Four Ways to Publish Those Family Treasures

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In 1990 my mother, my brother, and I compiled, edited, and published several of my maternal grandmother’s essays. Most were autobiographical — “My Childhood,” “My Marriage and Family,” and the like — but two were about others. One was “Our Other Grandma,” a tribute to her husband’s mother, whom she refused to call her mother-in-law, because she didn’t like all the critical jokes about mothers-in-law. The other essay she entitled, “Sheepherders I Have Known.”

The resulting short volume (about three dozen letter-size pages) was not a sterling example of the publisher’s art. I printed 15 or 20 copies on my dot matrix printer, then had them bound at a local copy center. There were no illustrations or photographs, not even a sample image or two of the handwritten originals. But it was an instant and enduring hit among its small audience.

This summer I decided to reissue the collection. My mother passed away several years ago, and my brother was busy getting married, so I did it myself. It occupied two or three evenings plus a full, long, 20-hour day off work, but it was ready in time for our annual reunion in early August.


I couldn’t find the old word processor file, so I used my scanner and the OCR software which came with it. The output text didn’t need much cleanup. I added some old photos, a name index, and a place index. I improved the front cover and the formatting generally. Then I printed about a dozen copies on my laser printer and hauled them to the nearest “big box” office supply store and copy center.

Bertha Babcock History 2nd EdI wanted a Velo binding, as we’d used before. It looks better and is far more durable than . . . anything they actually do at that copy center, as it turned out. They sent me to the local Kinko’s (officially, FedEx Office store), telling me it was the only place in town that could do that kind of binding for me. So I went; it was only about 200 yards away.

Aha! They could do it. But alas! They’d have to send it offsite, because they don’t actually do it here in American Fork. Where? I asked. To Orem, they said. So I thanked them and took it to Orem myself, since it’s on my way to work. By the end of the day, the job was done, and I was pleased with the results: a good-looking binding and a durable, frosted plastic cover, front and back. Between the binding costs and my printing costs, each book cost me about $9.00.

My plan was to give a copy to each of my mother’s six surviving siblings, and also to a couple of relatives who helped a lot with the reunion. (My sister and I were in charge this year.) I couldn’t afford to give it to the next two generations, even if my mother’s generation insisting on paying me for what I intended to be a gift.

Making money was never our object with this publication; we have just wanted to put it into the hands of lots of family members, in the hope that they will read it.


As I was planning the second edition, I realized that I now have at my disposal three relatively new ways to distribute a document inexpensively. I decided to use them all.

A PDF file of the entire document is about half a megabyte, so it is easily e-mailed. Almost anyone with a personal computer or smart phone can read a PDF file, and the original appearance is faithfully preserved. So I announced to the family that I’ll send the PDF file free of charge, upon request.


That might have been enough, but I made bigger plans. I published the book electronically at for Kindle and the various free Kindle apps, and at for Nook and the free Nook apps. I wasn’t happy with the automatic conversions, especially from HTML, but the conversions from Microsoft Word produced a tolerably good reading experience. One of these first months I’ll have to figure out their raw format, so I can exert more control over the appearance and positioning of images (photos), among other things. In the meantime, it will do.

I set a minimal price for the book at both sites: $0.99. That’s a lot cheaper than printing hard copies, and within the budget of any family member who can afford a Kindle, Nook, or smart phone, I think.

The old, the new, the Kindle app on my iPod

It’s an experiment. I don’t expect the e-books to catch on like wildfire (a painful simile this summer in the American West), but I’m curious to see how they do in the long term. So far, there have been four purchases in all, and one was mine. Twenty sales in the next year or two would delight but not surprise me.

If there’s enough interest among the family, I’ll be happy to publish some other good documents in future years. I haven’t heard of anyone else publishing for small family audiences on Kindle and Nook, and I don’t see very many genealogical works that are available as e-books. But if it catches on among my family, it will be an economical means of getting ancestors’ histories into their descendants’ hands and, one may hope, into their minds and hearts.

In case you’re curious about such things, I pledged to pass on the minimal royalties to the annual reunion fund.

FIVE (An Unadvertised Bonus)

My more knowledgeable colleague at MyHeritage, Mark Olsen, learned of my efforts and pointed out another local opportunity. It may exist in some form local to you, too.

At nearby Brigham Young University, the campus bookstore has a custom publishing service which can turn out relatively affordable soft-bound books very quickly, and pricier hardbacks less quickly. They estimated the cost of producing additional soft-bound copies of my grandmother’s essays about about $7.50 per volume. That’s roughly the same amount I paid elsewhere, but in this case for something that looks a lot like a real book.

Sometime soon I’ll give them a try. All they need is a pair of PDF files: one with the cover, and the other with the rest of the book.

Meanwhile, I’d be interested in hearing how readers are publishing family history documents these days.

As I’ve said before, as important as the names, dates, and places are, the history is by far my favorite part of family history.

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12 Responses to “Four Ways to Publish Those Family Treasures”

  1. Brian Davis says:

    That was interesting to read about your family history books David. I have done something similar with my family history. I have created pdf files, one of each family. I include photos, a family group sheet from family tree maker and a written history with all the information I can find. I have an email list of family members who I send them to. I haven’t gone as far as hard cover binding them, I find that they are constantly changing so I keep them in a three ring binder as they are easy to up-date. Other family members give me photos and information, as they can see what I don’t have. Because of it I have received many old family photos that I had never seen before, photo albums tend to get handed down to one person, now I can scan them and put them with other photos of the same family and create a more complete picture of the family which many people can now enjoy, instead of just the one person who was fortunate enough to have the original albums. I even included the eulogy from an aunt’s funeral as it was very well written and informative. I was able to track down the minister a couple of years later and he still had the word document which he was able to email to me. Some of my documents are around twenty pages now as relatives keep finding more photos and information for me.

  2. S.G.Wildblood Stubbs says:

    Tahanks for all that information. Certainly thought -provoking and worth keeping.

  3. Erlene Best says:

    I have only published one book. I had 5 copies made and gave them out as christmas gifts. I would love to publish other chapters of our family history, but the cost of the first volume of 175 pages, which included photos, obits, newspaper articles, stories, was $425.00. Ancestry has a book you can publish, (hard copy), but to get 5 copies, it would be more then what I did for the christmas gift. Right now my family tree is on Myhertiage, ancestry and two other web sites.

    Another problem I see, with just my family, they don’t care about family history. So sometime I ask my self “Why am I Doing this”. My answer is because I like what I am learning about the family and I love doing puzzles, and this is a puzzle that will never end. Thanks for shareing.

  4. Doug Baird says:

    I wanted to create a family history that could be of use to our children, siblings and cousins. I created a number of PDFs, collected some pictures (JPEG’s) and put the whole thing together with a simple tree of HTML files. The result was burned on a DVD. The history is read using your favorite browser. It is important to use the ISO standard archival format for the PDFs (PDF/A) to ensure that they will be readable in the future. The weak spot is the life of the recording media. One needs to create backup copies and refresh them as needed. Other people can copy, add, modify and delete files as they apply to their branch of the family tree. If one wants to produce printed copies, one needs to be aware of all the things that can happen to the results. Archival paper should be used. The powders with laser printers may be pressure and heat sensitive. Inks with ink jet printers may fade and be damaged by water, etc. If the PDFs are large, it is helpful to provide bookmarks to facilitate the navigation of the document.

  5. My first ancestor in Canada was a Stephen Burtch who was born in Ballston Spa Mohawk Territory in the late 1700’s He fled to Canada in 1783 in order to escape being shot by the people in the area loyal to the new USA. He came with two older brothers Charles and John and they settled in the Niagara-on the-Lake area of Canada. I would really like to know where this family originally came from in Europe as the family legend seems to think they arrived in New England and the Manhatten area in the 1600- ( the Beeton/ Beetmen tract??). As you may know when people fled to Canada records about them were destroyed. I have gone to Ballston, NY but have found no archival data — however the Pioneer cemetery has a number of Burtch graves with in it. Can you help please.
    Shirley Harrison

  6. Hugh Fullerton says:

    I produced a similar family document, an edited version of a family history my grandfather wrote in 1944. It had been copied (complete with typos on the old manual typewriter) but never cleaned up. I also wanted to address some inconsistencies and downright errors he had in the original, using my recent family history research. I then took it to the local Office Max copy shop and had them reproduce it after I printed it on my printer, taking care to format it to allow for binding. I also printed out the title page myself, as I used a spectacular photo of the old family cemetery I took myself. For no extra charge, they punched it for three-hole binding. Then I used a standard clear cover report cover from the stationary department. This allows me to add additional pages in future editions, as I write new material enlarging on the original. The entire document runs about 90 pages (printed two sides) and cost me less than $10 a copy for 30 copies. Since researching my family history is an ongoing project, I anticipate adding a chapter every year or so, and the owners can simply insert them in the original binding. I also tabbed my additional material to separate from my grandfather’s (edited() work. He was a marvelous writer and in my editing, I tried to avoid changing his writing style. By the way, I also sent copies to the historical and genealogical societies in the counties of southern Ohio where my family has its roots. In one case, that enabled me to connect to some distant cousins I didn’t even know I had.

  7. Everyone, thanks for your comments. I enjoy hearing what you’re doing, and you offer some good additional insights, such as making your publications easy to expand, using PDF/A, and sending copies to local historical and genealogical societies. I’m thinking of assembling your insights into a follow-up blog post — properly credited, of course.

    Shirley, I wasn’t aware of that exodus. I’m not a professional-caliber genealogist, but I’m interested in the history. I’ll poke around a bit, and also ask a expert genealogist friend in upstate New York.

  8. Marci Bowman says:

    Great article. Thanks. A few thoughts: you can read Kindle on a PC using free software from Amazon. There is a free Nook for PC app as well.

    I have a mimeographed family history created by a cousin in the 1920s. It includes family history information about the nine children of Daniel Hopkins and Anna Clough of Madison County New York. What a treasure! I plan to give it to LDS Family History Library or DAR Library since it covers too many different geographic areas for a local genealogy society.

    When you are looking for a soft bound book, don’t forget the many Print On Demand options. If you want few dozen books, and are willing to do ALL the PDF and cover creation yourself, you can create a print on demand book through Create Space and sell it through Amazon very cheaply.

  9. Norma and Marci, thanks for commenting. I appreciate the tips and tales. I’m taking notes . . .

  10. Katy M says:

    I have just completed transcribing onto the computer 26-90min tapes of my mother-in-laws autobiography. It took me 2 years in between many other things. Because she was just speaking and I know would have written it a little better, I am having to do a lot of editing. We are now in that process with my husband and other family members proofing it. Sometimes it is an overwhelming task, but I feel that she is happy with what we have done. I have been told that UPS does a beautiful job of printing a book for a very low cost. My problem is that it is going to be at least 200 pages. Any other suggestions would be welcome. We are going to publish some of it with pictures, but I am going to have to limit them because of the size of it. Cousins are asking for copies because their parents, grandparents are mentioned.

  11. Owen Calhoun says:

    My father published four volumes of Calhoun family history over a twenty year period until his death in 1993. These were hardbacked volumes over 750 pages each published by Gateway Press. The cost was extensive and the selling price high but they are beautifuly bound books. He ordered 200 copies of each volume and the first two volumes were sold out a year after his death. My brother and I republished 100 more copies of Volume 1 & 2 and they are more than half gone.
    Many people are not able to afford the books and I help those to obtain their family information from the books and also help them with their continued research. It is a full time hobby. Many of us get together for family research at a Calhoun family reunion hosted by the Clemson University in Clemson, SC and the next one is being planned for July or August of 2013.

    Many of you have some very good ideas for research and publishing your history. You have some worthwhile advice that everyone can use for preserving their family history. Thank you.

  12. Gary Loeb says:

    Wonderful article.

    My grandmother hand-wrote two notebooks of family stories, which I transcribed and edited into a 135 page book. Got the notebooks from her about 1990, just before she passed away, so I have the copyrights by inheritance. I edited the stories into a meaningful form, adding footnotes and research notes, and sent it to the US Copyright Office to get it registered. (A good idea in case somebody else tries to publish parts of the stories without permission.)

    I have published the book in so that I can just send the link to my friends and relatives (and place in MyHeritage and elsewhere). I never though (or knew) of publishing on Amazon/Kindle or BarnesAndNoble/Nook. What a great idea!

    I encourage all to check out the Scribed link that i attached (, and let me know what you think.

    By the way, I have donated her original notebooks to the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives for perpetual safekeeping. Another great idea; let an expert organization preserve your originals.

    Keep up the good work!

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