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Genealogy goes beyond all those 'begats'

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If reading other people's family histories sounds about as exciting as watching piles of their vacation slides, remember, Ms. Betlock says: "No book has to be boring." She thinks that considering a readership wider than tolerant relatives can help writers struggling to decide what, of the reams of historical materials they've uncovered, to include in a book - and what to leave out.

Janes's "The California Excursion" is a good example. A colorful, photo-filled volume, it incorporates eloquent letter and diary accounts of C.F. Sargent's train trip across the country only five years after the intercontinental railway had been finished - including tales of a hunt in Kansas, a swim in Salt Lake City, and a trip down a Nevada mine shaft.

Mary Ann Hales, publisher of the Cottage Press, whose Heritage House imprint released Janes's book, thinks the growing interest in family history and memoir publishing is a product of people's need - in an increasingly complex and mechanized society - to make some statement about themselves or their families as individuals.

"We are battered by a barrage of Palm Pilots and e-mail and digital cameras - the whole world seems to be going electronic," she says. "So when people want to preserve something about their family, they want something solid and substantial: that you can hold in your hand, that you can give to your children and grandchildren."

The cost of publishing a family history varies enormously, depending on everything from the magnitude of the research and editing it requires, to the number of photographs and the type of binding the writer chooses, to the number of copies wanted. Hardbound scholarly volumes like those published by NEHGS can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars just to begin, while paperback illustrated books of the sort Ms. Hales publishes cost several thousand dollars for a standard run of 250.

But for those genealogists who don't have the time or the budget for professional-quality publishing, there remain plenty of options for compiling family history in a lasting and readable way. Many people self-publish family genealogical material by simply photocopying and binding it at a nearby copy center. Others use book publishers that offer printing services online, such as iUniverse (, which charges $99 to bind a single bare-bones copy of an already-edited manuscript.

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