How We Create a Family History Book Focused on the Stories

Any family history project starts with stories, and many of those stories are told with photos.

But we’ve found that family history books focus on the experiences and folklore passed down through generations. Text drives the book, and photos add interest and further illustrate the family stories.

We recently completed a 120-page book for a client that featured family stories shared through documents, interviews, family trees, and photos.

Read on to see the part Picture This Organized played to preserve and spotlight four generations of a family’s history.

We Gather and Organize the Data

To begin the family history book process, we met with our client and asked a series of questions to learn the scope of the project. Then we started to gather all of the documents, data and photos.

In addition to what our client provided, we gathered information from other sources, such as obituaries and Google searches related to family members’ industry and volunteer work.

On any family history project, we organize our findings based on a specific family member, generation, or even a location where family members lived.

For example, in our client’s recent project, the family dairy farm was a huge part of their past, so we organized an entire chapter around that.

Family History Book Example: Location Chapter Theme
This example from our client’s recent family history book features a separate chapter focused on the family dairy farm.

Saving and Formatting Historical Documents
Clients often want us to include historical documents in their book. We love this idea because historical documents give a visual account of the time in history they were created.

But sometimes a document may be so faded or discolored in its original form, it’s unreadable as a scanned image. When this happens, we can still capture the story from the original document using scanning technology that converts the document into text. This way we can copy, paste, and edit, eliminating the need to re-write everything.

Family History Book Example: Historical Document Text
Our client found this story among family documents, but the story was lengthy and difficult to read. After scanning, we edited the text, highlighting it on its own spread in one of the chapters.

Our next step is to merge all of the data, information, and stories. Then we take a step back to decide what is truly useful, and which parts fit with the scope of our client’s book.

We Verify the Data

In the case of family history, facts and stories accumulate and are passed down over centuries, occasionally leaving clients with contradictory information.

After we merge all of the family data for a project, we always carefully cross-check the information from different sources, researching to find the truth when data contradicts.

To do this, we:

  • Ask other family members and descendants to verify information.
  • Search social media sites to confirm spelling of names, birthdates, and family connections.
  • Search verifiable documents like census, birth, death, and marriage records.
  • Offer corrections to recollections that might have been inaccurate.

The Challenge of Names
Through family generations, names often repeat. That can become confusing when large families name children after other relatives.

When working on our client’s book, we had to research a name challenge in the first generation.

Family patriarch Leeson Smith Sr.’s first wife died after they had several children. He remarried and the pair had more children. One of his sons was named Leeson as well, but different sources listed Leeson Jr. under both wives. We had to do some fact-finding to get the details right.

In other cases, unusual spelling or nicknames pose a challenge. When nicknames don’t seem to correspond to the individual’s real name at all, we do extra digging to make sure stories and photos match the correct person with their nickname.

Once we confirm all of the generational data is correct, our staff create family trees. Clients can choose a tree created with photos and text, or text only.

Family History Book Example: Family Tree
This sample from our client’s recent book shows how we started some of the chapters with a generation’s family tree on the facing page.

We Design the Book for Printing

Once we pull the contents of the book together, our team works together to creatively design a book that preserves the stories and family legacy.

We start by brainstorming the flow of the book through chapters, crafting titles, and choosing the content and photos to include in each section.

Then we move into the details of design. Our staff, experienced in applications like Adobe InDesign, lay out the book page by page. With the big picture in mind, we zoom in on the details, everything from captions and photo frames to margins and font styles.

Our client’s recent book spanned four generations. We designed it with the current generation in mind, and highlighted their direct ancestors throughout the book.

Family History Book Example: Page Styles
As seen on these pages, we highlight the direct ancestor’s name in bold font in family descendants lists.

Our Client Reviews and the Finished Product is Published

Throughout the process, we make each page available for our clients to review. They can chime in on text edits and design, ensuring we match their vision for the project.

We use high quality publishers who provide a finished product that our clients will enjoy reading and be proud to share with family.

At Picture This Organized, we consider it a privilege to provide a service that guards and preserves your family stories, organizing and uniquely presenting them in a keepsake book.

If you’re interested in starting the process, these previous posts give our clients tips on effective family history research as well as gathering family photos.

To talk about how we can help you create a family history book, schedule a free 30-minute consultation with us today.


2 thoughts on “How We Create a Family History Book Focused on the Stories

  1. I have been working on my mom’s life story for a long while now. I have 80 or so typed pages of personal history and through personal interview. I also have a ton of pictures gathered and have been looking for a place to help me put her book together. I want photo book style with the addition of her story, and I am hoping you are a good fit for that.
    I await your reply
    Jody E. Thomson

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