Genealogies and Family Histories

Fitly Framed Together

I just received a copy of my grandparents’ new memoir, Fitly Framed Together: The Life and Testimony of Bob & Louise Erekson. [Edited by Ginger Hamer. Billings, Montana: Pacer Books, 2009. 377 pages. Paperback. $24.95. Photographs, illustrations, appendices, index. ISBN 978-1-4392-2912-5.]

This book has been a long time in the making!

My grandparents have essentially devoted their retirement lives to genealogy. My grandmother still periodically sends emails to the whole family including updates on finding the mother of Greenberry Choate or the father of Margaret McFatridge. These names of ancestors are obscure to nearly everyone in the family except my grandmother, who has an encyclopedic memory of how the lines all fit together.

Despite all the effort focused on the distant past, we realized as of their 60th wedding anniversary in 2002 (which corresponded with our once-per-decade family reunion), that not a lot had been done to record my grandparents’ own personal stories. I got the ball rolling later that year when I commissioned my cousin Kristen (then newly in college) to spend a summer in Billings, Montana, recording my grandparents’ stories. She did a fantastic job, compiling a wealth of recordings, transcripts, and writings. Faced with that wealth, I promptly dropped the ball. However, my mother picked it up again and rolled it forward through many long years of effort to its finished form.

The result is impressive:

Sample page 1
The book is primarily told in my grandparents’ voices, which my mother has edited together into a composite story.

Sample page 2
The book is nicely illustrated.

Sample page 3
And also reproduces documents and other relevant artifacts.

Sample page 4
Finally, the narrative is broken up with call-out boxes that highlight particular themes.

As much fun as genealogy can be — and I do like a good Family Group Record sheet — what really brings family history alive for me is the history part. I know my grandparents thrive on the puzzle of tracking down each ancestor’s name, but I need stories to bring those names to life.

I couldn’t be happier that we now have this volume enriching our own family history, so that these names will be known by real life stories for generations and generations to come.

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  1. What a beautiful, beautiful thing to have, John!

    Did you help create it? I think I see your design fingerprints in there somewhere…

  2. Nicely done. Thanks for posting it here.

  3. Very nice, John. Inspirational really. I need to do more of this stuff.

  4. John, can you share how you got this published? It’s a great idea and might spur others to do the same…

  5. John Hamer says:

    Thanks, Tracy (1, 4): I created the initial template and formats in Adobe InDesign — this is the replacement for the old PageMaker program. You can do the layout in something similar like Quark Xpress or potentially even using a regular word processor. The cover was created in Photoshop. For this process you just need to end up with two high resolution PDF files: one for the cover and one for the interior of the book.

    My mother then did all the layout herself. She then created an account with, a subsidiary of Amazon. Booksurge is a print-on-demand company that lets individual authors print books. There’s a setup cost per title and then you can print as many copies as you want for a per unit cost. This is a big advantage for family history books that generally have a very limited market. It used to cost about the same to print 1,000 books as 200 — essentially it cost a couple thousand dollars to print any small quantity of books. And then you ended up with boxes of books in your basement. (The alternative was printing your family history books at Kinkos.) Now you can just buy individual books and they can be reprinted at will. As a result, any of my relatives (or anyone for that matter) can buy the book on Amazon anytime they want forever.

  6. John, good job!
    I have 8 of these Family History books ( one 850 pages!).
    I wanted very much to do one. I have enough material to fill it, but lack the skills.
    So for me (and others like me), I use “” (Free!), and “Passage”. (Shareware). They have all the advantages of online and mulimedia. Plus printing is available. Also many sites you can look at and steal ideas.

  7. A look into Mormon retirement.

    But you know what? Thanks to the spirit of Elijah, I think we all can live with that.

    Nicely done :)

  8. This is awesome, John. Thanks for sharing it.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Beautifully done.

  10. Natalie B. says:

    I’m very impressed by the quality of the publishing. What a fantastic idea.

  11. John, I think you made a good choice with Booksurge, one of a handful of companies that can be used to self-publish books. You’ve clearly done a very nice job of layout and design (but then you have experience, right?) and while no print-on-demand printer can give you the quality that you can get from traditional offset printing, most customers find the quality of Booksurge and others acceptable.

    However, I think that others looking at doing this same thing should be very cautious with the companies you find on the web. Many prey on self-publishing authors with delusions of finding fame or fortune through their (generally poorly edited) novel. A host of companies (such as Publish America, iUniverse, FirstBooks, etc.) offer to “publish” your book for you at upfront prices of several hundred dollars, or charge hefty per copy charges (Lulu). If all you want is to print a few dozen copies of a family history, these are more expensive, but not unreasonable options.

    But, if an author is trying to get his work distributed to a wider audience, he or shew would be better off finding a publisher, or spending enough time and effort to really understand the difference between printing a book and publishing (see The Difficult Path of Self-Publishing).

  12. If you are looking for a reprint of the Family History of another family, try Higginson Book Co. in Salem, Mass. They had in their archives the hard to find “The Mormon Drapers”. They printed me and others, leather copies for $40.

  13. Thanks for this, John Hamer. It looks like a beautiful book.

    Also, I feel the same way about genealogy: “what really brings family history alive for me is the history part.”

  14. #13: For the most part, Genealogy only deals with the vital elements of a person’s life: birth/place, marriage/place, parents, children, death/place. Family history is more of the narrative.
    I love the history too. In talking with the elderly about their childhood, one of my first questions is “Did your family have a pig?”. This really opens up or starts the interview one way or the other.

  15. Incredible….you’re so fortunate. What a treasure!

  16. John Hamer says:

    Kent (11): You make several wise points that people should remember before embarking into the world of self-publishing. As you point out, there are lots of printing services and the price differentiation can be huge. People need to do their research and find the service that suits their particular needs.

    Also, no one should delude themselves into imagining they will achieve either fame or fortune doing a family history book. You are, however, likely to achieve something that is precious to your own family and that should be your goal.

  17. I would kill to have such a record of my Grandparents. They died mostly by the time I was old enough to appreciate. And for the most part they left no written records. What a wonderful resource. A few years ago when I was sick I realized that I didn’t want to do the same and did a self published book for my kids of scenes from my life. It inspired my dad to do the same. I wish my grandparents had left something. As it is, they are complete mysteries to me.

  18. Yeah, me too. I know almost nothing of my g-grandparents- and am even struggling at finding some of their names. This book is a gift in so many ways

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