I work for a company InboxDollars that stays completely up-to-date as to various online trends. We understand that in many ways people are moving away from real physical books, but also moving away from traditional desktop Macs and PCs.
The “mobile Web” is taking a larger and larger share of our online interaction. I see this every day, of course, by simply looking around. People are constantly and consistently using their phones and tablets, iPads, etc., for information and entertainment. People would rather use their phones to send a text message than use their phone to make a phone call.
Meanwhile, we have physical books, nicely-bound hardcover books containing the history and genealogy of the Strong Family in America. We have begun to move toward PDF files and Books on CD. However, when is the last time you saw someone load a CD onto their phone or tablet? To be sure, with our current offerings, we have little choice.
I am now able to create true Kindle books of our genealogy. I’m now able to start with our Family Tree Maker database and finish with a Kindle book available on Amazon.com, Nook book for Barnes & Noble, and so on.
That sounds simple. What’s the big deal?
The big deal is that nobody seems to be doing this yet! (If you can find others who are, please contact me!) Take, for example, Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History by Stratton and Hoff, published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. As published by the NEHGS, this is surely one of the major works on the subject.
That book works entirely from the premise of writing a manuscript, possibly using Microsoft Word, and preparing that manuscript to be published as a family history. That is, of course, how the SFAA created our five Updates volumes in the 1980s-1990s.
The Right Kind of Book
I have been looking for a different approach:
- Maintain our genealogy as a database, such as in Family Tree Maker.
- Build the genealogy portions of the book from the Family Tree Maker database. This means that as new information comes in, or information is corrected, we can rebuild the book from our database.
- Add other chapters as appropriate, for example the founding of Northampton, Hadley, or Deerfield.
- Absolutely crucial is an index that makes sense and is actually usable.
Unfortunately none of the genealogy software I evaluated is able to build such a book. You’d think this is a simple concept: Instead of writing a hardbound book, write it for the Kindle. People love immediately-available Kindle books.
The problem is the index. Picture a thousand-page genealogy book. That will fit on any Kindle. But can you imagine trying to find your ancestor in there without an index?
In a hardbound book it’s easy to flip back and forth between sections, following your family line. On an iPad or Kindle, that’s next to impossible. It’s quickly frustrating, which means people soon won’t bother.
The various genealogy programs all say they can generate books with indexes. What they generate is a PDF file. On a kindle, when you change the size of the text, the page numbers all change. An index by page number is useless, and that’s what the genealogy programs produce.
So, I wrote my own software. We can now create Kindle books with useful name indexes. Click or tap on the name in the index, and you go right to the person.
Where to Start
I think our first true eBook should be based on The Descendants of Francis Barnard by the late Dr. Walther Barnard. It was his intention for many years to bring that to the public, but as a proper genealogy book. In its current form it is “merely” an exhaustive collection of well-organized, sourced, well-researched facts.
Taking on that entire book, many thousands of pages, is far too big a starting point.
Instead, I am starting with “The Descendants of Francis Barnard: The First Three Generations, Including the Children of Sarah, Daughter of Elder John and Abigail (Ford) Strong.”
Where do we start? By transcribing “The Descendants of Francis Barnard” into Family Tree Maker, but only so far as the 4th Generation (counting both Francis Barnard and Elder John Strong as the 1st Generation, and Joseph and Sarah (Strong) Barnard as the 2nd Generation).
I also have a number of chapters to be included outside the genealogy sections, such as the founding of Hadley and Deerfield; the background of the French and Indian War, the Battle of Bloody Brook, and the Raid on Deerfield.
At this point I have successfully built Kindle books from the Family Tree Maker files, with the all-important name index. I have typed in all names with birth/death year, down to the fifth generation, from Descendants of Francis Barnard into Family Tree Maker.
The next step is to transcribe everything we have on those first three generations. We have a bit of material from the Strong Family Updates Volume III and the Manuscripts in Progress. We have a lot of material from Descendants of Francis Barnard. I may even have a volunteer transcriber or two to help me out!
Learning From Experience
I’m purposely intending this book to take in as “small” a scope as possible. Does that mean we get fewer people interested in buying the book? Possibly so.
But what we gain is experience. What is good and bad about the book? Are there ways to make this sort of book more appealing?
We may even find more people interested in helping produce more books.
Indeed there is no reason we need only “start at the top.” Our late Association President Bob Cihla, his sister Linda Shimek, and their cousin Denny Steinke have substantial information on their piece of the Mary line. Why not transcribe that into our Historian Database and produce a Kindle book available to all cousins, nieces and nephews, and so on?
We now have the ability to do just that. However, we first need a small manageable pilot project. We need to get the theory, and the various pieces, into practice! That’s the purpose of our first Book for Kindle, “The Descendants of Francis Barnard: The First Three Generations.”