The Douglas Archives

A collection of historical and genalogical records

Word Processing and Genealogical Writing

The following is extracted from the Rootsweb Review

Whether you're transcribing a historical document or writing a family history, a word processor can polish the finished product.

An entry-level program will suffice — but to make a document shine, a more sophisticated product, such as Microsoft Word or Open Office Writer, is
required. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Transcribers will encounter words with archaic spellings, and if added to dictionaries, they will not be flagged for
other documents. One solution is to create a customized dictionary, which can be
disabled after a project is completed. After establishing the dictionary, give
it an appropriate name, such as “Old English”. And when the spell checker
presents an unrecognized word, all available lexicons will be displayed.

The steps in Microsoft Word (WD) and Open Office (OO) are similar:

OO: Tools > Spelling and Grammar > Options > New
WD: Office Button > Word Options > Proofing Options > Custom Dictionaries
> New

Tip: Free dictionaries, such as those for foreign languages, may be available from manufacturer websites.

Text Flow and Pagination
Non-breaking characters: Documents display better when names and hyphenated dates are
not split across two lines. You can prevent splitting from occurring if you
replace regular spaces or dashes with non‑breaking options. Many programs use
the same set of keystrokes, which require you to hold Ctrl and Shift at the same
time, while pressing another character.

OO & WD: Ctrl+Shift+Spacebar
OO & WD: Ctrl+Shift+Hyphen

For example,

Straggling Paragraph Lines (widows and orphans): A single line of a paragraph left by itself on a separate page is undesirable. When it occurs at
the top of a page, it is known as a widow, and when left on the preceding page,
it is an orphan. To correct this, select the paragraph and follow this

OO: Format > Paragraph > Text Flow Tab > Orphan or Widow Control
WD: Format > Paragraph > Line and Page Breaks Tab > Widow / Orphan

Preventing Paragraph Splits: To keep a paragraph together, set the “Do not Split” feature, and if you wish to connect a heading line to a
paragraph, change “Do not Split” to “Keep with Next”.

OO: Format > Paragraph > Text Flow > Do not Split Paragraph
WD: Format > Paragraph > Line and Page Breaks Tab > Do not Split

Footnotes & Endnotes
Genealogical proofs should include proper sourcing, either via footnotes or endnotes. Place the cursor at
the appropriate place, and select,

OO: Insert > Footnote/Endnote
WD: Insert > Reference > Footnote [Select Footnotes or Endnotes]

Group projects offer unique challenges for shared documents. If editing control is passed to others, then the author needs
a way to verify changes. Two methods for handling this, are comments and track

Comments: Comments or notes are placed in the margin, and do not print with the document. Much like a post-em, the feature identifies the
reviewer and adds a date stamp. Notes are edited by clicking on them.

OO: Insert > Comment, or Ctrl+Alt+N
WD: Review Tab > Comments > New Comment

Track Changes: Editors and authors use this feature while exchanging drafts. While editing, deletions appear crossed out and additions are apparent.
Once the document is returned to the author, a process of accepting or rejecting
the changes is followed.

OO: Edit > Changes > Record or Accept or Reject.
WD: Review Tab > Tracking Group > Track Changes

Tip: Other options for Track Changes include viewing a final markup or adding a password, so changes cannot be applied to
finalized text. For more information, see instructions for
and Word.

Perhaps the most important feature of a genealogical publication is the index.

A simple index has two levels of grouping, such as surnames and given names. However, if you are indexing a family history with separate lineages, group each
family under a third level.

To create an index you can start by highlighting an entry, which for names, is generally the given name. It is placed in the main entry field with the title
after the name. The surname is then typed in the key or subentry field.

OO: Insert > Index and Tables > Entry
Entry: Thomas Rev.
1st Key. Patterson
To view which entries have been indexed, select View > Field Shadings.
To modify an entry, right-click at the position where it was placed.
When done, create the Index from Insert > Insert Index and Tables.
WD: References Tab > References > Mark Entry (and add any subentries) > Mark
Main Entry: Thomas Rev.
Subentry: Patterson
As an entry is added, Word adds an Index Entry field (XE).
When done, create the Index from Reverences > Index > Insert Index.

A similar process if followed for creating a Table of Contents. For additional instructions on indexing, see Word on
the Microsoft website or
Writer on
the Open Office website.

Tip: Many repositories request that women be indexed twice, both under a maiden and married name.

Mary applied many of these features while writing her book, 500+ Revolutionary War Obituaries and Death Notices, Volume 1, available at, and in the near future, at

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Making conections

The more information you can give about the people you mention, the more chance there is of someone else connecting with your family.

Dates and places of births, deaths and marriages all help to place families.

Professions also help.

'My great-grandmother mother was a Douglas from Montrose' does not give many clues to follow up! But a bit of flesh on the bones makes further research possible. But if we are told who she married, what his profession was and where the children were baptised, then we can get to work.

Maybe it is time to update the information in your profile?

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