Creating a Family History Book

age-2569_640A few years ago the show Who Do You Think You Are? debuted on TLC. I tuned in mostly because family history, and not just mine, has always fascinated me. I remember my high school friend telling me stories about her German grandparents and their experience during WW2. I hung on her every word. Another friend shared with me her mother’s first love and how after decades they reconnected and rekindled their romance. When she tells the story, I picture her young mother, ever the Bohemian, with her long, tawny blonde tresses matching her long, tanned legs traipsing the English countryside with her beau. Recently a friend started to tell me about her family’s lengthy Parisian history and I made her stop so I could get myself a hot chocolate and really hunker down and listen to her stories.

I love hearing about where people have come from. The colourful characters that make up a family, the experience that turned the fortune of a family, how generations influence and hold power, consciously or unconsciously . . . I can’t get enough of it.

It didn’t take many episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? for me to fall down the rabbit hole at I spent countless hours clicking through the website and more money than I care to admit on my membership. Every day I discovered something new about my family and the proof was there – a signature on a marriage certificate scrawled by my great-grandmother, a death certificate of baby only few living relatives know about, a census record indicating settlement in the exact neighbourhood my husband spent his childhood.

The information was plentiful and I knew that I wanted to preserve it for my own children. After researching the merits of several Etsy artists and their family trees, I knew that I wanted something more and a book, that I could design, was the best way for me to compile the information I had gathered.

I used the on-line book making website, Blurb, and had great success in creating my book. I am now in the final stages of editing and I feel ambivalent to hit publish. A family’s history is never really told. There are stories that have been buried long ago and stories that have yet to be told.


Customizing the Year: Personalized Agendas

The reality might sit like a stone in your belly, but the truth is that it is not too early to be thinking about holiday presents, especially if you celebrate Christmas.  I am actually already regretting that I didn’t get my act together to opt out of some of the holiday excess – I’m pretty sure to do this, one must start much earlier than mid-November.

This holiday stress aside, along with any resulting irony, I’m going to suggest to you a holiday present that might hit the mark for some of the people on your list with vanishing targets.  Last Christmas, I created customized agenda books for my in-laws (who, probably like yours, have basically everything).  But they didn’t have a book that was filled with photographs of their eight grandchildren taken at the family cottage, and this is what I made.

I used the online book-making company Blurb, and can make a good, solid recommendation for them.   Basically, you download their software, upload your photos, and then use their navigation tools to create the layouts you want for your agenda.  There are various templates to choose from, and your photo page that accompanies each month can feature one or many photographs.  It’s not particularly expensive, considering customization:  I think mine cost about $20 or $25.

Since you are actually only creating 12 photo pages plus the covers, it doesn’t take long.  You choose paper quality and cover quality, and when satisfied with your agenda book, you send it to them online.   A couple of weeks later, your one-of-a-kind book will arrive at your doorstep, and you will be equipped with a gift that you can present with the pride of the virtual printpress.

Here are a couple of tips from she who has been around this block.  First, the agenda is not as thoroughly equipped with tools and features as you would find in an agenda you would pick up from Indigo.  There is no address section, conversion charts, lists of airline companies, etc.  I don’t miss these particularly, but I wouldn’t have minded a few extra pages for notes.  I missed that there weren’t dates on each day, but t; rather the dates of the week were just listed at the top of the page for that week (for eg., this week’s page would simply say “November 12-November 18”).   Also, the holidays aren’t identified.  Blurb sent out feedback on their agendas, which were introduced for the first time last year, so maybe there have been improvements this year.

Overall, though, these issues are pretty minor, and it really is nice to give someone special something that they can’t buy or create on their own.  And if agenda books aren’t your thing, of course you can create other kinds of photo books.  For those of you who keep blogs, especially personal ones that might interest family members, you can use Blurb to create a blog book, which is how I first discovered it.  This is truly a spectacular feat, as you don’t have to upload a ton of entries manually.  I was completely happy with the hardcover book quality that I chose, and I didn’t even opt for any of the fancy papers available.

For bigger projects and multiple books, it’s helpful to leave yourself enough time to create one book and then make a final edit once it’s physically in your hands.  You may have to pay shipping more than once, but after making something with Blurb, you’ll receive discounted promotions for future projects, and can use one of these to purchase additional books.

But I digress.  You don’t need a big project to make an impact.  12 photo pages, an agenda book, and a couple (or few, depending on who you are) hours can leave your loved ones with smiles on their faces with memories from the previous year, and with anticipation of the ones to come in the next.

Blogging and Blurbing

At the risk of sounding single-minded, when the topic of memory keeping for our children comes up, I really have only one real suggestion.  It’s this:

Start a blog!  Straightaway!  So much fun!

I started writing a family blog two years ago.  I’m not a good memory keeper otherwise, both mentally (can’t remember anything after awhile) or manually (don’t do scrapbooking, etc.). What I have often kept are writing journals, but I haven’t kept them in one place or any order, so they’re not reliable for retrieval at any given time, even if they could be shared (which of course they can’t).

Enter WordPress (or Blogger or Typepad). And suddenly you’ve got an avenue for uploading photographs and can write down whatever you like (nothing, a caption, or much, much more) to go with them.

What I love about blogging ~

~ it’s there for you.  Whenever you have a chance, you can sit at the computer and click and tap away.  You can write or upload as much or as little as you want, with whatever time you have.  It’s tidy, and assuming you have a computer, there is no set-up or clean-up time afterward.

~ it’s easy to use.  I am not computer-friendly, but I learned to do it (in a basic way) without much fuss.  So so can you.

~ it’s instantaneous.  When you decide to post, it’s up.  Gratification doesn’t get much quicker.

~ it’s incremental.  With a scrapbook, you usually have to find a chunk of time and plug away at a big project.  With blogging, you do a little on a regular (or not so regular) basis, often while an experience is still fresh, and before you know it, you’ve amassed some meaningful content.

~ it can be a great way to stay in touch with family, friends, or like-minded community.  You can receive and reply to comments, thus creating some conversation.

~ or you can keep it private, and granting viewing access only to those people you wish to see it.

And perhaps the clinchiest of the clinchers…

~ you can turn your blog into a book!  Talk about having your cake and eating it too!  With the assistance of an online book making company called Blurb, I’m in the midst of making a book from of my own blog to eventually give to my children (who may not have much in the way of baby books otherwise), to my mother (as a Christmas gift) and to myself (because I will always, always love paper and books).

To use Blurb to turn your blog into a book, you must use one of the blogging programs (like WordPress, Typepad or Blogger).  You then download your blog into the Blurb software (I think the best one for blogs is BookSmart), and then you format and edit each page with lots of options for customizing the book.  This process can be time-consuming; it’s kind of like online scrapbooking.  But at least it’s not much harder than creating your own blog.  Then you upload the finished book back to Blurb for printing.  The result is a high quality bound book that features the very people and experiences you find most compelling.

If you’re getting multiple copies of the book as I plan too, the cost might add up, but a single book wouldn’t be expensive.  For the uniqueness of what you’re getting, I think it’s well worth it.

Blogging and Blurbing isn’t for everyone.  It’s not for you if you’re very afraid of computers or you don’t like writing (Blurb creates photo books too, but I think there are cheaper and more accessible options available).  But for it’s been a boon for me, and I’d encourage anyone who is even a little interested to give it a try.

image credit:  devil’