Category Archives: Projects

Family Story Cards

Lifecards postcard

There are a growing number of creative apps available for today’s mobile devices. Many, like this postcard/newsletter/email app, can be used to design eye-catching family stories that your family will love. This example uses Lifecards [$1.99 – iOS].

Like most postcard apps, Lifecards has a number of different templates ranging from short-form postcards to newspaper front pages giving you options ranging from “quickie” photo/caption cards to something with photo and storytelling room like the example above.

By the way . . . nothing says a photo slot has to contain a photo. A simple family chart saved as an image maybe?

My comments section supports images and links. If you’ve got a creative project idea you’d like to share, please show and tell how you made it.

Short Stories

As the mobile phone with camera becomes more common, it opens even more opportunities to capture those special moments that will become a part of our families’ history. Sure, we all know how to take a picture and email it or post it on Facebook, but isn’t it time to learn how to use these tools so we can do more than just take a picture. We need to look at these devices as tools for telling a story.

Look around and you’ll find lots of inspiration. National Geographic has taught geography to generations of children just with photos and captions. How many times has a photo caught your eye, then the caption grabbed your interest to the point that you actually read the article? Even when it didn’t, they still managed to give you a lot of interesting information in that simple caption.

Barrett Bathing Beauties

What better way for the Barrett girls to show off their new high heels from Grandma than posing as bathing beauties in a swimsuit contest. What if Mom had an iPhone and the Internet to share moments like these with Dad when he was at sea?

Instead of posting your photos to Facebook, consider posting them to a photo-sharing site like Flickr. Why? Flickr stores full-sized images along with the metadata embedded by your camera – including geo-codes identifying where the photo was taken. In addition, you have full control over who can and can’t see them. Using the free Flickr app [iOS and Android], you can capture live events and share them immediately. Both the desktop and mobile apps give you the ability to add titles and descriptions then share copies to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, email and your blog with little effort. You don’t have to worry about documenting date, place and time. The camera and Flickr take care of that for you. Spend your effort writing a caption. Think of it as a short story like those you found so fascinating in National Geographic.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but with a good caption it becomes a story. And a collection of stories can then become a family history.

From the Archives: Miss Kate’s Autograph Book

I created this little book to preserve and share Mary Katherine Link’s autograph book which I inherited from my grandmother. Miss Kate was her aunt – her father’s sister. My grandmother was only 5 years old when her mother died and Miss Kate stepped in to take on the task of surrogate mother to four young children. She did this while continuing to teach school. She was quite an amazing lady.

Miss Kate’s autographs date from the late 19th century, showing the affection and respect she she enjoyed in her community. The book’s binding is disintegrating and many of the pages are now loose. Before packing it away in an archival box to protect it from further deterioration, I scanned the book with plans to create a booklet from the images so any interested family members could have a copy of their own.

The book was created using’s Writer app and Photoshop Elements. My images were cropped and re-sized, then inserted into the booklet document. I added a short biography written by my cousin, Nancy Murphy, and the only photo I have of Miss Kate. After adding a cover and exporting everything to PDF, I uploaded the result to Lulu. Not only does Lulu offer both print and download options, they provide the storefront allowing family and friends to order/download their copies without having to go through me first. By offering the print version at cost, I could provide the download version for free.

Several people downloaded copies and I had a few printed to distribute to older family members and the historical society where Miss Kate lived, but after a few months there was no further activity for this booklet on the Lulu site. In 2009 I moved the document to the Scribd platform. While it doesn’t offer a print option (except to print on your local printer), it’s much easier for search engines to find – thanks to the ability to tag the document with keywords that facilitate searching.

We all have family ephemera in our collections. Consider using them to build e-pubs to share with family members and to publish online at platforms like Scribd which could help attract research cousins. Miss Kate’s autograph book won’t change the world, but to descendants of the Link family and the Tennessee community where they lived it helps bring their ancestors to life. If that’s not enough reason, you’ll also be creating an “off-site” archive of your family treasures should disaster strike at home.


A Letter Archive Option

From the Gazette archives . . .

A while back there was an interesting discussion in the Technology for Genealogy group on Facebook about handling letters – scanning, transcribing and displaying them. It’s a great discussion and full of useful suggestions. Since I’m also working on a collection of letters, it’s been very helpful.

Grandpa’s letters.

My project is a collection of letters my grandfather sent my grandmother before they got married. She came to the tiny Holland, Georgia, community to teach school in 1908. There, she met my grandfather. She was only there for one year before moving on to teach at other rural schools around Georgia. For the next five years, they corresponded – and met occasionally – until he finally convinced her to marry him in 1913. He died in 1921 so these letters and a few photos are our only connection to him.

I’m slowly scanning and transcribing the letters using Keynote, Apple’s presentation graphics app, as my publishing tool. As you can see here, each page of the letter gets its own slide with both the page’s image and its transcription. I chose Keynote because it is a very flexible platform. Each slide can be treated as a separate entity to be quickly reordered or even pulled out of one presentation file and inserted into another. Slides can be duplicated for use in other projects. I can quickly export a presentation as a PDF document, an HTML slideshow or a video. I even have the ability to export each slide as an individual image file.

Currently I’m building each letter as a separate presentation file, but as this archive grows, so do my options for creating things from them. For example, I can pull out an individual slide as a graphic image to include it as a figure in another document. I can combine several letter files – like those he sent discussing a trip to Lookout Mountain – with new and old photos to build a slideshow documentary. Add some narration and that slideshow can become a video documentary.

Keynote is my presentation app of choice, but PowerPoint, Presentations (from the WordPerfect suite) and Impress (from OpenOffice) all have much the same capabilities and would all work well for this type of project. And, if you’re looking for an online archive platform for these project files, Scribd will store and display them quite nicely. You won’t get the multimedia capabilities of the online slide-sharing platforms, but your transcriptions will be searchable.

Take another look at your presentation software. You may find it has many uses for presenting your family’s history.

The Living Book of the Dead

Sometime back I wrote a column for the Graveyard Rabbit Online Journal discussing a cemetery inventory project I’m working on. The point being made in this article is that this project, like many family history projects, will never be “finished”. There will always be more research and new information to add. But, thanks to today’s electronic publishing options, that’s not a problem. Find out why . . . Continue reading

It’s not just family

I’m a big fan of Susan Branch and Girlfriends Forever is one of my favorite books. The VW convertible caught my attention, but the book’s purpose grabbed my heart. The book is a celebration of friends.

We spend most of our time focused on the family, but friends are just as special. And, think how much fun creating your own book can be. The hangouts, hot dates, hair-dos and heartaches combine with fads, photos, food and a bit of current events to document your friends at every stage of your life. What fun you can have with this project!

Susan’s book is full of ideas for design and content and today’s technology offers additional opportunities. For example, a photo collage in print is almost impossible to caption but a digital project allows you to tag photos with names, dates and places while maintaining the collage design. And, using Facebook as a research tool, try posting an old photo tagged with friends’ names. It could help you reconnect with them – and find that name you forgot.

Just writing this post has brought all kinds of memories flooding back from birthdays in the backyard to favorite records played at slumber parties. No source citations are needed here – just names and dates and places. The result will be a fun project for you to enjoy and a fascinating treasure to pass on to future generations.

Does anyone else remember Bobbie Brook’s shirtwaists?

Found Ephemera – Family Jewelry

EA-jewels-4Family jewelry – both fine pieces and costume jewelry – are as fascinating as old photos. Unfortunately jewelry doesn’t scan well. That doesn’t mean we can’t digitize it to include in our family history projects, it just means it will take a bit more effort.

I see two types of jewelry photos. First there’s the family heirloom photo that shows the piece off in all its glory. This photo might have the item artfully arranged on a piece of silk or velvet to give it all the attention it deserves. It would make a glorious addition to a book documenting the family’s heirlooms and treasures along with the story about each piece. Then there’s the ephemera photo where the item is arranged on a flat contrasting background so we can work some Photoshop magic to isolate the item and turn it into a design element for use in any number of family history projects.

Using family stuff makes your creations even more personal and you won’t have to worry about terms of use or licensing agreements for these graphics. Even the orphan cuff link or earring found tucked in the bottom of an old jewelry box can spark a fond memory when included in a family story or scrapbook.

The first place I went to look for affordable ideas for photographing jewelry was eBay. I wasn’t disappointed. One user – CameraJim – has some great tips in the eBay Guides section with a link to his site for more. I agree with him that light tents are easy to build. My husband built me a PVC cube which I drape with cheap white lining material. My lights are goose neck desk lamps I found at Goodwill with high-watt light bulbs. I’ve used this successfully for photographing items for sale.

Next, I’m taking a stab at heirlooms. A fabulous source for jewelry photography help is Table Top Studio. They are using (and selling) light cubes with gorgeous results. They also demonstrate some beautiful ways to arrange pieces for best effect.

If you are photographing your heirlooms for use as ephemera, the key is to use a contrasting background. White pearls on a white background may make a gorgeous photograph, but it will be a very time-consuming effort to isolate those pearls so they can become a design element for other projects. With a contrasting background, you can use the Magic Wand tool in your photo-editing software to “pull” the piece off the background and save it as a stand-alone item. Imagine including a family brooch or wedding ring as a design element on a page in your project.

Wrist corsage from Ritzy Glitzy Jewelry at Etsy.

Wrist corsage from Ritzy Glitzy Jewelry at Etsy.

My other recent jewelry encounter is way above my skill level, but a great idea for putting the bits and pieces of old costume jewelry together as a new piece full of old sentiment. You’ll find lots of interesting ways to make those old pieces part of today’s family history at Etsy. I fell in love with this hand corsage created from vintage jewelry. Not only would it be a lasting memento of a special event but if made with some old family jewelry pieces it would connect the past with the present.

The family jewels fascinate us all. Adding them to your family history projects will add some sparkle and possibly even generate a few fond memories.

From the Archives: Scrapbooking with Keynote

I love the scrapbook format for telling family stories. It supports lots of photos yet provides room for captions and journaling. I discovered I already had a great scrapbooking app installed on my desktop – my presentation software. Since I’m a Mac user, my presentation app is Keynote, but all of the presentation apps [PowerPoint, OpenOffice’s Impress and WordPerfect’s Presentations] have the features needed to scrapbook. Create custom family charts by taking advantage of the shapes tool that allows you to include any number of different shapes on your slides. This chart was made using the rounded box shape. Once the first shape is created, just copy/paste it wherever you want it. In this example, shapes were used for design elements – the frame for the photo and the circles for the ampersand. Not only can you add color to your shapes, but you can also “cover” them with other graphic images. In this case the frame is covered with a purchased “paper” graphic. Both the paper and the graphic elements above and below the photo are from Paislee Press. Keynote offers tools that make it easy to do lots of cool things with your images. Both the blurred frame around my grandmother’s portrait and the torn frame for the class picture are standard Keynote elements. Keynote even has the function (it’s called Instant Alpha) that let me remove the sky from the schoolhouse photo so it could become part of the slide’s background. But design isn’t the only way presentation software is so versatile. You have lots of distribution options too. If you’ve used high-resolution images and graphics, you can print and bind your scrapbook. You can also convert it to PDF and share it easily by email or online download. Most presentation apps let you export each slide as an image which can then be presented using a digital frame. Another export option is as a movie although this is better when there’s less text involved. Of course the best way to view these scrapbooks is on a tablet where the reader can enjoy every detail at his own pace. Yes, scrapbooking with Keynote is a great way to combine images, text and charts to create a family history that few can resist.

Scrapping Keynote: A Living History

Not long after I got my iPad, I spent a whopping $27 for an electronic book titled Digging into WordPress, the blog software I use to run the Gazette. Why would I spend this much money on an ebook? Because the authors promised a free updated copy of the book each time WordPress released a major upgrade. Since I purchased it I’ve downloaded four updated versions. In a world where printed tech books often cost twice what I spent on this book and are out-of-date before I get them home, this is a refreshing alternative. And, because it’s distributed in PDF format, it’s full of great screenshots and links to outside resources. It has a table of contents that links to each section and everything in it is searchable so I can get to the information I want in seconds.

Today’s technology makes it easy for us to create our own books with tools we already have like word-processing software, photo-editing applications and scanners. There’s no law that says a family history has to be a ten-generation, fully-documented formal history. As geneabloggers are discovering to their delight, telling the little stories can be very satisfying. And, before you know it, that collection of little stories is well on its way to becoming a family history.


My current genealogy focus is to tell the stories of the people who touched my life. These were special people to me and I want to document their vitality even more than their vital records. We all whine about missed opportunities – and yes, I’ve missed many. I want to do what I can to pass on anecdotes and memories that give personality to the photos.

How do I do this?

I’m working on a project that pulls in several articles I’ve posted over the years about growing up in St. Augustine. I’ve taken those stories and added photos – lots of photos – into a sort of magazine/scrapbook hybrid. I’m building it in Keynote, the presentation graphics app included in Apple’s iWork suite. Each little story is transformed into two or three slides and can be placed wherever they fit into the growing collection. The landscape format of the slides not only give me plenty of layout space, they display beautifully on tablet devices. Everyone in the family has some kind of tablet so this works well for all of us.

Click for larger view.

Click for larger view.

My living history book contains a table of contents which links directly to each individual story and all the text is searchable. I’m using Scribd as my publishing platform. After converting my book to PDF format, I uploaded it to my Scribd profile. Now I can send friends and family to the book page at Scribd where they can read it online and download their own PDF copy. I can even embed the book on my blog – much like embedding a YouTube video. When the book is updated with new content, I edit the book page at Scribd to add a new revision and upload the updated book. Scribd keeps track of all revisions and I can go back to look at previous ones at any time.  Now all I do is email the family to come see the latest version.

Here’s what the book looks like today. This living history will continue to grow as more stories about my home and family are researched and written.

NOTE: The links in the table of contents will only work in the downloaded PDF version.

Scrapshot: Behind the Alligator Farm

Behind the Alligator Farm Cover

Here’s a look at a continuing family history project – Behind the Alligator Farm. I’ve been writing posts for years telling stories about the neighborhood and town where I grew up and now I’m pulling them together into a book. The format is a modified scrapbook design – heavy on text but with with graphical elements to punch it up a bit. The scrapbook format works especially well for sections that are mostly photos and for those times when the “story” is little more than an extended caption.

Behind the Alligator Farm Sample Page

I’m working in Keynote [Mac and iOS], the presentation graphics component of Apple’s iWork suite. Keynote is a very flexible platform for doing layout work and while it does have its limits, it does just about everything I need. I’m also using Pixelmator [Mac – $30] for most of my photo-editing needs.

The scrapbook elements come from Paislee Press. I love her minimalist designs and her style and color schemes seem to come straight from the “mid-century” era where most of my stories originated. Her terms of use are very generous, giving me the flexibility to use the ebook format that I prefer. The page samples shown here come from her Dialogue, The Open Road and Storyteller kits.

As I said, this is an ebook. Why? Primarily because it will be a never-ending story and I can easily add newly-discovered photos or more stories as I please then email an announcement to come download the latest edition. By using Keynote, I can also include audio and video clips if I want. And, while that may not be easy to distribute to others today, the iCloud version of Keynote is getting updated regularly with new features.

Best of all, scrapbooking and family history are two of my favorite pastimes so building this book is a delightful adventure.