Now that you’ve taken the time to researching your family history you will learn how to find and use software for desktop publishing systems to create and print a book that family members will cherish.

Software for your family history book

Vintage old photos Photos Photos
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Whether you use software specifically designed for genealogy or the more general programs you already have depends on your personal preference. For convenience and speed, the former is a good choice; for maximum flexibility and at no extra cost, the latter is better.

Family Tree Software

Genealogy software typically includes many ready-to-print family history layouts, including narrations, diagrams, and photographs. This can save you time and make your book attractive without much hassle. Available options to consider include:

  • Family Historian
  • Family Tree Creator
  • Heritage family tree

Desktop publishing software

Creating your family history book with desktop publishing software offers endless layout possibilities. Adobe InDesign may not be in your budget, but there are less expensive options, including several free programs that you may already have or can download for free, including Scribus and Apple Pages . These programs have learning curves but give you unlimited customization options.

Word processing software

You may have already entered the information you have collected into a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word . You can use the same word processing software to create and publish a family history book in your own design or using ready-made layout templates.

Stories for your family history book

Pedigree charts and records of family groups are an important part of a genealogy, but it is narratives, anecdotes, and stories that bring a family tree to life. Here are a few factors and techniques that can help you present them in an attractive way:

  • Consistency. Develop a consistent but distinctive format for all descriptions, considering fields columns, fonts, and spaces.
  • Grouping — Group descriptions of key indicators or other historical information at the beginning of the book followed by charts, or place biographies of the indicators of each branch immediately before the corresponding descendant charts.
  • Memories. Include a special section in the book for stories from living descendants that detail what they remember, what adult life looked like, and what their life is like today.
  • Footnotes — Include footnotes or explanations of names so that readers know that «Aunt Susie» refers to the Susannah Jones found on page 14, or that «Beilis» is the family that lived next door. Create a specific style for footnotes or labels and use it consistently throughout.
  • Small caps. In genealogy, it is customary to set surnames in all capital letters, to make scanning easier. Small caps work too and can be quite eye-catching.
  • «Chunking» Long blocks of text, no matter how well written, are boring. Engage readers in the story and make them read with visual cues in paragraphs such as initial caps, indents, bullets, quotes and fields. Use subheadings to break up long stories into sections, perhaps by year or by location as you migrate to other areas.

Graphs and other data in your family history book

The charts show family relationships, but not all standard genealogy chart formats are suitable for a family history book. They may take up too much space, or the orientation may not match the desired layout. You will need to maintain readability while compressing the data to fit the format of your book.

There is no right or wrong way to present your family map. You can start from a common ancestor and show all descendants, or you can start from the current generation and reverse the families. If you want your family history to be used as a reference for future family historians, use the standard genealogy conventions. Some provide greater space savings than others.

Genealogy publishing software can automatically format charts and other family data for you, but if you’re formatting data from scratch, use the following strategies:

  • Consistency. List dates of birth, marriage, death, and other dates in the same format in your book.
  • Indentation — use indents with markers or by numbering to make a list of successive generations of descendants. Indentation helps maintain readability while compressing chart information to save space.
  • Keep Information Together Whenever possible, use page breaks to separate information about each child.
  • Small caps — As in storytelling, use small last names (rather than standard capital letters) for last names.
  • Boxes or lines — when creating blocks or lines on diagrams connecting family lines, use a single style.
  • Photo — Include any family photographs of deceased ancestors and living family members that you can find — the more the better, in the highest quality originals or scans.
  • Image enhancementsRefine scans of old photos with image editing software. You can fix tears, remove scratches and improve contrast with most graphics programs. GIMP is considered the best free image editing software.

Photo layouts in a family history book

The way you post pictures can make your family history book more enjoyable.

  • Consistency Have you noticed a trend? With photographs, this is just as important as with other elements. Use grid to organize photos of different sizes on a page.
  • grouping — Wherever possible, place photos next to text, stories and diagrams that relate to them. Group photos from the same branch of the family tree on the same page or group of pages. Accompany the stories with photographs of the key people in the stories.
  • Timeline — Create a photographic timeline — for example, using group shots from family reunions over the years. Pair the couple’s wedding photo with a photo from their 50th birthday.
  • Advanced charts — Add a headshot to the head of each primary branch of the family.
  • Replace plug. Instead of the initial capital letter, take a photo at the beginning of the story.
  • Signatures Signatures are especially important in a family history book. Trying to identify each person in the photo. For large groups of people in which it is impossible to identify everyone, at least a caption to the photo with information about where and when the photo was taken.
  • Places In addition to photographs of people, include significant buildings or other places, including manors, churches, and family cemeteries.

Maps, letters and documents

Dress up your family history book with maps showing where the family lived or photocopies of interesting handwritten documents such as letters and wills. Old and recent newsletter clippings are also a good addition. Again, try to keep the formatting consistent. Here are some more ideas:

  • Enhance the story of how an entire branch of a family moved from one state to another by including a map that tracks their migration.
  • Create maps that show both the current boundaries for counties, states, or other areas, as well as the boundaries that existed when your family lived there.
  • When including photocopies of actual historical family documents, include a printed translation.

Other items to include

In addition to the typical items, consider adding these to your book:

  • Latest Documents — Preserve some recent material for future generations. These may be drawings or handwritten histories of some of the younger generations, as well as newspaper clippings or records of the current activities of living family members.
  • Blank pages Leave space for future family members to take additional notes as the family grows.
  • Signatures — Sprinkle scanned signatures from wills, Bibles or letters all over the book. Place them next to the text for that person.

Contents and index

One of the first things your third cousin Emma is going to do when she sees your family history book is go to the page where you list her and her family. Help Emma and future family historians along with a table of contents and index. Modern software makes the process quite simple and automatic. Here are a few things to include:

  • branches — use the table of contents to show common sections such as descriptive and child charts for each main branch of the family.
  • Surnames and toponyms
  • Churches, organizations, businesses and streets
  • Maiden name and alternate spellings — For female members or cases where the surname has changed significantly, add cross-references to maiden and married surnames or alternative spellings used by the same person.
  • Page numbers

Printing and binding your family history book

Many family history books are copied or printed on home desktop printers. When only a small amount is required, or when you cannot afford other options, this is perfectly acceptable. There are ways to give your family history book a professional polish, even with low-tech reproduction techniques.

If you plan to print your book professionally, check with the publisher for the correct size and any other technical requirements before you begin. You can use a local printer or send a digital file to an online publishing company. Companies such as Book1One and diggyPOD, provide preliminary estimates.


Laser printing produces the sharpest results for home printed books. Print out a few test pages and photocopy before going too far; it may take some experimentation to get your photos to copy well. Use heavier paper than standard paper if you are printing on both sides so as not to disturb the blooming.


If you are paying someone to print your book, full color may not be available for the entire book, but a color cover may be doable. A heavy supply will help your labor of love withstand wear and tear. You can even have a cover with a last name. Another option is a die-cut showing a family photo.


Some relatively inexpensive binding options include stapling into a multi-page brochure; side stitching (which requires an additional inner margin margin) and various other helical and thermal bonding types.

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