Writing a History? Use OpenOffice.org – IT’S FREE!

Over the years I’ve helped several people prepare, compile, format and print family histories. You can avoid many problems if you start simple and right. There are many things you need to know about. However, let’s not start by overwhelming you or “dumping the whole load.” We will try and do this one step at a time with several blog articles. We’ll eat this family history elephant one spoonful at a time.

Major Goal – Start by using the right software and saving money.

All word processing programs are not created equal! I can promise that most of them are going to give you a migraine headache before you finish your project. Unfortunately, the pain is not going to strike until later after you’ve invested much time and effort. We could easily refer to this as a real “Attack of the Heart!” 

 Here’s one of my “Marlo’s Minefield Warnings.” You will not be able to lock or anchor your photos on the pages in your book no matter how hard you try. You will not discover this problem until you create the PDFs from which your book will be created by a printing company.  Two expensive solutions are to purchase a costly desktop publishing software (several hundred dollars) or to have a professional format and prepare your book for printing (a loan from the bank) .

Solution #1 – Get and learn to use OpenOffice.org (OOO)

Six months ago I downloaded and started playing around with OpenOffice.org.  I didn’t feel I had time to learn to use another word processor but since the program / download was free I couldn’t resist messing around with another program. I hoped to find an inexpensive alternative to help my friends and our users publish a family history. I’ve not been impressed with the “automatic” types of programs that sort of combine names, dates and locations into a pseudo family history. Very boring, not motivational and very impersonal – not my idea of a history or something to impose on my children and grandchildren. I want my grandchildren to love me and not have to resist reading grandpa’s old boring stuff.

WOW! OOO  really impressed me! Not only was it free but it offered so many additional options perfect for formatting a family history. I have a solution at the end of the blog you will like. Please don’t let the following list snow you under:

  1. Comes with a built-in PDF creator
  2. Free add-on PDF module that allows you to edit PDFs
  3. One, two (or more) columns formats
  4. Page numbering 
  5. Mirror margins
  6. Text flowing around photos
  7. Headers and footers
  8. Hyperlinks
  9. Automated table of contents
  10. Index (if you want to do one) 
  11. Much more

Solution #2 Saving Money

OpenOffice.org is FREE! You read correctly. All you skeptics (I’m one) are thinking what’s the catch? It must be full of spyware –NO. It must be a cut down or a crippled version to entice you to buy the expensive “Real” version – NO.  You can read more about OOOs growth and development here.

Some of you will be getting a new computer during the holidays, or because of all the great deals, or maybe your one-eyed monster (computer) needs to be retired.  You will be faced with the decision of purchasing a new word processing system since the computer will probably come with a trial period word processor.

 I challenge you to download OpenOffice.org. You will save a bunch of money (so you can add more RAM to your computer) and you will feel right at home using OpenOffice.org (OOO). It will also read and write other word processing files so you don’t have to worry about all the documents you already have created with those two other word processors. You will also be able to easily create PDFs.

Download OpenOffice.org

The Good News!

I’ve started to create a family history book template for use with OOO. I hope to release the templates at the Mesa, Arizona Family History Expo, January 22 – 23. My goal is to do all the hard stuff (formatting, page numbers, margins, table of contents, etc) so you can concentrate your efforts on compiling and writing your history instead of fighting with the software.

I will also write another blog explaining how Heritage Collector will help you organize and find the photos you want to use in your book. This was the initial reason we created Heritage Collector (Previously called Photo Collector). We discovered one of the more difficult struggles was finding the scanned photos to be used in a history. I will also show you how easy Heritage Collector can help you create a self-running CD/DVD to go in the cover of your history containing a narrated sideshow, all the photos used in the book and a searchable PDF of the history. This is really fun stuff and helps get the younger geeks (today’s computer wizards) interested in learning and reading your family history.

Consult Chapter 7, Creating a Bound History, in the Digital Family History Guidebook for more information about preparing and printing a family history.

FINAL TIP: Start writing some fun and interesting stories. Let your creative juices flow by NOT worrying about finding photos, formatting or organizing the content. Just get the fun and important stories  into your computer on paper using a pen or pencil as your input device. It will be worth it and you will be amazed how interested your family will become. So keep your project a secret and don’t let them read any of it until you are ready but drop hints to increase the intrigue!

Please refer to the Easier Scanning blog before you start scanning photos for your book.

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