How can I present my clients with a professional looking document?

….by taking care of the details!

I am an architect by training and as such I am often called upon to make presentations or to compile a portfolio of work to present to others.  There are a few simple rules I use to make sure they look good.  Here are my tips.  If I think of more I may generate another blog about this.

I think carefully about what the packet will include.  Right now my 10 hour case work packet is composed of :

  1. a letter of findings
  2. invoice
  3. pedigree chart with endnotes
  4. journal report with endnotes
  5. exhibits, includes a table of contents

This is about 20 pages of documentation (give or take) so I make sure the project is in a binder of some kind.

So, here are some tips to make this look professional.

  • use a really good paper.  It should have very “hard” finish and be very opaque.  I like a very white paper.  To emphasize the difference, I do the first three items on the list in the hard white paper and items 4 & 5 in regular xerox type paper. I am using Domtar, 32#, white, firstchoice for color printing.  It’s also a sustainable product.
  • Size the binder for the product and select one that will allow for the person to either remove the document from the binder easily and lay it flat.  Three ring binders work great but can be considered a nuisance if they are too wide for the document.
  • to the extent possible use the same font in similar documents.  For example, I am using Diterot for the first two, and Arial for the next three.  It separates that which I generate from that which is a computer generated report.  (It appears that Diterot is a MAC font.  I also like Gill Sans MT.)
  • print out everything in draft form and mark up before printing on your good paper.  I always find little things that I ought to correct.
  • If you use color, use it sparingly, quietly but consistently.  I would not recommend more than one color, but there may be instances where more are appropriate.
  • Think like your recipient….if you received this, would you know what you are looking at?  …think of it being on the shelf for a long time and someone picks it up.  Could they figure it out?  For example, I realized, that it might be helpful to have a table of contents associated with the exhibits.  I have recently added that.
  • a smaller project may not warrant the same graphical attention as a really big project, but I like to have all my work product look good.

These are just some hints and if I come up with more I will post them.  I would also like to hear about your hints.  Let me know so we all can share.

Happy Hunting!


Things I have done since the last post:  talked to my third client, Theresa.  She is looking for information on her Irish ancestors.  Knowing that 10 hours is not much time, I recommended that I do a little preliminary work on both the “mom” and the “dad” and see which one would be most productive.  I settled on the “dad”.  Wrote her and got her agreement.  I will now write up the letter of agreement.  Also received the signed letter of agreement from Mary for the next phase.


What were the Great Lessons Learned from my first client?

With the magic of advertising, I now have my three pro bono clients.  All three of the topics will take me outside my comfort zone:  New England, Ireland and Luxembourg!  I do not know enough yet to say if my 10 hours for each will answer their genealogy question (and that will have to be carefully explained to them) but it will be interesting to see how far I get with each.   I won’t be able to have the initial conversation with two of the three until mid March; the third will occur in early April.

I can tell that I already am more organized.  For example:

  1. I am organizing my client files so it can expand to include multiple clients
  2. I am viewing some of the videos on research on immigrants from Ireland (I do not think it is ethical to charge for me to learn the “how to…”  Your thoughts here would be appreciated!)
  3. I have given all three clients  “homework assignments.”  They will fill out, to the best of their ability, 2 family group sheets and a pedigree chart (when did the name change to Ancestral Chart?) of the person of interest before we talk.
  4. I will develop a research plan for each.  While this probably will not be shared with the client, it will serve multiple purposes but it primarily  will form the basis of my investigation on each, outlining what I should do and also what is left to do after the 10 hours.  Secondarily, it will keep me focused on the client’s question.

And, how did I learn these lessons?

I learned these lessons from my first and very wonderful client:

  1. As I was gathering things together to send to her I needed to make a copy.  I then I realized I needed to organize my files to accept multiple clients.
  2. I have always thought the videos from were very good…clear, concise, of the right duration.  So it seemed logical to look there to increase my learning curve.
  3. I took notes of our first conversation but not very systematically.  When it came time to cite the interview as a source, I realized that I needed to put those into better form.  Why not do that earlier rather than later!
  4. As I was trying to make Mary’s report work for multiple uses, I realized that I had lost focus of what Mary wanted!  Geesh.  She is still getting a great report but good thing she didn’t have a deadline!  (Mary, look up the etymology of the word “deadline.”  Your ggrandfather knew it well.)

Great Lessons Learned!  And to those of you who already have clients, they probably seem very elemental.

I would also like to refer you to the following blog by Judy G. Russell (Thanks, Michael, for posting this as a top blog of the week.):

She describes her timeline and thought process during her certification process. It only took Judy 3 years to become certified!  Congratulations.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  accepted the third and final pro bono client; viewed a couple of videos on Irish immigration and searching Irish records; set a time to meet with the first client (early April) and it looks like the other two will be in Mid March.  Woo hoo!

How am I doing on the class assignments?

I have been working hard on the assignments

  1. Pedigree chart and family group sheet, fully cited: already handed in
  2. Vital records:  found out this is just to request/acquire a vital record.  Easy.  Used my request for the death certificate for Anna Olina Seim Dahle.
  3. census document with citation: done, have to admit that using a MAC makes it easy to clip and insert into a document.
  4. Critique of two GENWeb sites: done.  Did Hardin County, Iowa and Waseca County, MN.  Did you know that Iowa requires it’s GenWeb people to post something on a reqular basis or they are removed and replaced?
  5. Letter of inquiry: completed; This seemed like such a close request to no. 2.  I used my request for pension records (under the Freedom of Information Act!) for Jens T. Dahle.  Did this right before Thanksgiving.  I hope I get the material before Christmas, but I am not confident.
  6. Identification of a US county history and cited: completed, not submitted
  7. Take home quiz: done.  lots of questions about Soundex.  While I know it is important to know when this is applied and what difference it might make, there were far too many questions about how to apply it.
  8. Bibliography of a variety of sources (15+): completed, not submitted.  This was a fun exercise….citing 15 different types of sources.
  9. Newspaper research: newspaper ordered through Inter-library Loan; PROBLEM!  ILL has informed me that the newspaper I requested is not coming.  I have to find another newspaper and review/write on it instead.  Ouch.  I will do that tomorrow.  Thank goodness for Chronicling America!
  10. Annotated chronology: completed.  The most difficult part was reducing the information to one page (as requested by the instructor)
  11. Oral history interview: assignment not yet given, not due until the start of 2nd quarter.

So I need to do the newspaper review and and run one copy for me of all the parts of the assignments.  Yeah!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  check the cat’s paw where he engaged in a fight with the neighborhood cat last night…..and lost!

So where am I with my classroom assignments?

I am finding my class at the UW in Genealogy & Family History is a combination of new and interesting information, a different approach to doing family history research and some activities which are so basic I am amazed the instructors even consider it necessary to cover!  The course is conducted over 3 quarters for 1 full academic year, with the final assignment a major paper which is an integration of history and genealogical information.  I am doing my paper on the Civil War and the evolution of medical care using Jens T. Dahle as my person of focus.

The assignments are as follows:

  1. Pedigree chart and family group sheet, fully cited: already handed in
  2. Vital records:  I have realized that I do not know what this assignment even is!  Gotta work on this.
  3. Example of census document with citation
  4. Critique of two GENWeb sites: not started.  I will do this over Thanksgiving
  5. Letter of lnquiry: completed, not submitted
  6. Identification of a US county history and cited: completed, not submitted
  7. Take home quiz: not started
  8. Bibliography of a variety of sources (15+): completed, not submitted
  9. Newspaper research: newspaper on order through Inter-library Loan, not yet received; if it doesn’t get here right after Thanksgiving, I will have to identify another newspaper and write the (brief) report on it instead.
  10. Annotated chronology: started, not yet in final draft form.  Might work on this tomorrow.
  11. Oral history interview: assignment not yet given, not due until the start of 2nd quarter.

So, it looks like I am in pretty good shape to have these get submitted on the 15th of December.

I found doing the Bibliography the most interesting as the instructor forced me to use resources that I never would have investigated: scholarly journals, encyclopedias (don’t poo poo this until you find out the shear numbers of them that exist on amazing topics), diaries, county histories, etc.  This assignment was fun.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  pet the cat.

Is it possible to show a little creativity with the Client Report?

Well, I hope so!  This is probably the only place you can digress from the BCG form because different clients ask for different things.

I completed the first solid draft of the lineage section of the Client Report and I am now onto the narrative.  This will be done similar to my books I have published but I have to figure out how to cite my sources in the document.  I work on a MAC which allows me lots of graphic license.  I am pretty pleased with the organization of it (focused on the Civil War; take it year by year; look at the hospitals/nursing development and then look at prison conditions.) I also have to write a cover letter explaining what I did, what needs yet to be done and any other observations.

For the class assignment, I will focus on the historical context more….nursing, hospital development, prisons…and less about Jens.  We do have an assignment due pretty soon, a Family Group Sheet and a pedigree chart with sources.  I have to clean up the sources a bit and then it is ready to print (just using the computer generated reports).

At some point in time I will post what I submit so you will see it.  I also hope, like Michael, to post the comments (even tho’ that will be tough….he is a great role model in that aspect).  I still have no timetable for submission and since I have not yet applied, the 1 year “clock” hasn’t started yet.

Finished reading the diary of Hannah Ropes.  Her work is chronicled in Civil War Nurse, a story of her activities at the Union General Hospital in Washington DC.  She died after catching typhoid in 1863 in the hospital.  She did a nice job of describing the situations in the hospital including the treatment (not good) of the nursing staff.  She also was infuriated with the head doctor and the Steward who stole supplies from the men who were trying to get well.  She went straight to the Secretary of War and got them removed!  My kind of woman!  She also supervised Louisa May Alcott who went on to write Hospital Sketches of her time in the same hospital.

Did you know that Walt Whitman was an “ambulance driver/nurse” in the Civil War?  He was in the field.  I am trying to see if he was in the field at the same time as Clara Barton.

What are you working on?

Happy Hunting!


What I have worked on since the last post:  the graphic narrative for the Client Report. got the organization to my liking and have a very preliminary draft layout.

Part 3: How do you incorporate your data from the computer to the papers you write?

The only right answer is “It depends!”  For me, it depends on what I am writing and who is my audience.

I used to think that making good genealogy reports was only a function of the computer program I bought.  I now think differently.

I had always believed (and still do) that the computer program is for storing evidence about my ancestors and their descendants.   This evidence is the result of the compilation of information that has been analyzed by me and connections/relationships have been identified and recorded.  I used to believe that if I just worked the information cleanly enough then I could “punch a button” and out would come a really good report I could use in all situations.  I was wrong.  The information is sterile; the stories are repetitive….this doesn’t make them bad, but they are just not acceptable in all situations such as the books I write or for the requirements of certification.  I also admit that my requirements have changed over time; I never started doing genealogy because I wanted to write the family book or get certified!

I am now careful about when I use what is “canned” in the computer.

This is what I do:  while I gather the data I try to think of the good “stories” that each person could tell.  Is there anything unusual, such as a very young or old person getting married? …a solo emigration at a young age?  …anything odd about the timing of children (my grandfather was a “1 day baby”….his parents married the day before he was born!  It was a miracle!)?  Or, did they work outside the parish frequently?   Did their parents die when they were young?  All events tell you something about their lives.  Because I am an architect, I also think that our physical environment shapes us, so I ask questions about the land and how it might have influenced decision making.  Lacking our ancestors direct communication, we have only our own analytical abilities to rely upon.  These questions can sometimes be answered by looking very closely at the “public” information provided.

Let me give you an example of information you can gather which is a great story:

  • the Christmas Day Flood in 1717 struck the entire North Sea coast of Holland, Denmark and Germany and affected all families living in it’s path.
  • this is documented in a beautiful map (see below)
  • Also in 1719, to pay for the improvements to the Ostfriesen dike, the officials conducted a tax census and counted households.
  • All my mother’s ancestors were within the flood zone.
  • I have over 80 identified family members who are survivors of this flood

In my computer program, I can create a tag that allows me to link people to the flood and tax census events. But, the repetitiveness of that story for each person is mind numbing and implies that each had the same experience.  If you look closely at the map, one can see that those closer to the dike break had a different experience than those further away and others ended up with a ship in their backyard!  It’s a great story and it’s all on the map or in the census! If I were to use just the computer program’s suggested language it would tell the same story for all but not a true story.

When I wrote books on two of my immigrant families, Bengt Peter Anderson and Ryke Rykena and their families ( I quickly found that I was using the information stored in the database but very little of it was “canned” from the computer, the notable exceptions were the pedigree charts and family group sheets at the end.  Of course, I could have written it differently, but I wanted the books to be for a family audience not the NGS, BCG and not even other genealogists.  I also knew that the more graphic rather than narrative information I could include, the better the book.  This approach would not be suitable for the types of reports needed for BCG.  For certification, the format of these reports is so prescribed, it takes me less time to rewrite then it does to use the “canned” report and modify.  (I admit that because of my internal set up with my MAC, the latter is not even a possibility.)  The writing style is better if “fresh,”  rather than relying on the repetitiveness of a computer.

How do you work?

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  Added 500 words to the Dahle lineage report and have the narrative completed.  Now to start the footnoting.  Worked on my class assignment for the Bibliography.  We have to find 15 different sources and annotate them.  I have all but 3 or 4.  All relate to Dahle’s Civil War service and his stint in the hospitals of Washington DC.  Also found some very interesting photos.

Can I accept help from others?

Based on my reading and the content of several videos by the experts, even the hiring of a professional genealogist is allowed as long as you are doing the interpretation of the information.  (remember the ESM graphic where she describes how our SOURCES supply us with INFORMATION which we interpret (or not) as EVIDENCE.)  So our genealogical “angels” may access sources that we can not and provide us with information, but we have to interpret that information to determine if it is credible evidence.  Does it support or disprove our argument (using this term as an academic would)?

A case in point:  Working on “my” Jens T. Dahle family, I was trying to push the family back another generation to his wife’s grandparents.  I find the Norwegian search engine challenging, mainly because I do not know Norwegian!  The rootsweb listserve experts helped me understand the “sogn” or parish and what “fylke” it was in so I could find the information.  They were kind enough to even test some of the features and came up with what they thought (and they were careful to say that) was “my” guy I was looking for.  A reasonably exhaustive search was conducted to find other Oles that might fulfill the criteria.  Only two survived that test….two Ole Nielson/Nilsons christened on the same day.  So which of the two  was it?  It was a case of whether the indirect evidence was enough to draw a reasonable conclusion.  The “seal the deal” fact was that the mother of Ole #1 was named Randi Oldsdotter Sem.  Sem being a farm name which carried forward for two generations in this lineage with just a slight variation in spelling.

When I started working on my first major paper, the case study, I struggled with what was indirect evidence and what to write about.  I see now that almost all of our conclusions are based on indirect evidence, because we weren’t there when the event occurred.  I could write the case study on the above example, but I picked a more difficult example that used the historical naming patterns to narrow the choices.  This example would have been more straightforward.

So it’s been a good day (and the Huskies won big over Colorado!).

Happy hunting!


What I worked on since the last post:  improving my skills with the Norwegian records (this will also help me with my own family as I have a brick wall on my Norwegian line.) and completing the four generation pedigree chart for the Client Report (just a few blanks to fill in and I will have Esther’s great grandparents.  Woo hoo!  Note:  the quilt fabric arrived and my client says it is even prettier than she had thought.  She won’t get to it until after the holidays.)