Book design
Case Study , Family history

Family History Transformed into a Treasured Book

Family history book coverDebbie Kirsch came to me with a long-held vision to transform her family history research into a visually engaging custom-designed book. Her book, Here We Are: A Family History, is a private family history.

After thirty years of visiting many musty archives, combing through genealogy sites, organizing all the information, writing captivating stories, creating family trees for each branch of the family, and gathering photos and memorabilia, Debbie wanted a book that would represent her family roots in a cohesive, beautiful volume to be cherished by future generations. 

Researching family history

Researching the ancestry of her maternal grandparents, Debbie traced her family lineage back through three different countries including Prussia, Scotland, Ireland, and back to the United States. Her story begins when her grandparents married in New York City in 1907. With detailed accounts of marriages, children, celebrations and tragedies, the stories unfold into a heartwarming family history.

Page spread for family history

Working together to create an heirloom book

Debbie came to me with her finished manuscript. She had scanned her photos and other memorabilia and had created a dozen family trees. She was looking for a book designer to pull the whole project together and create a professional looking cover and page layout for her book.

Book designer and client collaborating on family history

Although we never met in person, Debbie and I had several meetings over Skype to discuss her vision for the book, page layouts, and design elements.

Family tree and photo for family history

Creating a visually interesting page design

The interior pages were designed in black & white. I experimented with various typefaces, chapter title page treatments, captions and layouts, and then presented Debbie with three preliminary designs. She was open to many of the design approaches I suggested, and was very involved in the design outcome of her book. After talking with her about her preferences, I created a final design for her approval and began typesetting the entire book.

The book was divided into four parts. I used details from photos and memorabilia to highlight each country and add flavor and context to the parts and chapter title pages. Debbie had over 300 footnotes, which presented a bit of a challenge initially. I had never typeset a book with that many footnotes before. Thankfully the layout program I use, Adobe InDesign automatically imports footnotes along with the main body of text.

Part opening page for family history 

Book cover design

Designing the cover is usually the last step before publication. For Debbie’s cover, I used a photo taken at a family gathering in 1953. This photo included multiple generations, including Debbie as a young child in her mother’s arms.  I added a bit of tan in a banner for the title to give the cover some warmth against the black and white photo. For the back cover I used a photo of the author standing between her two grown daughters, placing it in front of a scan of Debbie’s grandparents’ marriage certificate, which gives the reader a glimpse into the contents of the book.

Family history book back cover

The books are lovely. I’ve received very positive feedback on the interior design and the cover. Family members that preordered the book, sight unseen, were delighted with the qulaity and design. I am so very happy. The book you designed truly fulfills the image I had for it. I wouldn’t change a thing. It looks great on my coffee table. 😉   —DEBBIE KIRSCH

Decisions about book size and finishing touches

I designed the book in a landscape format with a trim size of 12 by 9 inches. The pages have two columns of text with the footnotes under each column. It was printed digitally on 80 lb gloss paper at Lightning Press in New Jersey. The book has a durable, image-wrapped-laminate hardcover.

A family legacy becomes a tangible keepsake

Here We Are, A Family History has become a record of Debbie’s family research and the legacy for future generations. She had 50 copies printed and has distributed the books among her family, including some still living in Scotland.

Debbie was blown away by the response to her book. Her sister-in-law wrote:

Congratulations Debbie! Your newly published book Here We Are is beautiful. Everything about it is fun: the cover, quality of paper, the selection of photos, your genealogy tables etc. I finished reading it last night and I could hear your voice in the writings. You have given justice to all the years of research by giving a warm glimpse into the lives of your relatives. What a treasure you have made.

Why not share your story?

Every family has a unique story. Why not share your family’s stories, beliefs, traditions, and ancestry with future generations? Our memories are how history is created.

It’s not as hard as you might think. We have the resources to help you every step of the way. Why not get in touch and see what we can do for you?

Read more: Memoirs and Family Histories