Writing a family history book is a wonderful way to commemorate your family and create a treasured keepsake for future family members. You can do this as a family project, or you can write it as a gift to your family. Family history book printing with a professional publisher gives your book the high-quality look it deserves.
Know What Sets Your Family Apart
What is special about your family? Every family has something that sets it apart from others. Finding that can be the basis for your story. It could be something simple and private, or it could be something that has made the news. Maybe your grandparents crossed the ocean to build a life in another country, or maybe your family is an unusual mix of cultures.
Only you know what makes your family interesting and special. Use this as the central idea that you build your family history book around.
Tell Your Family’s Story
A family history book is a story of how your family came to be. It recounts all the major milestones and events. It may be illustrated with photographs, letters, and other documents.
Remember, a family history book is not a memoir. A memoir focuses on a particular period or incident in your life. A family memoir may cover several years, but it is not an autobiography. Many family memoirs feature the author’s struggle to break free from the family’s dynamics and start an independent life.
A family history book, on the other hand, is a more complete account of how your family came to be. It might start with your grandparents or go back even further. Typically, you might include:
- How your grandparents met
- Why they chose to live in the area they picked
- Birth, life, and key events in your parent’s lives
- How your parents met
- What your parents did and what they were like as parents
- Your and your siblings’ education and marriages
- Your children’s birthdays and other key events
- How your family celebrates birthdays and holidays
- Particularly memorable moments from these celebrations
- Places your family has lived
- Short biographies of aunts, uncles, and cousins
- Where your family members are now
- Accomplishments by members of your family
- Challenges your family has faced
You don’t want to include too many details. This is not supposed to be a three-volume set. It’s a short summary of the major events and people that made your family what it is today.
Gather the Information
You may think you know your family’s history, but you might be foggy on facts like names and dates. When you write a family history book, you will need accurate information.
Start by interviewing members of your family. There are several ways to get the information you need from them. You can ask them to write their accounts, or you can interview them while tape recording the conversation.
You may also want to talk to people who knew your parents and grandparents. Don’t get bogged down in little details. Keep the focus of your family history book in mind.
Part of your research will involve rounding up documents, including:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage and divorce paperwork
- Deeds and mortgages
- Event programs
- Funeral cards
- Home videos
- Family member journals
- Family scrapbooks
Find a Theme for Your Family History Book
Just like any well-written book, a family history book should have a theme that holds it together. Doing this will help you organize and write the book. It will also keep you from straying off into unrelated details that slow down your story.
It’s also what will make the book interesting to other family members. Start by thinking about the life lessons your family taught you. How did you get your beliefs about life? Who taught you those life lessons, and how did they learn it?
Stories about families often take these themes. Do any of them apply to your family?
- Adjusting to a new life
- Travel and adventure
- Coping with loss
- Difficult choices
- Embracing change
- Compassion to others
- Unconventional lifestyle
- Poverty and hardship
- Hard work
- Religion and spirituality
- Fame or notoriety
Think back to the question about what sets your family apart. Find a theme, and build your family’s story around that theme.
Be Honest but Compassionate
When you describe your family, write with honesty and authenticity. Describe your family members the way you would describe characters in a novel. What makes them special and interesting? Who are they at heart?
You need to tread carefully. Nobody is perfect, and your family members have probably made some mistakes. Choose your anecdotes carefully. If your only goal in family history book printing is to get back at your family, you need to rethink your reasons for writing this book. The goal is to tell your family’s story in a way that shows you appreciate and respect your family. To do this, always strive to be honest but compassionate.
Every family has secrets, and some of those secrets should be kept private. There is no need to air them in this history. This doesn’t mean your book should be only sweetness and light, but you should always think about the result of revealing certain things. Will airing those secrets hurt your family?
Use an Outline
An outline is an excellent way to begin writing any nonfiction book. Some fiction writers dislike using outlines because they feel the outline restricts their creativity. Others enjoy working from a detailed plan.
In nonfiction, however, an outline can help you become more creative. Starting from scratch can feel overwhelming, especially if you’ve done a lot of research. You may have no idea where to start or how to organize your material. An outline takes care of all that.
Once you have an idea of what you want to cover in your family history, it’s easy to jump in and start writing. You won’t be floundering around wondering where to start because you’ll have your outline to guide you. You could even expand on the outline by deciding what you want to include in each chapter.
Write the First Draft
When you write the first draft, push all thoughts of, “What will my family think of this?” out of your head.
Don’t let those thoughts distract you while you write the first draft. Do you remember the old saying about too many cooks spoiling the broth? Too many people interfering with your writing will make it impossible to work. Leave those distracting thoughts aside. Focus on telling your story in your way.
Use Elements of Fiction to Create an Engaging Story
When you write, use the elements of fiction to create stories that create interest and excitement. Make your family members come alive by describing them as if they were characters in a novel.
You already have a plot, which is the story of your family, so you don’t have to worry about that part. When detailing events in your family’s past, use the elements of good storytelling, including:
- Engaging characters
- Detailed settings
Take Privacy Concerns Seriously
Some family members may object to being in your family history book. You may face accusations that you’ve violated your family’s privacy or shared secrets they didn’t want to get out.
If you can’t tell your family’s story without writing about a family member who doesn’t want to be mentioned, you have some options. You can give them a different name, and you can also change identifying features like their appearance, place of residence, and marital status. That way, you can honor their respect for privacy without disrupting your story.
Protect Yourself Legally
You may think everyone is on board with the family history book printing, but you may be surprised. Families fall out, and old resentments can cause conflicts over your book. To protect yourself, have each person you write about sign a release of information form. This is a simple form the person signs to indicate that they allow you to use their name and likeness in your work.
Famous Family Stories
Do you want some inspiration for your family history book? These family memoirs may be the nudge you need.
- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
- Distilled: A Memoir of Family, Seagram, Baseball, and Philanthropy by Charles Bronfman
- Wherever You Go, There They Are: Stories About My Family You Might Relate To by Annabelle Gurwich
- Between Them: Remembering My Parents by Richard Ford
- The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
Family History Book Printing
When you finish your family history, get it printed with our help. At Dazzle Printing, we specialize in working with first-time family history writers. We’ll guide you through the production and printing process to help you produce a beautifully bound family history.