Archive for the ‘Writing Your History’ Category

Writing a History – Tips and Mistakes

April 10, 2010

Start Simple!

Over the years I’ve helped many people compile, format, print and bind a Family History. The process can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience or it can be a costly and frustrating nightmare. This blog will focus on a few things to make it positive and rewarding experience. I will discuss mistakes and things to avoid and offer a few tips from “Create a History.”


Mistakes and Things to Avoid and What to Do (Tips)

Mistake: Save time by trying to do it all at once. (Causes a lot of stress and frustration).

Tip: Relax and start writing your history. Write the most important and humorous stories first. Don’t worry about formatting or inserting photos. Do that later. Creating small chapters (documents) will make it easier to manage.

Mistake: Trying to stretch or enlarge a photo when inserting it into the document. (Photos will look awful – blocky and pixelated).

Tip: Scan ALL photos resizing them to 8”x10” @ 150 – 350 DPI. Resize (shrink) photos later when inserting them into the document.

Mistake: Most of the popular word processing programs do not really lock or anchor photos in the document. Photos just appear to be locked or anchored in the document. Later you may find some photos have moved around in the final PDF. The problem with moving photos continues to be a serious and frustrating limitation in most programs.You may not discover this maddening inconsistency until AFTER you make a PDF. A Portable Document File (PDF) is required for printing. You can find more information about a PDF by doing a Google search on “PDF.”

Tip: Use (OOo) to format and prepare your book for printing. is registered trademark of and a freeware program.

Mistake: Editing your drafts starting with the first page is a big mistake. (All the text will ‘bump’ down through the entire document causing you to proofread the entire document again to make edits.

Tip: Edit your draft starting at the last page and work toward the first page.

 Mistake: Cramming too much text onto a page trying to reduce the number of pages. Small margins look even worse when the book is trimmed. Top, bottom and side pages are cut down before a book is bound.

Tip: Use the standard ‘Mirror’ margins settings recommended in OOo. A mirror margin formats the text for printing on both sides of the page. It also prevents the text from going too far down into binding (middle of the book) making it difficult to read the beginning or end of a sentence.

Mistake: Trying to get a “ballpark” printing cost estimate before knowing how many pages the book will contain and the number of copies to be printed. Your printer is not a mind reader and cannot divine cost without a page and book count.

Circulate your first draft among a few relatives to get their response. Take your first complete draft to your printer to get your first cost estimate. Survey relatives and friends to see if they are interested paying for a copy. You can then get a final cost estimate. Collect money BEFORE having the book printed.

 Mistake: Thinking your book can be printed from the documents you create using your word processing program. Printers require books to come to them in PDF format. You may also have a problem if you have used special fonts in your book. It’s impossible for a printer to have all the millions of fonts. Typically the fonts the printer does not have are substituted with the ugly Currier font which is very noticeable and appears unprofessional.

OOo will automatically create a PDF of your book. Use the setting to embed fonts in the PDF. Embedding the fonts will save (embed) the special fonts you’ve used in your book in the PDF so the correct fonts will be used to print your book.

Mistake: Your book will never be perfect. You will miss a few errors and misspelled names in the final draft no matter how many times it is proofed – trust me.

Create a preface or forward indicating you have tried to make the book as perfect as possible but you know there may be a few inadvertent mistakes. Consider using the following poem.


No book is entirely perfect

For errors will creep in;

Sometimes wrong information sent

Is what commits the sin.

And even printers make mistakes

For which they tear their hair;

Sometimes two people disagree

On who or when or where.

It might have been the person

Who wrote the history.

It might have been the typist,

Or blame can fall on me.

So, if you’re dead before you’re born,

Or married when you’re three,

Or I’ve omitted anyone

Who sent themselves to me,

Or your last name is not your own,

You’re picture’s not too good;

I ask you, “Please forgive the crime!

I did the best I could!”

 Author Unknown

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

Start writing, even with a pen or pencil or record your narrative. Get the important parts of your history documented so your children and grandchildren will have the chance to know you better and benefit from your experience and wisdom.

Unfortunately there is not enough space in a blog to offer more detailed information. Please refer to my new “Create a History” for additional help and information.

Is Your GPS Tracking You?

December 29, 2009

The Value of a Trip Log 

I was recently studying and getting acquainted with many of the awesome capabilities of the new Garmin GPS I received for Christmas. In my reading I discovered a previously unknown feature of the newer Garmin GPS units. I was alarmed to learn my new GPS was already keeping a “second by second” log of everywhere I travel. At first I didn’t like the idea and felt it was a bit too intrusive into my personal life. Next I wondered if my new GPS had logged a few of my embarrassing side trips such as getting lost trying to find one of the metro train stations to retrieve a relative for the holidays.

My GPS didn’t let me down. I soon discovered the GPS “Trip Log” and displayed it on Google Earth. There was my travel route detailing the exact circle we had taken when we got lost trying to find the station. More embarrassment awaited. I zoomed down on the route in Google Earth which clearly outlined, in great detail, the complicated and elongated route I took trying to find my way out of the train station parking lot! My wife now has indisputable proof to justify and merit her backseat driving recommendations!

Start Making Travel Journeys

The embarrassment gradually disappeared and rational thought soon returned. I started to get a little excited about this new GPS “snooping” capability. I intend to start creating photo collections called “Journeys.” My purpose is to log and document interesting discoveries we happen onto when traveling. Later we can share these locations with our children so they can discover and visit these same undocumented treasures. I want to enrich my family history journeys with information, narrative, photos, GPS coordinates, and maps.

I hope my journey collections will entice my children and grandchildren to take mini travel safaris to specific geographic locations of their ancestors. Such journeys will present tangible evidence and historical narrative in a geographic context. I’m including one of the many journeys of my grandfather to demonstrate how traveling to a location helps us experience and become a part of his history.

My grandpa T. E. Olsen homesteaded a “dry farm” in the arid and dusty hills east of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Grandpa was a grand fisherman and took every opportunity to “wet his fishin’ line” whenever a stream was near. In the summer grandpa would escape the heat with a short two mile hike to fish down in Willow Creek. Grandpa was convinced you could avoid heart disease by going to stream to soak your feet in its medicinal waters. I’m assuming grandpa was also holding a fishing pole as he soaked his feet to achieve the greatest medical benefit.

A few years ago my 80 year old cousin, my wife and oldest son retraced grandpa’s journey from the dry farm to Willow Creek. What a treat! You have to go there to experience the cooling temperature and take in the smell of willow trees outlining the pristine little stream. The creek still has crystal clear water and probably looks the same as it did 100 years ago when grandpa fished there. Someday I hope to travel back there again with my two sons and grandchildren to fish and recreate the magic of this secret ancestral place. Yes, I have recorded the GPS coordinates to make such a journey both easy and possible. (GPS of Willow Creek photo: 43 27.1890 N 111 48.0930 W).

Making a GPS Map

Back to reality. You will be able to create a map of your journeys to be included with photos and printed information in a journey collection. Here’s how to access the trip log your Garmin is already faithfully keeping and to display the journey(log) in Google Earth.

  1. Plug the USB cable into your Garmin and computer.
  2. Go to “My Computer.” You should see an icon for your Garmin GPS.
  3. Double click on the Garmin icon. You will see several folders.
  4. Open the GPS folder.
  5. Start Google Earth and zoom down.
  6. Drag the “Currrent.gpx” file onto Google Earth.
  7. A GPS Data Import box will appear. Click OK.
  8. A blue line will appear on Google Earth that represents where you have traveled.
  9. Zoom down to see more detail unless you have recently been lost in a parking lot.

Teenagers – Take care! Your dad’s Garmin is watching everywhere you go in his car!

My next blog will show you how to geotag photos using the coordinates automatically saved by your Garmin using a freeware program you can downland.

Writing a History? Use – IT’S FREE!

December 5, 2009

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 (OOO)

Six months ago I downloaded and started playing around with  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 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 You will save a bunch of money (so you can add more RAM to your computer) and you will feel right at home using (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.


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.