About NGS

Family History Writing Contest

To encourage NGS Members to write a family history that covers at least three generations and not more than four.

Deadline for submissions is 15 December, annually. Winner is honored at the NGS Family History Conference Banquet.

First Place Prize

  • The person who compiles the most outstanding family history will receive a complimentary banquet ticket.
  • Manuscripts meeting the requirements will be submitted to the editors of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) for consideration and will be placed in the NGS Library.

Contest Criteria

  • The Family History Writing Contest is open to all current NGS Members.
  • Note: Contest judges, NGS officers, NGS directors, NGS staff, their family members, and former contest winners are not eligible to enter. The NGS contest, like most others in the field, is not open to fellows of the American Society of Genealogists, who are elected to that rank on the basis of extensive and exemplary scholarship.
  • A paper with multiple authors will be accepted if it meets the requirements of the contest. If a winning paper has multiple authors, the prize will be awarded to the lead author.


  • Manuscript Length: Between 4,000 and 10,000 words
  • Number of Generations: Three to four generations
  • Originality: Not previously published and not submitted elsewhere for publication
  • Documentation: Individual, specific citations (footnote form) for every statement of fact that is not public knowledge
  • Appearance: 11- or 12-point type, 1” margins, laser-quality print
  • Numbering system: NGSQ


The manuscript must be between 4,000 and 10,000 words, including the title, text, and footnotes. However, the title that appears as a running head on each page is counted only on the first page. Illustrations, maps, and photographs essential to the story may be used, but any captions should be included in the word count.


The genealogy must cover at least three generations and not more than four, all descending lines, including female lines. The chosen progenitor and spouse will be the first generation. All their children, with spouse(s), constitute the second generation. All grandchildren, with spouse(s), constitute the third generation. It is not necessary to list the children in the fourth generation, but a contestant may do so. However, it is necessary to fully develop only three nuclear families: the progenitor, one of his/her children, and one of his/her grandchildren.

The family you select to write about must span at least three generations. The writer and his or her siblings or spouses may not be included as a member of the third generation.


A genealogy should not be entered in this contest if it has been submitted or will be submitted for publication before the contest ends, or if it has been evaluated by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). However, a genealogy may be submitted simultaneously to the NGS contest and the BCG provided it is cleared with both organizations first. If the family the contestant chooses has already been included in a published genealogy or article, it may be submitted here only if (1) the published source contained no more than the name, spouse, and their vital dates, or (2) the previously published work contained so many errors, a new genealogy is required to correct the mistakes. If an article alone would be sufficient to correct the errors, that family would not be a wise choice for the contest. In case of doubt, contact the contest chair.


Any fact stated that is not common knowledge must be documented. The clichés primary source and secondary source no longer meet modern standards of genealogical research and evidence analysis. As all genealogists know, (a) any source can offer both primary and secondary information, (b) original sources can contain secondary (secondhand) information, and (c) derivative sources can include primary (firsthand) information.


Original Source: the person or record whose information did not come from data already spoken or written. The original is the most authoritative source. Often, however, it no longer survives or its preservation dictates that it be examined only as an image copy (microfilm, digitized image, and so on).

Derivative Source: a person or record supplying information that is repeated, reproduced, transcribed, abstracted, or summarized from something already spoken or written. Because every repetition or recopying of data is an opportunity for error, the closer the derivative is to the original the more reliable the data are likely to be.


Primary Information: data contributed by a knowledgeable eyewitness to or participant in the event that is the subject of the record or by an official whose duties included making a full, accurate record of it. Primary information is further evaluated by:

  • how close in time and place to the event the record was created,
  • how involved in the event the eyewitness was (participant versus bystander, for example),
  • the age and sanity of the eyewitness and consequent extent of his/her understanding of the event’s significance and details, and
  • any bias on the official’s or eyewitness’s part that might have affected the account.

Secondary Information: data supplied by a person who recorded it after hearing of the event or its details from someone else. It is judged according to:

  • the probable number of times the story was passed along orally before it was written down,
  • the reputation of the secondary informant for reliability, and
  • the existence of any potential for bias on the part of the secondary informant.


The manuscript should be printed on a letter-quality printer with one-inch margins all around. Use 11- or 12-point font size. The title of the genealogy and page number must appear on each page. Notes and references should appear as footnotes at the bottom of the page to which they apply.


Use the format established by the NGSQ. Contest entrants are strongly urged to read papers written by recent contest winners, usually found in the December issues of the NGSQ. The 2007 winner, “A Family for Suzanne” by Ruth Randall, is available here for you to read.

“A Family for Suzanne” (PDF 941KB) >


The criteria for excellence in a paper rely heavily on how you demonstrate your research skills. You must show the ability to use and analyze a wide variety of original documents. It should not be just the summarization of the work of others. Tell a story, place your family in historical context, but make sure the historical aspect is really relevant to your family and make if brief. The emphasis should be on the original research you did to create the family history.


If an entry should not meet all requirements, the manuscript will be returned with an explanation. All other contestants will receive comments on their entries after a winner has been selected by the judges.

Mailing Instructions

Complete the application form. This form will be removed before submission to the judges.


Include a title page without the personal information contained in the application. Package your entry, including the application sheet and the manuscript with title page, with all pages in order. Don’t bind or staple the sheets because they must be photocopied. Submit your package using the mailing or shipping information below.

If you want to be notified that the manuscript has been received, enclose a self-addressed stamped postcard.

As a precaution, place cardboard or poster board on top and bottom of the entry before packaging it. To ensure safe arrival, use a sturdy envelope.


Newsletter Competitions
National Genealogical Society

6400 Arlington Blvd Ste 810
Falls Church, Virginia 22042-2318

Shipping via FedEx or UPS

Newsletter Competitions
National Genealogical Society
6400 Arlington Blvd Ste 660
Falls Church, Virginia 22042-2318


Deadline for submissions is 15 December, annually.