Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Creating a Family History Book

I stopped by my local family history center last week. Upon entering, one of the workers recognized me and said something to the effect of "Matt! Someone would like your help!" They said someone was wanting to put a book together on their family history. They knew I wrote one and thought I could go through the process with them to help them understand how to put it together. They gave me her phone number and within a week, we were on the phone. Upon finishing the call, I realized that what I explained to her would make a great blog entry. So, here are the steps I went through to put together a genealogy book.

1. Decide on your focus. Will this book spell out the ancestors of a given person or the descendants? Unfortunately, listing out all the ancestors of a given person, then listing all of the descendants of each of their ancestors is a bit too much for one book. Some books are strictly ancestor books, some are strictly descendant books and some are a hybrid of the two. My book was a hybrid. My research started with my great-grandfather, Aloys Panther. I knew most of the book would focus on his ancestors but I also wanted to use information about his descendants. I didn't want to include information about the living so my cutoff point was the generation of Aloys' children, the generation of my grandfather. Since the 2001 Panther Reunion book also listed the descendants of Aloys' brother, Ferdinand, I figured I'd better include them also. The only way to do that would be to focus on Moriz Panther and Elizabeth Birk and include the descendants of their brother, Philipp, who stayed in Germany. Their descendants would make up part one. Because of the number of ancestors to list, I thought it would be easier to follow if I split up the ancestors of Moriz and Elizabeth into two separate sections. Part 2 was the ancestors of Moriz Panther and Part 3 was the ancestors of Elizabeth Birk. Unfortunately, there's not much in the way of family stories or photos from that generation and further back, the book wasn't going to amount to much. Maybe 100 pages. Since Aloys' first wife and Ferdinand's wife were also from the same village and their descendants would like to know their ancestors also, I decided to include their ancestors also. Part 4 was the descendants and ancestors of Moriz Traub, the father of Amelia Traub. I did this because there is a relatively large number of Traub descendants that would be interested also but I didn't put the descendants in a separate section because there were not as many as there were of the Panthers. Part 5 was the ancestors of Helena Kirn, Amelia's mother. Part 6 listed the descendants and ancestors of Sebastian Hanle, the father of Monika Hanle. Again, we had some descendants to document here but not as many as the Panthers. Also, I had no information on Monika's mother beyond her parents' names since they were from another village I didn't have documenation on. I did not include the ancestors of the wife of Philipp Panther. I should have but somehow I skipped right on past tracking down her ancestors. I have now documented them and they will appear in the next edition of the book.

Wow! Lots of thinking goes into figuring out your book's focus. Give it some thought. You want to make the book as interesting to as many people as possible but still have some good focus.

2. Initial Book Generation. I use PAF for my normal family history documentation but Legacy (free version) makes a better book. I exported a .ged file out of PAF then imported it into Legacy. You are able to do this with just about any family history software. You might not even need to export it if you use Legacy or your software generates a good book. In Legacy, go to "Reports", "All Reports (Books and others)".

Click on the "Ancestors" or "Descendants" button, depending the on the book or section you're working on. I ended up having to generate a separate book file for each of the sections of my book. You can't really generate one book to include the ancestors of this many different people. One generated book per person. The first section was a descendant book, the rest were ancestor books.

Verify your "Report Options" are the way you want them. Do not include photos in the initial book generation. You won't like the result of how it lays out the pages using photos, plus you wouldn't want to include all photos of every person and you likely don't want just the primary photo of some. Don't include any photos. You'll be adding them in later. Be sure to  include your notes though. This will give you something to start with in the text for each individual.

Click "Preview" to verify it looks approximately the way you want it. Once everything looks right, select "Rich Text File" and click Print.

Once it's generated, load up the file in Microsoft Word, or another full featured word processor you enjoy using. Legacy generates an .rtf file. Load it up in Word and immediately resave it as a Word document. This will give you access to all the features of Word. Copy from each of the generated books and paste into your main book file.

2. Starting at this point, SAVE YOUR DOCUMENT OFTEN! Yes, that's in all caps. I don't use all caps too often but in this case, it's warranted. Especially if your book is large, Word can freeze up on you. If the program freezes or crashes, everything you worked on since your last save will be gone. Get into the habit where, if you don't recall exactly when you last saved, save it again anyway. Also, every so often, especially after a long writing or editing session, save it to another separate file, named according to the date and/or time. This will give you prior generations of the file to fall back to if you encounter major problems. Also back up these files regularly so you don't have to start from scratch.

3. Mass editing. No matter what program you use, it's unlikely the wording will end up exactly as you want it when it comes to the birth marriage and death information. As an example, Legacy uses the word "christened" where my family uses the word "baptized". Technically they mean the same thing but that's not the way I'd word it. I went to the main Word menu, went to "Replace".

 Type "christened" into the "Find" box and "baptized" into the "Replace With" box. Click "Replace All". That wording has now been changed for all entries.

You can do the same thing with locations or any other type of entry that might not be worded just right. As an example, if I don't know the town a person was born or died in but I know the state, I might list it as ",, Iowa" in my database, leaving room for the town and the county. Of course, I don't want my book to read this way so I put ",, Iowa" into the "Find" box and "Iowa" into the "Replace With" box. Replace all and all entries with this exact wording, complete with the two leading commas and a space is replaced with the same word but without the leading commas and space. Also, my database location entries are worded with the form "City, County, State" such as "Burlington, Des Moines, Iowa" when in the book, I'd rather word it "Burlington, Des Moines County, Iowa". Seems like an easy fix, right? Search for "Des Moines" and replace with "Des Moines County", right? Not so fast! You need to be careful! If anyone in the book happens to have been born, married or died in "Des Moines, Polk, Iowa", you will have changed their entry to read "Des Moines County, Polk, Iowa". You'll want to include the entire common entry of what you want to change. You'd find "Burlington, Des Moines, Iowa" and replace it with "Burlington, Des Moines County, Iowa.". The same goes for searches for people and place names that are also common words.

4. Read through the book. For each person, verify their vital stats read the way you want them to. Cut your notes out of the book and paste them into a separate notepad file. This will allow you to re-enter the information but word it exactly as you want it to read.

5. Once your main text is complete, it's time to add the photos. In entries for people living from the late 19th century forward, you might have some photos to include. For those of earlier generations, photos will be hard to come by. You might have documents you want to include. My favorite, when possible, I extracted the signature of the person out of the records I have. In church records, you might find someone's signature in their marriage record or a child's birth or death record. If you have court records, you might find their signatures there also.

I also included small three generation ancestor charts for each individual. They didn't take up much space and they helped the reader place them in the correct location in the family tree in their mind.

6. Insert photos. I use the old photo editing program called Paint Shop Pro. It was inexpensive and still works really well. Use your favorite photo editor to crop the photos the way you want them to appear. In the photo editing software, go to Edit, Select All, Copy, then paste it into your book document. Play around with the word wrapping. By default, Word makes it so the text will end above your photo and start again underneath it. If you want it to go around it, change it to "Tight" or something similar. This will allow you have the text go right up to and around the photo. Of course this will depend on how you want it to line up. Experiment until you find what you like.

7. Set up chapter titles. At the beginning of each section, put in the title you want to use, set it to the font style and size you want.

8. Write your introduction. This is completely up to you. You don't need to include one but I wanted to describe how the information was discovered and what I wanted to accomplish with the book. You can include whatever you'd like. Here's where you can really be an writer.

9. Set up the page numbers according to the way you want them numbered and arranged on the page. In Word, if you pasted together a number of sections from other documents, it may be a challenge to get the sections' pages numbered correctly. This is what I consider a bug in Word but maybe you'll have better luck than I did. I wrestled with it for quite some time before I figured it out. I'm sorry I can't provide more guidance on this piece of the puzzle.

10. Anything else you want to include? Larger family trees charts? Put them in. Photos of town they were from? Put them in. Really, this is your chance to be creative. What do you want to include? Put it in.

11. Export/Save As a PDF file. In Microsoft Word, you will go to "File" or the Office button in the upper-left corner of the program and go to "Save As" and click on "PDF or XPF".

Make sure the PDF is selected and "Optimize for" is set to "Standard (Publishing online and printing)" and go to "Options".

Be sure there is a check mark in the box next to "IOS 19005-1 compliant (PDF/A).

This is important for online/on demand publishing, at least it is with Lulu publishing. Give the file a name and keep track of where you're saving it.

12. Let someone else read it. No matter how careful you are, you made mistakes. It happens to everyone. Tell your spouse, friend, cousin, whoever, to be very picky and point out every single flaw they see. Yes, it may hurt a bit but you want the book to look as perfect as possible. Make the changes they point out and repeat steps 11 and 12 until you're confident it's as good as it can be.

13. Publish! It's up to you how you want to do this but I can only provide information I know, which is publishing with Lulu.com. Open an account with Lulu, start a new publication. Keep it private to begin with. You will open it up for anyone to see once you get it ready to go. Follow the instructions Lulu provides to upload your document. Create your cover. Verify it all looks good and order your first copy. Lulu on-demand books are suprisingly affordable. I was able to get my first copy for about $26 for a 210 page book.

14. I know it's exciting seeing your first book. Believe me, I know. But you need to consider it a writable, scribbleable fixer-upper. No matter how careful and thorough you were, seeing it in print will allow you to see more errors. Does that mean you just wasted the money purchasing your first copy? No. It means you invested money to make your book the best it can be. Make changes to your Word document and repeat steps 11-14 until the book is ready for the public.

15. Make the changes on Lulu to tell them to allow others to see and order your book. Send out your emails. Update your blog. Call your friends and relatives. Get them to buy your book.


  1. Is it true that LuLu has no upfront cost?

    1. Yes! You can create books and make them available for sale to the public AND you can set a profit for yourself, all with no out of pocket cost to you. The only cost you will incur with Lulu is when you want to purchase a book. Even then, you are purchasing it at your cost. Yes, Lulu will take a profit from when you purchase a book and they will take a cut of the profits from every book you sell but it is minimal. The only cost that I've seen that seems out of line is the profit that Amazon and the other third-party resellers take when you make a book available through those channels.

  2. Cool. I belong to a local writers group and we had a member pass away in January. We are considering making a lulu book of her writing and donating it to the library. Then members of the group or her family could purchase it if they wished too. I was curious how it worked at LuLu. Thank you for your answer.

    1. It sounds like Lulu would be a perfect solution for doing that. No upfront costs and the group can buy a copy of the book for a very reasonable price, even if no one else ended up buying it. You can leave it out there available to buy as long as you'd like.