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Can You Create Family History Books with Microsoft Publisher?

In this article, I’ll be answering a question submitted by John L where he asks whether it’s possible to use Microsoft Publisher to format and write a family history book.

That’s a great question and one I’ve seen a few times lately in comments and my inbox. So today, I’ll jump into Microsoft Publisher, and we can investigate how it measures up against some basic requirements and preferred features.

Is something you’ve also been curious about? If so, then this video is for you. If you don’t know what Microsoft Publisher is, it’s a layout app part of the Office 365 subscription. It’s been around for quite a while, so there are a few versions out there. Today, I’ll be reviewing the latest version available with Office 365.

If your budget doesn’t stretch to a monthly or annual subscription right now, then I also have an article on five free cloud-based apps you can use to create your family history keepsakes.

Is Microsoft Publisher suitable for writing a family history book?

John has asked if the one app is suitable for formatting and writing a family history book.

Firstly, these are two separate tasks, so you should treat them as such. So, I encourage people to write their stories first and then tackle the formatting phase of creating a family history book.

Secondly, the software you’ll use to format the content is not suited to writing it. And that’s 100% the case here. So separating the tasks allows you to focus, which will save you time and stress.

Therefore my review of Microsoft Publisher will focus on using it for formatting as I wouldn’t recommend using it to write your stories. Instead, consider a word/text processing app like Microsoft Word or Google Docs.

Windows OS only, desktop layout application, Microsoft Publisher
Windows OS only, desktop layout application, Microsoft Publisher

Does Microsoft Publisher meet the basic requirements?

Before I jump into the program, let me run you through the criteria I’m using to assess whether it’s suitable to create family history book artwork with this app.

Non-negotiable functionality

Firstly, there are six basic requirements that I think an app needs to have to produce a quality family history book. They are:

  • Custom page size because book sizes vary, and the printer may require something that isn’t a standard size. For example, a standard size would be A4, A5 or US Letter. Therefore you want the functionality to add in the measurements and create a page of any dimensions.
  • Custom margins allow you to make sure there is the required clear space for binding and readability of your document.
  • Guidelines will help you remain consistent with placement and formatting, so your family history book looks professional.
  • Multi-page files as some apps are targeted towards photos and online graphics and therefore only allow one page per file.
  • Adjust images within the picture placeholders and apply filters or treatments to create a consistent look and feel throughout your document.
  • Exporting printable PDFs is a must-have because that’s the format you’ll supply to the printer for book production.

Those are my non-negotiables that an app must-have for creating a family history book artwork file. Of course, the more the app can help you format the document, the better. Not only will it save you time, but it also reduces the chance of errors. So I have another seven requirements which I’ll classify as “nice to have”.

Nice-to-have Microsoft functionality

They are the ability to:

  • Add and lock background images to select pages
  • Include a repeatable header and footer on all or select pages.
  • Automatically add page numbers which will update if you reorder the pages.
  • Use of non-system fonts so you can choose from ones you’ve purchased or have a license to use.
  • Create or update headings, subheadings, and body text styles to make formatting easy.
  • Have columns or link text boxes, so the content flows from one to the next.
  • Add bleed and crop marks to the final PDF export.

Those 11 criteria represent the functionality I’ll be looking for in Microsoft Publisher.

With that said, let’s dive in and see what it can do.

Custom page size Yes
Custom marginsYes
Multi-page filesYes
Adjust imagesYes
Printable PDFYes
Background imagesYes
Auto page numbersYes
Non-system fontsYes
Custom stylesYes
Bleed/crop marksYes

Microsoft Publisher review

I’ll use the above findings to pull together a quick review where I’ll rate the program based on:

  • Level of difficulty to use
  • Cost
  • Family History Templates – are there any?
  • Images – how the program handles quantity and quality
  • Top 5 stand-out features
  • Limitations

I haven’t used Microsoft Publisher since 2001-2002, so it’s been a while. And even then, I only used it to edit a client file. So, my knowledge of this project is limited. However, I have hands-on experience with Word and PowerPoint, which are also in the Office 365 suite, so I hope that will be enough to get me through the review. Fingers crossed!

I will go through the eleven criteria quickly and won’t do a full tutorial on each function but check what is or isn’t possible. However, if you’re interested in Microsoft Publisher tutorials, let me know in the comments or complete the 10-minute training request form.

Finally, I’ll share my thoughts on the program and whether it’s suitable to create your family history books.

Level of difficulty

Easy to learn if you are already familiar with other Microsoft products. This review was only the second or third time I’ve ever used Publisher. I’ve been able to navigate the program easily because the ribbon and functionality are similar to PowerPoint and Word.


Price-wise it is reasonable to low cost. It’s included in the Office 365 subscription, or you can buy it as a standalone app. Pricing starts from $7 US per month for one license, about $10 Aussie. One important thing to note is that it is Windows OS only, so it is not an option for Mac users.

Family History Book Templates for Microsoft Publisher

There are some inbuilt templates, but nothing specifically for a Family History Book. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend using any of the Microsoft templates.

Nor did I find any family history book templates for Publisher in any online marketplace. However, there are a couple of recipe book or report templates available that you may be able to adapt.

Therefore, I’d suggest starting with the blank canvas and using your creativity to create your own template.


You can add images from your computer or external drives as you can with PowerPoint and Word. No upload is required, and the program will embed the image in the file.

You can also use the Online Photos option to search through the available stock photos.

And like its Office 365 suite colleagues, you can apply photo filters and effects to images from within Publisher to create a cohesive look and feel for your family history book.

Microsoft Publishers’ stand-out features

  • Master Pages are reusable pages where you can add images, text and guides that can’t be edited or moved. You can create multiple masters of all the page layouts that you want to include.
  • Linked text boxes make it easy for content to flow across columns and pages, removing the need for messy cutting and pasting whenever you add or delete something.
  • Building blocks such as page parts and advertisements let you save groups of text, placeholders and shapes that you want to reuse in the document. It’s a great way to create ancestor profiles, quotes and sidebar inserts for fast formatting.
  • You can add colour and font themes to the document either from the inbuilt library or by creating your own.
  • Single or two-page spread master and view to make it easy to see how things will look when your book is printed.

And you can also export print-resolution PDFs with bleed and crop marks.

Microsoft Publishers’ limitations

  • Compatible with Windows OS only, so not available for Mac users.
  • Limited templates are available, so you’ll need to feel confident in creating your own.
  • Hyphenation is turned on by default, so you’ll have to adjust the settings and/or manually turn it off for non-connected text boxes.
  • Long, image-heavy documents can create large file sizes which may be sluggish to edit.

Thanks for joining me today to answer John L’s question about whether Microsoft Publisher is suitable for formatting Family History books

Also, a big thank you to John L for asking such a great question.

Overall the answer is yes; you can create a suitable artwork file using this app. So if you’re a Windows user with an Office 365 subscription, check it out for yourself.

What do you think?

If you have a question that you’d like me to answer, then I’d love to hear it. You can let me know what you’d like to see next by completing the request form for a 10-minute training.

Finally, if you’re interested in software-specific tutorials to help you create your heritage keepsakes, let me know in the comments. Also, let me know the name of the program, the operating system and what you want to make.

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