A family history book can tell the entire story of your family, or it can focus on challenges, interests, or activities that represent your family. It’s a wonderful project that will put you in touch with relatives and leave a legacy for your children. How do you create and print a family history book? Follow these steps.
1. Choose a Format for Your Family History Book
Nobody—not even your family—wants to read a long, dry, boring account of birth, marriage, and death dates. This is the story of your family. It’s not a collection of civic records. To make your story relevant and readable, consider how you want to tell it.
There are many ways to format your book. Here are some of the most popular. You may find that your family history book uses one, two, or more of these formats in combination. That’s fine. Just remember to keep your story well-organized and cohesive.
A family memoir tells one story or a series of brief vignettes about what it was like to grow up in a particular family. A family memoir uses facts about the family, but it primarily narrates one or two key events that make your family unique or interesting.
Was your family famous for its work in the arts or a particular industry? Do your family members share particular skills or interests that make them interesting? You can write a captivating family memoir about these hobbies or interests. You could also structure your memoir around your family’s move to a new country or how a family member’s achievement changed your lives.
In a scrapbook format, you share photographs that chart the main milestones of your family story. If your family is typical, you have dozens of scrapbooks, photo collections, and digital photos that document these events.
Now, you can gather all those random photos and put them to good use. Choose the best, most significant pictures from each era of your family story.
In a scrapbook-style history, you can use all types of family artifacts, including letters, documents, official records, cards, and news clippings. These real-life artifacts bring your family’s story to life.
Write captions for each photo. Add an explanatory story that documents the stories illustrated by the pictures and documents. You might want to start, for instance, with your grandparents’ wedding day photos. Follow with the wedding invitation and include any other mementos or photos from around that time.
In the next section, show the photos of your parents as young children and, later, as young adults. Continue chronologically with your parents’ wedding. Keep adding to the narrative as it develops from your pictures.
A cookbook is a wonderful way to organize your family’s favorite moments. Are there recipes that your family has kept around for decades? Are there any family members who are famous for their holiday cookies or their homemade wine? If your family loves cooking and food, share that love in a family cooking history.
To make it a true family document, don’t just list the recipes. Add the story behind each recipe. For instance, instead of just saying that these are “Aunt Rosalie’s famous stuffed shells,” explain who Rosalie was, what she was like, and why her shells became famous.
For each recipe, include a photograph of the person behind it and a photo of the finished, cooked item. If you have a copy of the original recipe that was handed down, add it as an illustration.
You might think of your family members as the stars of several funny, touching, or thought-provoking stories. Every family has these stories. Instead of a chronological story, focus on retelling these favorite stories to preserve them. They are a key part of any family’s history, and it’s a gift to your family to write them down and share them.
These are probably stories you’ve heard many times over the years. When you gather them, make sure you get them right. Don’t sweat over factual details like exact dates or locations. Instead, focus on the meaning and emotions of the story.
When you research your family, you may uncover even more of these family legends. You never know where your research will take you.
A series of profiles may be the best way to tell your family history. In this type of family history book, each chapter is dedicated to a single family member. The profile lists their name, important dates, and who they are in your family. Add a photograph and a description of their life.
Personal profiles are an easy, practical way to organize a family history book. They’re also a good reference for people who are curious about members of your family. However, they can make for dry reading if there’s nothing else in your family history book. It may be best to use them in conjunction with another format.
2. Do Background Research for Your Family History Book
Decide how far back you’ll go
A key question when writing your family history book is, how far back do you want to go? Do you want to write about your grandparents and their parents, or do you want to explore the first members of your family to arrive in your city or country? The further back you go, the more research you’ll have to do.
Study the time period
What was happening during the time when your family members were living, working, and meeting each other? An understanding of the historical setting is important when bringing your family history book to life. You should know what major historical events were taking place and how they affected your family. It’s also helpful to understand habits, customs, and outlets for entertainment that existed at the time.
Learn about the places your family members lived
Similarly, it’s helpful to know about the places your relatives lived during key moments of their lives. If your great-grandmother was German, where was she born? Find out what you can about that city at that time. Where did she arrive when she first came here? This background information gives context and meaning to your family history book.
3. Contact Family Members for Your Family History Book
Your family members are an indispensable source of information in the form of stories, papers, memories, and documents related to your family story. Before you begin writing your family history book, contact them.
The best way to tell your family what you’re doing is to send a letter or an email. Use it to explain:
- Your plan to write the family history book
- How you’re going to organize it
- Your proposed deadline for finishing it
- What help you need from them
Ask them if they have any objections to the idea. Some family members may want you to keep certain things private. There may be stories or facts they don’t want you to share. Be respectful of their wishes.
4. Conduct a Records Research
Exploring your family history often means going beyond what’s available from your relatives and family scrapbooks. If you want to get historical records related to your family, you will have to do some digging.
Where do you start? One excellent resource is the National Archives, a government agency that’s a clearinghouse for historical records of all kinds. At the National Archives website, you’ll find an exhaustive list of resources for finding records related to genealogy, military service, immigration and naturalization, census facts, and more.
Family Search is a website that specializes in helping people research their family histories. Their website offers a free “Start a Family Tree” service that is fast and easy. You don’t have to know that much about your family to get started.
Record family conversations
When you meet with family members who want to share information, use a tape recorder or video recorder. Those recordings will be useful as you put your story together.
Make your history come alive
Use photos and documents to illustrate your family history book. They make the book lively and keep it from becoming a dry, boring account. Family trees, charts, vintage pictures, and other artifacts give the reader a break from the text and supply color—literally and figuratively.
5. Write Your Family Story
It’s time to write your first draft. Start by organizing your material. Set a deadline for yourself to complete the first draft.
Once the first draft is written, share it with your family members. Ask for their feedback, but ask them to respect your deadlines.
Write the final draft, proofread the book, and you are ready to go.
6. Get Your Family History Book Professionally Printed
Your family’s history deserves to be preserved in a beautifully bound volume. Professional printing will create a book that your whole family can be proud of.