#025 | 6 Inspiring Formats to Bring Your Family History to Life


Published by

PRUDENCE: Are you looking for inspiration on the right way to bring your family history to life?

You’ve got a Pinterest board full of layouts you love, interview questions to ask, and photo sources for vintage stock images all lined up. But, you don’t have any idea of the best format to share your ancestors’ stories with all their relatives.

And the worst part? People ask when it will be ready and keep telling you this is the fun part. Ha! If you spell fun s-t-r-e-s-s-f-u-l, then they may be right.

Let’s turn that all around. Today in the Art of Family History, episode 25, I’m talking about six formats you can use to bring your family history to life.

In this episode, I dive into:

  • what “bring your family history to life” means
  • typical products you can create
  • top 3 pros for you and your audience of using each format
  • potential problems to look out for to see if that format is the right fit for your style and budget
  • an overview of how to use each of the different formats for your ancestral stories.

Let’s get into it.

INTRODUCTION: If this is your first time here, hello, I’m Prudence, The Creative Family Historian. I’m a graphic designer who helps genealogists — like you — bring their family history to life by converting research into stories and beautiful heritage keepsakes.

On this channel, I provide tips on family history productivity, organisation, writing and design, as well as sharing my current journey as I undertake a genealogy reset.

Are you enjoying my family history content and want to hear more from me? Then hit subscribe and the notification bell, so you get updated every time I upload a video.

And consider giving this video a thumbs up to let me know you enjoy the topic and would like to see more content like this.


What does it mean to bring your family history to life?

When you started on your genealogy journey, you probably weren’t intending to write a book or become a storyteller. Most likely, you wanted to learn more about a specific ancestor, prove (or bust) a family legend, or answer a question that was niggling at you. I know that all those things were true for me.

And as you made progress on your quest, the genealogy bug bit. And it bit hard. Fast forward to today, and you’ve built an impressive library of information to educate and entertain your relatives about who their ancestors were.

So now it’s time to bring your family history to life in a format you can share with current and future generations.

Your goal is to educate, entertain and engage your relatives as you share details, photos and other supporting visuals about their ancestors’ lives.

You can do this in a variety of formats that such as:

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Book
  • Scrapbooks
  • Story Snippets
  • Website or blog

Traditionally stories have been shared orally and more recently through books. However, video and digital files are becoming increasingly popular in the technology age we live in. But let’s run through that list one at a time and explore the pros and cons of each so you can decide which methods best suit your style.

Audio files let you embrace oral storytelling, the traditional format for sharing historical stories.

It’s been used by many cultures for thousands of years, so obviously, it works. Spoken word storytelling creates a human connection between the speaker and the listener, creating a conversation even if it’s one-sided.

The Products —

Now, you’re creating an audio file for distribution, and you can do that in a few different ways, such as

  • uploading files to a website
  • link to files in the cloud
  • produce a podcast
  • create a CD
  • save files to a flash drive.

The Pros —

  • Your audience gets to hear your voice — your accent, the language you use and a glimpse at your personality through the words.
  • You can include interviews or encourage others to voice their stories for the audio family history.
  • It’s easy to create, and you can get started without any outlay using your smart device. After all, we all have a recording studio in our pocket.

The Cons —

  • You can’t share any visual content with the stories. So no photos, maps, or other supporting family history graphics. Instead, you’ll have to share them via another format, thus creating a risk of the two becoming separated over time.
  • File storage. Where will you save all the files to remain available even when you’re not? Cloud storage may be the answer, but it will need to be maintained over time, especially if a monthly or annual fee is required.

The How —

The easiest way to get started is with your smart device. Most have an app already installed. Or there are a plethora of free and paid options to choose from.

Initially, you can save and edit the files locally on your device. However, I’d recommend adding them to your cloud storage so you can access and edit on any device, including your computer.

With video, you get all the benefits of audio and the ability to share visual content.

Win-win, right?

The Products —

You’re creating a video file for distribution. You can do that by:

  • create a YouTube or Vimeo channel
  • share on a social media platform
  • link to files in the cloud
  • create a DVD
  • save files to a flash drive.

The Pros —

  • The variety of content – interviews, face-to-camera, footage with voiceover or presentations with narration.
  • Your audience gets to hear and see you. If your descendants don’t get to meet you, that’s the next best thing, right? Imagine how fabulous it would be to see and hear your ancestors on screen.
  • And it doesn’t only have to be you on camera. Include interviews and footage of get-togethers to introduce future generations to their whole family.

The Cons —

  • File sizes will be huge, so you must consider storage and resolution quality. A private YouTube or Vimeo channel may be the best option for distribution and external hard drives for the raw data if you plan to keep it.
  • Editing long videos can be time-consuming and require a computer with some oomph behind it.

The How —

Like with audio, your smart device is the easiest way to get started. Your standard camera app will have a video function, and a microphone is built-in.

Because the file sizes can get hefty quickly, you’ll want to use cloud storage for these so you don’t fill up the space on your device. That will make all the files easier to access and edit on any device, including your computer.

Most operating systems have some video editing software pre-installed, but you may need to purchase an app instead. For example, I use Adobe Premiere Pro or Premiere Rush on my phone.

If you want to create slide decks with narration, try Canva, Zoom or Loom apps. And check your computer for a pre-installed camera app that lets you record your screen.

Now, let’s talk about one of my favourites: a family history book. I love these for static content such as stories, photos, maps, timelines, family trees and other family history graphics.

And let’s be honest, you aren’t only making a book; you’re creating a legacy.

The Products —

The book is the product, but the good news is that you have options when it comes to:

  • size
  • orientation
  • page count
  • paper stock
  • type of binding
  • style of cover.

The Pros —

  • Books are easy-to-create. You can choose to design your own, purchase a template or use speciality photo book software.
  • You can create both physical and digital books with the same file, so there is no need to double up your efforts.
  • Books make a fabulous gift for milestone events or family reunions.

The Cons —

  • Books are susceptible to their environment and must be stored correctly to last for generations. Therefore, the quality of the paper and binding will be an essential factor in the survivability of the tome.
  • As physical items, they can also become lost or damaged due to poor storage or natural disasters.
  • Only static images and text can be added to a printed book, but you can include links, a CD or a flash drive with the audio or video files.

The How —

Choose the paper, the binding type, book size and print method. Then compile your family history into an artwork file using an app like Canva, InDesign, Microsoft Word or Publisher. Finally, send the file to the production house of choice, and they do the rest.

If you struggle to organise your content, check out my Family History Book Blueprint Masterclass. I’ll teach you the I.D.E.A. framework and how to confidently choose your strategy, plan the structure, and organise your content. Look in the description or the show notes for a link to that.

Some book production companies, like Blurb, make it possible for you to sell your book to interested parties. You can provide a public or private link for your cousins to order – and pay – for as many copies as they want.

If writing makes you break out in a cold sweat, focus on the visual instead and create scrapbook pages.

I’m classing these as art — like an oil or mixed media painting — as they can easily stand alone and be a part of a story series.

The Products —

You have a lot of flexibility with this format, but typically you’re creating a single-sided page. Ways to produce and customise this format include:

  • page size, which is usually square but can be whatever suits the outcome you have in mind
  • choosing to create either digital or physical pages
  • frame pages to create a unique gift or future family heirloom
  • creating a scrapbook album — traditional, printed or digital

The Pros —

  • You don’t need to finish more than a single page before you start sharing these stories, even if you’re designing a series to tell one story over many pages.
  • You can share your pages on websites, books or albums, and social media.
  • Easy to create and can be as fancy or simple as you like using whatever content you have available — quotes, photos, stories (or story snippets)

The Cons —

  • Typically scrapbook pages are handcrafted, so they can be time consuming and expensive to create. You’ll want to choose the more archival quality paper to ensure that your family history artwork will last the distance.
  • Physical pages are one of a kind, so they need to be digitised for sharing on a wide scale.
  • Like books, they are susceptible to their environment and must be stored correctly to last for generations.

The How —

If you’re new to scrapping, I recommend starting with digital scrapbooking. Apps like Canva have a selection of templates available, or there are specific digital scrapbooking apps with professional designs, tutorials and support.

And check out Kate Hadfield Designs’ article on A Beginner’s Guide to Digital Scrapbooking. It’s a great resource that will step you through what to do to start. You’ll find the link to that in the description box.

If you’re nervous about writing long stories, you’ll want to create Story Snippets.

Don’t know that term? Not surprising, I haven’t heard anyone else using it. It’s a term I use to describe small format keepsakes where the story is summarised or focuses on a single event or moment in time.

These are a fantastic option when you want something to create a shareable in the shortest timeframe possible, and they are a good swag bag gift for family reunions.

The Products —

You’ve got options when it comes to Story Snippets. There is a wide variety of products that fall into this category. Items such as:

  • trading or playing cards
  • bookmarks
  • infographics
  • timelines
  • social media images

That list is not exhaustive, and I’m sure you can already think of a few other products to add to it.

The Pros —

  • These can be physical or digital. The size and minimal content make these shareables easy to produce, so you can start publishing your family history faster. Great for adding to your social media news feed or printing out to include with a letter to Great Aunt Dolly.
  • Perfect when you don’t have a lot of family photos or info to share on a specific ancestor. Great for those people that you’re still actively researching.
  • Make fabulous collectible keepsakes. Great for family history reunions where people can create them for their direct line and trade with their cousins throughout the day.

The Cons —

  • These can be fragile due to size, especially if they aren’t on quality paper or card stock.
  • The products’ smaller dimensions also limit how much content (text and images) you can include on them.
  • And like books, they are susceptible to the environment where they are stored, so that you will require a suitable container for storage.

The how —

Story snippets are one of the most versatile ways to share your ancestral stories. And they are probably the fastest. You can quickly produce these using apps such as Canva, Microsoft Publisher or PowerPoint and create them to whatever size suits your desired outcome.

I recommend using a template to get started and adjusting it over time to suit your storytelling style. Check out YouTube tutorials, template marketplaces and the Creative Family Historian Template Store. I’ll leave a link for the Template Store in the description.

Welcome to the technology age where websites and blogs are popular options for sharing family history.

You’re a modern-day family historian, so I know you’ve been scouring the net for any sign of your ancestry. Therefore no explanation is required for websites and blogs.

The Products —

The website or blog is the product, but you do have options when it comes to:

  • web hosting
  • domain name
  • theme/design
  • type of content.

The Pros —

  • They are the most versatile format for sharing text, photos, maps, audio and video with your audience.
  • No minimum page count is required before publishing or at any other stage. You can add, remove or restructure as you go.
  • It’s a great way to meet other people researching the same names. In addition, search engine bots will eventually pick up your site, meaning you’ll appear in searches for any featured keywords such as ancestor names.

The Cons —

  • A website/blog will be a problem if your Great Aunt Dolly won’t touch a smart device or computer. If you want to print the pages to ensure readability, you’ll need to create a book or similar item.
  • Websites require hosting, which means they have the potential to disappear without warning. So, whether you choose a free site or pay for hosting, you must consider a backup plan.
  • Custom domains also require an annual fee. No payment means you’ll lose access to the name, and it will be available again to the general public.

The How —

WordPress.com, Wix.com, and Blogger.com offer a free plan to see if the format suits your storytelling style without spending a cent.

There are many tutorials available to help you get started and courses on sites such as Udemy and Skillshare.

I recommend deciding on the type of content you’ll share, planning out the initial site and then building it one page at a time.

I have an article on my website about family history blogs and how to decide if it’s the right option for your ancestral stories. So I’ll leave that link in the description to check out if you want to.

Phew! That was a lot of information, right? But hopefully enough to get you thinking about the different formats you can use to share your family history.

As you know, I love discussing family history design as there are so many possibilities when sharing your ancestral stories. And sharing them is so important so that future generations can get to know the family members who came before them.

Okay, I’ve got a question for you. Are you feeling inspired to experiment with all these formats — audio, video, book, scrapbooking, story snippets or a website — or do you plan to try only one?

Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments, so let me know which idea appeals to you or if you have another idea that you plan to try first.

And let me know if you have a question about a different genealogy organisation writing or design problem that you’d like me to answer. Look for the link to the Ask the Creative Family Historian submission form in the description below. I can’t wait to hear from you.

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

6 Inspiring Formats to Bring Your Family History to Life