#022 | Share Your Ancestral Stories FASTER as a Family History Book Series

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PRUDENCE: Are you keen to create a family history book but think it must be hundreds of pages long? Maybe you’re not ready to commit to a project that big. Or perhaps you believe it must be a casebound coffee table book, and you aren’t sure you have enough creativity to produce something like that?

You aren’t alone. Creating a family history book is a big project. Mammoth sized, really, but the books you produce don’t have to be.

You have options. One book doesn’t need to include every ancestor that you’ve discovered. Nor is there a specific word or page count that you need to hit. Books come in all shapes, sizes and lengths, including those about family history.

So in this 10-minute training, let’s talk about sharing your family history as a series or multi-volume book set.

INTRO: If we haven’t met before, Hi, I’m Prudence, The Creative Family Historian. I help genealogists bring their family history to life by converting research into stories and beautiful heritage keepsakes.

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PRUDENCE: If you’re familiar with goal setting and productivity, you’ll have heard the advice about breaking big projects into smaller, manageable tasks. And that by doing so, you increase your chance of successfully achieving your goal and completing the project.

It’s a great tip because it works. Breaking down the mammoth projects into segments reduces the overwhelm and increases focus because you know what to do to get the task done.

The same principle works when applied to a family history book. Both the project to create the book and the way you share the stories themselves. Instead of seeing the book as a single edition, you can break it up into several volumes.

Not only will this make it faster for you to produce each volume, but it will also create a better reading experience for your audience. And ultimately, that’s why you want to share these stories, right? So they get read, and your ancestors are remembered for generations to come. So readability should always be a critical factor in all your heritage keepsake projects.

Okay, so maybe this idea sounds pretty good, but what does it look like?

You’ll already be familiar with multi-volume sets such as encyclopedias and series like cookbooks. Sets where each individual volume contains different information but fits in with a broader theme.

Now, you certainly don’t have to produce a family history the size of a set of encyclopedias, but with the hundreds (or thousands!) of ancestors you’ve discovered, you might not be surprised if it turned out to be that big.

Before you click away, let me assure you that I have something smaller in mind. Much smaller. But before I dive into that, let’s look at some examples a little less daunting than that set of encyclopedias.

When I visited the Australian War Memorial last year, I saw a great example of this principle in action. As a matter of fact, they had two great examples in their store.

The first is the Australian Army Campaign Series, which consists of 27 individual books and is probably still growing. The books vary in length, but these are not tiny tomes and have approximately 200 pages on average. Don’t be frightened off by the page count, though. Your books can be whatever length you desire.

The overall theme of this series is the battles and campaigns that the Australian Army have participated in. Each book focuses on a different one, from historical battles to more modern campaigns.

The series has been developed to provide individual books that can be read on their own to tell a single story or read as a series for the bigger picture told over decades and generations. It’s starting to sound a lot like family history, right?

That overall theme, teamed with the visual branding elements — fonts, badge, banner, and photo treatment — brings these books together to create a complete set. So even if you only read a couple, you know there is more to the story that you can discover.

Moving onto example number two, the Century of Services series. This book set is much smaller in size, individually and overall. There are 14 volumes in the complete set, and each one is 56 pages plus a soft cover with saddle stitch binding — one of the most budget-friendly ways to bind your books.

The overall theme of this series is the shared traits of those who served in World War I. Therefore each book contains several different stories that fit in with the specific attribute chosen for the topic. These stories are compiled from letters, diaries, and other personal memorabilia.

These books can stand alone or be enjoyed as a series, with the reader drawn to the title and theme. They may start with one or two books and gradually read the entire set.

You can produce your family history in the same way. You can plan each book as a standalone volume telling a single story, but it fits into the bigger picture of the generations of your ancestors when read in the set.

The books’ theme and visual branding will tie them to create your shareable family history.

Are you keen to try this option to share your ancestral stories? If so, these are my tips on how to start.

  • Plan the overall project
  • Define the scope
  • Choose the book format
  • Outline each volume

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.

Step one: Plan the overall project

What is the overall theme that will connect these books together?

In the earlier examples, the theme was an event — military battles or service. The theme may be a person or family line for your family history.

For example, if one of your ancestors had 20 children, your overall theme could be to tell the story of that family unit by sharing each person’s adventures one volume at a time.

Step two: Define the scope of your project

How many books will you need to create to complete the series?

You have two choices for your project – make it open-ended or a limited series.

The Australian Army Campaign series is an example of an open-ended one where they can keep adding new volumes as conflicts arise. The Century of Services is a limited series as it’s been created with a set focus in mind — to honour the sacrifices and service of men and women at a specific place and time.

Continuing the example of our family with 20 children, you could choose either option. A limited series would mean producing 21 books. One volume for the parents, and then one each for the 20 children. If you take the open-ended route, you’ll be writing about the parents, each of the 20 children, then more books for grandchildren etc.

Step three: What format will your books be in?

Will you produce digital or printed books? Or both?

Let’s face it, digital books are popular; they’re easy to share and cheaper — much cheaper — to produce. But, on the other hand, printed books are traditional and provide a physical heirloom that your descendants can hand down from one generation to the next. And it’s harder to lose a physical item than a digital file. Harder, not impossible.

It’s important to make this decision before creating anything because your answer may impact how you plan the project. If you want to produce both formats or are unsure what to do, then set up your files to be printed. It’s easier to convert print artwork files to digital than the other way around.

Our earlier examples — the Australian Army Campaign and Century of Service series — are available in printed and ebook format.

Step four: Create a rough outline of what you’ll include in each volume

Next, you’ll want to create an outline for each book you want to produce. Try to use a consistent structure for each book to look and feel like a part of a bigger story. This look and feel won’t be evident if your relatives only read one book, but something they’ll subtly pick up once they look through a few more.

Once you have the structure in place, add the major points you want to highlight in each section. Those points will make it easier to ensure you don’t miss important content and can become the headings in your final book.

So, what do you think? Do you find the idea of crafting your family history as a multi-volume book set tempting? Does it seem more manageable than sitting down to create a single edition with multiple generations and a cast list of potentially hundreds of people?

The best part of creating your family history in stages, rather than as one massive project, is that you can start sharing it sooner rather than later. Especially if you choose to create digital books as one of your formats.

And if that single edition family history is something you’ve always wanted to create, you still can. By compiling the stories one at a time, you’re doing the work that you can later repurpose and adjust to fit a single-volume format.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments and tell me if this 10-minute training has inspired you to change your approach to how you’ll share your family history.

Thanks for joining me today to chat about sharing your ancestral stories as a series or multi-volume book set.

Do you have a suggestion for a 10-minute training on family history organisation, writing or design? If so, I’d love to hear it. You’ll find a link to the idea submission form in the description box below.

That’s it from me, so I’ll see you in the next video. Until then, happy storytelling!

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Share Your Ancestral Stories FASTER as a Family History Book Series

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