Memory Savers: Genealogies on Demand

By Sunny McClellan Morton and Chris McClellan Premium

Ready to transform years of family research into a published book? With print-on-demand technology, it’s now easier — and more affordable — than ever. Read our Q&A to learn how the process works and decide whether it’s right for you.

What is print-on-demand?

Print-on-demand (POD) publishing allows authors to create books electronically, then order small quantities of “hard copy” books — or even single copies. What’s the big deal? Traditionally, publishers required orders of 1,000 copies or more — far more than most family historians need.

What does POD offer family history writers?

Family historians may be the experts on their ancestries, but they’re often not professional writers, designers or computer whizzes. POD providers address genealogists’ diverse needs with a range of offerings.

Automated services such as Lulu <> allow computer-savvy customers to upload electronic manuscripts, returning inexpensive, professionally bound books within weeks. Such services offer no editorial review, so what you submit is what you get. (Need to hire a genealogical editor? Find one on the Association of Professional Genealogists Web site <>.) It can take several tries to get a product with no typos, so budget time and money for multiple proofs before committing to bulk orders.

Those who need help with layout, design, image scanning, or even typing a more comprehensive POD service, such as that provided by Ron Engstrom The Genealogy Printing Co. <>. “We take the book in, look it over, and give it what it needs. We can take almost any project and make it look great.” About 10 percent of his clients don’t even use computers; they send cut-and-paste hard copy originals and he takes it from there.

Be prepared to pay for assistance. Full-service companies either charge separately for manuscript preparation or build the cost into their book charges. Professional help will definitely give novices a better result, though, so if you want to create a family heirloom, it may be worth the cost.

How do I prepare my manuscript?

More preparation yields better and less-expensive POD experiences. Type your manuscript, electronically if possible. Scan images and pedigree charts (or have them scanned) at a resolution of 300 dpi or more.

Next? “Look at other people’s books and figure out what you want in yours,” advises Ann Hughes of Gateway Press <>, who’s been helping genealogists self-publish since 1975. “Do you want just data? Do you want pictures?”

Then decide how much manuscript preparation you can handle. Most people with computer experience and determination can do much of the work themselves. Both Engstrom and Hughes even offer written guides to help you.

Although InDesign and PageMaker are the preferred publishing software, Engstrom says many clients use Microsoft Word. “I would suggest using a program you can handle. Choose the one you use best.”

The publishing process will vary among POD providers, but should include reviewing a hard copy before ordering a batch. Some providers offer extras such as copyright and ISBN registration, but those aren’t necessary for a project you’ll just share with family. (You still keep rights to your work without a formal copyright registration.)

How do costs compare?

Most POD providers allow you to purchase small print runs and order extra copies later, but cost per book goes down as quantity goes up. If you need 50 copies, order them together. Color printing costs more — about 10 times the price of black and white. Your binding type, paper, size, and cover material also affect your bottom line. No-frills POD services run as little as $6 to $30 per copy, with minimal setup fees.

Some genealogists hope to save money by printing their own documents, but that can be pricier than you think. Ink-jet printouts can cost more than $1 per color page or 20 cents per black-and-white page. A local copy center may charge about half that, but POD can produce a more professional product for around 15 cents per color page or two cents per black-and-white, plus a few dollars per book for a paperback binding. (Prices will vary.)

After all the effort you’ve put into writing your family history, it makes sense to investigate whether POD is right for you. It just may make the difference between a ho-hum book that gets shelved by relatives and a coffee-table attraction that will entertain the grandkids for years to come.

POD Providers

Here’s a sampling of services to explore your POD options — to find more companies, type “print on demand” into a search engine.



Gateway Press

(800) 296-6687, ext. 204, <>

The Genealogy Printing Co.

(800) 200-2782, <>




From the May 2008 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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