How to Create a Family History Journal – Part 2: Getting Started

My Junior Prom – 1952. I’m the second one from the right. I made my prom dress is sewing class.

Part 2 of this 7-part article assumes that you’ve read the Introduction and that you have an interest in writing a family history book or journal.

Your family history book is going to contain a chapter about every one of your family members going back as many generations as you can even if it is just one short paragraph or two. It should contain stories and as much information about them as you know and/or can locate. Note: you may wish to confine your book to current immediate family members only and not include and ancestors. That’s okay too.

Your family history book should include pictures and documents as part of your stories. Each chapter will serve as a short biography of this person including your connection and experiences involving the members you knew personally. You can make the chapters as short or as long as you want. Note: some of your immediate family members may be deceased. I suggest you write a short chapter about them with pictures anyway.

Your family history book is going to have sections containing the chapters. The minimum number would be two sections; one section for your mother’s side of the family (her maiden name) and one section for your father’s side of the family. You may want to add another section for special friends if you like or a step-parent or in-laws.

I go into more detail with many ideas of what you can do to make your book more interesting, colorful, real and “alive” in Part 4. If you have some ideas and suggestions you would like to share, please leave me a comment below and I’ll add them to Part 7 with recognition of your contribution using a first name or initials only.

If you want to get into genealogy researching to find out as much as you can about all of your ancestors as far back as possible, there are many sites on the internet to help you; some are free, others are by subscription. There are several very good computer programs that are reasonably priced that you can purchase and install on your computer, then enter your information and the program will organize lineage, your family tree and many other features including the ability to imbed images of documents and photographs, stories, etc. There may be classes offered on this subject online, through your local community center, school or an organization you belong to.

There are now DNA services where you send away a sample of your DNA and find out information about your heritage. More on this later.

Okay! Are you ready? Let’s get started. Below are the first steps.

In order to organize everything prior to writing and gathering pictures, documents and other items, you’re going to need the following:


  1. A package or box of 8 ½” x 11” mailing envelopes. (Very inexpensive.)The number of envelopes you need will depend upon how many people you’re going to write about. You’re going to use one envelope for each person to store all the pictures, documents and other mementos related to that person.
  2. You’ll need a package of sticky notes. I suggest you get the medium to larger size with plenty of room to write on.
  3. A pad of legal paper or lined notebook paper.
  4. Several colored Highlighter pens.


  1. Make a first draft list of all the family members and any other people you can think of right now that you want to include in your book. As you begin gathering the pictures, documents and other items, you’re probably going to add more names to this list.
  2. Number the names in the list and make a notation next to the name what the relationship is to you. The numbering is merely to keep track of how many names you have so far. Don’t worry about organizing them just yet. We’ll get to that in Parts 2 and 3.

Suggestion: To save a lot of writing by hand, I created a Workbook using MS Excel containing three pages or sheets; one page containing names and important basic information about that person, one page to list all the pictures by the name of person and section they will be placed in and the information that is to be typed under the pictures. I used the third page to list document images and information. You could create a separate workbook for each section containing individual pages for each person you’re writing about. Whatever is easiest for you.

Each page has columns to enter information as you find it. Once you’re laid out the sheets with column heads etc., you can either print the sheet as a blank form to write in the information, or type the information directly into the Workbook sheets as you go along. This comes in handy later because when you’re done, names can be sorted any way you want i.e. alphabetically by last name, section, relationship, etc. The pages also serve as a memory jogger to remind you of the information you still need to gather.

If you are interested in using this method of keeping a list of the people you want to write about along with a list of pictures and documents and pertinent information, send me a request in the Leave a Reply section below.

3. For each family member or name you’ve noted on the list, write their name and relationship to you on the front of one 8 ½” x 11” envelope (or in the Workbook).

4. Write the Section (last name) this person will be included in; your father’s last name, your mother’s maiden name, friend, in-law, etc. If this person will eventually be included in more than one section i.e. a sister or a brother, note that on the envelope.

5. You may decide you want to write about two family members in one chapter i.e. married couples. Note both names on the front of the envelope. However, because you may have a lot of pictures and documents for each one separately, I would make an envelope for each person. Again, we’re going to organize these later on.

As you begin selecting the pictures and documents, choose the ones you want included in your book using the following steps:

  1. Decide if you want more than one picture on a page or if you want each picture on a separate page. Keep in mind larger pictures and/or landscape pictures (side to side) will have to be rotated on the page in order to fit them on a page without reducing the size too much.
  2. Place the documents you want right after the appropriate pictures. For example you would want to put birth announcements first and obituaries last. If you want to put in a marriage certificate, put that in right after the wedding pictures. Examples of the types of documents you may want to include are in Part 2 of this article. You might want to put all the pictures at the beginning or the end of each story or even the entire chapter. The choice is yours.

Once you have all the envelopes marked with names, relationship to you and section, continue on to Part 2 which will be published next week. Part 2 contains a list of suggested pictures, documents, and items. Keep the extra envelopes because you’re probably going to be adding people as you gather items.

Part 3 contains instructions on how to catalog and identify everything before you store them in the envelopes ready to begin writing.


I hope this 7-part article about putting together a Family History Book is helpful to you. I would love to hear from you if you found series this useful. I’m more than happy to help.

If you have a question regarding dictation transcription or how to run your own secretarial service from home, let me know.


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Author: GSKWAuthor

Semi-retired. Worked most of my adult life as a secretary, executive assistant & in middle management. In 1998 I formed a secretarial service business at home specializing in the transcription of manuscripts, formatting for print, and eBook publication then uploading to POD publishers. Through ads and a website (no longer active) the business attracted customers from all over the U.S. In 2016, I phased out my business. I now spend the remainder of my "spare time" writing cozy mystery/suspense/thrillers. I hope to publish my first novel titled "Susan's Stalkers - Double The Fear" before the end of 2023. The synopsis is in this site. Check it out.