Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How Shall I Organize My Book?

That is a great question that I am asked quite frequently. There are several different ways to organize the material in your book. (Just as every person is unique, each book should be unique.) The layout and design of your book, where you put the pictures, and the way you organize the information is part of the creativity & uniqueness of your book. If you don’t know where to start, you can get ideas from looking at other printed histories from family, friends or genealogists and see which style you like best. If you find a layout that you like then use the same one, otherwise you can do it any way you would like. Don't think that you have to make your book look just like other histories, unless you like it. Go ahead and get opinions and advice from others, but most importantly, don’t be afraid to do it the way that you would like.

Here are some common ways to organize your history. For personal histories, chronological order is frequently used. For genealogical histories the two most common are: 1) Start with the oldest ancestor and work your way to today. Or 2)Start with you, then your parents, then your grandparents, etc. If your history is about multiple cousins of the same generations, the two most common ways are: 1) Alphabetical order; or 2) Put them in order by families in birth order.

Pictures and documents can be placed in groups or scattered throughout the book. I prefer to put the pictures throughout the book, close to where they are talked about in the text. If you are going to print some pictures in color, you can save some money by combining the color pictures on the same page, but other than that feel free to put the pictures and documents where you would like to have them.

Remember, make it your way.

Chris Stevenson

Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How Important is an Index?

All books will be a much better book with an index (exceptions are novels or children’s books). You are very familiar with what is in your book and where it is, but everyone else doesn’t have this knowledge. An index will aid the reader and researcher to find exactly what they are looking for and know for sure if the information they are looking for is in your book.

There are a small number of family histories that can use automatically generated indexes. Most histories will need to be manually indexed. One of the main problems with any kind of automatic indexing is that we don’t have a person’s name listed exactly the same way each time. For example, one time we may list someone by their full name, the next instance my just list their first name, and then we may have another story that just uses their nickname. Only a manual index will be able to have all three of these listed correctly for the same person.

Most people are familiar with the index card method of indexing a book, and that way still works, but I have a little easier way to manually create an index. As you are working on the book and typing it up, make a new file called “index” and begin listing all of the names that you would like included (listed surname first). Include key place names (towns, counties), important events (world wars, accidents), as well as people in your index. For female members or instances where the family name changed significantly in spelling, consider using cross-references to maiden and married names or alternate spellings used by the same individual.

When you are finished writing, proofreading, and editing the book and it is all ready for the publisher, have your word processor alphabetize the list of names that you have typed. Now as you go through the book for the last proofreading (usually from the printer’s proof) add the page numbers for each person and your index is done. Pretty slick.

Some people judge a book by its cover. Most genealogists judge a book by its index.

If you would like to look further into using an indexing program, here are some good links for you to find more about them.

Some indexing programs you can buy are listed on this site:

Here are two articles about the limitations and disadvantages to using an automatic indexing program:

Chris Stevenson

Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Copyright, To Do or Not To Do, That is the Question.

I am asked from time to time if a client needs to copyright their book. My usual answer is that will depend on one thing; if you are going to sell your book as an income source for many years to come, then you will want to get a copyright. If not, then you won't need to bother with a copyright. Many genealogy books or family history books have limited interest to close relatives and don’t need to have a copyright. Keep in mind that obtaining a copyright isn't very expensive and doesn’t take much time, so if you are wavering on this, then go ahead and copyright it.

Here is a link to the U. S. Copyright Office web page for frequently asked questions. If you don’t find your answer here, then let me know and I’ll see what I can find out for you.

Chris Stevenson

Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


This time of year, I am reminded of the importance of deadlines as well as the lack of importance of deadlines. That my sound funny, so let me explain. First, I think that it is common knowledge that we need deadlines to push us over the top to finish projects. A couple of examples that I can think of is how many sports teams really push hard to get ahead in the last two minutes of a game. And how students study extra hard and long just before a final test. We definitely need deadlines to help us.
But I want to point out another side of deadlines when it comes to publishing a family history. Every year I have some people ask me when is the last date that they can finish writing it and have it published for Christmas. We discuss the different deadlines and then I usually say something like this, "I just want to remind you that it is wonderful to have you book completed for Christmas, but your book will be around for a hundred years and so it is more important to have it just right than to meet a deadline." This is wisdom that I learned from my father. He used deadlines to help propel him forward, but he never cut corners. Maybe that is the perfectionist in him.
Keeping deadlines in their proper perspective is so important as we do these very large projects, like writing and publishing a family history. Use Christmas, a family reunion, or other occasion as a deadline to work towards, but remember that your book will be treasured for years to come. Make it a legacy that you will be happy with not one full of regrets.
Chris Stevenson
Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Organization is Key

The hardest part of writing a book is gathering all the information and pictures. You will be collecting a variety of things, including documents, pictures, and hundreds of facts and stories. If you have a system to organize and track this information as you go along the process of writing will be much smoother. The information that you gather is much too important to lose or have to spend hours looking for again. There are many good ways to organize your data so you can easily find it again. The way that works for me is to use file folders in a filing cabinet and folders on my computer to organize the information as I gather it. I usually label the folders with names, surname first, and then alphabetize them. There is no one right way to do it, but file your information and keep things in a way that makes sense to you. A good tip is to make a good master list or index of what you have collected and where it is located so you can quickly find it again. If you spend a few minutes staying organized, you will save hours and hours of time (not to mention the frustration you will avoid) when you are writing your history. Find a system that works for you and then work the system. Here are some links to different organizational systems: Eliminate Genealogy Clutter Book
Good luck and keep going!
Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Picture is Worth ...

Pictures will add great interest to your book and draw people into your history. If you have pictures that haven't been scanned into your computer, you will need to do that first before you can insert them into the book. (Click here for some really good information on scanning photos.) If you don't have a scanner, you can see if a close relative has one and will scan your pictures for you, or you can have a company do it for you. I would suggest that you type all the text into the book before adding pictures because the pictures will make your file size very large which will slow down your computer. Decide whether you want your picture printed in color or black and white. For black and white, scan your pictures in grayscale. Obviously, you will want the pictures scanned in full color if you are planning on printing that page in color. When in doubt, scan in color, the page can always be printed in black and white from a color picture, but not the other way around. When scanning your photographs, scan them with at least a 300 dpi (dots per inch) resolution. Higher than 300 dpi will improve the quality of the picture very little, but will make the file size very large and slow down your computer. If you have a small original and are going to make it larger in your book, then scan it at 400-500 dpi so it won't be pixilated when you enlarge it for your book. Documents can be scanned as grayscale or black images. If scanning as black, use 600 dpi resolution. You can do a little experimenting with photos that are too dark or too light to find the right setting to give you the best picture when your book is printed. Be liberal with inserting pictures because we all know how much pictures are worth!

Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

File Format

When you are ready to take your book to the publisher/printer, check with them to see if they can print your file as you have it or if they need it converted to PDF. PDF is the best file format to bring your book to the publisher. (PDF stands for Portable Document Format.) It will make your pages perfectly stable so that the pages look the same on the printed page as what is on your computer screen. With some programs, when you move the files from computer to computer, the text and pictures can move from page to page, but with a PDF nothing moves or changes. Another problem that you can face is that the publisher doesn't have the same program that you have or they have a different version. You also won't have to worry about using only fonts that the publisher has, PDF will print them without having the font installed. There are free PDF converter programs online that you can download so you don't need to buy the Adobe Professional version (i.e.: PrimoPDF). Now you have one less thing to worry about.

Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Binding Your Book

When it comes to binding your book, you have quite a few good choices. You will want to check out all of your options for binding so you can determine what will work best for your book. A good binding will keep the pages of your book together for many years to come, that is the main goal. A hard binding that is sewn AND glued will last for a hundred years without falling apart and loosing pages. It will give your book a better look and feel, but will be more expensive. The coil or comb bindings have some advantages in that they are inexpensive for short runs and will lay flat on the counter or your lap (great for cookbooks). You can also add or subtract pages from the book in the future. The disadvantages to this type of binding are that the holes make the pages weaker so that they can tear out easier and sometimes the coil/comb will break after time and use. Perfect binding can be very inexpensive for long runs and will work with the right glues, but it won't last as long as hard binding before breaking apart. The strongest and most flexible glue for binding is PUR glues. If you are going to have a perfect bound book, check to be sure they are using PUR glue so your book will last. I hope this helps you decide which binding will work best for your book.
Chris Stevenson
Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Paper Options

It does make a difference which paper you use to print your book. Keep in mind that there is not one right paper for your book. Here is some information that will help you decide which paper is best. 24# (pound) paper that has a good brightness and opacity will work for most books. But if your book has over 700 pages, a thinner paper (like 20#) might be preferred so the book isn't so heavy or as thick. Coated papers can add a certain feel to your book especially if there are a lot of color pictures. It can work to mix pages in a book (i.e.: color picture pages on slick, coated paper and the rest of the book on 24# book paper) but you will notice that the shades of white will be slightly different. Most people will never notice the difference, but if you are one that it will bother, then I would suggest that you keep the book on all the same paper.
The weight of the paper can get very confusing because of the way that paper was made over 100 years ago. I’ll try to simplify what you need to know. Paper weights are designated by its “basis weight” and there are five different categories that are used. For book paper, there are two categories that are used most commonly, that is “offset weight” and “bond weight.” 20# bond is the same weight or thickness as 50# offset. 24# bond is the same as 60# offset. So if you talk to one printer and he says that he is going to do your book on 50# and other is going to do it on 24#, don’t be confused into thinking that since 50 is twice as much as 24 that the paper is thicker and better. Now you will know what they are talking about and can make a better decision.
There are two more things that are important for you to know about paper. First, is the brightness of the paper. Most paper is much brighter than it used to be 25 years ago. The brightness is a number between 1 and 100 with 100 being the brightest. Usually, a number above 92 is a good whiteness for books. Second, is the opacity of the paper. Opacity is how much you can see through the paper to what is printed on the other side. Check the opacity of several sheets together, like in a book, rather than holding one sheet up to the light. Almost all papers that would work well for a book will have some show-through. You just want to be sure that it isn’t so much that it is distractive to the reader.
All white bond or offset paper that is made in the U. S. is acid free so you don't need to worry about the pages turning yellow and becoming brittle over time. A few years ago you had to search for acid free paper. Not any more. (That is a relief.)
If this is all too confusing for you, don’t worry. Just look at the paper and if it looks good, it should work fine for you.
Chris Stevenson
Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Layout of Your Book Is Unique ... And That Is Great!

Cookie cutters are great ... for cookies, not for books. Part of the fun and adventure of producing your family history is developing your story the way that you like. Just as every person is unique, each book should be unique. Don't think that you have to make your book look just like your cousin's book (even though he is convinced that his way is the only way). The layout and design of your book, where you put the pictures, and the way you organize the information is part of the creativity and uniqueness of your book.
If you are at a loss at how to start, you can get ideas from looking at other printed histories from family, friends or fellow genealogists and see which style you like best. Here are some examples of ways to organize your book: chronologically, by generations, starting with you and working back through ancestors, or just dealing with cousins that are descendants from an ancestor. There isn’t anything wrong with getting opinions and advice from others, but most importantly, don’t be afraid to do it the way that you would like.
Chris Stevenson
Email questions and I’d be happy to help.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sharing Your Life

Too often our lives are so full that we don't take the time to share them with those that we love the most. Often it doesn't enter our minds to create a personal or family history that can be shared with them for many years to come. By helping hundreds of people publish their own histories, I have come to appreciate the great legacy that they are sharing with their loved ones, born and those yet to be born. For me, it has meant a great deal to find any story, long or short, about my ancestors and relatives. They are great treasures to me and my family that help connect us through time. I can relate to their everyday challenges that they have faced and have found that both their successes and failures have inspire me to greater heights in my own life.
My goal with this blog is to share helpful tips and ideas about publishing histories that will guide you past the hurdles of writing and preparing the history, and to help motivate you to continue on to the end. Please feel free to add your ideas and comments; let me know what questions you have; and also share this information with anyone you know that is or should be publishing a history. Here's to your success!
Chris Stevenson
Stevenson Genealogy & Copy Center
Email questions and I’d be happy to help.