"A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time—proof that humans can work magic." —Carl Sagan
A family history book is a way to talk to future generations with information on the lives of their ancestors that preceded them. Would you like to share your knowledge of your ancestors with your grandchildren or great grandchildren? In a picture book, your family history is a super way to do just that.
Do Books Still Have Value in the Digital Age?
A family history consultant at the LDS Church Archives recently talked about the importance of backing up digital data and said there is still value in keeping a printed copy of family records. Print media has lasted for hundreds of years and is a basic part of our family history work.
There is a benefit to reading the printed page for adults and children alike. In a recent 2011 study by Pew Research Center comparing reading printed books to digital books, it concluded an overwhelming preference to printed books when sharing books with others and reading to children.
“When you read a book, a proper kid’s book, it engages all the senses. It’s teaching them to turn the page properly. You get the smell of paper, the touch.” Kathryn Zickuhr, Pew Research Center
What Should I Write About?
Family History books are not new. There are many different types of books. Some are long with lots of text, others are filled with photographs and include very little text. I'd like to present five formats for your consideration. One of them might be just right for you.
1. A Life Story
I have a written a life story in picture book format on my great grandparents entitled, Robert and Margaret Gardiner, Pioneers of 1868. It is a narration of their lives from the time they left Scotland until they died in Salt Lake City in the early 1900's. The text was originally written by their son, Clarence Gardiner, in the 1950's, and I later adapted it to fit a picture book format.
2. Multiple Life Stories
I wrote the Brown Heritage, Life Stories of Faith and Courage book to include 50 ancestors related to one couple, Jim and Marjorie Brown. Each ancestor has their own page with a picture (where available) and a life story or reflection. The book includes their 5 generation pedigrees and historical photographs.
3. A Life Story From Historical Documents
When I attended the 1980 World Conference on Records held in Salt Lake City, a speaker said, "Using historical documents it is possible to tell what someone ate, what their house looked like, what they wore, how they traveled and where they worshiped." A few years ago, using the internet, I researched and wrote on the lives of Robert and Elizabeth Stewart, Their lives in 19th Century Scotland. The book is a life story borrowing on customs and culture of the time period in which they lived with photographs and information obtained from the internet. I was able to document the type of clothing they wore at the time, the food commonly eaten and type of transportation used in the highlands of Scotland in the 1800's.
4. Autobiographical Stories From Journal Entries
My first wife, Suzanne Gardiner, passed away in 1994. She left behind her personal journals which became the basis for a book on her life entitled, Suzanne Marie Gardiner, Handmaiden of the Lord. I edited her writings and found content that touched on faith, family and personal reflections. This book is a treasure to her six surviving children and 10 grandchildren.
5. Autobiographical Stories and Reflections
In the 1980's President James E. Faust came to California and spoke to a stake in Valencia about how to write your personal history. He said don't write a journal with mundane entries, write about the defining moments in your life. Defining moments could include how you met your spouse, birth of a child, how you picked a career, things you have accomplished, how you viewed an historical event, your testimony, etc. Defining moments are the basis of a good family history book. I took this counsel to heart and wrote my personal history book focusing on the defining moments of my life. I included my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and certain reflections I wanted my posterity to know.
6. Stories Based on an Object
My son's father-in-law lives in Nevada. While growing up his father owned a large stake bed truck. When the father died he gave the truck to his son. Over the years the truck got older and eventually ended up in a field. However while all of this was going on the man collected family stories related to the truck. He drew pictures that fit with each story and entitled the book, A Boy, His Dad, and a Truck. It makes an interesting read and a collection of wonderful memories for the family.
How Do I Publish?
There are a number of online publishers like Apple's Ibooks, Pinhole Press, Kindred Prints, Blurb, Lulu, Shutterfly, Artkive, Snapfish, Impressed, Artifact Uprising, Mixbook, and MyPublisher.
A comparison of some of the best self publishing companies can be found online at http://coolmompicks.com/blog/2013/12/04/11-best-custom-photo-books/.
I have used MyPublisher.com for all my books and will briefly discuss my experience with their services and products.
Here are some important considerations when publishing a book.
1. Choose page color, font color, and layout based on the formality of the book. A white background or black background will always make a more formal book.
2. You can create each page in outside programs like Photoshop for total control of how the photographs and text are arranged on the page prior to uploading to a publisher. You can also use templates from various publishers if you want less control but want to make the book faster.
3. Some companies use archival quality paper which will last longer and keep the photographs crisp and clear.
4. Proofreading is very important. When I did my last book, which was only 30 pages long, I had four people proofread the text and each person found errors even though the previous person thought they had found all errors. When you think your book is error free, publish a single copy because you will probably find more errors in the printed copy.
5. Labeling photographs with the place and date is very important for future generations. Do the best you can and if all else fails make an educated guess based on the age of the person in the photograph and where it was taken.
I have seen my books being used in family home evenings, and excerpts given in talks and lessons. They are read to our grandchildren. They have also been shared at family reunions and online content for my family history blog, GatheringGardiners.blogspot.com. Publishing a book today is easy, cost effective, and will be a treasure for many generations to come.
Kent Gardiner was a demonstration teacher at the UCLA Lab School for 39 years. He is retired and lives in Eagle Mountain, UT. Kent is an avid family historian who has an extensive family history website and has self published eight family history picture books.