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Book cover for Stories to Tell by Nancy Barnes

Writing a family history book in six steps

Every author creates a family history book step by step.

There are several choices for you to consider, and many opportunities to improve your book along the way. This article written by Nancy and Biff Barnes from StoriesToTellBooks.com details the main steps to success.

Imagine. Think about all of the research, family stories, photos, periods, events, people, documents, and memorabilia you might include in your book. There truly are no rules about what a family history book must look like. What would you like yours to be?

Plan. Consider the scope of your book. If you are dealing with the distant past (5+ generations) you are likely to have facts and documents about those ancestors, but few stories or images. You’ll have to supplement with period research. If your scope is nearer to the present, you will have more, or too many, stories and images. Select a realistic scope for one book. Your book’s style may start as a collection of documents, a summary of your research. The result: a reference book. Readers will search and select parts to read.

The other style is a story-based narrative, which is read like a novel, beginning to end. The best family histories combine these two styles. When you have decided on the scope and style of your book, gather and sort your relevant research. Use index cards or sorting software to move ideas around and see how they fit together best. Then develop an outline. Save yourself some time and detours: only begin writing after your outline is complete.

Create. Write a rough draft of your book. Your audience is usually your family, friends, and future family researchers. What is most likely to be interesting and important for your readers? Use a good style sheet for source documentation. Then choose the photos and documents you want to illustrate the book. Scan your images at a high resolution (600 PPI or more) and save them in a designated folder. Keep your text separate from your images. Don’t try to design your book in your word processing program as you write. Simply note in your text where you want to place the images. It is much easier to change as the book changes.

Edit. A professional editor can do more than edit; he can guide you through every step of publishing. To help with shaping a rough draft, an editor can read it for a developmental edit and suggest ways you can supplement and revise the content. For a more finished manuscript, a content edit improves clarity and organization. A copy edit focuses on correctness in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. An editor’s goal is to make your manuscript all it can be, and to perfect it. Every book—and author—needs an editor.

Design. You have written your book in a word processing program, such as Word or Pages. Family histories are usually complex illustrated books, so they need design beyond word processing. For book design, practically all publishers use multiple software programs in Adobe Creative Suite —Photoshop, InDesign, Bridge, Illustrator, and Acrobat. Can you design your own book? Assess your software skills and expertise. Do as much as you can do well, and use experts for the parts you can’t do.

Publish. Good news – you don’t need a publisher! Because you aren’t marketing or selling the book commercially, avoid expensive publishing packages. Seek “author services” companies like ours. To publish, you’ll just need printing services and/or a way to distribute the books online. For example, we put a lot of our clients’ books up on Amazon.

No author does all of this alone. We recommend that you take a team approach. Assess your skills, get support from friends, and draw upon expert help when you need it. There is plenty of free advice on our blog, http://storiestotellbooks.com/blog/.

Good editing and professional design will help you create a bookstore-quality family history that you will be proud to share with family, friends and other genealogists.

View the ‘See Also’ section below for further resources.

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This article is from the free online course:

Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree

University of Strathclyde

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