Helen Tovey is a keen family historian, memory keeper, and Editor of Family Tree magazine. She helps amateurs and experts trace, research, and discover the secrets behind their family history.
Each issue of Family Tree brings the key records, fascinating websites and expert tips and solutions to readers, helping them trace their family history in Britain, Ireland and around the globe.
1) What inspired you to get into writing as a career?
Interesting question, and at first I couldn’t answer it. Then I realised why. I wouldn’t ever consider myself a writer even though I’m dealing with writing every day. As an editor my focus on writing is different. While I do write pieces for Family Tree and our website www.family-tree.co.uk, mainly I’m wording as a wordsmith working on other people’s writing. Sometimes shortening, but also coaxing, helping the nuggets of information they know to gleam out from the page.
2) What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt about your own family history?
Aside from the WWI hero who was shot multiple times, getting bullet holes in his clothing but not even a graze on his skin, or the rags-to-riches orphan, who, later in life used the funds from his Liverpool business to help widows and children — the most interesting thing that I’ve learned about my own family history is ‘The reason why’. The reasons why people do things — adventurous things, loving things, and sometimes pretty horrible things too. So often in life, we’re hurtling along, with little time for reflection. Yet, when we look back at family history, we have the advantage of perspective, and I find it a really useful life-learning tool, to look at my ancestors’ lives and try to learn from their examples, good and bad. I think it makes me more compassionate perhaps about people, a bit more understanding about life…?
3) What do you find to be the most challenging part of editing a magazine issue?
What it is never is scratching around for something to fill the pages!
Family history is all about stories, real lives, dramas, tragedies, mysteries, lucky breaks — and news, loads of news, digital developments, DNA etc. Plus Family Tree readers really are like a community, or even family, and every day sees new emails and articles filing in with them sharing updates on their discoveries. So the single biggest challenge is working out how to fill every precious crumb of space on the pages with the most interesting material possible.
In addition, Family Tree has been published since 1984 and many of our readers are massively loyal, having read us for decades now. Meanwhile there are always new people coming across the magazine too. This means that in every issue we try to include a balance of material that’s suitable for really experienced readers and those new to genealogy too. I think the key is never to dumb down — but to write about complicated, advanced topics, but do so in the most accessible way. I feel that’s got to be good for all of us — helping us improve our genealogy knowledge and skills every single month.
4) Is there a particular issue you are most proud of?
What a hard question! No, not one issue, but there are two things. One is the really experienced body of contributors that we have on board — truly world-class experts and authors penning pieces every month for the readers. And the other is the people newer to the topic of family history, or newer to writing, and seeing how their careers develop over time. Genealogy is the sort of topic that can be taken in so many ways — a bright idea, leading to an article, leading to writing a book… what are you waiting for?!
5) What’s the best part of working at Family Tree?
Three things: my colleagues, the readers and the subject matter. I’ve worked on Family Tree since 2003 and there has never been a boring day, as family history is such an intriguing topic. Our team are just full of great ideas, and the readers are so enthusiastic too — Family Tree really is one of those magazines that belongs to the readers and we’re always keen to hear what they have to say and find out ways we can help them with their family history more.
6) Is there anything coming up that Family Tree readers would like to know about?
Yes! We’re launching a brand new online project, with a packed programme of genealogy learning experiences and get-togethers. Take a peek inside the October issue and all will be revealed…
Thank you so much for particpating in the #MeetTheContributor series Helen! We enjoyed finding out more about the magazine and learning about what your family history has taught you.
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Find out more here: https://www.family-tree.co.uk
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