Our Name in History for Ancestry.co.uk

The online genealogy service Ancestry.co.uk uses the data it holds in lots of innovative ways. One idea they came up with was to sell print-on-demand books that combined general historical information with specific data relating to the purchaser’s own surname.

What the reader would do is visit a sales website, type in their surname and then Ancestry.co.uk would populate parts of the book template with charts and tables about that surname from its databases, while the rest of the template was filled with standing copy. It would then be printed, bound and sent to the customer – a more or less bespoke book depending on how common their surname was.

Expert copywriting
Thanks to my background having launched Your Family Tree magazine for Future Publishing, Ancestry commissioned me to write all the standing copy in the book back in 2008. They also send me a free copy for my own surname once the project was complete.

The brief was to write in a style that was light, accessible, interesting and, of course, accurate. In most cases, the trick was paring back the detail so as not to baffle the casual reader with historical mumbo jumbo while still giving them the flavour and texture of history. Some of the research was done online, and the rest using 18th, 19th and 20th century history books. Topics included coats of arms; birth, marriage and death records; various aspects of social history; migration; census records and more. For each page, panel and boxout in the book, I wrote a separate document which was coded to be pulled into the POD template when someone ordered a copy of the book about their own surname.