Crafting a Compelling Family Narrative: A Writing Workshop

Friday, September 29 - Saturday, September 30
New York Genealogical & Biographical Society, 36 West 44th Street, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10036

Taking names, dates, and biographical fragments and turning them into a coherent, meaningful story can be a daunting challenge.

Join us for a two-day in-person workshop with lectures and interactive sessions led by writing experts at the NYG&B’s offices to hone your family history and genealogy writing skills and learn how to pitch for publication. Whether you have just begun your family history journey or are a seasoned researcher, this writing workshop will equip you with the essential skills for creating a compelling narrative of your ancestors.

Professional genealogist and current president of the Association of Professional Genealogists Annette Burke Lyttle will share tips and best practices for genealogical writing, including the genealogical proof standard; how to make family stories readable and engaging; and the usefulness of compiled lineages and numbered genealogies.

Allison Gilbert will focus on biographical writing, sharing lessons learned while working on her recent biography of journalist Elsie Robinson, Listen, World! She will also advise on choosing a subject, publishing a biography, and finding a literary agent.

Both days will include lectures and hands-on, interactive sessions. [Lunch will be provided for an additional fee.] This is an in-person workshop, and attendance is strictly limited. Register today to ensure your seat!

About Our Presenters

Allison GilbertAllison Gilbert is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and co-author of Listen, World!, the first biography of American writer Elsie Robinson, the most influential newspaper columnist you’ve never heard of. Allison is also the host of “Women Journalists of 9/11: Their Stories,” a 20-part documentary series produced in collaboration with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. She writes regularly for the New York Times and other publications and is the author of numerous books including Always Too Soon: Voices of Support for Those Who Have Lost Both Parents and Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.


Annette Burke LyttleAnnette Burke Lyttle owns Heritage Detective, LLC, providing professional genealogical services in research, education, and writing. She speaks on a variety of genealogical topics at the national, state, and local levels and loves helping people uncover and share their family stories. Annette has a master’s degree in English and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is coordinator of the Fall Virtual Intermediate Foundations course for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy and leads best practices study groups for a number of organizations, providing in-depth education on the genealogical research process in an interactive setting. Annette is also president of the Association of Professional Genealogists and editor of The Florida Genealogist.

Workshop Schedule


September 29: Biography Bootcamp


9:30-10:30 am

  • Allison Gilbert introduction
  • Overview of Listen, World!: lessons learned
  • Participant introductions and projects discussion

10:30-11:00 am
What to Think About When You’re Thinking of Writing a Biography

  • Choosing your subject: Where do biographers begin?
  • Academic vs. mainstream publishing: What makes a biography appeal to different types of publishers?

11:00-11:15 am

11:15 am-12:30 pm
Getting Agents, Editors, and Readers at “Hello”

  • The essential questions all biographers must answer.
  • Exercise: Write your “Backflap” copy and/or “Why me?” copy.
  • Small groups/whole group discussion.

12:30-1:30 pm

1:30-2:30 pm
The Business of Biography Part 1: How to Find a Literary Agent

  • Do biographers need literary agents?
  • What strategies work for finding a literary agent?

2:30-3:00 pm

  • Exercise: “Who’s your reader?”
  • Small groups/whole group discussion.

3:00-3:15 pm

3:15-4:00 pm
The Business of Biography Part 2: How to Write a Successful Query Letter

  • Top 5 Tips
  • AAA: “Ask Allison Anything”


September 30: Genealogical Writing


9:30–10:30 am
Genealogical Proof for the Everyday Genealogist

  • Research tips for obtaining accurate, reliable information about ancestors.
  • What is genealogical proof and the research process for writing family stories?

10:30–10:45 am

10:45–11:45 am
Write (and Document) as You Research

  • How to write and document sources in research (“write as you go”).
  • From blank page to draft: When research is done and you’re ready to tell the story.

11:45 am –12:45 pm

12:45–1:45 pm
Writing Family Stories: Narratives

  • Making family stories readable, engaging, and appealing, especially for non-genealogists.
  • Turning facts into stories that make ancestors come to life for readers.

1:45–2:15 pm
Writing Family Stories – Compiled Lineages and Genealogies 

  • Genealogical summaries for several generations: How to keep track of who’s who.
  • Compiled lineages and numbered genealogies to construct genealogical summaries.

2:15–2:45 pm
Q&A and Discussion About Writing Family Stories

2:45–3:00 pm

3:00–4:00 pm
Enhancements and a Look at Publishing

  • Photos, document images, pedigree charts, video/audio files, and other visuals to engage readers.
  • How to share your writing in a number of ways.