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Berkshire Family Historian
June 2001

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June 2001 Contents

A Bluffer's guide to converting your family tree into a family history (continued)

Barry Jerome

Part III - Publishing and printing


Now that I have all my text and illustrations assembled the next task to think about is the layout. I normally use an A4 page, and if you do the same you will need to consider the number of columns, the size of text, the margin size and the headers and footers. There are a lot of other things you can also think about but I like to keep it as simple as possible. Of course these are mainly of use if you are using a computer or word processor, but even for a hand written document you will probably want a page number at the bottom and a chapter title at the top.

If you are handwriting your story, or using a typewriter, you can skip the next few paragraphs and continue reading at 'Quality Control'.

Options available for the number of columns include one, two, three or four columns per page - I suggest looking at a magazine to see what format you prefer. I find a single column tends to be too wide to read comfortably in A4, whereas using four columns results in a lot of broken or hyphenated words. The format I prefer is two columns with a fairly wide margin on the left hand side. Illustrations can then be placed in a column or run across columns, or even overlap into the white space of the margin. It is worth experimenting to discover which format you like best.

Another consideration is what font (type of lettering) and the size of the text to use. A serif font is usually more pleasant to read for a lot of text (a serif font is one where each letter has little lines on the top and bottom). Times New Roman is a frequently used serif font that is available on most computers and 12 point is quite a good size for general reading. lo or 11 point allows more text on each page and tends to be better where 3 or 4 columns are being used. 14 point is less of a strain for older members of your family who may read your family history. I like to use a non-serif font for headings and subheadings as the letters stand out more. Arial and Helvetica are two commonly used non-serif fonts which I use at larger text sizes than for the normal text.

I have found from experience that it is best to start with something simple and to experiment once confidence has been gained. PCs have thousands of fonts to choose from but it can be quite time-consuming experimenting with different combinations until you find the ones you like best.

I now define 'styles' for chapter, section and sub headings and for normal text in the word processor and use these styles when writing. By using this approach if I decide to use a different font at some time in the future I only have to change style and the chapter is changed automatically.

For example:

CHAPTER HEADING: Arial 16 or 18 point, capitals, bold

Section Heading: Arial 14 or 16 point, first letter of each word capitalised, bold

Paragraph heading: Arial 12 or 14, first letter capitalised, bold text: Times New Roman 12, normal

However, this is probably one complication too many if you are only just starting out and you may prefer to make your heading by using the 'Bold' button on your normal text.

Quality control

I am now ready to assemble my first section. During this stage there is a need to convert it from a set of standard paragraphs to a readable narrative. This is where a friend or relative can help. I start by taking the 2 or 3 pages of standard paragraphs and descriptions produced earlier and print them or write them out double line spaced. I then read through it myself and mark up changes to make it sound more like a story, adding additional sentences if necessary to make it flow. I make the changes and print it or write it out again double line spacing and ask a friend or relative to critique it, emphasising that I am looking to them for quality control. When selecting someone it must be somebody you know well enough who will feel they can make objective comments without upsetting you, and you need to be open minded about any comments received. The last thing you want is someone who will read it and pass it back saying, "that was nice" with just a couple of spelling errors corrected. My wife does my quality control for me which I find invaluable. (She will have critiqued this article too by the time you see it).

Final assembly

You are now ready to assemble the section into its final format. I decide where on the page I want my illustrations to go. If writing by hand or typewriter I suggest drawing a pencil rectangle in the place the illustration will go, so that you can write or type around it.

If using a word processor or desktop publishing program on a computer then the first step is to define your master page with the number of columns and headings. The controls to do it will vary depending on the program you are using but they are all much the same. You will need to specify the number of columns and then type in the header (e.g. chapter heading) and the footer (e.g. page number) that you decided on earlier.

Next copy your corrected text into the pages and position each illustration so that it appears close to the text to which it relates. This may be in the adjacent column rather than before or after the text. Always start with the first illustration and go through in sequence, as the text will flow around the pictures as you move them. If you do not yet have one or more of your illustrations then put a rectangle in the page of the same size as the eventual illustration. This will usually be achieved by creating a new 'frame' on the page with a black line as a border. Once your illustration is available you can 'drop' it onto the frame to include it in the text.

You can now print your "final" version of the section.

Part IV Collating and binding

Repeat parts II and III for other selected ancestors in your family tree, creating a new section for each one. Once you have a few sections it is worth collating them into one or more chapters. You can then bind them together and send to relatives and friends.

Preparing the cover page and introduction

I like to create a chapter front page containing information such as the date printed, references and sources used in creating the chapter. This is usually in three pages but can be longer depending on references and sources used. The first page has the chapter name on it in large letters and possibly a picture or two. The second page has a one paragraph summary of what the chapter is about plus the date of printing this version. For example one of my chapters has the following summa : "This chapter describes the history of the Parrott family descended from Joseph Parrott, baptised in Ringwood Hampshire in 1824". The third page is a numerical list of references and sources of information (using the same format used in books).

If using a word processor I have found it best to now copy the front pages and each section into a single document to ensure that the page numbering is sequential. (You can achieve the same effect by specifying the starting page number for each section). Print off your Chapter cover on thin (preferably coloured) card and print the rest of the chapter on good quality paper. A good quality paper may cost a pound or two more per ream but the difference in appearance is worth it.

If writing by hand or using a typewriter then write or type your front pages, including your cover page on card. Put your sections together and once you are sure they are in the right order go through and number each page by hand.

Binding the pages

The next stage is to bind the loose pages together into a book format for the chapter. An easy form of binding is the long plastic clips which slide down the long edge of the sheets of paper to form a spine for the book. These usually cost lop or less from a stationery shop. Comb binding and thermal binding are two other relatively straightforward forms of binding. (Of the two, I prefer the way comb binding allows the book to open flat at any page, and extra pages can also be added fairly easily). Both of these forms of binding can be carried out by a 'copy shop' fairly inexpensively. If you are going to be writing and binding many chapters and associated revisions it can be worth investing in your own binding machine. I bought a comb binder in a mail order stationery catalogue sale for about l00. Since buying it I have also used it to bind together many odd sheets of paper which might otherwise get lost (for instance the information sheets from the PRO).

You now have the first chapter of your book which you can distribute to friends and relatives or others researching the same name. I like to keep a list of recipients and which version I sent them. This means that when I make a major revision to the book e.g. add a new section, or make significant changes to a section, then I can send them a revised version.


I hope that by describing the approach I have taken it will help a few more people to realise their own ambitions to put their family in print. In this article it has only been possible to summarise many of the techniques I use. For any further information feel free to contact me via the editor.

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updated 5th August 2001