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Self-Publish Family Memories

Updated on April 5, 2015
Virginia Allain profile image

I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.


Save Family Stories in Print

I've self-published two books of family stories and history using a print-on-demand publisher like Maybe you've thought of putting your own life stories into a book or of publishing a family history book to honor your parents and grandparents. I'll share with you the steps for gathering, organizing, illustrating, writing and self-publishing your own family stories.

This goes a step beyond the popular hobby of scrapbooking and makes the family memories available to a wider audience. Everyone in the family can get a copy to treasure and you might find there is more of a readership for it than just the immediate family members.

My father's life turned into this 160 page book with parts written by my mother, my sister and myself. Since he worked in the Kansas oilfields, it has an audience beyond just my family. The book, Clyde Owen Martin, is stocked in the bookstore at the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado.

Saving your family stories in a self-published book is a project that your children, grandchildren and future generations will treasure.

My Flint Hills Childhood is her memoir of growing up in 1930s Kansas.
My Flint Hills Childhood is her memoir of growing up in 1930s Kansas. | Source

Decide What You Want to Include in Your Family Memory Book

Will it be the story of your own life or will it focus on one of your parents or a grandparent's life? Maybe you want a complete family history going back many generations.

In some cases you may have enough material to focus on just one aspect of a person's life. For my mother's book, we limited it to her childhood during the Depression of the 1930s, though it did expand to include some of her family's pioneer background.

If you have a collection of letter exchanged by your parents, the book could focus on just your parents' courtship and wedding. Memorabilia and letters from World War II or the Vietnam War could be another book topic.

Make an Action Plan - Break It Down Into Specific Actions

  1. Note down the topics that you personally can write about. Set aside time to start writing.
  2. Note what material you have to supplement your writing. Do you have photos, letters, family videos or tapes? Can you find these items? Set aside time to search for these.
  3. List people and resources where you can get additional information. Do you need to interview Aunt Mary about your father's childhood experiences? Can you find old yearbooks at his college library? Do you need to send for his military record?

Help for Your Writing (Writing Prompts)

There are books with writing prompts to trigger your writing. These topics and questions are good for getting your writing started. You can also finds sites online that provide writing prompts or even send them directly to you in a daily e-mail.

Finding Writing Prompts Online

Writing prompts are questions or phrases to trigger your writing on a specific topic. The ones I've included here are geared towards writing about your life or family memories.

Choose a Print-on-Demand Publisher or Other Self-Publisher

I've used, and feel very positive about their process and the quality of their books. My aunt used, but later switched to blurb.

Here are some self-publishing sites to decide for yourself.

Revise and Edit the Book

When you have the book written and arranged in a satisfactory order, then go over it again looking for typos, and spelling and grammar errors.

Print out a draft copy and get someone else to read it. Pay attention to the questions they ask or any suggestions. Don't get defensive, you may have a blind-spot from working so closely with the material. Consider their suggestions and decide if you want to make the changes or not.

Include Letters and Memorabilia in the Book

Collect old documents like letters and diaries and memorabilia that you have relating to the life or lives covered in the memoir. Ask family members if they have any letters or items that belonged to the person. You might turn up some really special items that help visualize the era and the person's life. It could be hand-written recipes, a draft letter from the government, or a ration booklet from World War II.

Scan these into the computer. If the item is hard-to-read, include a transcript of the letter in the text. Put the original in as a picture. This worked well for my great-great grandfather's diary from the Civil War. Information from the diary was included in the essay about his life. Then I showed two pages from the diary with his original handwriting. I overlapped slightly a photo showing the outside of the worn pocket diary.

Possible items to include in a memoir: a business card, grade cards, a funeral card, handwritten recipe, baby announcement, graduation announcement, letter of commendation, a will, a bill of sale, military records,

Clean Up the Family Photos before Putting Them in a Book - Book available from Amazon

How to Fill Photo Gaps in the Memoir

If you don't have original photos from the period to illustrate a memoir, there are several ways to add illustrations. For my mother's memoir of the 1930s, I took photos at the Wichita Historical Museum. The museum contained period room settings and displays of vintage items like children's toys and clothing. Compose the photo carefully to exclude museum signs and people. The photos filled the need for a school room scene and for a treadle sewing machine picture. Since the book was in black and white, the newer photos fit right in with the originals which were all black and white.

Search the Internet for photos, but you must get permission to use any that you find. For my dad's memoir, I needed a photo of a 1917 Overland car and it needed to be a specific model. I found the perfect photo online in the website for a Canadian auto museum. I e-mailed the museum with my request and they e-mailed back approval for me to use the picture in the book. The photo caption in the book credits the museum for the picture. Save any approval letters you get in case there is any later dispute over your right to use the picture.

Example of a Photo Taken in a Museum to Use in a Memoir

This photo taken at the Wichita Historical Musem filled the need for a 1930s school room. It is included in my mother's memoir. In the book, the photo is black and white so it looks like a vintage photo of that era. I've put the same photo on a mousepad to promote my mother's book.

I took this photo at the historical museum in Wichita, Kansas. We used it in my mother's memoir about the 1930s.
I took this photo at the historical museum in Wichita, Kansas. We used it in my mother's memoir about the 1930s. | Source

Collecting Oral History - books on the topic from Amazon

Talk to family members about topics for the book. Get them started telling stories. Take notes.

Copying Family Photos and Documents for Your Memoir

The best way to get photos from a relative, who just hasn't gotten around to sending them, is to visit them. Set up the visit in advance so they will have time to rummage out family memorabilia, old photo albums, etc. Take along a digital camera and a portable scanner like the one shown below.

Capture all the material they have and make notes (possibly with a recorder or on video or with hand notes). Take more than one photo of items you can't scan. You may not get a second chance to see the material. Don't count on a single photograph. You'll want to have a choice of angles. You can't really tell how crisp the photo is by just looking in the small screen of the camera. Take several shots of each thing.

You'll Want to Scan Photos Like This One

When you visit a relative, they may have photos that you've not seen before. Scan these with the portable scanner. That way the precious photo doesn't ever leave their hands but you both have a copy.
When you visit a relative, they may have photos that you've not seen before. Scan these with the portable scanner. That way the precious photo doesn't ever leave their hands but you both have a copy. | Source

Record the Memories of the Older Generation

When you visit your loved one in a nursing home, take along the recorder to gather their stories.
When you visit your loved one in a nursing home, take along the recorder to gather their stories. | Source

Are You Thinking of Self-Publishing a Book? - tell us about it

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    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 

      5 years ago from UK

      What a great idea, and some very helpful hints/tips

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great suggestions on how to fill in the blanks, especially when the missing bits are from a few decades ago.

    • GramaBarb profile image


      6 years ago from Vancouver

      Super resource for a very important project!

    • Virginia Allain profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Allain 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      @TonyPayne: It can be a great project to work together with them or to create a book as a tribute to them.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      6 years ago from Southampton, UK

      What an excellent idea. I ought to do this about my Mum and Dad.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 

      7 years ago from So Cal

      There is a lot of information on this page to digest and much of it I hadn't considered. Thanks

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great information for those thinking about self-publishing. Bravo to you for doing so!

    • Ayers4christ profile image


      7 years ago

      I definitely want to do this! Thanks for the suggestion and tips!

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image


      8 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      Publishing family memories in a book sounds very interesting. I will have to look into the sites you mentioned. I have accumulated a box full of data and it would be nice to arrange some of it in a book one day. :)


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