Create a Family History Book for the Holidays

Create a Family History Book for the Holidays

A family history photo book would make a meaningful holiday gift. We'll share five ways to make your family history book project manageable.

Halloween’s over, so your holiday shopping can begin, right? Or if you’re a genealogist, you might be thinking about using your research to create a meaningful Christmas gift for your spouse, parents, child, or other loved one.

I did a family history photo book last year for my dad’s Christmas present. I think he liked it!

Family History Photo Book

This kind of project can be big and time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. Our guide to creating a family history book in the October/November 2017 Family Tree Magazine walks you through it.

Here are some things I did to make my dad’s photo book a manageable project:


1. I decided on a narrow focus.

I chose to focus my family history photo gift book on my dad’s dad as a young man. Our family didn’t know much about his early life, and my research uncovered some interesting stories. For example, his academic achievements and participation in school activities were frequently featured in the local papers where he grew up in a state orphanage.

Had I decided to cover his entire family or his whole life, the project would’ve been a lot more complicated. Not that I couldn’t do this (and I hope to one day!), I’d just need to be able to devote the time.

family history photo book

2. I chose select photos and records to feature.

The book could’ve been 100 pages long, if I’d included every newspaper tidbit and genealogy record I’ve found. In deciding what to include and what to leave out, my priorities were:

  • Things with photos, which included a few newspaper articles and college yearbook pages he appeared on.
  • Items illustrating surprising or unknown aspects of my grandfather’s personality. For example, one article described how he jokingly ran as “Josephine” in the university’s Texas Sweetheart election (and nearly won).

A few other photos to show important places, such as the orphanage and the (now well-known) bakery where my grandfather worked.

I included source information under each record image. In the narrative, I used information from records I didn’t include pictures of.

Family History Photo Book

3. Summed things up with a timeline/map combo.

I wrote about the timeline in my family photo book gift here.  In addition to helping readers with the chronology of my grandfather’s life, it helped me organize the book. In creating the timeline, I looked through my records, newspaper articles and family papers. I composed the narrative as I did that.


4. My own copy of the book is the draft.

I’m a big believer that at least once, you need to see your work in the same format as your readers will. That’s why we view a printed proof of Family Tree Magazine before it goes to press.

I proofread my photo book carefully online, but when my printed book arrived, I still noticed a few typos and inconsistencies. (No doubt not looking at the book while waiting for it to arrive also helped!) So I marked them, fixed them online, and ordered another copy for my dad’s gift.

family history photo book

5. I gave myself plenty of time.

I started on my book in early October, working on it after the kids went to bed. I finished it just in time for Christmas. You might have more time to dedicate to your book, but if you haven’t started yet, I recommend doing so now.

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  1. Hi Diane,

    Very interesting g article and opportune as I am planning to write my autobiography which could be a big project to undertake. I am putting off the big plunge into starting to type it up as I am undecided whether to do it in WORD initially and then upload a PDF to the software or whether to type direct into the yet unchosen software.
    Your view would be welcome,

    • Hello,
      Congratulations on starting your autobiography! That sounds like a bigger project than my family history book. I’d do my writing and editing in a word processing document, and when it’s finalized, put the copy in a publishing platform. You might check with our friends over at Writer’s Digest magazine for more writing tools and ideas: .