I have gotten hundreds of responses to my first family book, which has been thrilling! Many people have asked specific questions about how I did it. I’m writing this post to try and address all of these questions in one place.

I used several different pieces of software to produce this book:

  • Family Tree Maker 2019 – database where all of my research is stored and organized
  • Family Book Creator 2019 – a plug-in for Family Tree Maker, used for creating the structure of the book, the family tree charts, and the data summaries
  • Microsoft Word 2016 – desktop editing software that I used to write the biographical chapters and edit the final product
  • Photoshop CC – graphic software that I used to create the cover
  • Lulu.com – the Print-on-Demand service I used to actually print and sell the books

I’ve tried to organize my thoughts on each of these phases below. Let me know if you have more questions!

Read More in My How-To Book!

If you enjoy this blog post, go check out my full-length book about this very topic! I hold your hand every step of the way in creating your family history book.

Below is a recorded Zoom presentation in which I talk through all of the tips below, and answer questions from the Family Book Creator Users Facebook group. This was actually the second session I held. The first one can be found here, but I will warn you that I was experiencing some Internet connection issues that day, and the audio is not at all clear. This is a much smoother version! But I will say there were more questions and interaction on that first day.

Organize Your Data – Family Tree Maker

It all starts with good data

When I embarked on this project, it coincided with the decision to start my family tree over from scratch. For 19 years, I had been randomly adding “facts” from all over the Web, without bothering to record sources or verify anything. My tree was a mess. I tried to fix it, but ultimately decided to start fresh.

I installed FTM and started a new tree, only entering in data that had sources. I have been carefully building that tree ever since. I feel confident about every piece of data in there – which is a great feeling! That clean data helped create a solid book from the start.

So before you ever run FBC, clean up all your names, dates, places, and descriptions. You’ll be glad you did.

Resolve your place names

It is a huge pain to resolve your place names in FTM, but so worth it for me. The Index of Places that FBC automatically creates only works if you give it good data.

Consider "shortened place names"

I was writing this book for my American family, most of whom were unfamiliar with the geography of Luxembourg. I worried that using the official name of a Place in FTM (e.g. “Bertrange, Luxembourg, Luxembourg, Luxembourg”) would be confusing.  Using the “Short” field to specify communes/districts/counties/etc. (e.g. “Bertrange, Canton de Luxembourg, District de Luxembourg, Luxembourg”) seemed clearer to me.

Use color coding

I made use of the color-coding feature in FTM to graphically illustrate each family line in the book. That way, if someone was only related to one of my 8 lines, they could see immediately if a section was relevant to them.

Write Your Biographies – Word

Add some context

My original plan was to just let FBC write the whole book for me. Then I sat down and thought about my intended audience (my grandmother) and decided that only seeing names, dates, and places would not be as interesting to her as it is to me. She would want to read stories, really learn about her ancestors. There were historical facts and context that would be very helpful in understanding our family’s emigration and foundation in the U.S.. And I had slowly been learning that census data contains more stories than I ever thought, if I sat down and really paid attention.

So, I decided to free-write a biographical chapter for each couple in the book (for the first 3 generations). That’s one separate Word document for each couple. These files would be incorporated into the book by FBC in between the hard data.

This also allowed me more control over layout. I’m a very visual person, and I wanted the photos and documents to be embedded in the narrative, rather than collected at the end. I also wanted to control the size and location of each image myself.

Choose Word settings
Keep your audience in mind as you choose your font size, and don’t go too small. I wanted something outside the norm, so I chose Goudy Old Style for my main text (size 14), and Baskerville Old Face (28) for headings. The & symbol is size 100. I made endnotes size 8 to take up less room.

Choose a format and style for your captions and footnotes, and stick to it. The footnotes and image numbering will automatically incorporate into your final document. Make sure the formatting of the footnotes matches what FBC is producing!

Landscape or Portrait Layout

I wrote this entire book in portrait mode (vertically oriented – taller than it is wide). At the very end, I realized that landscape was the better way to go for me. I had a lot of images that were very wide (especially census scans), and I just couldn’t display them large enough to read in portrait.

More importantly, I didn’t like the visual feel of portrait. I wanted my images and documents to flow organically in the text – specifically, I wanted text next to my images, not just above and below them. I felt the portrait layout was too blocky.

So despite the tedium, I re-did every page in the book, and it was worth it.

Margins

IMPORTANT! Turn off mirror margins everywhere – in Word and in FBC. Only add them back in at the very end of your editing process, before you go to print. The way FBC works means everything gets very jumbled up if you try to use mirror margins before then.

Here are my final margins in Word:

  • Top: 1″
  • Inside: 0.75″
  • Bottom: 0.8″
  • Outside: 0.75″
Add some pictures

Photos and document scans were a huge component of my book. I tried to include one on every page. They are not only interesting – they give the eye a break from big overwhelming blocks of text.

When you add an image in Word, make sure to select a Text Wrapping setting. I use “Tight”.

I try to crop everything before I bring it in to Word, especially census scans.

Keep an eye on the image anchor point. When you click on an image, you will see a little blue anchor symbol appear next to a paragraph of text. The image will stay with that text, so if you start typing and the text gets pushed onto the next page, the image will go with it. You can manually drag that anchor onto a different paragraph if you choose.

I wanted rounded corners on each photo on my book. Unfortunately, there is not easy way to do this in Word. FBC can accomplish it for you if you are not using a colored background on your pages. Since I am using a background, I ended up writing another macro in Word that rounded all the corners for me.

The manual way of rounding would be to select a picture, click on “Picture Fomat” that appears on the ribbon, then click the picture format you like. I choose “Reflected Rounded Rectangle”. Then I click the “Picture Effects” dropdown to the right of the example formats, then “Reflections”, and choose “None” for the reflection.

Sneaky trick - sub-heading at the end

I wanted a way to make a header for the information that FBC was producing about my ancestors – the birth/marriage/children/death info. There isn’t a setting to do that in FBC as of now, so instead I added it as the final element of each biographical chapter. Since the FBC data comes right after the bios, it worked perfectly.

Compile the Book – Family Cook Creator

Attach bios to FTM

After your individual Word docs for each couple are done, you need to get them into FTM. Drag them in them as Media files attached to each corresponding person, just like you do for pictures. Then, use the offical FBC Media categories to tell the software where in the book you want to see these docs. 

I use “FBC_HandleStoryAsText, FBC_HandleStoryAsText_AfterFamilyChart”. This makes the biographies appear after the family chart, but before the FBC-generated summary.

Choose FBC settings

There are dozens if not hundreds of configurations for FBC. I will upload my settings file if you’d like to use it. In particular, I chose:

Items to Include:

  • Primary: I uncheck everything except birth, death, and name, because I cover those details in my biographies
  • Photo Album: avoid duplicates, and Filter by Media Categories (I made a category named DoNotPrint for these filters)
  • Options: use user-defined short place names

Preferences

  • General: Use Source citations as endnotes
  • Page Break Settings: Family sections start on new pages
  • Text & Page Layout: User-defined paper size since I want landscape

Indexes

  • Index of Places: “Reverse sort order of segments”. This groups places nicely together.
Run some tests
FBC has a LOT of specific settings you can play with to create the book you want. As you are working, limit your tests to a single generation in order to speed up the process.

Edit the Book – Microsoft Word

Check family tree charts

My ancestors liked to have a dozen kids or more per family 😮  So some of my family charts spilled onto the next page when FBC produced them. I deleted the headings in those cases, and made a text box manually for a new heading in the middle of the tree.

I also have a personal preference for not having boxes in my family tree chart. FBC does not feature this option yet, so I hacked it by writing a macro in MS Word. This is a very “extra” way of going about things, my apologies!

Add a background

I wanted a parchment paper aesthetic in my book, so I purchased a digital background on Etsy and inserted it into my final Word document (don’t put it in the individual biographies). Here is how I did that, after MUCH trial and error:

IMPORTANT: Do not use it as a Watermark. Go to the Design tab in Word, and look all the way to the right for “Page Color”. Select “Fill Effects” from that dropdown.

Do NOT select the Picture tab. Select Texture instead. If you do Picture, it will seem fine for now, but Word has a bug when you export to PDF and it will tile your background instead of stretching it. Click the “Other Texture” button and browse to your background file.

Check even/odd layout

It was important to me that I have family tree charts on the left page, and biographies start on the right page. So I needed to know how the spreads in my book were arranged. Unfortunately, Word is terrible for this. It previews your book as starting on the left page, like this:

But books are actually printed like this:

In order for you to see how your book will actually lay out, you need to temporarily add a blank page at the beginning. Then the screen will reflect the spreads properly together. Make sure to delete this page before printing!

I also added blank pages throughout the book to make sure new generations started on the right, and new trees started on the left. Sometimes I overlapped or shrunk images in my 4th generation to save space.

Add some extras

There were several “extras” I added to the end of my book.

  • Ancestral Map – I used Google Maps to drop pins in the towns where my ancestors lived, then I took a screenshot of the result and pasted it into my Word doc. It was a slow, manual process!
  • Town Plot Map – I found an 1873 plot of my hometown, with property owners printed on it. I used Photoshop to overlay colored rectangles on my ancestral properties, then adjusted opacity so I could see through them. I added the names of the ancestors and labeled a couple roads so my grandma could orient herself.
  • Fan Chart -I created a fan chart in Charting Companion (another plug-in for FTM). I used a color-coded one inside the book, and a more mono-toned one on the book cover.
  • Word Cloud – I used WordArt.com to create the word cloud. I got the list of names by running an Index report in FTM. I chose the tree shape for the cloud, and played with font and settings until I liked the results. 
Update the indices

FBC automatically creates a Table of Contents for you, as well as some indices at the end. Make sure to update these fields after you make all of your other edits, or the page numbers will be incorrect. Make a note that the biographies you wrote will not be indexed.

I also like to make my indices into more columns, to save space. Select the data, go to the Layout tab, and click on Columns, then select the number of columns you want (I use 3). When you update the field, you lose that formatting, so repeat this process at the end.

Export for printing

My printers required a PDF file to produce my book. From Word, I chose “File”, “Save As”, and then selected “PDF” from the “Save as type” dropdown.

IMPORTANT! Before you click “Save”, click the “Options” button that appears when you select PDF. Make sure you check the box marked “PDF/A Compliant”.

Print the Book – Lulu.com

Choose a printer
There are many Print-on-Demand companies out there! I only tried a few, so I can’t speak to the rest.

My experience with LuluExpress was not satisfactory. The book’s pages were not fully trimmed, so there were white stripes along the bottom and sides. The stripes were angled, highlighting the fact that the trim was crooked. The interior coloring was inaccurate. The corner was damaged, and the pages wrinkled near the gutter.

To their credit, they refunded based on the damages and suggested I reformat to fix the full-bleed problem (of getting ink all the way to the edges).

I shifted to Barnes & Noble. I had similar problems with getting my files formatted for a full-bleed, so it’s more than possible that problem was on my end. There were also other problems – the text on the spine was not centered, nor horizontal. Two pages were stuck together. The printed background was very light. Worse, the customer service was extremely slow and non-responsive. They issued a reprint, which fixed some of the problems and not others.

My final struggled with B&N was that they were asking for 40% of gross profits, which left very little for me after printing. I ended up switching back to Lulu.com (not Express) because they only ask for 20% of net profits if you sell your book yourself instead of asking them to distribute it. That proof was satisfactory, so I stuck with them. It’s very possible my first book with that company was a fluke.

Design a cover

Once you have chosen a printer, you need to design a cover for your book. Download their template so you can make sure you don’t place anything important around the edges where it could be trimmed off. Also make note of the bar code area if you are planning to distribute in stores.

I used Photoshop for my cover, since I’m already familiar with it. I added a fan chart on the back so that people browsing a shelf of family books in a research center could quickly see if their family name was present. 

I wanted a cover that was “repeatable” because I’m planning to write more books for more of my great-grandparents. So I chose ways to incorporate photos that could be adjusted for each family.

Leave time for revisions

Once you have your proof in hand, give yourself time to read through the whole thing carefully. Sometimes errors don’t jump out at us until we see them in print. Put the book down and come back a week later. Sometimes you need space to see what is really there, vs. what you expect to see.

Have a family member read through the book and give feedback (this is also handy to do before you print at all!).

Basically, don’t run up against a hard deadline if you are trying to finish in time for an event, like a reunion. This part of the process takes time, like everything else. Assume that your first proof won’t be your last. 

Whew! That was more than a mouthful. I hope it was helpful!  I do offer hourly consulting, if you’d like some more personalized help on all this. Let’s sit down together and bring YOUR book to life!