I attended the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy from January 11-15, 2010. My track was Dr. John Colletta's course: “ Producing a Quality Family History.” I enjoyed his course. He is charming and the course was wonderful. In the past, I have taken his classes at local all day Genealogy Seminars in Southern California and enjoyed his presentations immensely. I was thrilled to have the pleasure to take a class from him for a whole week. Dr. Colletta did not present his class last year so I jumped at the chance of being able to enroll this year and it met all of my expectations and then some.
His style of teaching is unique. He has you write your story from a historical context. Colletta used excerpts from his book, Only a Few Bones to demonstrate techniques for putting the story in the historical context. Colletta recommends using the five senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell into your story and “hooking” the reader with a catchy title and gripping opening sentence. His principles of good story writing include: "Using strong verbs, effective adjectives, keeping the ancestor at ‘center stage’, and using vivid descriptions to conjure images in the reader’s mind". One example he used was writing a story from a two sentence marriage announcement in a Vicksburg newspaper from the 1860. He turned those lines into a complete true, historical context by using maps, weather, addresses, and names.
A sample newspaper article below depicting local events
For example, I’ve found my Aurora, Illinois Nancy Hansen mentioned in the Aurora Beacon News and also found my Linden Family in the Luxembourger Gazette. These were people who were living lives that were not particularly noteworthy.
In another class, Colletta discussed the importance of finding a theme in the events of our ancestors’ lives and shaping our narrative around this theme. We discussed typical story themes: "ambition, hardship, nonconformity, migration, sacrifice" and examined potential themes in the lives of Colletta’s ancestors. Venues and suggestions were given for presenting family history stories: vignettes, mini narratives, the “big” family history book, as booklets for Christmas to our relatives.
We were assigned a four paragraph in-class writing assignment. It was a priviledge to complete the story on my ancestor, Reinhardt Fermazin and an honor to have John Colletta critique my story.
This was truly a wonderful week long seminar and a priviledge learn from such an esteemed person as John Colletta PhD. I would highly recommend this week long seminar to all family history historians. I only hope I can become a better writer/blogger.
I plan to post my story, Wanderlust, in a few days on my blog.