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Create a Family Newsletter

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The old days when families got together every Sunday for dinner, or chatted over the fence, seem to have disappeared in a whirlwind of the commitments and distances of life in the 21st century. It is often hard now to find time to get together with family members - especially when you're spread out across the country, or even in diferent parts of the world. That doesn't mean you can't easily stay connected, however. One of the best ways to connect far-flung family members is to keep everyone up-to-date with a family newsletter. Many family newsletters focus on current events, helping family members scattered across the country to stay in touch with the details of each others lives. Alternatively, a family newsletter can be developed around an interest in the family's shared history – a way to showcase family documents, stories, photos, and newly discovered facts with all interested researchers. Many people choose to incorporate a mix of both the present and the past in their family newsletter.

Family newsletters don’t have to be complicated, but there are a few things which need to be considered: the name of the publication, what it will contain, when it will be published, who it will be delivered to, and how it will be delivered.

Name That Newsletter

The name of your family newsletter should represent something to its intended audience. It can reflect the family name, such as the above mentioned Powell Post-Gazette, heritage, or interests. A family joke or nickname also makes good fodder for the newsletter title. If you’re short on ideas, consider holding a “Name that Newsletter” contest.

Items of Interest

Deciding what to write about is the first step in producing a family newsletter. If you’re focusing on current events, include the everyday things that folks are up to – vacations, work, hobbies, school and sport updates, and announcements of major events such as births, weddings, reunions, and graduations.
Set aside a section of your newsletter for a "call to action" – requesting submissions, photos, documents, stories, and other useful content to include in future editions. Making your request specific, focused on a particular topic such as weddings, photos, immigrant ancestors, etc., will help encourage a positive response.
If your focus is the past, your own research will provide a lot of the content. A research update can keep people in touch with what you’ve learned about the family. Feature at least one family photo, letter, or document per newsletter – this will encourage a lot of new submissions from your family members. You can also use the newsletter as a way to share family recipes and stories.

How Often & How Long?

Producing a newsletter can take a good bit of time, so you may want to put out a few before you commit to a schedule. While you can send your newsletter yearly, quarterly, monthly, or weekly, most family historians tend to select the quarterly option, with some opting for a larger semi-annual or annual update. If you choose to send newsletters monthly, keep it to one page in length. Otherwise you may find yourself in over your head.

Develop a Family Mailing List

Once the news goes out, you’re going to have people coming out of the woodwork who want to get the family newsletter. There will be family members who aren’t interested, however. To make it easy, you can start by sending the first edition out to your immediate family and close relatives and let word-of-mouth build up your mailing list. Alternatively, you can send a copy of the newsletter out to everyone you think will be interested, asking them to respond if they’d like to continue to receive future editions.

Determine Delivery Options

Family newsletters can be printed and distributed by postal mail, or sent in electronic format. Your choice will be dependent upon family preferences and your budget. If there are a lot of family members without email, then a printed newsletter may be more appreciated. Printing and stamps cost money, however, so you’ll have to decide how to cover the costs. E-mail newsletters are more convenient, but then you have to worry about software compatibility (not everyone has Microsoft Word), and download speed (if your newsletter includes a lot of photos). A plain text email solves these problems, but may not be fancy enough for some. Many family newsletters offer both options – an electronic format for those who prefer it, and a printed newsletter for the rest of the folks.

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