Danette and I were not close as cousins go. We were born 10 years apart; she lived in Virginia, I lived in Canada, plus with 45 cousins in the family, we naturally migrated towards cousins closer to our age. However in 2007, as adults, we found a common interest—a family history book.
Individually, Danette and I were doing research on the same family. I emailed Danette and asked her if she wanted to combine efforts to produce a family history book in time for our next family reunion. Every five years, my father’s family comes together in Norfolk County, Ontario to celebrate our great legacy. We are 250 strong, all descendants of my grandparents, Ruth and Jerome Kowalsky. We combined efforts and set our goal as the Family Reunion 2010. We had 3 years to be ready. We dug our heels into the research and started filling in the gaps. Tip: Make sure you have a goal, a deadline for your book.
Danette and I often met, visiting ancestral hometowns, tromping through cemeteries and talking for countless hours on the phone. We had fun and created great memories. When we were 1 year out, we started to write the stories and create our book.
From the start, we began to investigate how we would produce and print our book. My brother is a printer, a business that belonged to my father for 40 years, so we felt our printing path was clear. However, we investigated other options for printing our book including MyCanvas. At first look, we were pleased with the MyCanvas software, the amount of choices available in graphics, backgrounds, and colours provided us with the tools to make a unique legacy book. The page layouts were flexible, we could make the family history book we envisioned, we weren’t tied to the software only to our creative imaginations. It soon became apparent to us that there was no other program like it. With a click of a button you can load information, photos and documents right from your Ancestry tree. I showed the program to my brother, the printer, and he was amazed. He told me there was no way they could produce a book with the amount of graphic and layout options without investing a lot of time, and it would make the book completely unaffordable. Tip: Choose how to print your book in advance.
We weren’t prepared to negotiate on the quality of the book that we wanted to create, and we decided MyCanvas would be the way we would print our book. To help reduce the cost of the book we fundraised, and were given a couple of generous donations by family members. This cut our costs, enabling us to create a beautiful full-colour 200-page legacy family history book. Tip: Crowdfund among family members to reduce book costs.
I would log into Danette’s Ancestry account. We could both see the book and critique it and change it making it a truly collaborative effort. Tip: Don’t go it alone, create a team for your family history book.
The Final Product
When it came time to turn our baby over for printing we were nervous. However, the Alexander’s staff put our minds at ease. After submitting it for print, we received a phone call. They reviewed the book and wanted to offer some suggestions. Some colours we had chosen for pages were dark, and they suggested we may want to lighten them up. It was our choice. We didn’t take their advice; we should have! During that phone call, they told us our book was one of the most comprehensive family history books they had ever published. We were pretty proud.
In the end, we were pleased with the book; the paper and cover are very high quality and it was the professional looking book we were hoping to achieve. Printing and shipping were quick as well. We sold 75 copies to family members and MyCanvas provided us a group discount because of the quantity we ordered. What’s nice is our book still sits on file. We’ve recently celebrated another family reunion this past July, five years later. We updated the book with the 15 babies that have been born since and corrected a few mistakes that got past us in the first publication. We are now taking orders from the next generation. Family members who didn’t have an interest five years ago, now have young families and look at family history in an entirely different light. We all know that the research never stops so it’s nice to have the ability to go back in anytime and correct or change and update the book as new research is discovered.
On July 5, 2010, we handed out the books at our family reunion. I have no problem admitting we were nervous. What did we miss? How would it be received? However, our book earned glowing reviews. Watching my family receive their book, handling it like a precious jewel, gliding their hands over the beautiful cover was worth all the work. Of course, everyone flipped to their page first. Tip: Want family members to buy your book? Make sure they are in it.
As for Danette and I, our adventure in creating a family history book helped us discover our individual passions. Danette now does custom family history jewellery at DRTaylor Designs. Me, I help family historians learn to write and create their family history books at The Family History Writing Studio.
In addition, we created more than a family history book, we built a friendship and remain close as a result of our collaboration. I suspect there are a few more projects in our future.
About Lynn Palermo
Lynn Palermo is a family historian with a love for the written word. You’ll find her most days blogging from her website The Armchair Genealogist, where she offers readers down-to-earth advice on researching and writing their family history. As a freelance writer, she has written for Internet Genealogy, Discovering Family History and Family Chronicles. The Armchair Genealogist is named one of the Top 40 Genealogy Blogs by Family Tree Magazine and her posts, on occasion, have been featured on The National Genealogical Society website. She has been a feature writer for the online genealogy magazine, the In-depth Genealogist.
Creator and host of The Family History Writing Challenge, every February, Lynn breaks down the craft of creative nonfiction to help family historians turn their research into compelling stories. Lynn instructs family historians on how to find their words through webinars, lectures, e-books and coaching. The author of her own family history book, The Waters of My Ancestors, Lynn knows all too well the challenges genealogists face in writing their narratives and is on a mission to rid the world of the dry family history story.
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