What Should Be Included In A Genealogy Book?

Your self-published genealogy book is a priceless keepsake that will be passed down from generation to generation. And depending on the amount of information you've found about your family, this book may include several different resources – and each one tells your family's story in a unique, insightful way.   

A genealogy book is an account of your family's ancestry, and it can incorporate facts using several tools and resources. But what exactly should you include from the findings in your research? Many authors incorporate a mixture of historic accounts, interviews, documents, visuals, and personal keepsakes. And no matter what you decide to include, don't forget to add references. 

Once you dig in, you never know what you'll uncover. In this post, Book1One provides insight into each of the things you can include in your genealogy book-printing project, as well as what each one may bring to your story as a whole.


Hunt Down Historical Accounts

Oftentimes, family genealogists come across bits and pieces of historical information and use them as the basic building blocks for their book. Depending on what you've found, they may be just what you need to bring greater insight into your history. These articles may include:

  • Newspaper clippings 
  • Handwritten letters 
  • Journals 
  • Scrapbooks 

Each item can tell your family's story in various ways. For example, newspaper clippings work well for setting the stage – bringing relevance to particular points in time and providing a sense of what society as a whole was experiencing back then. On the other hand, handwritten notes, journals, and scrapbooks give your ancestors voices, letting the reader gain insight through a more personal lens. When thoughtfully juxtaposed alongside portraits, they can help bring those people to life in your book.


Interview Family Members

While gathering intel on your family's whole story, sometimes you may need to take advantage of your inner journalist. Some genealogy authors fill in the blanks with interviews from living family members. From parents and grandparents to aunts, uncles, and cousins, each person has a different story to tell –from a perspective that's unique to their personal experiences. It's well worth seeing if they can help you put some of the pieces of the puzzle together. 

If your research is yielded little in the form of old photographs, records, and newspaper clippings, these narratives can create the heart and soul of your book. Some things to keep in mind when incorporating personal narratives include:

  • Uniformity: While the stories are different, each one should be displayed similarly across the book. This helps create a sense of continuity in the layout. It also helps ensure each interview is represented as equally as possible. 
  • Organization: Mixing and matching personal narratives with historical documents can be a great way to help each figure throughout the book come alive. Placing the right narrative at the right point in your collection also adds some perspective on particular time periods discussed, helping the reader make better sense of those documents.

Scan Public and Private Documents

One of the best things you can do to find information about your family's ancestry is comb through public records for information. These records are important because they provide a framework for your family's story, and can prove especially beneficial if personal information is scarce. Any number of helpful documents may surface during your search, including:

  • Military service records 
  • Census data 
  • Immigration and naturalization records 
  • Land records 
  • Deeds 
  • Funeral records

These documents are typically found in places like your local public library or national archives. You can also use the web to access private genealogy pages, government-sponsored websites, DNA testing services, and other useful links that can aid in your research.


Embrace the Art of Visual Storytelling

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words – and the same rings true for your self-published genealogy book. Visuals can be used to break up chunks of text and tedious documents, helping make the layout easier on the eye. They can also bring your unique history alive for the reader. Depending on your research findings, genealogy-book images can take many forms, such as:

  • Photographs: Old pictures highlight your family members, past and present, as well as the places they lived. You can even include photographs of heirlooms and other special items you want to put on the record. 
  • Family crest/coat of arms: Dating back to medieval times, a coat of arms was used as a symbol to identify families and individuals. It established alliance, adoption, decent, property ownership, and even profession. If your family has a known crest or coat of arms, that important piece of history might be an intriguing addition to your genealogy book. 
  • Family tree or diagram: These charts and illustrations indicate lineage and clearly define past relationships. Through these images, you can make it easier for the reader to understand your family's structure. 
  • Maps: For many families, their ancestors lived in one location and immigrated to another. If yours come from different parts of the globe, maps are a great way to visually depict the journey from where your family unit began to where it is today.

Once you've collected all the images you need, where do they go in your book? The good news is that even though you might be the first person in your family to put your ancestry in print, you're not the first one who's done it in the world. Before finalizing your layout, find some examples of genealogy books for inspiration. It can be helpful to see how other authors incorporated visuals into their designs.


Incorporate Meaningful Mementos

When it comes to your genealogy book, it's all in the details. Personal keepsakes are among some of the most popular items to incorporate in this type of book. And the best part about self-publishing a story about your family's history? You get to decide what makes the cut. This storytelling element may include a wide variety of items, such as:

  • Family recipes 
  • Postcards
  • Invitations 
  • Awards 
  • Diplomas 
  • Ticket stubs

While some of these items may not have much to say on their own, they can bring greater meaning as part of the collective work. Each one has a small story to tell – they can help you bring specific events to light for the reader in new and interesting ways, as well as add a little personality to a particular relative's narrative.


Organize Your Book with a Reference Section

Once you've assembled and arranged your family's story from start to finish, the last thing to do is create your reference sections. The most obvious sections include the table of contents in the front of your book and the index in the back. However, you may also want to include footnotes on certain pages. These footnotes can prove helpful in the following ways: 

  • Explain who some of the people are when referenced by their nicknames 
  • Help the reader find more information about an event or person in other areas of the book 
  • Cite specific sources for further historical referencing

Some authors choose endnotes over footnotes to avoid distracting the reader from the overall story. Endnotes are similar to footnotes, but they sit at the end of each chapter or the end of the book instead of at the bottom of each page. This design preference is entirely up to you and the amount of space available in your book's layout.



Is genealogy book publishing hard? It can be quite an undertaking in terms of gathering information and organizing it all, but the results are well worth it in the end. Simply evaluate the historic accounts, interviews, documents, visuals, and personal keepsakes you've collected, and go from there.  

No matter how much you've found, your reference sections should make it easy for readers to locate the people and events they're the most curious about when they pick up your finished genealogy book.