The Sketchbook Bio

It’s not a photo album and it’s not a biographical sketch either. So, I gave it my own name. I call it a sketchbook bio and your presentation graphics app is the perfect tool for creating one. I’m using Keynote but PowerPoint or Impress will work just as well. The techniques are the same, but the actual commands will be a bit different.

I’m using Keynote’s Letterpress theme – one of the standard themes that comes with Keynote. I chose it because of the sage green color and the canvas textured background. Although Keynote themes come with a number of different layouts for title slides, text slides and image slides, I’m using only the blank slide for this project. It takes more time to build a slide, but I have more flexibility with fonts, image styles and element placement.

Most of the content in this project is created using text boxes and images.

This slide contains both an image and a text box.


The challenge here was the photo. Unfortunately it’s permanently attached to the photographer’s frame and the edges of the frame weren’t in the best of shape.

Click the image to select it and Keynote’s Inspector displays the Style pane. I chose to use the blurred edge frame with its rounded corners and experimented with the blur feature until the worst of the frame’s damaged corners were smoothed out.

I then tilted the photo a bit and added a shadow – also on the Style pane – to add dimension. A simple text box holds the journaling associated with this slide.


Here I’m using a grungy line around the graduation photo to help camouflage the rough edges on this class picture. Choosing a color found in the photo for the line helps it blend in with the photo and doesn’t draw attention to my edge camouflaging effort.
To select a color from the image, follow these steps:
  1.  Click on the color block for the stroke element.
  2.  Use the color wheel option, then click on the magnifying glass icon to activate the color selector.
  3.  Move the color selector magnifying glass over the image until you find the color you want. Click to select it.


In this project, I kept to a limited number of fonts: Enview for titles, Monaco for journaling text and Kiev for the photo captions. There was one exception . . .


Of course a wedding photo needs an appropriate font.






The last slide displays the sources used in my story. I didn’t want them detracting from the page designs so I placed them at the end.
One last tip . . . if you noticed, most of the text looks like it was pressed into the background paper. This is easily done by adding a shadow to the text. The difference is this is a light colored shadow instead of a dark one.


Because there are no multimedia components in this project, distribution options include exporting to PDF or exporting to images. If you choose the image option, you can then display them using a digital frame.
Software: Keynote from Apple’s iWork suite
Fonts used in the Barker sketch: Enview, BickhamScript Pro, Monaco and Kiev.

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.

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…

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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.

Keynote Scrapbooking Tips

I’m still experimenting with storytelling ideas for my Barker family in Georgia. Once again, my storytelling tool of choice is Keynote [Mac – $20 and iOS – $5], the presentation graphics app included in Apple’s iWork suite. It comes with loads of great themes and companies like Jumsoft provide even more. In this example, I’m using the Parchment theme.

Kincaid Kin 3

Since this is presentation graphics software, it handles all kinds of charts and diagrams easily. Custom family tree diagrams can be drawn quickly using a style that matches the theme of the project. Yes, this is a manual effort, but the custom results are well worth it. The photograph in the background also takes advantage of Keynote functionality. Keynote offers several design options to frame photographs included on a slide. One of those is an edge blur. By blurring the edge then reducing the opacity of the image itself, it becomes part of the background – enhancing the family chart rather than competing with it.

Kincaid Kin 6

Here’s one example where scrapbooking techniques and presentation techniques have been combined. Graphical elements have been layered and shadows added to give them impact. The Keynote theme’s styles for fonts and colors are being used for the journaling on the page. Journaling has been kept relatively short with lots of images telling their own part of the story.

Kincaid Kin 7

The schoolhouse in the bottom right corner was a black and white copy machine copy of an old photo. By cutting out the distracting clutter in the sky around the building, tinting it to match the slide’s color scheme and adjusting the opacity to let it blend into the corner of the slide, I was able to give a poor quality image the historical importance it deserves. And, while the class photo is also tinted to match the theme, the ragged white frame and shadowing allow it to stand out next to the school image.

Keynote – and other presentation apps – offer a lot of useful functionality and plenty of creative leeway, making them great platforms for any number of family history projects. They make it easy to combine text and images, create diagrams and add new pages any place within the project. They also offer any number of ways to share the final product. Keynote can export the presentation to a PowerPoint file, a PDF document, individual image files or a QuickTime movie. And, you can post your presentation at online platforms like Slideshare to take advantage of Keynote’s multimedia capabilities. Both of these platforms support animations and sound, however the user experience will depend on the operating system and browser used to view the result.

Presentations graphics aren’t just for the board room. They are also becoming an impressive component of the family historian’s digital storytelling toolbox.