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Publishing in Pieces

When I was in Charleston for the National Genealogical Society’s Conference, I was fortunate enough to catch the opening session and particularly enjoyed Buzzy Jackson’s  presentation based on her book, “Shaking the Family Tree.” As she took us along on an entertaining look at her research, I found myself nodding in agreement throughout, but the closing message was what hit home the most. She urged us to start publishing our stories, and not wait until the research was “done.”

She was absolutely right. I know I’ll never be “done.” Brick walls notwithstanding, I am quite certain I will never stop searching for the stories of my ancestors. There will always be some new insight, another new piece of the puzzle, some new discovery to be made. That said, I need to share of the great stories I’ve found with my family. So I’ve recommitted to finishing up some of the projects I have going in MyCanvas,  the self-publishing tool on Ancestry.com. I have several books in progress for various branches of the family, but I am looking at them now as more like chapters in my research, than finished products.

I’m on a bit of a roll. I recently completed a descendant book for my parents’ anniversary that was a hit at their party and I’m now back to work on a family history book I started a while ago for my dad. Here are some tips I’ve found useful. While I used MyCanvas, these tips can be applied to any publishing project.

Set Up the Framework
When you’re looking at a blank canvas, any project can seem daunting, but if you begin with an outline it’s much easier to envision your project and what you’ll need. Create the pages that form the basis for your outline. Once you’ve determined what chapters and pages will be in your project, filling them in is a much easier process.

Breaking the book down by family group can be helpful, using a combination of records, stories, and images to tell the story, as Martha suggests in today’s tip. Records arranged chronologically can tell the story of the family’s immigration, where they lived through census records and period photographs (not only of people, but places as well), marriages, and even deaths. For a page with my great-grandmother’s death record, I included a photograph of her, one of the family at her wake, and a quote from my grandmother reflecting on her mother. She had told us in an interview,

“She was very good to us. She never went anywhere – nor did my father - never went anywhere without bringing us a bag of candy and hugging us and kissing us. And our mother loved flowers – oh, did she love flowers. And she loved oleanders, and as a surprise, my father got her--and on the porch we had two wash tubs, like this, and one pink and one white oleander. And my father says when they stopped blooming that something’s going to happen. . . And when they stopped blooming, my mother died.”

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MyCanvas automatically creates books based on information from your tree. Records and photographs you’ve attached to your tree are imported and it creates a framework for you. You can choose to include timelines, family group sheets, and record pages, and a pedigree chart is automatically created. I like that once I select the elements I want included, it automatically creates a framework for me. Then I just click on the “Manage Pages” link at the top of the project to add, delete, or rearrange the pages to fit the outline I have in mind.

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The books I’ve created have family group sheets for each family followed by pages of records and photographs. I also include stories and narrative throughout so it’s not just a series of charts and images.

Organize Images and Documents
Images of records and photographs of people and places will give your presentation visual appeal, but if you’re planning on using a lot of them, it can easily become overwhelming. When I created the descendant book for my parents, I was working with hundreds of photographs of family groups, individuals, and even pets (for a special spread I created for pictures of all the four-legged family members). My sisters were sending in huge batches of photographs for each of their families and I had wedding photographs, childhood pictures, and group shots of grandkids in both posed and informal settings.

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Since I already had my layout, as photographs came in, I saved them to a project file and named each photograph for the page I planned on using them (e.g., Pets_Caleb, Smith_family, Maddy1, Cousins5, etc.). Using a name that corresponded with a particular page or section meant that they sorted alphabetically and were grouped for insertion. When it came time to fill the sections, it was easy to select the photographs and arrange them.

Inevitably, I found gaps and had to send out a second request for more pictures to fill in the blanks, so for the second wave of photographs I created a separate folder that I could import them all at once without duplicating the first set.

Give Yourself a Deadline
With my parents’ anniversary looming, it provided a strong incentive to get the book done in time to allow for processing and shipping. I did the math ahead of time and padded a little for the unexpected, so I knew I had a firm deadline and the project needed to be done by then. Give yourself a deadline, whether it’s an anniversary, family reunion, or some other event. Or just create a deadline for yourself. Benchmarks along the way for long term projects can also be helpful. Set a reminder on your calendar that you need to complete a particular section by xx date.

Whether it’s a published book, a biographical sketch of a favorite ancestor on a blog, or even an isolated story posted to Facebook or through email, don’t wait until your family history is “done” to share it. There will always be more chapters in your research, but the stories you’ve found are too good to keep languishing on a tree or in a file. Put them out there so that the family can enjoy them.

If you’d like to learn more about MyCanvas, check out this webinar in the Ancestry.com Learning Center.


Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry.com newsletters for thirteen years. She will be teaching a class on “Insider Search Tips for Ancestry.com” in Fort Wayne, Indiana on Ancestry Day, 23 July 2011 at the Grand Wayne Conference Center. You can learn more and register for this event here

Other articles in the 12 June 2011 Weekly Discovery: 

Finding Your Ancestors in the 1911 UK Census  

Family History Tip: Documenting Your History 

Photo Corner 

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