There are a number of webpages which provide generic information about writing a family history book. This article is different in that I will tell you about what I have done, using what tools and what I have found along the way that could be improvements.
I decided to write a family history book, so the first problem which anyone faces with this idea is how much information do I include?
I started by creating family articles and combined these into a book and later into smaller booklets for sharing specific parts with my extended family and distant cousins. These work well and after sharing the information there are always corrections and further information made available. Using the ideas below, the second version of my family history book is still a long way off.
Family Articles are at the core of how I go about my research, save and record the information that I have accumulated. A family article could be described as a detailed family group sheet.
Each family article is a narrative about a particular family. Where known the information I include in each family article includes;
At the end of each article I then list my sources.
Details which should also be included are a link to the primary couples family page on WeRelate or Wikitree and the date for this version of the article.
These family articles are very good for sharing family information in PDF format with other people who are interested in one or more people in that family article.
The simplest way to create a book from here would be to put all your family articles in a folder. I used the articles for my direct ancestors and then I created a few other documents including an index and some linkage pages to fit between the different generations. To create a shareable e-book you can save all of the family articles and additional pages in PDF and then use PDFTK Builder to join all of these documents together and created an e-book book.
The ancestor book worked well, however new connections with 3rd and 4th cousins and other levels of relations around my Great, great great grandparents revealed a lot further information and I was able to use the family article idea to also produce descendant booklets.
To create the descendant booklets use the same family articles, a new index and joiner pages and created a few more family articles for descendants of the focus family. Saving them all in PDF and then using PDFTK Builder, the descendant booklets are created.
My chosen format for the descendant booklets has developed around my Great, great, great grandparents. They include;
This creates a descendant booklet down to the names of their great grandchildren and I have not gone to the level of including family articles for their grandchildren because a) in my booklets that starts to run into privacy concerns, b) that is a lot of additional work.
By sharing these descendant booklets I have then been given a lot of extra information including further information on their descendants and photos of my ancestors and their family members.
The combining of these articles into descendant booklets does create some repetition of content. A solution I have used to eradicate most of the repetition is to save a copy of the family article for the primary couple without the narratives for their children. Another idea would be to include all of the source information at the end instead of with each article.
Even though some of my descendant booklets are quite large, I refer to them as booklets instead of books because together they all form a part of my overall family history book.
Looking on the internet there are a number of ideas on how to present a family history book. My decision to use combined family articles has worked well from the perspective of knowing how much to include and how far you want your research to go. Like most people my family history research is focused on my ancestors and my first book went back as far as six generations using family articles and then a summary for the seventh generation because of the sometimes limited or non-existent information at this level. I call this a book even though there is only one printed copy and that is on A4 paper in a ring binder.
Using the same format I created two smaller versions in PDF for each set of my grandparents and their ancestors because sharing it with my cousins, aunts and uncles I knew they wouldn't want all the information for the other side of my family. I also created another two smaller versions with the starting couples being great grandparents, because a second cousin is also researching our common great grandparents and the other went to a great aunt who had provided a lot of information including some wonderful photos. As I went further back I connected with distant cousins and improved my overall knowledge of the family history by doing some research on the descendants of my ancestors and I created the descendant booklets described above to share the information that these distant cousins would be interested in.
As a guide to where I should put my efforts I use two ways to keep my research focused;
The basis for all of these booklets and books are individual family articles which could be thought of as chapters. The way in which these family articles are put together is what creates a pedigree type ancestor family history book or a book for descendants of a particular person or couple. For a descendant booklet see the information above in booklets. For an ancestor booklet, think of a pedigree chart and start with the first couple, the joining of articles then ends up as follows;
The Big Book
Taking all of this a step further, is my family history book project which still requires a lot of work before it is finished. I am referring to this as a great big book because it is a pedigree style ancestor book inclusive of all my descendant booklets, some of which are quite large by themselves. I have a layout planned as below;
The layout described above is a big project, however within it are a multitude of small and medium projects which are satisfying to work on and complete. Each family article takes time to research and compile and each descendant booklet has it's own rewards as you share what you know with newly found relations and receive more information in return.
Researching, recording, presenting and sharing your family history is a task that is made manageable through the use of computers and a range of useful software. This article will only be considering the recording and presenting of information in family articles, booklets and books. For other information on relevant software see the article on Portable, Open Source, Freeware for Genealogy.
Writing family articles is a matter of recording what you learn and putting that into a narrative, of course the more you find out about a person the more interesting that narrative will become. I use OpenOffice, Text document because it is Portable, Open Source, Freeware, but you could use Microsoft Word, Google Text document or any other similar program. Remember to include your sources and for writing family articles treat this document like a family group sheet and capture as much information as you can. Remember that when it comes to further details about siblings children, grandparents and others, then another family article may be the more appropriate place to record that information.
Most word processing applications today have a method of saving the document as a PDF. This is useful for sharing your work with anyone and it remains looking the same regardless of what program they use to view it. In case your program doesn't have this capability or you need to turn other items into PDF, there are a number of programs which will convert any document type into a PDF. One of these programs which is free and simple to use is Cute PDF, it acts like a printer, when you send your document to the CutePDF printer it saves it in PDF format.
Photographs, newspaper articles and other images are a great way to liven up a family article, however they are not always the right size or you may want to edit the image before including it in your family article. Fotografix is Portable, Open Source, Freeware which works well for editing images. Another free program Paint.net, is not suitable for a USB however it is very good for editing images.
Once you have your family articles, surname articles and any other relevant pages such as an index and title page all saved as individual documents then you can create a book by printing them and put them in a folder. You can also save them as individual PDF documents and then it is easy to use PDFTK Builder, Portable, Open Source, Freeware, which will combine all of your PDF documents into one larger document and leave the originals intact as individual PDF documents. Now you have your book in PDF and you can share it as an e-book.
WeRelate and Family history books
Using WeRelate to record family history is a way to refine your narrative writing and to compile your family articles one person at a time. Using the Criteria for Genealogy Well Done you may get one or more of your pages put up as a feature page, but more importantly, you will likely try harder and learn additional information about the family while you are trying to make sure there are no red links or question marks.