For Christmas a few years ago, I produced a book to give to my family members as gifts. I knew that one day I would want to create a book for my family that contained genealogy research and biographies. The question was, when should that happen? As any genealogist knows, family history research can go on forever and is never really ‘finished.’ Instead I posted stories to my family history blog as time permitted, but conscious that one day, way off in the future, I would produce a book of some kind.

Then a few weeks before Christmas on year, one of my siblings told me she preferred to read things in hard copy rather than online and was considering printing pages from my website, punching holes in them and putting them into a binder. She also said she wanted to take the information with her to visit relatives over the holidays and didn’t want to use a laptop for this. 

I realized immediately that I didn’t want my research presented in the format she described. As a journalist and corporate communicator who has produced many books and documents through my various jobs, the thought was sacrilege. I suggested she wait and I would try to come up with something before Christmas—less than six weeks away. 

Could I pull something together and get it printed in time to arrive before December 25? Did I mention that unlike many genealogists, I was not retired and still had a day job?

Once I decided to produce a book, I stopped researching and spent every spare minute preparing material for the publication. Some of the family biographies had already been written for my blog but needed updating and/or editing. Others had not been written yet and had to be done from scratch. It took about two weeks to complete the writing, but that was only the beginning.

As a professional communicator, I know how important illustrations are to bringing written material to life. So the next step was scanning family photographs. Again, some had already been scanned for other reasons, but others had not and that took time and experimentation with resolutions and format — for example, TIFs give the best detail when scanned, but the files are large and make the book’s file size huge, crashing the word-processing program. PNGs are more reasonably sized but don’t provide the same level of detail. JPGs are somewhere in between. For photographs and documents that were large and clear, I went with JPGs. For those that were small or of poor quality, TIFs were the better choice. I knew that the file size of the final document was going to be big and in the end it was more than 150 MB. 

I had census reports, newspaper articles and directory listings downloaded from genealogy sites. These I cropped to show only the relevant information. I also had birth, death and marriage certificates ordered from government registries, which I scanned and cropped. 

When I ran out of my own material, I looked to other sources. I used Google Streetview for screenshots of houses where my ancestors lived that still exist today (there were several). Wikimedia Commons provided old photographs (that are in the public domain) related to ancestors’ occupations. I found photographs of gravestones and locations at other sites. Since the book was not being sold and not being distributed to the public, fair-use policy applied to the images I downloaded from the Internet. If I had been creating a book for commercial sale or public distribution, I’d have had to get written permission and likely pay for use of some of the images.

With the illustrations waiting in a folder on my computer, I moved on to layout & design.

Continued in part 2: Publishing Options