.

Census records come with some challenges

It should be noted that before the 20th century and in some areas even later, lots of people could not read or write, so you can expect some creative name spelling in census records.

Smith or Smythe, Galloway or Galway, Conley or Connolly. Plus, some people with foreign names had trouble getting them spelled correctly in the records.

Other immigrants changed their names to sound more American.

Remember The Great Gatsby back in high school literature?

The fictional Gatsby was born to a poor farming family with the name Gatz, but he changed his name to Gatsby at age 17 so he could fit more easily into American high society.

These kinds of name changes were quite common, especially among German, Jewish, or Irish immigrants trying to avoid discrimination.

As a side note, the myth that immigration officers at Ellis Island took it upon themselves to change immigrant names is just that, a myth. In fact, immigrants themselves were most often the ones who decided that a name change was in their best interests.

There actually is a way to get around the issue of inconsistent name spelling. It’s called Soundex, a system used by websites like Ancestry, which groups names by their sounds.

In this system, Smith and Smythe will both appear in the same group of names because they are simply alternate spellings of each other.

Soundex even adds some more unusual variants of names. It really is the best way to sort your way through the confusing maze that can be English spelling before literacy rates increased substantially.

Another complication? Many people did not keep track of birthdays, so you can expect ages to be rough or even contradictory. John was 19 in 1835, so how is he 24 in 1842?!

This may all sound discouraging, but as long as you keep in mind that census data is flawed in some cases, it can be incredibly useful. Here’s how:

The census gives you names. The census gives you dates. The census gives you places.

Names, dates, and places allow you to pinpoint your ancestors on the timeline.

If John and his wife Sarah appear in the Bronx, New York census for 1835, St. Louis, Missouri for 1842, and San Francisco, California in 1849, they were probably chasing after the gold rush. The census allows you to see where they were and when they were there.

Later censuses also include some additional information. Censuses conducted after 1850 supply information on every person in the household, including age and where they were born.

This makes later census data a lot more useful as it allows you not only to track individuals, but their families as a complete unit.

It’s a good place to begin any ancestry investigation because once you know time and place, you can widen your search to other sources that will provide better detail.

As you do this, be aware that towns change their names, new states form, and counties split, change names, or move. So if you know you had an ancestor in a certain area but cannot find records online, try to find out if the place they lived has changed names over the years.

Overall, census information is great for locating your ancestors in a particular moment in history, but you’ll need other sources to get the real details.

Courthouse records

courthouse-records

Image source

So you’ve located some particular family members of interest by using old census data. Where do you go now?

Well, since you should now know where they lived in a given year, try the official courthouse records of that town or city.

Some (but certainly not all) of these records are now online, available through sites like Ancestry.

Though Ancestry does charge a subscription fee, many libraries around the country have their own subscriptions, so definitely try going to your local library and using their subscription if you’re on a tight budget or want to test it out first.

Local courthouses themselves typically have records on paper if you still live in the area or are willing to travel.

Court records include birth and death certificates, documentation of marriages and divorcesadoption recordsdeeds and property transfersrecords of legal issuestax records, and wills—basically anything that attracted the interest of the government enough to be written down.

Looking to track down some old family heirloom? Court records of wills may be able to help you with that one.

Of course, as the records get more recent, they also tend to get more complete and detailed, as already noted regarding census data.

Books

Next, don’t hesitate to look up books on the local history of areas in which your ancestors lived.

These books may or may not mention the ancestors in question, but they will almost certainly provide valuable background information which can help you narrow your search.

Land Records

Land records are some of the most interesting records for learning more about the lives of your family members.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a massive compilation of federal land grants over the centuries.

If your ancestors went West in the 19th century, for example, they may well have used the Homestead Act of 1862 to acquire their land from the Federal Government. If this is the case, then there should be a written record of the transfer, and the BLM should have a copy.

A note on African-American ancestry: Another interesting aspect of land sale records is that after the Civil War, quite a few freed slaves decided to abandon places where they had been previously held in bondage and go West.

The edge of the expanding nation offered them opportunities that they did not have in the post-bellum South.

If you have African-American ancestry, one valuable online resource is the Freedmen’s Bureau (Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands).

This searchable website offers a wealth of records, including land records as well as information on military service and family matters such as births and marriages.

Land sale records may tell you where some of these former slaves went to build new lives for themselves.

Were they Oklahoma Sooners? Or maybe they eventually traveled as far from their old oppression as they could, and participated in the Alaskan Gold Rush in the Yukon.

Land records have real potential for revealing not only when and where individuals were, but also some of their motives.

Unlike the census, land records on their own tell a real story. The census simply shows who lived where and when. But land sale records show where people moved. You may have to speculate, but these speculations will be grounded in solid historical evidence.

With additional background research, you might just find out why they moved.

Perhaps your ancestors escaped slavery in Georgia and moved to New York, left New York due to debt, and then acquired land in what is now the state of Kansas. And then if you find them leaving Kansas and buying land in Wisconsin in 1858, they may well have been fleeing Bleeding Kansas, the violent prelude to the Civil War.

Or let’s say you find that your ancestors lived in Mississippi in 1923 but by 1935 had relocated to Albany, New York. Could they have been part of the historic Rapp Road community?

African-American migration to New York is part of the much larger Great Migration movement in the 20th century, in which 5+ million African Americans left the South to seek better opportunities in Northern and Western cities.

Land sales and their dates can begin to build a story.

If you find your ancestors selling land and moving during a time of crisis it’s quite likely that they were somehow swept up in the upheavals.

Immigration records

immigrants ellis island circa 1907

Most people who now call themselves American have ancestors who came to the country by ship from somewhere else. How should you go about tracking your immigrant ancestors through history?

There are several kinds of immigration-related records.

Since most immigrants arrived by ship, passenger lists are a good place to start.

Depending on the list, you may find information such as: names, ages, last known address, payment records, and intended destination in the United States.

Naturalization records will show you when and where your ancestors were accepted into the United States. Applications for naturalization typically state the person’s name, date and place of birth, and other information.

Where to find these kinds of immigration records? Filby’s Passenger and Immigration Lists Index is an excellent resource that indexes published passenger lists.

You can find this index through World Vital Records. Some passenger lists and naturalization records are now available online. To find applications for naturalization, try local court records.

By knowing when and where your family members came into America, you can begin to track them as they moved through the nation.

Once you know where your ancestors began their lives in the United States, you can use census records or land sale titles to pinpoint them further as they carried out their lives.

Military Records

fold3 military record

What about ancestors who served in the military? Can you find their service records?

Fold3.com is a great resource for this, with records going all the way back to the American Revolution. Of course, given the chaotic nature of war, records may be incomplete, but this is a great place to start.

A lot of old unit rosters are also public information, as are lists of decorations and awards.

You can also ask people within your family, since military stories are often the type that get passed on through the family for generations.

Though your grandmother may have only been an infant in the First World War, she may well have sharp memories of what her father told her after he returned. Or what her own mother told her after her father didn’t return. This gets a bit more into the category of oral history, so more on that later.

As for written sources, try somewhere like Fold3 or the local courthouse to find indications of your ancestors’ military service.

Church Records

Where else to look to find further details on your family so that you can have a real story about their lives? Try your ancestors’ local church.

Churches historically have kept excellent records of their parishioners.

These records will naturally include birthsbaptismsmarriagesdivorcesdeathsburials, and the like, but may also have details on education.

Many people, especially in past centuries, received their education through their local religious institution, so church records may have clues about your ancestors’ schooling.

Also, what if you think you have a link to someone who lived very, very long ago? For instance, a medieval European ancestor?

Well, in the pre-industrial West, churches were effectively the best (in some cases only) source of written material. Using some of the sources above, you may manage to track some of your ancestors all the way back into the 16th century or beyond.

You can next try combing your way through old church documents, as it’s pretty likely that once you get far enough back, these will be the best records in existence. (Medieval and early modern genealogical research is tricky—more on this topic below).

Death Records

It might be morbid, but death records have a lot to teach us! These sources include death certificatesgrave markers, and obituaries.

The first is a good way to find where, when, and in some cases how your ancestor died. These are almost always stored in a local courthouse, but as already noted, websites like Ancestry should have these records in digital form for ease of reference.

Grave markers are a bit more personal and are typically not included in online databases unless they are special or unique in some way. Nonetheless, try searching Findagrave.com to see if you have any luck!find_a_grave

Grave markers of course include names and dates, but may also contain additional facts, details, or quotations which either the deceased or the family thought significant.

Many tombstones include details like military unit, profession, or major achievements. They are often grouped by family, so you can find entire family units together in one place.

Grave markers also often have sayings or literary lines which that person liked, or which were fitting to the deceased’s personality. This is great, because now instead of knowing plain, dry facts, you can actually catch a glimpse of what the person was like.

Obituaries can do the exact same thing if written well. They’re typically found in newspapers: try checking Newspapers.com, run by Ancestry, for copies of old newspapers from around the United States.

Obituaries not only give information on birth, education, career, and death, but often include more personal details. What music did the person like? Any hobbies? Tastes in art or literature?

Obituaries, again, if they are well-written, can work wonders in not only giving you plain facts, but in humanizing the person in question.

For example, one of the final lines in my great-grandfather’s obituary is “Atque in perpetuum frater, ave, atque vale.” This is the final line of a famous Latin poem by Catullus, which translates as “And so into eternity brother, hail, and goodbye.” This single line tells me that he appreciated Latin poetry, and that he and the friend who wrote his obituary were well-versed in classical literature.

Among records of death, obituaries possibly have the most potential to take your ancestors from names etched on headstones to real, breathing ghosts of who they once were.

If you are searching not only for dry facts and dates, but also for details that bring your ancestors alive in your mind, then obituaries are likely to serve you well.

Family Photos

Old photographs let you match names to faces!

Of course, there’s only so far back in time you can go, since photography was invented during the 19th century, but imagine how great it would be to have visual images of several generations of your family!

The simplest way to go about collecting photos is to call your relatives—odds are someone has an old photo or two floating around.

In addition to asking your relatives, you can wade through online collections of old photos: try DeadFred.com and other genealogy websites. Online photo collections are hit-or-miss, but definitely worth a search.

Visiting the National Archives

National Archives in Washington D.C.

If you get the chance, visit the National Archives in Washington D.C. The Archives are a phenomenal resource to any genealogist. Many of the kinds of records described above are housed here. For instance:

  • Passenger lists
  • Native American records
  • Census records (1790-1940)
  • Military records
  • Information on federal land grants

Visit their website to get a sense of how the collections at the National Archives can help you and to start planning your visit.

On a more local level, consider a visit to your State Library, as these libraries contain similar records (census data, old newspapers, and so on) and can put you in touch with librarians and other genealogists.

Online Resources

Genealogical research can be painfully time-consuming, but there are websites that have done some of the work for you by collecting and compiling data.

These sites include the well-known Ancestry.comNewspapers.com (itself run by Ancestry), Rootsweb.com (similar to Ancestry), Fold3.com (for U.S. military service records), Findagrave.com, and Cyndislist.com.

The last one in particular, Cyndi’s List, is a massive list of virtually every genealogical website out there. Struggling to find the exact database you need? Cyndi’s List should have it, which makes it an especially useful tool in your search.

Remember that many of these sources charge a subscription fee, which can be hefty and also add up over time.

To keep your expenses low, check with your local library or university library, which probably has a subscription to all sorts of sources. This can save you a lot of money over time.

Heritage and genealogical societies

Local, county, state, and national heritage or genealogical societies are invaluable resources for you as well.

No matter what your heritage, a little Googling will probably turn up the relevant society. A few examples:

These societies are staffed by experts who can help get you past any roadblocks you encounter in your genealogical research.

They often have access to documents, images, or other records relevant to your heritage.

Many groups publish informative journals. And many hold festive community events, which can be a fun way celebrate everything you’ve learned so far about your family and meet other likeminded folks!

Oral history

Now for something a bit different.

We’ve gone over all sorts of paper records, all sorts of places you can find written documentation. But we’ve forgotten something in this whirlwind of paper: the oldest form of history is oral history.

Beowulf and The Song of Roland were spoken or sung in great halls before crowds of people long, long before either was written down.

Before the invention writing itself, there is no doubt that small family units huddled around their fires telling stories about their past, their present, and their hopes for the future.

It would be wrong of us to ignore history’s original medium: storytelling. So how do you begin collecting oral histories?

Start right now!

People often remember countless fantastic details of their lives, which you can match up with broader historical records not only for confirmation but for context.

Go and interview the most interesting people in your family, and start as early as you can.

It’s sad, but these people will not live forever. When they die, all their memories die with them.

Everything they ever knew or did or thought or said is gone forever. And your grandparents may even remember their own grandparents, thus pulling you two more generations into the past.

The elderly have truly amazing experiences and are incredible resources for learning about the past.

So interview your elderly relatives: you’ll be surprised by how much they know, by what things they have done or seen.

I had no idea until I asked my paternal grandmother that her own father was a machine gun officer in the British Expeditionary Force who had a leg blown off at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. Now she and her father are both gone, and if I had never asked, I would never have known.

Oral history, history based on memory itself, is an invaluable tool which, unlike paper records which only seem to multiply, shrinks every day.

Here are some general guidelines for conducting oral history interviews:

  1. Record your interviews. You may be tempted to scribble notes as you interview, but it’s usually best to give the interviewee your full attention. With a recording, you can rest assured that you won’t miss anything.
  2. There are several ways to go about recording your interviews, so decide what best suits your needs. Do you want high-quality visual and audio that’s ready for a documentary? Or will a simple audio recording be sufficient? How long and where do you intend to store your interview recordings? And of course, what is your budget?
  3. Whatever equipment you choose, give it a test-run before you use it for interviews.
  4. Pick a quiet place for the interview if at all possible. Avoid the sounds of heavy traffic, construction, and so on, or you’ll pay for it later when you try to play back or transcribe the interview recording!
  5. Make a list of questions and topics you hope to cover. Otherwise, you are likely to forget something. That said, this shouldn’t be a definitive or exhaustive list; if your relative mentions something interesting that you hadn’t thought of, you should absolutely pursue that avenue as well.
  6. As for questions: aim for mostly open-ended questions, rather than ones that will elicit a simple yes/no answer. Instead of “So you immigrated to the US in 1940…?” try, “Why did you immigrate to the US in 1940?” or “What was it like immigrating to the US in 1940?”
  7. Start out each interview with a clear statement identifying the person being interviewed and the date and location of the interview.
  8. Listen attentively to your interviewee and resist any urges to interrupt (even with simple phrases like “Uh huh” or “Oh wow…”). If you wish to encourage or acknowledge your relative, try nodding your head or smiling instead, or commenting after s/he is done speaking. Above all, you want to give your relatives space to talk and tell their stories, and you also want a nice clean transcript without multiple people speaking at once.
  9. Pauses and silence are okay. Let your relative have time to think if necessary.
  10. Don’t go on for hours and hours. An hour or two should be enough for a good interview, and if you like, you can always go back for another!
  11. Take your relative out for lunch! (Or at the very least say thank you).
  12. Transcribe your interviews. It’s always good to have a searchable written record, as this will make finding information easier.

And there you have it: the raw material of oral history. Now it’s time to start thinking about how these stories and details fit into your larger genealogical project.

Where should I look to hire a professional?

You may run into roadblocks as you research.

Maybe you need to read documents in another language, travel to far-flung archives, or simply aren’t finding as much information as you’d hoped.

Or perhaps you need to build a rock-solid account of your ancestry to satisfy dual citizenship requirements.

In these cases, it may be time to bring in a professional if your budget allows.

You can find accredited genealogical researchers at the following places:

How much can you expect to pay for the services of an expert genealogist?

It’s impossible to say, since that will depend on the scope of the project, the skills and expertise needed to complete the research, the necessary timeframe, and various other factors.

I suggest using the above websites to find professionals who specialize in the area relevant to your interests (for example, Native American, Scots-Irish, or Greek Orthodox heritage). Contact a few professionals to discuss your needs and request a quote.

In general, a qualified genealogy professional will charge at least $35/hour, and often more ($50+/hour), plus expenses (for example, the fees incurred when ordering copies of documents).

To make the hiring process go more smoothly, I recommend checking out the 10-step checklist compiled by ICAPGen.

What about DNA testing?

23 and me dna test

In addition to written records and documentation, there remains another option for learning more about where you come from: DNA.

Over the past decade, DNA testing has grown in popularity as the technology involved has become more affordable.

So why might you want to consider DNA testing? And what are the benefits and limitations of this method?

First, DNA testing is not a substitute for good old-fashioned research.

This goes double if you, like countless other genealogy enthusiasts, are most interested in uncovering family stories and understanding the complex webs of relationships that tie your family together.

For many of us, proving relations is one thing, but the real perk is that through careful research, you can actually bring your ancestors’ stories alive and make them personal. DNA testing does not and cannot do this.

However, DNA testing is useful for discovering your ethnic background or broader family groups.

Depending on which test you use, it can help you identify close living relatives (who you may not have even known about), or confirm that you are related to a particular person (if you weren’t completely sure).

In addition, DNA results can fill in the gaps where written records fall short.

Maybe, due to the nature of your family’s history, relevant documentation has been destroyed or never even created in the first place. In this case, DNA is your best option for learning more about your ancestry.

There are three types of specific DNA testing, each of which searches for something different. These three types are:

  • Autosomal DNA testing
  • Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing
  • Y-DNA testing

Autosomal DNA testing

First, there is Autosomal DNA testing, which tries to find matches between your DNA and that of other people.

It takes into account the DNA of both of your parents, since autosomal DNA is a combination of your mother’s and father’s DNA.

This method is quite useful for discovering long lost cousins or other more distant blood relatives.

This is a commonly performed test, because it will actually link you with other living people. Moreover, it gives an indication of your ethnicity and can tell you from which general regions your relatives originate. Bear in mind that it’s only useful going back around five generations.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing

This is perhaps the most interesting form of DNA testing, as it uses DNA from the mitochondria, which are essentially tiny power plants located within cells. mtDNA is matrilineal, meaning a mother passes it on to all children of both sexes.

This form of testing will allow you to verify your mother’s line by using a method similar to that of Y-DNA testing, though non- sex-specific.

Now why exactly is mtDNA testing so interesting?

Well, in the case of individuals looking up their ancestry, mtDNA isn’t necessarily too special—but given that mtDNA changes at glacial speeds, this type of testing has been used in research on early human evolution, as matrilineal lines are easier to trace over tens and hundreds of thousands of years.

In fact, there is evidence that even as hominid species (like us!) evolved, our mitochondria have remained almost unchanged, making mtDNA ideal for long-term testing of group relationships.

Y-DNA testing

This kind of testing earns its name from its use of the Y-chromosome, found only in males. Y-DNA tests can link you back to a long-dead male ancestor.

Most famously, Y-DNA tests are the basis for the belief that Thomas Jefferson fathered a child with his slave Sally Hemings.

The way this test works is by taking the Y-DNA of a verified descendent of a dead individual, then by taking the Y-DNA of someone seeking to know if they are also descended from that person.

If the Y-DNA is a match, then it proves that the two currently living individuals come from the same male lineage.

However, it is unprovable through Y-DNA that you are descended from one specific person, as you could also be the descendent of his brother or father, both of whom have identical Y-chromosomes.

If you are not male and do not have a Y-chromosome yourself, you can still have a Y-DNA test done by asking your brother or father to take the test for you.

DNA testing companies

ancestry

If you do decide to get your DNA tested, there are a few major companies which will do it.

Whichever you choose, the process is simple: buy a DNA test package, give a sample, either of saliva or a cheek swab, then send it in and await results. Most people hear back within six to eight weeks.

Here are your options for DNA testing companies:

Ancestry DNA: This service offers only autosomal DNA tests. It’s run by Ancestry.com, so if you have created your family tree on that platform, you can link up your tree and your DNA results. Plus, you can find and reach out to other people who have been DNA-tested and allowed their results to be public.

23andMe: The three different types of genetic testing are available, and once again you can connect with other people who use this service. 23andMe also offers genetics-based health information.

Family Tree DNA: Choose from any of the three types of tests. This company is especially known for its high-quality autosomal DNA tests. You can contact other people who have DNA similar to yours.

Depending on which test and company you choose, you can expect to pay anywhere from around $75 up to $200 or so.

Finally, before you actually get your DNA tested, you really should do archival research. Simply learning that you are related to someone typically isn’t all that important, unless they’re incredibly important, in which case DNA testing may be a good early option.

But generally, the point of extensive genealogy research, as I’ve already said, to find out more about your distant family members and to learn their stories.

Humanizing your ancestors is an incredibly gratifying goal, one far deeper than simply proving a blood lineage with someone who died centuries ago.

History is not a catalogue of dry events, births, deaths, weddings, and so on, it’s a robust and flowing story which stretches through time. Learning the stories of your family is the greatest gift of knowing your ancestry.

DNA results constitute one piece of the puzzle, but if you have a strong interest in genealogy or family history, you’ll most likely want to delve deeper.

Know your history

So you’ve made a family tree, pored over records, and made countless fascinating discoveries about your long-lost ancestors. Awesome! Now what?

You may be interested in putting your newfound knowledge into a cohesive narrative, or gaining a better appreciation for your family’s place in history.

Which means that if you haven’t already, it’s time to brush up on your history!

I’ve already hinted at the importance of history above, in the sections on acquainting yourself with records, but now it’s time to drive this point home. Broader historical trends can tell you so much about the specific story of your family.

Create a family timeline and a general historical timeline listing major events in the relevant region, country, and the world at large.

Do you notice any points of intersection? One place to look is at times of immigration. Historical research often helps explain what drives an individual’s desire to immigrate.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you have a Silesian great-aunt who immigrated to Texas in 1862. With a little research, you’ll find that numerous Silesian Poles who had been living in the Prussian partition of Poland moved to Panna Maria, Texas starting in the 1850s.

Now you might be asking, “What is the Prussian partition of Poland? Didn’t my aunt just come from Poland? What does Prussia have to do with it?”

Many people don’t know that Poland was partitioned by other powers (Prussia, Russia, and Habsburg Austria) three times during the 18th century.

After the Third Partition in 1795, independent Poland was wiped off the map: for over a century, Poland did not exist as an independent nation.

It only reemerged as a sovereign state in the aftermath of WWI. So your Polish aunt lived in a time when Poland itself didn’t exist as an independent country!

Further research will tell you more about life was like for Poles in Prussian Poland during the 1850s, why your great-aunt might have left, and what life would have been like for her in this new Silesian settlement in Texas.

Plus, you’ve expanded your knowledge of history; you’ve learned about a major event in Eastern European history—the partitions of Poland—and about general trends in immigration to the United States during the 19th century.

Doing your historical research will give you insight into the choices your ancestors made.

  • Were there wars that they either participated in or tried to avoid?
  • And how did war or conflict affect their lifestyle?
  • Did religious or political persecution lead them to change their names, emigrate, or be imprisoned?
  • Did outbreaks of disease have an impact on your family?
  • How did the labor market influence the kinds of jobs your ancestors had?
  • Why did your ancestors convert from one religion to another?

Unless your ancestors all kept meticulous diaries explaining their thoughts and actions, your best bet for understanding them better is to understand the context in which they lived and made decisions.

The bottom line: ask whatever questions most interest you! And don’t be discouraged if you find that some questions are simply unanswerable—that’s the nature of delving into the past.

How far back will I be able to trace my ancestors? Can I find out if I’m related to Charlemagne?

That depends! A few lucky people are able to identify ancestors going as far back as the Middle Ages. Often, your success depends on those who came before you.

Have past family members maintained good records?

Did anyone in your family a few generations ago keep a journal, write a family history, or put together a family tree?

If you have aristocratic ancestors, you’re at an advantage, since noble families are much more likely to have kept records on themselves and their family lines.

Compared to the thorough records of today’s world, medieval records were sparse.

Someone could be born, live, and die in the 10th century without ever having their birth, baptism, marriage, or death officially recorded. In addition, last names weren’t necessarily a thing yet, making it even harder to identify people.

The practice of using inherited surnames developed during the Middle Ages, but it took time for surname use to become consistent. Plus, the “same” surname could often be spelled in a handful of ways, and sometimes people decided to change their names.

Another roadblock? Medieval texts were recorded in manuscripts.

Some of these texts have been digitized, made available in printed editions, or translated from the original language, but you’ll still need to learn how to use the relevant databases and search engines to find them.

If you’re looking for digitized manuscripts, for example, go to DMMapp, the digitized medieval manuscripts app.

And then there are some manuscripts which simply aren’t available in either printed or digital form.

To complete your research, you’ll either need to request images from the relevant archives, or request permission to use the archive’s collections and travel all the way there yourself.

Even if you are able to access a manuscript, you’ll find that it’s written in another language (Latin, Old French, Classical Arabic, etc.) and in headache-inducing handwriting.

Excavating your family’s medieval and early modern history may therefore require an added set of skills (languages and paleography) that take time to develop.

This is one area in which it’s a good idea to bring in professional help.

All in all, tracing your family back in time before ~1600 or so is hard. But it can be done, and it certainly is rewarding.

Since premodern research is a specialized subject, it’s  beyond the scope of this beginner’s guide, but if you find that your curiosity is whetted, take a look at this guide by the UK National Archives and this free webinar by Prof. Nick Barratt.

Do I qualify for dual citizenship based on my ancestry?

Some countries offer citizenship or residence visas based on ancestry. Rules vary widely and are often complicated, so do your homework before you send off your application.

For more information on gaining citizenship by ancestry in (mostly) EU countries, check out this guide and this list. And here is further, more specific information for a few countries: PolandItaly, and the UK (ancestry visa allowing a 5-year stay).

These sites will help you start your research and determine if you might qualify for a visa or citizenship.

Acquiring a second citizenship takes time, effort, and meticulous record-keeping, so this path should really only be pursued if you have plenty of time on your hands. Otherwise, there are often faster, easier ways of acquiring residency or citizenship.

And of course, not everyone will qualify!

While some countries are happy to accept new citizens with fairly remote ancestral ties, others are much more stringent and demand that at least one of your parents be a citizen.

So again, don’t despair, and remember that you have plenty of other options.

Overall, genealogy is best enjoyed as a hobby and educational pursuit in its own right—discovering that you may qualify for additional citizenship is just a potential added bonus.

Conclusion

I wish you the best of luck as you begin your journey into the past.

Whether your primary motivation is to connect more closely with your heritage, fact-check family legends, create a record of family history for future generations, or all of the above, there is no better time to start than today!

What to Do After Your Book is Published

Post-Publication Book-Marketing Actions

Below is a checklist of things you can do after your book is published, and a suggested sequence
in which you can do them. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive or exact time line, but a general
guide to help you market your books more successfully. For more information on any topic contact
jamesmusgrave2122@att.net

  • Continue to prospect for and contact buyers in non-bookstore markets
  • Update your website
  • Continue eCommerce activities
  • Monitor search-engine ranking (SEO)
  • Get active in APSS and your local chapter (www.bookapss.org)
  • Continue social networking
  • Update your strategic marketing plan (http://tinyurl.com/l4zyabe)
  • Compare actual results to budget quarterly
  • Obtain additional endorsements from readers and industry leaders (add to literature)
  • Contact other syndicated columnists
  • Contact magazines with long lead times
  • Plan more tradeshows and book fairs to attend (http://tinyurl.com/b8tk5t5)
  • Create new sales-promotional items
  • Send to niche and post-pub book reviewers
  • Apply to award competitions
  • Send books to post-publication reviewers
  • Rewrite and update your literature
  • Create podcasts
  • Participate in chat rooms, forums and discussion groups online
  • Direct marketing – snail mail and email
  • Build your “pitch pack”
  • Send a proposal package to retail distributors
  • Take media training (http://tinyurl.com/mxgvzm2)
  • Contact associations for cause marketing; membership premium (www.weddles.com/associations)
  • Phone call follow-up media
  • Mail brochures/flyers to prospective buyers
  • Phone follow-up to all prospective customers
  • Conduct a mobile marketing campaign (Apps, texting, QR codes, etc)
  • Conduct virtual tours
  • Participate in book fairs and trade shows (BEA, ALA: http://tinyurl.com/b8tk5t5)
  • Sell foreign rights
  • Continue marketing on sites such as www.shelfari.com, etc.
  • Line, brand and author extensions
  • Prospect for corporate buyers on www.manta.com
  • Work your personal networking lists
  • Conduct retail-store events
  • Conduct virtual media tours
  • Blog regularly
  • Conduct library tours
  • Create contests and/or sweepstakes
  • Write a script to use in telephone marketing
  • Update your elevator pitch and voice-mail message
  • Start a regular newsletter
  • Create a package insert
  • Use creative sales-promotional items (guy@msgpromo.com)
  • Purchase counter displays (www.bookdisplays.com)
  • Back-of-the-room sales at speaking events
  • Update metadata for online retailers
  • Conduct seminars and webinars
  • Sell your books as premiums and ad specialties (www.premiumbookcompany.com)
  • Have associations use your book as a fundraising item (www.premiumbookcompany.com)
  • Write and present proposals for large-quantity sales (www.premiumbookcompany.com)
  • Start and participate in affiliate programs
  • Support all distributors and wholesalers
  • Monitor your attitude
  • Change your strategies for life-cycle stages
  • Bundle various products
  • Market at local craft fairs and events
  • Appearances on more TV and radio shows
  • Start own fan club (Facebook or other)
  • Evaluate discounting strategies
  • Evaluate unit sales, revenue and profit relative to goals
  • Create new hooks as attention getters
  • Practice the 3Vs of media events (Verbal, Vocal, Visual)

  • Experience with Kindle Scout (an Independent Publishing Perspective)

    The above chart shows the final results of my 30-day campaign at Kindle Scout.  My novel was the first in my historical mystery series: Portia of the Pacific Mysteries.  It is called Chinawoman’s Chance.  As a publisher, I was using this campaign as a way to promote my novel to new readers of my work.  The experience was less than beneficial, from this publisher’s perspective.

    First of all, the editors at Amazon told me they would publish my Thank You Message that I wanted to include in the mailing that goes out to all those readers who nominated my book (Amazon never tells you the exact numbers of these people–which should be a warning to self-published or independent publishers).  I was including in my message a link to my publisher’s website where I would be collecting the email address of these folks, who were kind enough to nominate me, but who did not receive a free copy of my eBook because Amazon chose not to publish it.  If they joined my mailing list they would, indeed, receive a free copy when I self-published the book following the campaign.  Lo and behold, these nominating readers never received the thank you mailing that Amazon told me they would include!  Therefore, from my perspective, all of the promotional money I spent to get these excellent numbers in my campaign was totally wasted.  Of course, Amazon is able to collect all these emails for their purposes, but this publisher has nothing to show from it, and it was my intellectual property that Amazon used.

    Not that I didn’t learn from the experience. I did.  I received some average critical comments from the editors, as I was one of the “hallowed short-listed finalists.”  They had, you see, guaranteed that authors who were short-listed would receive “free critiques,” so I suppose they felt obligated.  The email comments they sent me demonstrated that Amazon editors do not do what they promise, and they have no real understanding of the genre categories of the novels listed on their own eBook distribution website (store).

    Here are their exact comments:

    Dear James,

    Thank you for submitting Chinawoman’s Chance to Kindle Scout. Unfortunately, we have decided to pass on publishing, but we wanted to share with you some feedback on the book. We hope you find it useful and encouraging!

    General comments:

    We’re very impressed by the depth of the historical backstory, but in the first half of the book you too often and too lengthily interrupt the main murder-mystery plot with historical asides, and this makes the book sometimes read more like a nonfiction biography than a plot-driven murder-mystery. The main plot does begin to feel fully immersive until chapter 5, but we think readers will enjoy the first half of the book better if it likewise focuses more on the murders and investigation. We also feel that the narrative prose tends to reveal necessary important plot and character details too belatedly, and that the dialogue is over-loaded with background narrative details, which often makes the characters’ speech sound forced and expositional. We recommend that you put the manuscript through another round of developmental editing, focusing on making sure that at least 80% of the content in each chapter relates directly to the murder-mystery – which is what readers of this genre are mostly interested in. We provide more specific observations and recommendations below.

    Developmental feedback:

  • Particularly in the beginning of the book, the reader is expected to divine vital story details by reading between the lines rather than having them stated them directly, and we found this disorienting rather than compelling. Here are a few representative examples:

  • It’s not at all clear in the prologue that Andrew Kwong owns a newspaper or that George works for the newspaper. You hint at these facts, and eventually the reader reads enough hints to make pretty accurate guesses, but I can think of no reason why it wouldn’t be better to simply tell the reader when Andrew is introduced that he owns a newspaper and that George works for him, for example. It’s also not clear enough how the mayor’s background as a newspaper publisher factors into his pressuring the Kwongs to not publish the news story about the murder, and yet George seems to go out of his way to shoehorn this fact into his explanation to Clara.
  • The reader doesn’t have enough context to understand this sentence in the prologue: “Clara knew this information agreed with what Isaiah Lees had told them at the Italian restaurant.”
  • You do a great job of developing the chaotic and colorful San Francisco setting, especially the way you interweave the complex social and civil rights developments and organizations. However, you introduce “holy roller ‘Kid’ Cook” to the story at about the same time as you explain the Vigilante Committee, which strongly implies that Cook is a leader of the Vigilante Committee. As such, it was jarring to me when it clarified later on that Cook is a cop, so I recommend clarifying Cook’s profession when he’s first mentioned.
  • I misunderstood what “tongs” were for longer than was ideal – I inferred that they were specific people rather than organizations. This may well be my own fault, but I think it would be better to tell the reader what tongs are more immediately and directly.
  • We found the prologue very hard to follow and we had the sense that the chapter may have appeared later in the story (sometime after chapter 4 when the Italian restaurant is mentioned again) but was later moved to the beginning and wasn’t edited to account for having been moved. Ideally, we think the novel should open with chapter 1, which would start the book with a great first line, as well as start the story with its inciting event.
  • The narrative relies too much on “telling” and not enough on “showing.” For example, the most exciting scene in the beginning of the book is when Clara is kidnapped and brought before the Chinese business leaders, but this scene feels more like an abstract summary than a gripping action scene because there’s no dialogue and the narrative is more focused on expositing Clara’s personal history than it is on describing the action in progress. Another example: the narrator summarizes Lees’s planning for questioning the suspects in the case, but this would be a lot more compelling if you had Lees meet with his subordinates and explained his plan to them through dialogue.
  • It’s not believable that Clara would be so cavalier about what she believes is the strong likelihood of her being raped by her kidnappers, simply because she has a “keen legal mind” and uses effective modern birth control. Perhaps you are trying to achieve a kind of Sherlock Holmesian mental detachment in the way you’re portraying Clara here, but this was not executed effectively, in our opinion.
  • The dialogue sounds unnatural when the characters explain things to each other that they already know, such as when Dutch gives Lees a history lesson on the Exclusion Act and explains who Cook and Connolly are: all of which the reader knows that Lees already knows. Granted, the reader probably doesn’t know these facts, but it’s primarily the narrator’s job – not the characters’ job – to explain things like these so that the characters’ dialogue can sound believably organic. Therefore, we recommend taking another pass through the manuscript specifically with the objective of moving most of the expository historical background content out of the dialogue and into the narrative prose.
  • Cameron’s general description of pimps seems out of place in his description of Mary McCarthy’s lifestyle. If Cameron’s point is that witnesses would have noticed if Mary had a pimp because pimps are so easy to notice, then he should phrase the observation that way.
  • The transitions between the main plot and the historical background content sometimes feel forced or random. For example, the transition from Clara’s meeting with the leaders of the Six Companies in chapter 2 into the background about how and when Clara learned the law feels disjointed because the reader doesn’t require more background information about Clara’s legal experience at that moment. Providing occasional interesting plot-irrelevant details do help to lend a novel a sense of depth, but you are devoting too much word count to such details, and it has the effect of reducing the main plot’s sense of importance. Regarding the background historical details, I recommend following the old writing advice of “kill your darlings” so that the reader’s attention is never drawn away from the main murder-mystery plot for more than a paragraph at a time, and not more than once every thousand words or so.
  • End of comments from Amazon Press editor(s).

    The greatest objection I had to these comments was the fact that they obviously didn’t read the complete novel.  It’s strange because my complete mystery is only a little over 50K words, as I always write mysteries of shorter length, and I publish them that way because my readers like to read the work in one sitting.  All of these Amazon Press editorial comments take place in the first two chapters.

    Also, they seem to have no understanding of readers who enjoy historical fiction, even mysteries.  These fiction readers of history expect the author to do careful research about the people and times of the novel, and they will call you on any inaccuracies they find, which they have done in the past in my other novels.  The editors at Amazon, however, seem to relegate that research into the “distracting, non-fiction biography department.”  Anything that didn’t show them “action and mystery plot” was not fit to be included.  If I had done that, believe me, my historical fiction readers would have complained!  The reason they select historical fiction, in the first place, is because they want to learn more about the people and times in which the mystery is set.

    Thus, I am, obviously, not deleting my work that took many hours to research just because an editor who has not read the entire novel can go on about “killing your darlings.”  Including the realities of racism, female harassment, and political corruption were part of those times and cannot be deleted.  Also, the “suggestion” that the title Chinawoman’s Chance is racist, was not in keeping with 1884 San Francisco.  Being called a “chinawoman” was the least of the problems of Asian women living in Chinatown.  The Chinese, in point of fact, were seen as sub-human, and the United States Government’s “Chinese Exclusion Act” of 1882 was the most racist legislation (other than slavery) to be allowed as official policy in the history of our country.  These were some of the “darlings” I cover so painstakingly in my book so that my readers can know what kind of political realities women and minorities had to endure.  Taking them out would mean gutting the entire purpose for writing my mystery in the first place.

    I learned a lot from this experience, but I can’t recommend it if you are publisher.  Perhaps self-published authors might get something out of the experience, but if you can’t know who nominated you, and you can’t write to your genre’s very specific audience, then how much will you need to compromise in order to get your small $1,500 advance (which must be paid back before you can even begin to collect your 50% royalties).

    I give my virtually published authors complete remuneration for their hard work.  I am not their publisher (in the sense that Amazon is).  I am their fellow author, eBook consultant, and international distributor.  There are big differences, and until Amazon understands this, I suppose they will keep trying to put the financial burden on the authors who join these scouting expeditions.  Sadly, from a publisher’s perspective, I give Amazon a grade of “C-.”

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