• The Center for African American Genealogical Research, Inc.

writing A new chapter in history

Once you have completed your research (at least, as much as you can), get your notes, recordings from interviews, photos and other evidence you have collected to begin thinking about how to tell your story. And u=just as you would with your research, ick one side of the family to focus on. Create a short bio for each person so you can refer to them when you begin planning your chapters. NOYE: You do not have to write your chapters in order, you only need write the chapters, you can organize the order later.


Choosing the right software will be important not just for writing but for images, footnotes, pagination, and so on. If you are able to afford Adobe InDesign ($21.00 per month), it is worth the investment if you can push out a well-thought out text in a few months. InDesign is a publishing software and using it will make it easier to set up the print layout before sending it to a printer. You can also use MS Word, if you plan on 150-200 pages (or less and with no images). Word is great for a creating a Table of Contents, indexing, footnotes, etc. and it is generally free on your PC. Students and schools have free access to Office 365, so that is another option as well.


Develop a short bio for interesting characters in your family history. Depending upon how much information you find, pick two or three and focus on them.


Some writers start at the end of the story and go backwards to tell how they arrived at the end. Some authors interweave the stories of two or more characters and alternate between those narratives with each new chapter. Some write in first or third person. These are things you need to consider as you plan your chapter outlines.

Planning you chapters

Each chapter title should reflect something important about the chapter. For example, in WEB Dubois’ epic work, Darkwater, chapter two is entitled “The Souls of White Folk.” It is self-explanatory, right? Think about the simplicity of each chapter, it could be a place such as “Chicago, 1969”. There is power in simplicity, just keep that in mind.

Writing techniques

The fastest way to write your book is one sentence at a time. It does not have to be edited, just write; and write for 15 minutes each day (5+ pages if you are transcribing interviews). If you take this approach of writing 15 minutes a day, you should have about 150 pages at the end of 30 days.

Be creative

The reason why people are turned off from history is because the way it is presented is: 1: it is exclusive to the history of whites; 2 it is written in very boring language; and 3. we ALL know that much of what is written, isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.

Historical writing does not have to be boring when you use creative words and terms to drawn readers into the scene. Creative and truthful can coexist. For example, below is a passage from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man describing the moment he walked into a room,

We entered a large room in which one entire wall was hung with Italian-red draperies that fell in rich folds from the ceiling. A number of well-dressed men and women were gathered in groups, some beside a grand piano, the others lounging in the pale beige upholstery of the blond wood chairs.1

When writing your story, include the kinds of descriptive details that would make your reader feel as though they are a part of the story as an active participants in the story.


People respond to authentic human stories. Just keep it real.


If you use any sources that are not in the public domain r do not have an expired copyright, then you must give credit where credit is due by citing your sources.

1. Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. (Penguin UK), 2016.


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