Writing Your Own Family History–Printing Your History!

Making a single PDF of your history. When all of the previous steps have been completed, you need to combine all of your history’s chapters and appendices into a single PDF. Start by saving each document as its own PDF file. Then download a free program, such as pdfbinder, and list each file in the proper order to create a single PDF document:

• Title Page (and a blank page for the back of it)
• Letter to Reader (and a blank page for the back of it)
• Chapter One
• Chapter Two
• Chapter Three
• Chapter Four
• Chapter Five
• Chapter Six
• Chapter Seven
• Chapter Eight
• Chapter Nine
• Appendix A
• Appendix B
• Appendix C
• Appendix D
• Appendix E
• Appendix F
• Appendix G
• Appendix H

Review and Update your history. Once you combine everything into a single PDF file, you can look over the document and decide whether you need to delete something or to include anything else or to update simple changes.

For example, you might want each chapter to start on the right page with an odd page number. Let’s say that after you have one PDF of your entire history, you notice that Chapter Two starts on page 26 (meaning it will be printed on the left side of the page). At this point, you must return to the original Word document of Chapter One or Two to make changes. You can either add a blank page at the end of Chapter One—this will become page 26 and force Chapter Two to start on page 27. Or you can add a blank page at the beginning of Chapter Two and set the pagination at page 26—which will force Chapter Two to begin on page 27. (If you have included endnotes at end of each chapter–which is a good idea when you have many, I suggest adding the extra page to the beginning of the second chapter, since Word includes endnotes as the last part of the chapter and the extra page added will be included before the endnotes.)

When your changes have all been made, resave your document in Word and as a PDF. Then you can recombine all your PDFs into a single PDF and re-edit.

Complete this process until you are confident that your history will print the way you want it to print—assuming you want to print a book with 8 ½ x 11 sheets of paper.

Printing your history. With a single PDF, you then can email your entire document to a print shop. I have enjoyed working with BYU Print Services. They work with family histories all the time and they are great at explaining the printing process and its costs and turn-around time. The histories can be printed hardbound or softbound with a variety of colors or with your own image. For the history I wrote about my mission president’s mission history, I was able to get BYU Print Services to emboss Chinese characters on the cover of the book. I highly recommend them.

Make sure you have a chance to edit a page proof before printing. Look through these pages one at a time and verify that you are satisfied before a final copy is produced.

Writing Your Own Family History–Enhancing the History

Conduct follow-up interviews. Once you have organized the history, you will want to continue to shape and add to it. As you edit through your draft, make notations of follow-up questions to complete specific stories and then take them to your next interview session so the details can be added to the text.

At this point, you will find that some stories can be included in several places. Your first consideration is to ask where the story fits in chronologically. If it doesn’t matter, put it in a chapter that needs more stories so that each chapter is balanced with approximately the same amount of stories and pages.

With as much detail as possible, you can make inferences about how your character develops from one stage to another. With heaven-sent inspiration, you can understand—and write about—why your grandparents or parents are who they are and how they became what they became.

Add chapter and history titles. With the stories written, add your own chapter titles and give your history a descriptive title. For my grandparents who owned their own road construction company, I entitled their history, Building on a Legacy. My second history about my farming grandparents was called, From Seed to Harvest and included chapter titles of “Raising Crops and Raising Children” and “A Decade of Difficulty and Determination.” The history of my parents—which initially was written to commemorate their 50th anniversary—was entitled, Fifty Stories for Fifty Years. And, in writing the missionary history of my former mission president, I named it after a phrase he translated from Chinese for his dissertation, The Morning Dew Awaits the Sun.

Of course, you can simply name your history after the person you are writing about (i.e., History of So and So).

Include an introductory letter. In each of these histories, I have written a foreword in the form of a letter to the reader—who might simply be my siblings and cousins. In this introduction, you can give credit to those who have helped with the book (i.e., those who have helped scan photos, researched records, created charts, or edited the text). And you can give brief insights of what the history contains and why it should be read. This is a good way to whet the appetite and get people reading your book.

Add photographs and images. With your text the way you want it, add images and photographs to your history. It is important to wait until your text is ready to insert these images to the document, as most photographs take up a big chunk of your document’s memory and may significantly slow your computer function. When I am ready to insert a number or photos, I have found it helpful to divide my chapters into separate documents so I don’t bog things down and so I don’t lose hours and hours of work—which has happened several times when Word crashed with such a large document! Just remember that if you create separate chapters, you need to change the pagination so that the page numbers are correct (i.e., so that Chapter Two doesn’t start on page one).

While adding historical photos, don’t forget to include photos about things which were made by the person/s you are writing about, such as doilies or crocheted items and hand crafted furniture. You can include photos of favorite cars, wedding pictures of children, and pictures of grandchildren when they were younger.

I recommend editing most photos beforehand so that you can crop out unwanted backgrounds (and make the picture bigger) and so that you can change some color photos to black and white (since it is much more expensive to print color photos). I also suggest including captions for each photo and including approximate dates for the images so that readers don’t have to read the text to figure out what the photograph or image is about.

In addition to photographs, you can include the following:

• maps of notable cities
• tables including places where people lived
• tables including cities where one served as a missionary
• images of former schoolhouses or church buildings or steamships
• images of historical figures or procedures not understood today (i.e., a lamplighter in England or a farm implement used with draft horses)
• hand-drawn or computer created blue prints of homes

You can also include images to carry the theme of your history. For example, at the beginning of each chapter in one history, I inserted an image of several strands of wheat to carry the theme of From Seed to Harvest.

Include appendices. The other thing that really completes a history is including appendices of extra, but important information. Here are some ideas of appendices to include:

• Appendix A: Timeline of Important Events
• Appendix B: Patriarchal Blessings
• Appendix C: Photographic Pedigree Charts
• Appendix D: Posterity of William and Mary
• Appendix E: Bibliography
• Appendix F: Index
• Appendix G: Figure and Table Index

For one of my histories, I also included an appendix listing most of the road construction projects of my grandfather’s company. For another history, one index included a Farm Property Timelines (complete with warranty dates and acreage and grantees—all found at the county recorder’s office).

Compile an index. One great way to turn your history into a historical resource is to create an index as one of your appendices. Word has a feature which allows you to highlight specific words and phrases in your document (i.e., individuals and important places and important stories) and then generate an index with its corresponding page numbers. You don’t want to work on your index until your history is pretty much completed, or the page numbers will change when you make corrections.

Note that if you have divided your chapters into separate documents, you will have to make separate indexes for each one and then combine them into one index (with page numbers in order). To make this a bit easier, you ought to make a list of all the words or phrases you want to include in the final index so that you will remember to highlight them in each document.

Writing Your Own Family History–Organizing Your Stories

As you gather your stories, organize them chronologically. This organization of your writing will make for a better read. A better read because you won’t duplicate stories and a better read because the stories will spill out in the order they originally happened.

Use a family history sample template. The following template contains the basic framework I used in the two histories I wrote for my maternal grandparents and my paternal grandparents. I adapted each history to the specific circumstances of each couple. For example, one of my grandfathers was a partner in a road construction company, and much of the history of these grandparents revolved around his work at various camps through the state. An entire chapter was even dedicated to different road construction projects. On the other hand, my other grandfather was a farmer who owned various properties. This second history revolved around farm life and the family working on the land. It included images of farming implements and memories of favorite horses and cattle drives.

If your history contains information about a married couple—which I highly recommend combining into one history instead of two, you can use the following template (or simply take out the first chapter if your history is about one person). This template is basically a Table of Contents with chapters and chapter details (which can be used as subheadings within the chapters). Adapt it to your history and then use it as your Table of Contents (with added corresponding page numbers).

Chapter One: William’s Ancestry and Childhood (1905 – 1925)

• Paternal Ancestry (father; father’s parents and where they grew up and how they met)
• Maternal Ancestry (mother; mother’s parents and where they grew up and how they met)
• Parents’ Courtship and Marriage
• William’s Birth (date and details surrounding birth)
• Birth of William’s Siblings
• Historical Details of Childhood Town (religious activities, wide-spread diseases, wars)
• Childhood Home (sketch of floor plan, how meals were prepared, how far from town)
• Difficult Times for the Family (parents’ responsibilities, illness, deaths of loved ones)
• William’s Schooling (teacher’s names, grades, stories of friends)
• William’s Spiritual Growth (missionary service, patriarchal blessing, etc.)

Chapter Two: Mary’s Ancestry and Childhood (1909 – 1925)
• Paternal Ancestry (father; father’s parents and where they grew up and how they met)
• Maternal Ancestry (mother; mother’s parents and where they grew up and how they met)
• Parents’ Courtship and Marriage
• Mary’s Birth (date and details surrounding birth)
• Birth of Mary’s Siblings
• Historical Details of Childhood Town in Gainsborough, England (religious activities, wide-spread diseases, wars)
• Childhood Home (sketch of floor plan, how meals were prepared, how far from town)
• Difficult Times for the Family (parents’ responsibilities, illness, deaths of loved ones)
• Mary’s Schooling (teacher’s names, grades, stories of friends)
• Mary’s Spiritual Growth (conversion to the LDS Church, etc.)

Chapter Three: William and Mary’s Courtship and Marriage (1925 – 1931)

Historical Background (i.e., college life, roommates, work)
William and Mary First Meet (where, how, first feelings of each other)
Dating and Courtship (fun dates, dances, love letters, etc.)
Proposal and Marriage (dates and details of marriage day and reception)
Newlywed Life (first home, difficulties/adjustments to married life)
Becoming Parents (birth of first child)

Chapter Four: Early Family Life for William and Mary (1931 – 1941)

Historical Background (where lived, events in town, church, nation)
Births of Other Children
Occupation and Responsibilities of Each Spouse
Responsibilities of the Children
Extended Families
Vacations (or lack thereof)

Chapter Five: Significant Events for the Family (1941 – 1946?)

Historical Challenges (i.e., World War II, illness, etc.)
New Occupational Opportunities

Chapter Six: Other Significant Family Events (1946 – 1957?)

Teenage Children’s Activities
Church Callings
Town Celebrations

Chapter Seven: Supporting Their Growing Children (1950 – 1971)

Child One (missionary and/or military service, marriage, home, family, etc.)
Child Two (missionary and/or military service, marriage, home, family, etc.)
Child Three (missionary and/or military service, marriage, home, family, etc.)
Child Four (missionary and/or military service, marriage, home, family, etc.)
Child Five (missionary and/or military service, marriage, home, family, etc.)

Chapter Eight: Grandparents (1954 – 1998)

Becoming Grandparents
Visits from Grandchildren
Vacations to Visit Grandchildren
Sharing Gifts with Grandchildren

Chapter Nine: Faithful to the End (1969 – 1998)

Hobbies in Later Years (i.e., family history research, temple work, recreation)
Health Problems
Special Anniversaries and Celebrations (50th Wedding Anniversary, 80th Birthdays, etc.)
William’s Death and Funeral
Mary’s Death and Funeral

Writing Your Own Family History–Getting Started with Stories

Writing a family history is very time-consuming, but very rewarding in many ways. It is a great way to understand your loved ones and to preserve their memories. It is a wonderful way to help children appreciate and learn from the past. It is a way to help them and us understand “if they can do hard things, so can we!”

After writing several histories, I have learned a few tricks that I want to share on this blog.

Collect Your Stories

Once you have decided whose history you want to write about, you need to collect information about that individual or those individuals. Most historical data is included as stories, and stories are what most people want to read about. Stories are the stuff that helps us identify with the characters and remember who they are.

Schedule regular times to interview. Because collecting stories takes time, I suggest carving out several hours each week to interview the person/persons you are writing about. (For example, keep your schedule open for interviews every Friday morning from 10:00 a.m. to noon.)

Prepare questions to jumpstart your interview. If you don’t know where to start in your interviews, you can google family history questions online to help you get started (and keep you going).

Interview as many people as you can. If your history includes stories about a married couple (i.e., your parents and/or grandparents), you can interview them together or separately. Sometimes, one spouse remembers details about the other’s history better or can add details to a story. Also, locate and interview the children, siblings, grandchildren, and friends of those you are writing about. These critical people can fill in blanks and enhance the original stories with their memories.

Record your stories. If taking notes while interviewing, plan to transcribe your notes quickly so you don’t forget the details. Otherwise, use a good recording device you can easily transport. Some recording systems include “voice to text” apps that make the transcription part of the history much easier.

Find other documentation to support interviews. Because time changes the details of a good story, find journals or other historical documents to enhance the interview process. Think how much information you might find in the parents’ journal of those you are interviewing! Ask to make copies of certificates, newspaper clippings, letters and emails, calendars, to-do lists, and anything else that adds to the original stories. Because the memories of the interviewees may be faded, remember that historical documents trump any memories and verify specific dates.

Use other resources. One great resource for extra information is Familysearch.org. It contains not only birth, marriage, and death dates, but it also includes stories and memories and photographs that you can add to your history. In addition to this, you can google information about specific places, schools, and people. Many cities have established historical websites and/or archival photographs. You can find wonderful information and photos from these sites.