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.


The Hand-Crafted Book

I’ve been providing some genea-research support to a friend who is writing a local military history. He has been looking at some of the more scholarly publishers to produce his book, but realizes that with his project’s limited audience he’s not likely to get their attention. I’ve tried to talk him into self-publishing with Lulu, but he resisted it – until recently. What made him change his mind?

In his research, he was able to connect with the family of a man he wanted to spotlight. In addition to documents, letters and photos, they showed him a memorial book one family member had made – and published using Lulu. He was very impressed with the quality of the book and the clarity of the photos and scanned documents included in it. Now, he wants to learn more about Lulu and what it can do for his history.

While the debate will continue on the advantages/disadvantages of electronic publishing, examples like this convince me that it facilitates the return of the hand-crafted book. Someone in this family spent the time and effort to collect the information and artifacts of their loved-one’s life and build a memorial to him. In earlier days that may have been done in the form of a scrapbook which would be handed down from generation to generation. Over the years, the pages and content would start to crumble or, even worse, it might get thrown out. Today’s hand-crafted book is professionally printed and bound and any family member who wants one can have it. Copies can be donated to local libraries or historical societies to add to the area’s history and insure this loved one won’t be forgotten.

Electronic publishing – with it’s many formats, services and platforms – gives us all the opportunity to produce a hand-crafted family history in any number of ways. Whether it’s a printed book from Lulu or Blurb, a PDF publication that can be read on a mobile device or printed on a home printer, an ebook read on an e-reader or a digital scrapbook, it’s our choice. And isn’t having choices a wonderful thing!

Society Publishing

Electronic publishing is a win-win situation for societies large and small. Not only can you afford to offer both electronic and print editions of your publications to your membership, you can generate additional revenue by selling previous editions without the problems of storage, shipping and collecting money.

These opportunities allow you to reach an audience way beyond your local community and to attract new members from all over the world. And, because these publications are so easy to produce, you can expand your library to include cemetery inventories, biographical sketches, books of scanned historical documents and quarterly journal archives. This will in turn attract more people to your society.

Invest in scanners such as the Fujitsu ScanSnap [$430/Win] sheet-fed scanner and the Epson Perfection [$80/Win & Mac] oversized flatbed scanner to scan and convert your journal archives to PDF documents. The online genealogy community has turned scanning into a social event with Miriam’s monthly Scanfest. There’s no reason your society can’t do something similar. Not only is it an opportunity to digitize items in the society’s archives, but it’s a great opportunity to teach proper scanning techniques to your members.

Take advantage of publication platforms like Scribd to present and sell your digital documents online. Scribd provides the tools to upload and present your documents and provides your own storefront. You set the price and Scribd handles the rest – creating book pages in your storefront for each of your publications, providing marketing tools, collecting the money, downloading the files and providing customer service. There are no up-front costs or monthly fees. Scribd deducts a 20% commission plus a 25¢ transaction fee from each sale and sends you your profits every quarter. If your profits don’t reach the $100 minimum required to mail a check, they will be rolled over to the next quarter until the minimum is reached.

For print books and publications, take a look at the Lulu publishing service. Lulu offers a wide variety of sizes in both soft- and hard-bound books. Like Scribd, you can “publish” a book with no up-front costs if you’re willing to do the editing and layout yourself. Lulu also offers a free ISBN for all published books, however you will need to purchase a distribution package[$75] to have your ISBN submitted to Bowker’s Books in Print and Nielsen Book Data and to be listed with Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Lulu also offers various for-pay services for editing, formatting, cover design and ePub conversion.

Even if your society isn’t ready to expand its publications effort, you may want to consider how to support those members who are creating publications on their own. Organizing members to provide peer review and editing support to those who are working on writing projects can add prestige to your society. Having those peer-reviewed projects include a society logo imprint as part of the published work will extend your society’s visibility. If nothing else, cataloging and showcasing their works takes little effort while providing additional resources to all your members.

Society publishing is no longer a time-consuming and expensive endeavor. Thanks to today’s technology, it’s a much easier process and can provide many rewards for your society and your members. It’s time to take a look at these opportunities and see how they fit into your society’s future.

The Family Yearbook

This is homecoming weekend for my high school. I didn’t make it to last night’s game (we won!) but I did pull out my yearbooks and spent some time looking back and remembering the people, places and events that were such a big part of my life years ago. It dawned on me that a yearbook would be a great way to document our current family history. From newlyweds and new babies to golden anniversaries and even memorials for those who have passed on, a yearbook could easily become a family tradition that builds a history for future generations. The more I think about it, the more I like this idea. Bear with me . . . I’m thinking “out loud” here.

It’s been a pretty active year in my family, so this would be a good year to kick one off. The first one will be the toughest because I’ll have to do most of it myself. If the “premier” edition is a big enough hit, it should make it easier to get family members to pass on news and pictures to be included in the next one. Even with help, a yearbook will require a lot of time and energy to create.

I’m looking at some kind of photo book format – preferably one like Blurb or Lulu with an available storefront. Although I may give away some finished books – especially the first year – I want to make it easy for others to get a copy and, hopefully, build an archive so previous issues will be available to extended family or new members. I’ve made some progress getting family members to use Flickr for photo storage and sharing, and both these platforms support pulling photos from Flickr. That could make it easier to get others to share photos for future yearbooks.

So, what do I want to put into my yearbook? Here’s some of my initial thoughts. If you’ve got any ideas, I’d be delighted to see them.

  • One of my first thoughts was that the “centerfold” should be a photographic family tree. The focus would be on living family members – so everyone could see how they fit into our “blended” families of today. It sounds like a good idea, but the actual construction could be quite a challenge. And, we’d have to go back a generation or two to make many of the cousin connections. Will all this fit onto one two-page spread?
  • Instead of the classes in my high school annual, I’m considering a section of family groups. Ideally, each group would include an annual group photo along with plenty of snapshots from vacations, Little League and soccer teams, new homes and any other things that family considers interesting.
  • A spotlight section gives focus to special accomplishments like awards, honors and other recognition. Our family is blessed with some amazing talent so there’s always a blue ribbon from a county fair or art show to acknowledge.
  • Of course there’s always those special family events – weddings, new babies, graduations and anniversaries – to celebrate.
  • And, there will be memorials to those who passed away during the year.
  • Our family’s full of great cooks so we could include a recipe or two each year. The question is . . . should this be part of the family sections or a section of its own?
  • What about a legacy section to bring in some earlier family history with each yearbook? I could recruit members to submit articles on a family history topic of their choice. From documenting the origin of a family heirloom to a biographical sketch of an ancestor to photos from some family event, these articles could not only expose family members to their history, but also inspire the authors to get involved in a little family research.
This would be a major project each year requiring a lot of effort. We all know what it’s like trying to get people to commit to a project, let alone live up to their commitments. Even so, the result could be well worth the effort and frustration. I’ll keep you updated as I work through these ideas and build my initial yearbook.



A Lulu Update

Lulu, the digital publishing platform, has expanded to include ePub formatted ebooks as a publishing option. You can choose to create your own ePub book or have Lulu’s Conversion Services do it for you. Your book can then be sold through Lulu and sent on to other booksellers – including the iBookstore.

The Lulu Blog is always sharing interesting and useful information about self-publishing. If you’re interested in publishing an ebook, this post on how to make one is a must read. You’ll find lots some of the best help in the comments.