In early 2015, with the impetus of gifting my 98 year old grandmother with a birthday present, unlike anything she owned and something of value, the idea came to create a family booklet. My family was always interested in our family history, and we were often told stories about our ancestors and how they arrived in Washington, D.C. from Richmond, Virginia. Like most families of African descent in America, we had oral history and could only go back but so far. We knew that my grandmother’s aunts, uncles, and grandparents were enslaved. Her mother was the youngest child of her grandparent’s and she was not enslaved, but her older sister was held. Whether they were indigenous to America or brought on ships, we do not know. Unfortunately, we could only go back to the late 1800’s…with just two names.
As I collected information, more ideas came as to how I would present it to her. The book was born. It took approximately five months to collect information from family members via email, phone conversations, and interviews with my grandmother and 86 year old cousin, as well as going through my deceased parent’s belongings. My sister and I were amazed at the findings. Behind a framed drawing of my great uncle, I discovered pictures of him that were not seen by most of my family members. Only my late Aunt Annabelle knew of them. She passed away years ago. I even found a birth certificate of our oldest sister. She passed away at three days old.
We presented the book to her and other family members at her 99th birthday party. Her elation spoke volumes. The goal was met, and now we have in place a living document to testify to the strength, perseverance, and success of our family.
"...this custom book designed just with your family lineage is of great quality and will be a priceless legacy/gift to leave to generations to come. This particularly is something every African American family should own as a documented record of known family history from as far back as is available, up until today. Connecting to one's family history is important for the success, nurturing, and a sense of belonging needed to uplift future generations...I just have seen the quality of the book Mrs. Bowlding designed for her own family and was in awe of what really is a work of art. I'm working with my mom to piece together our own family history and so to know that it will eventually come together into one great genealogy book makes the effort even more worthwhile." - Tammy Richards
The purpose of gathering family knowledge is to provide future generations with facts, news, reports and photographs so that they can know their ancestors, learn from where they came, see how far they have come, and be encouraged to provide a legacy for those who come after them. No one can keep your family history, and speak on its truth except for those in the family. There is no other ideal way to present your genealogy material, but in one place…a book. A family history book can be as little as 10 to hundreds of pages. It is a great way to tell your story and connect the links that bind you all together. Go back as far as you can to the eldest ancestor and include the youngest member of your family.
Be wise. If any information will bring profound stress to living family members, be considerate and not include damaging information.
How to get started…
Step One: Talk with several family members and determine how open they are to the idea of putting all of the family’s history together in one document. Then decide who will collect the information and in what format it would be maintained. If you have a large family, consider having each family surname collect all the information for their side of the family. Set deadlines.
If there are reluctant relatives, explain to them why you are undertaking this project. Then, show them some of the information collected, especially rare photographs. This may spur them on to include themselves in the project. If they are not willing, do not push too hard. You may have to leave them out. Once they see the finished product, when it’s time to update the book, then they may be willing to submit their information.
Step Two: Create a rough draft of a genealogy tree. Create a family chart, including spouses, even if divorced or widowed. This will help you to organize your materials and determine how much information you will have to maintain and collate at the end.
Step Three: Create a digital and hard copy binder of each family surname, and then create sub-folders for each person. For digital information, save on several mediums, including portable hard drive, USB ports, etc. Place photographs with corresponding folder, so when you are ready to lay-out the book, you are not searching through many files to find that one perfect photo. Also, create digital files of all your notes and interview notes.
Step Four: Create a family information form to send to each family member. Contact each family member and ask them to provide their information and photographs. Each person should provide a brief biography and photographs. For deceased relatives, use the information from their obituary or funeral program or talked to relatives who knew them.
Information collected should include full name, birth and death dates, paternal and maternal parent’s names, spouses and their parent’s names, photographs, children and grandchildren’s information, notes, newspaper or internet articles, birth and death certificates, land titles, etc.
Give each family member approximately 60 days to collect and submit their information. The longer the lag time, the less likely you will get what you need to meet your set deadline.
Items to Collect:
Personal (infant, toddler, young child, teen, young, adult, elderly)
Activities (sports, dance, music, plays, scouts, hobbies, vacations, school, military service, job, etc.)
Step Five: Assign someone the task of internet research, using genealogy websites and archived newspaper articles. Gather as much information as available.
Step Six: Conduct in-person interviews, especially with your older relatives. Oftentimes they will reveal unheard of information, and you may get rare photographs.
Step Seven: Scan photos using a photocopier. The setting should be jpeg with 300 dpi. Create a filename for each photograph for the main person in the photo. Then keep all files for one person in a specific folder.
Step Eight - Book Creation: Consider the size of your book. The least expensive book size to print is 8.5” x 11”, however you can print at 6x9 or 5x7. If you plan on using several paragraphs of text and up to 10 photos of each person, its best to create a 8.5” x 11” book. Then, engage Karen Bowlding, editor and graphic designer, to professionally produce your genealogy book. Review the book for informational and pictorial inaccuracies, then have changes made. Get book printed and bound. The print quality of some of the big-box stores is based on the condition of their machines at the time of print. It’s best to hire a local printer for the job.
When your project is complete, store your photographs, important papers, and genealogy book in acid-free storage containers.