6 family history graphics to create for your heritage keepsakes

It's tricky to find enough images for your heritage keepsakes, so why not make some? Here are six family history graphics ideas to try.

What do you do when you don’t have many photos and need to break up all that text in your heritage keepsakes? Family history graphics are the answer. 

Every family historian knows that it isn’t always easy to find engaging visual content to include with your ancestral stories. Of course, photos are always a winner, but often you won’t have enough, or any at all.

So, what can you do instead? Fill up the space with more words?

Nope, you can create exciting and intriguing content yourself from the facts you’ve discovered during your research.

I call these creations family history graphics because they are a visual representation of your genealogy research discoveries. I love them because they’re:

  • quick to create
  • have visual impact 
  • are incredibly versatile.

They’re a great way to add engaging oomph to your pages, and you can create as many as you like. 

Let’s dive into an example of family history graphics you can create.

For example, you might choose to create a table as your family history graphic. Great choice! Tables are versatile and can share intriguing info that would otherwise be overwhelming to your reader. 

Maybe you aren’t convinced about the power of tables. So, let’s look at a few ways you can use them in your heritage keepsakes. 

For instance, you can create tables to share:

  • family trees
  • vital statistics (birth, marriage, and death)
  • comparisons of then and now (e.g. fuel costs, wages for a specific occupation, etc.)
  • descendants per generation for one particular family line
  • the highest and lowest level of education per generation.

Now, that’s only a couple of ideas based on the type of information you can discover. I bet it got you thinking, though, and you’ve already come up with a few other options that would suit your research. 

What you create is limited only by your imagination and the data you’ve discovered. So not only will this help to break up the text for your reader, but it’s also a fun way to share stats and comparisons.

Finally, it’s time to share a few ideas for family history graphics and kickstart your imagination. Are you ready? Let’s dive in.

Easy family history graphics to create from your genealogy research discoveries

Time to start knocking down those walls of text and adding some intriguing visual content to your heritage keepsakes. Start with these six ideas and see what else you feel inspired to create.

1. Write a letter from the author.

You: Hey, wait up, a letter is a just more text, right? So what happened to the graphic examples you promised?

I’m not trying to pull a fast one, pinkie promise. Creating graphics from words is 100% possible, and it comes down to how you format it. If you dump a bunch of words on a page and call it done, yes, it’s text. But, if you get creative with the design and the styles, then voila, it’s a family history graphic.

First, let me explain why a letter, and then I’ll tell you how to turn it into something more visual to hook the reader and draw them in.

As a family historian, you probably agree that letters are a powerful way to capture a moment in time and share a story. In addition, you can also provide insight into who you are and share details such as: 

  • a photo of you
  • the story behind your motivation to compile this family history
  • highlights from your years of research
  • a teaser of what’s to come inside the book.

Keep your letter concise and aim for no more than two pages. Don’t overdo the detail but instead, use this opportunity to introduce yourself to your audience (aka descendants you may never meet). 

Next, let’s unleash some creativity! Here are four ways you can format your letter to draw your reader in: 

  • create a magazine-style “message from the editor” page
  • write and style it as a diary or journal entry
  • take inspiration from your research log and style your letter to match
  • make a mini-kanban board and share your story as a series of cards on the list. 

Can you think of some other ways?

2. Ancestor profiles

As a family historian, you gather data and statistics to learn about your ancestors. These dates and numbers not only tell you when your ancestor lived but provide vital clues into their world.

These vital statistics make up the foundation of your ancestors’ story, but numbers have no place there. Not only are paragraphs full of numbers and facts hard to read, but they’re visually unappealing.

Instead, create an ancestor profile or snapshot that provides the foundation facts, milestone achievements and the highlights of their life story. These family history graphics support the overall story but are a way to keep the vital statistics and numbers out of it.

It’s similar to creating a resume for your ancestor, but you focus on their whole life rather than their work skills, experience and achievements.

Example of an Ancestor Profile including a family tree
Example of an Ancestor Profile including a family tree
An ancestor profile with vital statistics and an inset story
An Ancestor Profile with vital statistics, quote and transcription

You can use them in several different ways throughout your keepsake. Instead of placing them at the point of the story where you first mention your ancestor and risk breaking up the story flow, experiment with other locations. Placements to consider include:

  • at the end of a chapter
  • in between several text-heavy pages
  • as a separate section at the end of the book.

Resumes are often plain, but your ancestor’s profiles don’t need to be. Experiment with background images, bigger images and less text like the May Gibbs Gumnut Babies commemorative birth, death and marriage certificates.

Take inspiration for your family history graphics from what you see during your research, such as these commemorative birth certificates.
Take inspiration for your family history graphics from what you see during your research, such as these commemorative birth certificates.
IMAGE / May Gibbs website

Pro Tip: If you have high-resolution images, then make the photo the feature of the page.

3. Timelines

I love timelines. Not only are they one of the most powerful tools you’ll use in your genealogy research and storytelling, but they make fantastic family history graphics as well.

Why? Because they are a visual representation of whatever information you choose to capture with them.

Timelines are a great way to capture attention because they visually provide snippets of information. Therefore they are easy to read, so even your disinterested readers are more likely to take a look.

Want to show the events in your ancestors’ life from beginning to end? Create a timeline.

Maybe you want to focus on a single year or occasion instead. A timeline can do the heavy lifting for you. Whether you use these nifty graphic devices to display years, months or days, well, that’s up to you.

How you style your timeline is also at your discretion. Experiment with different combinations of fonts, colours, icons, and images to create a look and feel for your timelines. Once you’ve found something that you like and fits your content, use the same style consistently throughout the book. After all, you don’t want to confuse your reader!

Lastly, remember that your timelines don’t need to be all about your ancestor. You can include information that provides insight into the societal framework they lived in, even if it’s not specifically about them.

Overall, timelines are an excellent way to create a feature within a heritage keepsake, and you can include more than one per book.

Family history graphics can be a timeline that focuses on major events in a single year.
Create a timeline to focus on significant events in a single year.
Timelines are fantastic family history graphics and can include text and photos to capture the milestone events of a lifetime.
Timelines can include text and photos to capture the milestone events of a lifetime. IMAGE / Nuflux Media

4. Family tree

Family trees are an obvious “must include” graphic for your heritage book; it’s more a question of how to do so in a way that makes them easy to read and won’t break your budget.

While it’s nice to have a family tree that includes everyone you’ve discovered during your genealogy journey, it isn’t always practical. Those massive family trees can be unwieldy, awkward, and expensive to produce. Or the text is so tiny that you have to include a magnifying glass with each copy! Not particularly suitable for a family history book or binder. One option is to include it on a fold-out page, but that’s not always possible and can be pretty expensive.

A more budget-friendly option is to include a family tree poster with the book. Depending on the size of your family, you’d want something that fits A2/A3 (or 22 x 17/11 x 17″ for my North American friends).

You’ve probably realised a poster isn’t going to pass as an in the book graphic, no matter how beautiful it may be. So, how do you transform your tree into family history graphics? By breaking it up, of course.

One approach is to create a top-level tree with only two generations (parents and their children) and then individual trees for each of the children. Those individual trees will then show spouses, children and grandchildren. You can include these graphics as a feature at relevant places throughout the story or create a family tree section for all of them.

5. Word clouds

If this is the first time you’ve heard of word clouds, let me quickly explain what they are, how they work and why they’re fun to use as family history graphics.

A word cloud is a graphic composed of words of different sizes, colours and orientations. The bigger the word, the more often it’s mentioned in a specific dataset. The smaller it is, the less frequently it appears on the list.

These are a great way to visually show the importance of names and places in your ancestors’ life. Instead of adding yet another word-based list, you can transform it into a word cloud. Genealogy data that works the best for these are lists of:

  • Residences — either street names or towns
  • Names — either first name or surname
  • Occupations — for either a direct line or a specific era
  • Places — locations where descendants are today.

The easiest way to create a word cloud is with a free generator. Though you can make them manually, and I cover how to do that in my 10-minute training on YouTube.

Instead of only listing each word once like you would in a list, you repeat it every time it appears in your research. So, for example, if creating a residences word cloud and your ancestor lived in New York City for ten years, then you’d add it that number of times.

Pro Tip: When using a free generator, remove spaces between names with two or three words; otherwise, they appear separately in the cloud.

A quick web search will provide dozens of free generators to use, but these were my three favourites.

Example of a list of residences in a word cloud. The size of each word indicates the amount of time spent in each area.
Example of a list of residences in a word cloud. The size of each word indicates the amount of time spent in each area.

6. Tables as family history graphics

Tables are a way to organise information that is hard to describe or read in a paragraph. For example, tables are a great way to collate dates and numbers that you want to include when writing about your ancestors instead of cluttering up the story.

To create a standard table, you’ll add headings in the top row and categories in the far left column. Then populate the table with relevant data in each of the cells.

There is no restriction on the type of information you can include in a table, though they are handy for quantitative or precise data comparisons.

You can create tables for a variety of genealogical data, as I mentioned earlier. To save you the scroll back to see those examples, I’ll include them below:

  • family trees
  • vital statistics (birth, marriage, death, occupation, number of children etc.)
  • comparisons of then and now (e.g. fuel costs, wages for a specific career, etc.)
  • descendants per generation for one particular family line
  • the highest and lowest level of education per generation.

Of course, the tables you include will depend on the data that you have discovered in your research.

You can also experiment with different colours, shading and lines for rows, columns or cells to highlight specific information as required.

Create family history graphics to make a one-of-a-kind heritage keepsake

You might already be familiar with the frustration of having relatives quickly leave the room when you start talking about your family history discoveries. If only you had more ready-to-use stories and photos to get them intrigued and interested.

Ok, so you don’t have a time machine to zip back and see your ancestors lives in action. Nor can you take more photos to show these amazing people and how they lived.

However, you can craft stories of your own and make family history graphics to create engagement. You can write the stories and make the graphics based on your research discoveries.

Preparing a heritage book isn’t only about repurposing your research finds but also using them creatively to produce family history graphics.

Start with easy-to-produce items such as:

  • A letter from the author for a behind-the-scenes look at your journey
  • Ancestor profiles for all the vital statistics on who they were and how they lived
  • Timelines to share the milestones, highs and lows of their lives
  • Trees to share the family legacy and how all your relatives are small parts of the bigger picture
  • Word clouds to give your lists some visual oomph
  • Tables to include all the details that would make reading paragraphs a hard slog.

Get creative when it comes to documenting your ancestors’ lives. Try different ideas to present your data in innovative and intriguing ways to make your family history easy to read.

Your next step

Grab the Heritage Book Design Roadmap to help you plan out your family history book, so you’ll have somewhere to put all those fantastic graphics.

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2 Responses to “6 family history graphics to create for your heritage keepsakes”

  1. Liz Finnie says:

    Thanks very much for the above family history aids. I always enjoy your emails. Liz

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