Family story photo book

If you don’t have the time or the skills to write a full-length family history or life story, one way of presenting and preserving your family history or the story of your own life is to create a family photo book in which you tell your story through pictures and words.

Start by building up a collection of photos and pictures

For those of you who have been researching your family history or recalling your own life you may already have collected a number of photos but also ask family members to dig out any photos they have to add to your collection. Many of the photos you have collected will probably bring back memories but if you are in doubt about any photo do ask. For example, do you know when or where a photo was taken or can you identify any people in the photo? For this information, you may have to ask family members or go to other sources. Make a note of names, dates and any other important information you gather on the back of each photo (make sure to use a soft lead pencil to avoid damaging your photos). This information will help you to organise your photos once you have decided how you are going to present your photo book.

Photograph your family heirlooms and scan printed documents

Family heirlooms, memorabilia or artefacts can also be incorporated into a photo book – simply take a photo of the items you want to include making sure once again that you make a note of all the relevant and important details. Similarly, if you have a collection of printed documents such as family recipes, marriage and birth certificates, newspaper articles, school reports, diary pages etc. you could scan them and add them to your book.

Discover the stories

A family history or life story told through pictures and stories needs stories and so the next step is to start collecting the personal stories behind the photos. Scribble down all of the stories and anecdotes you remember and then ask family members to tell you what they know about your photos or any other photos they have passed on to you. For example, find out when and where a photo was taken, who the people are in a photo, plus any other details which might reveal some hidden gems and secrets.

Decide how to organise your book

If you have collected information about different families you could divide your book into sections for each family and then present your photos and text in chronological order. Or, you could create pages for individual family members and include their personal details together with an anecdote or special memory about their life. If you are creating a book about your own life you could either present it chronologically or you could pick out a particular time or period of your life.

I recently compiled a family story photo book for a friend of mine in which she devoted one section to her father’s family and the other section to her mother’s family. Each family story was presented chronologically and I carefully placed the photos and text on each page to ensure that the photos were accompanied by the relevant text.

Laying out the pages in your family photo book

In general, limit the number of photos you use on each page. This ensures that there will be plenty of space for your text. If you have a number of photos for a page which, for example, focuses on a particular person or event, don’t feel you have to use them all – simply choose the best. If there are photos you really don’t want to leave out, then you could devote whole pages to a collection of carefully labelled photos but ideally place these pages within the relevant sections of your book.

Identity all of the photos in your book

Always include a short caption for each photo – this is important even if the text on the page makes a reference to the photos. People who flip through your book may want to know who the people are, where the photo was taken etc. without having to read through all of the text.

Include family trees

For my friend’s book I included two hand-drawn family trees one of which was placed on the inside of the front cover and the other on the inside of the back cover. These simply included names and dates but you could include photos to spice them up a bit. ff you haven’t already created a family tree and don’t have the skill to draw you own, do a search online for family tree templates. There are many out there some of which are free to download and customise. For example, TemplateLAB has 32 free family tree templates which you can download in Word or Photoshop formats. FamilySearch has a selection of printable family tree templates which you can download, print and then complete by hand. There is also some advice on how to make a family tree chart online.

Word processor or specialist page layout software?

So far, this blog has been all about how to gather all of the information and pictures you will need to create your book, but what is the best way to pull all of this altogether to create a family photo book?

Many standard word processing systems enable you to do basic formatting of pages of text and graphics. If you know how to place, rearrange and format the different elements such as text and graphics in the word processor you are familiar with, then you will be able to create the pages for your book.

However, if you feel your word processor is not up to the job, there are a number of specialist page layout (desktop publishing) applications available which provide more functions and give you more control over layout and text flow. For example, Canva uses a simple drag-and-drop system to enable you to place your text and graphics and it also includes a large library of templates. The basic version is completely free to use.

Microsoft Publisher is also a good way to get into desktop publishing as it is relatively easy to use. If you are a PC user you may already have Microsoft Publisher as part your Microsoft Office Package.

There are a number of other desktop publishing applications such as Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress but these are expensive and take much longer to learn.


For further information also check out my blogs:

Take a closer look at photos to create memorable stories

How to start writing the stories behind your photos

Create a family photo book

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