August 23, 2014
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Creating a Family Newsletter

Creating a Family Newsletter

Purpose  Content  Funding  Distribution  Bibliography  Miscellaneous

            Some of the best sources of genealogical information are family newsletters.  The scope of these newsletters vary can vary widely.  Some publications contain information on all persons of a certain surname or in a given geographic area.  Others focus on all descendants of an ancestor who could have lived centuries earlier.  Still others may only circulate among your more immediate family, such as siblings and cousins.  You say there isn't a newsletter about your family?  Then maybe you should start one.

Not only do newsletters provide great genealogical information, but they also introduce us to relatives we have never met and keep us in touch with ones we haven't seen in a long time.  Newsletters create a sense ofpersonal history by relating stories about the trials and triumphs of our ancestors.  They also prevent the loss of tomorrow's history by preserving the stories about, and accomplishments of, living family members.


When doing a family newsletter, the first thing you must do is decide its purpose.  Will it be for a large surname or family organization, for closer family members, or even just your own annual holiday letter?Whatever you decide, it is a good idea formally state the purpose, such as, "To help the family think of itself as a unit,"  "To stimulate interest in our past,"  or  "To teach about family history."  Such statements give the project a focus and direction to follow.  The direction may change over time, but at least you have a clear place to start.

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The majority of the items in your newsletter should be of interest to all who read it.  Don't include private jokes that others won't understand or focus too heavily on only one or two branches of the family.  It is a good idea to have regular features in your newsletter such as recipes, or articles on a given theme such as, "I Remember When…," "My Favorite Childhood Toy," etc.  A different family member could send in an item for each issue.  Have people submit their personal memories of their parents or grandparents.  By having regular features, you will have a template to follow for each issue.

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The two basic methods available today are in printed form by regular mail or electronically by email.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.

Many people like to hold an item in their hand when they read it, so they would prefer to receive a printed newsletter.  Also, there are still many people who don't have to computers, thus making electronic delivery impossible.  Also, printed material is easier to save over the years.  One big disadvantage to print is the cost.  There is the cost of printing and mailing.

Of course, email is much quicker and cheaper.  However, the people receiving the newsletter must have the same program you used to create it in order to open the file.  There are ways to save a file so that nearly any program can open it, but then you lose much of the formatting such as paragraph indentations, italics, quotation marks, and you wouldn't be able to use graphics.  This will make your publication look very boring.  You could put the content into a regular email and not send it as an attachment, but here again you run into the problem of the newsletter being visually boring.

Sending your newsletter as a PDF file would solve the problem of others being able to open the file.  All they would need is Adobe Acrobat Reader which is a free download off the Internet.  However, you need to purchase a subscription to save your newsletter as a PDF file in the first place.

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You could charge your recipients a subscription fee based on the cost to produce the newsletter and the number of people receiving it.  Another option would be to ask for free-will donations from the recipients.  Lastly, you could just foot the bills yourself.


Remember, that preparing and distributing a newsletter is time consuming.  Be sure you have the time to devote to it.  One way to cut down on how much time it takes is to cut down on the number of issues sent out per year.  This doesn't have to be done every month-quarterly or semi-annually is fine.

Remember to observe copyright restrictions.  Consider copyrighting your newsletter to protect your material, and to respect the copyrights of others.Information about copyright can be found at

Seriously consider applying for an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) for your publication.  This is a unique number assigned by the Library of Congress identifying your newsletter from all other publications.  It assures that you will be in listed in periodical catalogs.  This is probably more of an issue with newsletters for family associations than those for more immediate family.  Information about ISSNs is at

Lastly, be sure to send a complimentary copy of each issue to the Library of Congress.  This will ensure that it will be available to future generations.

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Chapin, Alice.  Reaching Back:  A Workbook for Recording Your Life's Most Meaningful Moments to Share with Future Generations.  Cincinnati: Betterway, 1997.  GEN RSRCH HOW C463r

(Not about family newsletters, per se, but the questions it poses will give you good ideas for articles.)

Crichton, Jennifer.  Family Reunion:  Everything You Need to Know to Plan Unforgettable Get-Togethers.  New York:  Workman, 1998.  GEN RSRCH HOW C928f

(Chapter 11 has a couple of pages about dos and don'ts in editing family newsletter editors.)

Croom, Emily Anne.  Unpuzzling Your Past:A Basic Guide to Genealogy, 3rd ed.  Cincinnati: Betterway, 1995.  GEN RSRCH HOW C948u

(Chapter 18 is about publishing your family history, but some of the information would also be useful to family newsletter publishers.)

Earnest, Corrine.  The What-Shall-I-Write Handbook:  For Editors of Family and Genealogy Society Newsletters.  Damascus, MD: Russell D. Earnest Associates, 1992.  GEN RSRCH HOW E12w

Floyd, Elaine.  Creating Family Newsletters:  123 Ideas for Sharing Memorable Moments with Family and Friends.  Cincinnati: F & W, 1998.  646.78 FLO

Goldrup, Lawrence P.  Writing the Family Narrative.  Salt Lake City:  Ancestry, 1987.

(Again, this book is actually geared to the person writing a book on their family, but it has many tips and ideas the newsletter editor would find useful.)

Ledden, Larry.  The Complete Guide to Scanning.  Westfield, NY:  Family Technologies, 2001.  GEN RSRCH  HOW L472c

(This book will be most helpful when it comes to scanning and presenting digital images in your newsletter.)

Nelson, Jeanne Rundquist.  Absolute Family!  A Guide to Editing and Publishing a Family Newsletter.

(See her website.)

Terry, Shirley Siems.  Family Newsletter Handbook:  Questions and Answers for Editors.  San Ramon, CA :  Almond, 1996.

(Out of Print but may be available through Interlibrary Loan from your local library.It includes bibliographical references and an index.)

Shepherd, Carol Ann.  How to Create a Family Newsletter.  1984.

(Out of Print but may be able to get it on Interlibrary Loan from your local library."An A to Z guide to make a living history, strengthen family ties, and keep in touch with each other. It's easy, inexpensive and rewarding.")