Documenting the entire history of one person may sound like a huge task. Add in a few other people, and it gets even more complex. However, writing and publishing the history of your family is a noble project, and, quite frankly, something you should feel proud of. It may not be an easy undertaking, but the process will likely bring you all closer together, making it worthwhile.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Should You Include in a Family History Book?
- How to Collect and Write Your Family History Paper or Book
- 5 Ways to Publish and Share Your Family’s History Book
- Places You Can Find Family History Book Templates
Of course, having your family history written and published allows you to have something to share and look back on for generations to come. Re-reading your family’s history will likely become a new tradition that you all can do over the holidays or when you’re all finally able to be in one place, which may be less often than you’d like.
Below, we’ve provided seven key steps as well as some additional tips for making your family history book a reality.
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What Should You Include in a Family History Book?
A family history book should feel unique to your family and the contents should reflect that uniqueness. You may want to ask yourself certain questions as you continue to brainstorm about this project.
Questions to help you brainstorm your family history book
Jot down your answers to the following questions or look over the following list with a few loved ones to help you get a jumpstart:
- Does my family value religion or cultural customs?
- What traditions do we complete during holidays that we celebrate?
- What are some of the hardships my family has overcome?
- What are some key achievements my family members have completed?
- Is food a big part of my family’s history? Are there any recipes I can include?
- Who in my family do I know best? Who do I know less about?
- Where did my family come from? Where else have they lived? Where does my family live now?
- Are there any stories or inside jokes that my family shares often?
- How far back can I confirm details about my relatives and my family?
- Does my family have a crest? Ties to royalty? Ties to indigenous people?
- What background research will I have to complete online or at local libraries?
After you’ve looked over the list, other questions may come to mind as you continue to craft your family history book. Jot them down or answer them as you go. Take a look at some other types of content you may want to include in your family history book. We’ve provided some ideas as well as descriptions below.
A timeline and map
As you craft your family history, it may help you to write out a timeline to organize events.
For example, you can write out a list of known family members and their birthdates and death dates (if applicable). You can also work off of this to list where your family members are from and where they’ve lived to create your map.
Your timeline and map don’t have to look perfect. You can certainly approximate dates and you may even receive some conflicting information from relatives.
That’s fine! Right now, you're looking for a starting point.
If you don't want to prioritize chronological order, you can include comprehensive profiles of each of your family members instead.
Rather than (or in addition to) having your book organized by events, it can instead feature different family members: their insights, life stories, or just a few quotes from their perspective about your family.
Handwritten notes from family members
Your family history book will also become more interactive and compelling with visual artifacts and elements (also discussed below) with handwritten notes from your family members. That said, some may have more legible handwriting than others. However, it's more fun to include authentic language and penmanship. You can keep the notes fairly short and sweet if you choose.
Family artifacts and photos
In addition to handwritten notes, you can also include family artifacts and photos. You can include childhood drawings and other art, ticket stubs, report cards, ribbons, recipes, and so on.
All this considered, the types of media you will include will also come down to how many copies of your entire book you plan to create. Not all books can have the same piece of ribbon in them or the same original artwork, but you can make copies of some things.
How to Collect and Write Your Family History Paper or Book
When you’re beginning this project, it may seem daunting. This will also likely depend on how large your family is and how extensive you foresee your history to be.
If necessary, you may choose to separate your family’s history into a series instead. It may also be helpful to create a family tree as something to work off of and keep in mind as you complete the steps below.
Step 1: Get your family on board
It would be pretty hard to write your family’s history without your family’s support. The more raw material, anecdotes, and dialogue you can gather from a variety of your family members will make the final picture that much more vivid.
And, the entire writing process that much easier on you, for that matter. The more details you have, the more the story can write itself. But, perhaps your family is a bit on the smaller side, or you have just a few surviving relatives. That being said, having one or two “expert” sources may be all you need, making it all the more essential for them to help out.
Step 2: Gather details
Getting all of your family members in one spot to work on your family’s history all at once may or may not be ideal. And, honestly, it may be simply impossible. However, this can be made possible with tools like video conferences or group calls.
That way, you can take down or even record these conversations so you don’t miss a thing. And, you can ask everyone the same types of questions all at once. Plus, you don’t have to worry about any sort of “he said, she said,” type business later on.
Then again, if you’re picturing family members quarreling over small details in all-out yelling match over video call, perhaps it’d be best to conduct interviews individually and hash out the details on your own. You can also choose to simplify the storytelling by featuring portions of your family’s history from different points of view.
Everyone can have a say on a specific matter, rather than everyone telling different versions of the same story. With this step, we wish you the best of luck. You can find more tips about creating family stories here.
Step 3: Create an outline
Once you have a good amount of information, it’s time for what most writers do before they start drafting — creating an outline. If you don’t love the structured, thoughtful approach and you like to just have at your draft, that’s fine, too.
That being said, the more work and care you put into an outline will lead to less of a headache later. You likely won’t suddenly hit a wall and realize you have plot holes, missing details, or things are out of order.
And, overall, the more serious you take this project, the more serious the result will be. You can be as formal or as casual as you like with this entire process.
Step 4: Start crafting your stories
Crafting your stories may sound pretty self-explanatory. However, there are a variety of ways to go about it. It may make the most sense to refer to whatever outline you’ve created for yourself and simply fill in the details as you go.
But, family histories aren’t limited to a chronological, run-of-the-mill “and then this happened” format. You can truly get creative and turn this work into something more narrative and imaginative.
For example, you may wish to add in dialogue, embellish (with your family’s approval, of course), do supplemental research about what was going on in the world at the time, or even have chapters told from perspectives of different family members.
You may also choose to have your family members add in additional commentary or other details once you’re closer to the final product.
Step 5: Bring it all together
Once the majority of your content is complete, you can put a bit more thought into the design and presentation. Or, perhaps, you’ve been thinking of this all along. What do we mean by presentation?
Consider things like graphics, sidebars, typefaces, colors, and other aesthetic choices. These design decisions will also depend on where you’re drafting or planning to share your book. Many websites, for example, offer tons of user-friendly, high-design themes and elements that can really make your final product indistinguishable from “professional” versions.
Step 6: Share with your family
Since this is a book of your family’s history, you owe it to your family to let them see the final draft first. It doesn’t matter how proud or excited you are to share it with the entire world. If you can’t wait, you can always tease an image of the cover of your book or tell your friends about your plans.
Plus, sharing the final version privately is a good way to have a few more sets of eyes on the lookout for errors or inaccuracies. Seeing these sorts of things after sharing your product with the general public isn’t as fun, especially if you don’t choose a publishing platform that allows easy edits.
Step 7: Make final edits
As we mentioned above, sharing the “final” product with your family before anyone else is crucial. Not only is it respectful and special to share with them first, they can also help you be on the lookout for anything that needs additional care or a second look.
The final edit phase is also when you can decide on the book’s design and additional touches, such as photographs, images of other keepsakes or relevant documents, as well as the overall “package” of your book with cover art and more.
5 Ways to Publish and Share Your Family’s History Book
Publishing and sharing your family’s history should be a family decision, of course. If some of the stories get personal or otherwise juicy, you should ensure that you don’t publicize family secrets and create any unwanted drama.
That being said, it’s likely you’ve cleared some of this up in the fact-finding phase of creating your history. But, it doesn’t hurt to make sure again before you start advertising it everywhere. Here are a variety of ideas for sharing your family’s history.
1. In a social media series
With some thought and creativity, you can post your family’s history as a series on social media. However, this will also depend on your social media savvy and which platforms you like best. Posting an entire book on Twitter may sound daunting, and it kind of is, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
You may also choose to create an account on one of these platforms just for the sake of sharing your family’s history. This way, you can safeguard who interacts with the account as well as engage all of your friends and family in one place. This will also turn your family’s stories into something that can also be visual, interactive, and modern.
Plus, you can always look back on it since it’ll be shared in a digital space. For example, you can post a few pages or a chapter each week by simply copying and pasting or by creating images or graphics. Or, you may choose to share PDFs, PNGs, or JPEGs of pages outright.
2. Read aloud on video
Sharing an oral version of your family’s history can be incredibly compelling and interactive. It can bring your entire family together in something that you can watch or listen to for years to come.
You may choose to record videos with professional or simple equipment and package them into one product. Or, perhaps you’d prefer to share videos on YouTube, IGTV, or elsewhere.
3. Create a website
Creating websites on your own gets easier every day. If you already have one, that’s great.
All it may need is a few tweaks and some dedicated space for this project to shine. On the other hand, if you’re creating one for the sole purpose of showcasing your family’s history, it won’t be difficult. You’ve likely heard of sites like WordPress or Wix.
They’re equipped with user-friendly features that remove any sort of intimidation. When it comes to actually publishing your book on the site, you may brainstorm the best way to do so.
Think about the following:
- Will visitors simply read the history by scrolling or “turning pages” on the site?
- Will I make it a complete download sent to a visitor’s email?
- Will I allow a download of the book directly from the site?
4. Print copies at home
First, familiarize yourself with your printer’s capabilities. If your printer is already on its last leg or seems to struggle to print out a simple coupon, this may not be the best option.
Of course, you can always upgrade your printer for the occasion. Once you’re feeling more confident, however, you should probably still try to print a few trial-runs in black and white or low quality before hitting full send with your family’s entire history. That being said, printing at home is a worthwhile option if your family history is on the shorter side.
You want this to be a fun project, not a headache. If your history turns into something that takes up hundreds of pages — that’s amazing! But, however, you don’t want all of the printing, binding, and packaging responsibilities to fall on you and your little printer. It’s quite a bit to handle, and it can easily get as expensive as getting a professional printer to do it. If you’re interested in other family activities, check out these legacy projects.
5. Coordinate with a professional printer
We don’t necessarily mean approaching a professional publishing house — that’s more than we can cover in this article. If your history is compelling enough, however, you never know — a publishing house could approach you! When we’re talking about professional printers, we mean there are relatively affordable book printing services available.
You can choose from common options like FedEx or Shutterfly or find a more niche printer via some searching. You should set a budget for yourself or ask your family if they’re interested in pitching in. It wouldn’t hurt if all of you are trying to create a lasting keepsake.
Services get expensive the more embellishments you add, of course. If you think your family history could benefit from gold leaf on every page, then go for it!
Places You Can Find Family History Book Templates
Still feeling a bit overwhelmed about where to begin with your family history book? In this section, we discuss a few different companies where you can find family history book templates.
You can get some of these templates for free. Others also provide full book templates, so you cover the entire task of publishing and printing your family history!
Microsoft Word provides a downloadable family history book template, also called a genealogy book template.
The detailed template can help you document many different aspects of your heritage. Furthermore, you can also customize this ancestry book template directly in Word to create an ongoing log of important family tree history and genealogy.
Amazon can provide you with various options for family history book templates within your price range. These templates already provide you with space, prompts, sections for photos, and more, so a lot of your work is already done! You can always buy a template from Amazon to serve as a guide, then customize it however you want.
Like Amazon, Zazzle provides highly customizable family history book templates. They provide different bound options with choices of paper and other formatting. You can find a variety of options for different budgets as well. If you don’t want something like what’s offered on Zazzle to be your final product, however, it’s a great way to get various family members to contribute at once.
For example, you can purchase a few different notebooks and fill them with prompts to help your family members help you gather information for your final product. Plus, these notebooks can serve as keepsakes themselves for years to come.
48 Hour Books
48hourbooks.com provides a guide to not only publishing or printing your family history, but also putting it together. For example, this site recommends using as many photos as you can find, coupled with short stories or captions.
This is certainly a good way to get the bulk of your book completed. 48 Hour Books also recommends sites like ancestry.com and myheritage.com to provide supplemental research. The site also provides free templates.
Ancestry.com and MyCanvas
Are you an ancestry.com enthusiast? Wish there was a way to turn all the goodness you’ve learned there into a book? With services from mycanvas.com, you can directly import information from your Ancestry account into a timeless vegan leather or canvas book.
In this template, you can combine history and photographs into a book your family will cherish for years to come. You can fill it with family group sheets, pedigree charts, and history timelines. You also have the option to add photos from Ancestry records or upload your own straight from your device.
Shutterfly (or other photo sites)
Sites like Shutterfly offer a great option for printing family history books and bringing them all together with templates. These templates can help you determine how many photos to include (or how many you can afford if you’re on a budget) as well as some other parameters to consider. Plus, these templates already have high-quality design elements and an antique feel to help your book feel even more authentic.
Various digital apps
"The Creative Family Historian" resource provides a side-by-side comparison of seven different digital tools and apps that can help you create a family history. Most of these, though user-friendly, still require more tech-savviness than a pen and paper.
The apps the author compares include Crello, Canva, Google Docs, Google Slides, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Powerpoint, and Adobe InDesign. Each of these tools has a few similar features crucial to writing any type of book. However, some have more flexibility in terms of design and creativity.
History Can Be Forgotten
It’s true that even when documented, history can be forgotten. You can do your part to record your family’s history, traditions, and more in a special way that you can then share with future generations, in-laws, and more. It’s likely, too, that you’ll learn things about your family you never knew before, and this project will bring you all closer together.
Writing a family history is also a great way to remember a loved one who’s no longer around. For more resources and end-of-life planning resources, check out the rest of Cake.