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Publishing a One Family Periodical

by Barbara Brixey Wylie
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Tips on Producing a Successful One Family Periodical
How to maintaiin family ties and gather family history through a one-family periodical. Tips from an expert on everything from getting started and what to write about to how to mail and print your periodical.

I didn't plan to publish a one-family newsletter. I planned to publish a one-surname periodical — one that would serve as a research exchange for every researcher of the surname Brixey, whether related to me or not. When I downloaded a national listing of people with that surname and their addresses, my plans changed. There were less than three hundred Brixeys listed. From three hundred, I knew there would be, at best, twenty fellow genealogists, counting the half dozen with whom I was already in contact. I discarded Plan A...and I'm glad I did.

My second look at the list of Brixeys brought the realization that I am related to nearly every one on it. They are in locations where I knew my Brixeys live or lived; they repeat the same given names or given names taken from the surnames of allied families. Most Brixeys in the United States do not merely share a surname; we share two mid-18th century immigrant ancestors, John Brixey and Rachel Mackie! We are one family!...And that was the beginning of Plan B.

Developing the Plan

Most of us do want to stay in touch with our extended family. Most of us would...if we had time. But the realities of daily life leave little opportunity for communicating with distant relatives — or for researching dead ones. Perhaps I could publish a newsletter focused on all descendants of this couple; non-genealogists as well as genealogists; today's family members as well as ancestors. This one-family newsletter could allow us to stay up-to-date with what's happening within the extended family and, at the same time, it could allow those of us who are researchers to gather and share information about our ancestors.

After setting as my goals, 1) maintaining family ties; 2) gathering the family's history and 3) making the family history known, I considered how to capture the readership of this diverse group of people.


  1. Identify as a Family: Different interests, different occupations, different locales — our one link is ancestry. Recognizing this connection and establishing identity as an extended family will be crucial.
    Implementation: The chosen surname is a part of the publication's title. That is the tie that binds its readers together. The Brixey Bulletin. Use inclusive pronouns frequently: we, our family; your branch of our family tree. Repeat the surname within the newsletter. Announce births in a column titled "Brixey Babies"; weddings as "Brixey Brides"; queries as "Bygone Brixeys". Repetition of the surname reinforces the connection to all who descend from one ancestor.
     
  2. Provide a service that is helpful to the family:
    Implementation: Make significant events, such as weddings, births, and deaths, known to the rest of the family. Announce address changes. Request the current address of the relative whose Christmas card came back marked "forwarding order expired". Provide information about upcoming family reunions. Publish photographs taken at family reunions.
     
  3. Every family member is important to the family (and to its one-family newsletter):
    Implementation: In some way, mention as many family members as possible in each issue. Recognize milestone events such as special awards, 50+ year wedding anniversaries, and 70+ birthdays (Establishing a threshold for noting anniversaries and birthdays will recognize several relatives but prevent this column from becoming too large.) Identify the person who answered a query, wrote the article, or sent the photograph or document. Include a photograph of today's owner with the article about a family heirloom. Publish four-generation and family reunion photos.

    Family Group Picture      Family Group Picture

  4. Relate the Present to the Past: Show each person's location on the family tree and make him or her known to other family members.
    Implementation: List the direct line ancestors of the individual the article features. Accompany ancestor charts and family group sheets with a brief biography of the family member who submitted it for publication. Highlight interests and experiences that may forge bonds between cousins who've never met face to face. Develop ongoing projects that mingle today's family with past family. For instance, sharing recipes passed down from earlier generations or compiling information about military service that includes firsthand accounts from living veterans as well as ancestor's pension records.
     
  5. Solicit Help From Family: Encourage all readers to actively participate. This will both lighten the editor's load and give more people a vested interest in their family newsletter.
    Implementation: Ask readers to share their family stories, photocopies of documents, photographs of ancestors and family memorabilia with the rest of the family via our one-family newsletter and say "Thank you" when they do. Include some tasks for those who don't want to write articles, such as transcribing family tombstones from a nearby cemetery. Publish photos taken at earlier family gatherings and ask readers to identify each individual.

After Seven Years, How are We Doing?

Tombstone Since publishing the first issue of The Brixey Bulletin in January 1991, my database of Brixeys and allied families has grown from about 250 to nearly 3,000. We've found and shared photographs of many 19th century ancestors. We've identified many Brixey burial sites and published their locations with maps or directions to those graves. We've recorded first-person accounts of some World War II and Korean Conflict veterans as well as service records of ancestors. Several keepsakes — and their stories — have been featured. We've reconnected cousins who had lost contact and become friends with cousins we'd never known before. Just as we derive our identity and sense of belonging first from our immediate family, our one-family newsletter has drawn the extended family closer while drawing it larger — large enough to encompass all the descendants of our immigrant ancestors.

As we've done this, family members, even those who are not themselves genealogists or historians, have become more sensitive to preserving the history of an ordinary family such as ours. Most people have absorbed far more family history than they realize because they have known two, three, maybe even four, generations. They remember their grandparents and the elderly aunt who wore funny hats. They often own a keepsake passed from earlier generations — and the story that goes with it. Each memory that is shared triggers other memories of other people and other events. This, too, is our family history. Each family member owns a part. No one owns the whole. With our one-family periodical, compiling yesterday's family history, recording today's family history, and preserving both for tomorrow's family, has truly become a family affair.

Before You Start, Suggestions for Editors of One-Family Periodicals

Publishing a genealogical periodical has many rewards. Making money is not one of them. Most editors try to break even with a subscription rate of $15 to $20 per year. The Brixey Bulletin is a quarterly and I try to publish at least sixty pages in a calendar year. Others find that an annual or semiannual publication fits into their schedule better.

Traditionally, family newsletters have been distributed in hard copy, making reproduction and postage the greatest expense. Investigate both offset printing and photocopying. In most cases, offset printing will be considerably more expensive but prices vary. Comparison shop. At one time, the photocopying process produced paper that yellowed and crumbled in just a few years. Copiers now produce more durable copies. Two questions that need to be answered before determining the method of reproduction: 1) At what point is there a quantity discount? 2) How many pages does the printer make from one sheet of paper? Printers use huge sheets of paper which they cut into many pages. It's like buying wallpaper. If you use any part of another sheet, you must pay for all of it. Not only will you pay for it, you will have blank pages if you don't plan carefully because the machine does the cutting and folding as a part of the printing process.

In publishing, there's a new kid on the block. You're looking at it: Electronic publishing. Using E-mail, a home page, or a commercial service such as Everton's Family Letter, you can eliminate reproduction expense, mailing expense and time consumed making articles fit into the allotted space. Trouble is, not all of your relatives are computer literate and have on-line access. However, it's a growing trend and may work for some families.

Bulk mailing permits offer a hefty savings in postage. The minimum number of copies per mailing is two hundred. If your mailing list comes close to that number, giving free subscriptions to several libraries or to deserving relatives may save money by bringing your count up to the minimum. Check with the postal service for instructions on making and bar coding labels and sorting by zip code.

Weigh your paper and, if you use an envelope, weigh that with the paper to find out when adding one more sheet of paper will add another 23 to the cost of mailing each copy.

If you have software designed specifically for desktop publishing, fine. If you don't, that's fine too. I fuss and fret the entire time I'm learning new software so I stick with the multipurpose word processing program I use for other tasks. Before I owned a scanner, I used copy screens to reproduce photographs. It wasn't ideal but it was better than having no images at all.

Don't be dazzled by an array of fancy fonts. Select a simple one that is easy to read and use it in a point size large enough that rounded letters don't fuzz into blobs. Remember that some of your readers have diminished vision.

Consult a respected style guide, such as The Chicago Manual of Style. It will answer many of your punctuation and formatting questions. The style of a one-family periodical will be less formal than a scholarly journal such as the NGSQ and the NEHG Register because it's a letter to your family, but genealogical standards must not be sacrificed.

Distinguish between proven facts and guesses:

Although the date and place of Rachel's marriage to John is unknown, it is believed to have occurred about 1778 in Burke County, North Carolina, because John (either their second or third child) recorded 1781 as his year of birth.

Identify sources:

Citations may be woven into the narrative when other information normally supplied by a source citation has been established within the article.
Fannie Brixey Clifton recalls, "Grandpa had a store at Bell Springs and Aunt Axie helped him run it. He lived in a little log house between the store and the creek."
A brief citation may be embedded using brackets when other elements of the citation have been supplied within the article.
On 4 May 1898, James M. Brixey stated in a questionnaire from the Bureau of Pensions in Washington, D. C. that his first wife, Hannah Susan, died 23 July 1872 [Pension No. 759389 for Civil War service].
At times, a formal footnote at the bottom of the page or an endnote at the end of the article is needed:
1Howard L. Conard. Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri, Vol. V (New York: Southern History Company 1901) 126

Edit — that's what editors do, but make sure you retain the voice of the writer. Your family knows the writer. They know his speech patterns. They will know when you edited out his words and put in your own. If they think you didn't honor that writer's effort, they won't risk submitting their own writing. On the other hand, I have a standing offer to take notes or tape recordings sent to me, write the article and send it back for approval before publishing. Sometimes I combine material from several different readers into one article, giving credit to each of them.

Find someone to do proofreading for you. It is embarrassing to find typographical errors when it's too late to correct them.

Take advantage of no-cost or low-cost publicity. Both Heritage Quest and Everton's Genealogical Helper will list your family periodical if you ask them to and send them one copy. The Association of One-Name Studies has a Web site. Add to your mailing list the Family History Library, the Allen County Library, and libraries in areas where your family lives or lived. Each time I mail an issue, I mail complimentary copies to a few people on my list of potential subscribers. If your surname is common, the nationwide data bases will be unwieldy. Instead, start with your Christmas card list and those of other relatives. Post on-line queries for descendants of your chosen ancestor. Take extra copies of your one-family newsletter to family reunions and scatter them around. Happy readers are your best advertising. They buy gift subscriptions and recommend the family's newsletter to others.

As the children's story "Stone Soup" taught us, some endeavors reach full flavor only when many have added what they have into the stew kettle. Think of a one-family newsletter as the stew kettle and the editor as the one who starts the fire. Others will contribute to the pot, help stir the soup, and maintain the fire but you must first strike the spark. I'm sold on one-family newsletters. I think most genealogists would find one helpful. I'm convinced their family would.

For Further Reading on This Subject

  1. "A Look at The Braden Bulletin," NGS Newsletter 23:4 (July/August 1997) 134
  2. Mason, Marguerite Bowen, "So You Want to Start a Surname Newsletter," Heritage Quest #53, (Sept.-Oct. 1994): 35-36
  3. Scott, Craig Roberts, CARS, "Creating and Maintaining a Family Newsletter or Periodical," Presentation to the 1994 National Genealogical Society Conference in the States, 2 June 1994. Syllabus 171-173. Extra copies of the syllabus are sold until the supply is exhausted. Also available on cassette tape from Repeat Performance.
  4. Terry, Shirley Seems, "Publishing Family Newsletters," Stirpes 35:4 (December 1995) 24-29
  5. Wylie, Barbara Brixey, "Ties That Bind," Heritage Quest #62 (March-April 1996): 19-20
  6. Wylie, Barbara Brixey, "One-family Periodicals: Ties That Bind", Presentation to the 1997 Conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, 6 September 1997. Syllabus 449-452. Extra copies of the syllabus are sold until the supply is exhausted. Also available on cassette tape from Repeat Performance.

About the Author
Barbara Brixey Wylie is a genealogical researcher, writer and lecturer as well as publisher of The Brixey Bulletin. Her lecturing experience includes the 1997 Conferences of both the National Genealogical Society and the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the American Family Records Association's 1996 Conference and GENTECH96. Winner of four Texas State Genealogical Society writing awards (two for The Brixey Bulletin), she recently completed a three-year term on GENTECH's Board of Directors and was Conference Chair for GENTECH97. When she and her husband, John Wylie, are not traveling around the U.S. presenting programs and workshops for genealogists, they live in Garland, Texas. She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Genealogical Speakers Guild, as well as state and local genealogical societies.

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