You’re a brave soul who wants to write about the people, places and events that make up the family you come from. It’s a big task, but very rewarding. Taking some time to sketch some notes about your goals and priorities can make the process easier to tackle and much more enjoyable.

You won’t necessarily need courses and templates – each family is unique and you are the expert at the centre. The following is a quick and helpful how-to guide on writing your own family history.

Why write a family history?

Researching your family history is often an end in itself. Learning about your background will bring insights to today’s family tree and how it has grown and changed over time. If you want to share the information with others, narrowing down your ‘Why’ will help keep you focussed and motivated.

Do you want to preserve important family documents? Record memories and stories of an elderly relative? Preserve your unique traditions in the hopes that younger generations will keep them going? Perhaps you’d like to honour your family’s part in historical events?

One Lettertec writer, Tom O’Connell, described the motivation for writing a biography of his father to Irish Country Living:

“He was an ordinary man, and society needs people like that. There are always people who get the headlines but there is a huge group behind them who keep things going.”

(Check out his moving book at the Lettertec Bookstore.)

Who is the audience for your family history?

Knowing who you are writing for will help you set boundaries and narrow down what you’ll be writing about. Most typically this will be an encyclopaedic volume looking at the many descendants of a particular family line. In this case, deciding what your limitations are in advance will help prevent overwhelm. (How many generations? Which branches of the family tree are featured? For example, only the McCarthys but not the Murphys?)

Don’t forget – a family history doesn’t always have to be a multigenerational epic. You can write intimate books of anecdotes and mementos for immediate family and end up with a treasured keepsake for your bookshelf. Alternatively, maybe your family is like the Hegartys of the Laurels wherein the family history is intertwined with national history and readers throughout Ireland and beyond will want to know more about them.

Once you decide on why you’re writing and to whom, you can then combine both into one ‘mission statement’ to guide you as you begin. For example: “I’m writing about Granny and Grandad McCarthy married in 1807, their 6 children, and one further generation (only), to distribute to all their relations as a Christmas present next year, in order to capture the memories of our most elderly family members and teach the next generation about their background.”

How to Organise Your Book

A handy trick to make writing your family history easier is to write your contents page first. A contents page is the list of chapters at the front of a book which gives an overview of all the material inside, for the reader’s reference.

Writing the contents page first will force you to focus on what is in the book and what will have to be left out. Some writers move chronologically, others dedicate a chapter to each family member, others organise by location, particularly if emigration is a big part of your story.

The other advantage to writing a contents page in advance is that you can set your timeline for writing with it. If you have 12 chapters and you want to finish writing within six months, you know that you have two weeks to dedicate to each chapter.

Birth Certificates, Land Deeds, and… Jail Records? Adding interesting content to your book.

If you’re wondering how to keep readers interested in a family history, be sure to include as many visual elements as you can. Ideas include:

  • Photos
  • Handwritten letters, notes, recipes
  • Diary entries
  • Newspaper articles
  • Coats of Arms and/or Family Motto
  • Maps
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Texts of favourite poems, songs, quotes
  • Eulogies, Gravestone Inscriptions
  • Census Forms
  • Family Trees

For example, one of the family histories printed with Lettertec also featured a number of internment records of individuals arrested during the War for Independence. These documents are invaluable, and collecting them for future generations is one way to help preserve fragile heirlooms and make them available to more people.

How to Print your Family History Book

Once you’ve written your book, the next step is to getting it into the hands of your readers. You’ll need the support of proofreaders, cover designers, typesetters, and printers. This is all available under one roof at Lettertec.

Lettertec specialises in guiding first-time and other Self Publish Writers through the book editing, design and printing process. More information about how we can help you with your work-in-progress can be found at Alternatively, reach out to and a helpful publishing consultant will chat with you about your book and offer individualised advice on how to achieve your goals.