On Your Own: How to Design and Construct a Family History Book to Inform and Captivate Readers 2

Authors Elayne and Stephen Denker have published several family history books. They learned from each experience and decided to share what has and hasn’t worked for them. On Your Own: How to Design and Construct a Family History Book to Inform and Captivate Readers, is a do it yourself, nuts and bolts book on how to handle many of the details of publishing your family history book. The authors present numerous idea stimulating examples and many topics covered contain step-by-step instructions.

On Your Own is not a detailed, all encompassing how to book. Instead it covers many topics the average family historian may not have thought of or wouldn’t necessarily know how to approach such as layouts, fonts, and prologues. Other topics are covered more generally and  could be the subject of an entire book as can be seen from the table of contents:

  1. Tell Your Stories
  2. What to Include in Your Book
  3. Page Layout
  4. Page Design
  5. Software Tools
  6. Enhancing Documents and Records
  7. Large Format Records
  8. Preparing Photos
  9. Using Internet Content
  10. Book Cover Design
  11. Preparing for Publishing
  12. Share Your Stories

A1.  Copyrights and Fair Use

A2.  Ebooks


Instead of attempting to fully cover a complex topic, such as photo editing, the Denkers discuss what they encountered and what a typical family history author might find useful. Chapter 8, Preparing Photos, is an example. The authors wisely some give basic coverage to this topic. Then they present some excellent tips such as those on how to create image collages and include click by click instructions.

On your Own: How to ConstuctTwo subjects of particular interest are how to emphasize one part of an image (Chapter 6- Enhancing Documents and Records) and how to present one large image on two pages (Chapter 7- Large Format Records.)Both include step by step instructions.


Nearly every page of the book contains examples to stimulate ideas. For example, Chapter 4-Page Design, includes the page of a newspaper with the article of interest circled. An enlarged copy of the article is set off to the side for easy reading.


A few minor words of caution are in order. The Denkers used Microsoft Word to prepare their books, so On Your Own is written from that perspective. However, the concepts are transferrable to other software applications. In addition, some topics received very light coverage, particularly Chapter 5, Software Tools, which is just as well since technology changes so rapidly and programs are frequently discontinued or features change.


On Your Own does not cover every issue or question you might have writing your own book; if that’s what you are looking for this book’s not for you. It does cover many aspects of putting together a family history book that otherwise might not occur to the less experienced writer. The multitude of examples serves as idea generators. The detailed, click by click instructions on common issues a writer might encounter are helpful. I will refer back to this book. It’s another tool for the toolbox.

Michelle Goodrum

About Michelle Goodrum

Writer, family historian, and researcher Michelle Roos Goodrum has been researching her family for over 20 years. Being the caretaker of over 135 years of her family’s papers and photographs, Michelle enjoys piecing her ancestors’ stories together. Michelle is also a Teaching Assistant for Boston University's Genealogical Research Program. Follow Michelle on her blog The Turning of Generations (http://turning-of-generations.blogspot.com/ ) Michelle is the author of IDG’s monthly column, Timeless Territories.

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