Two years ago, I made a book about my Grandpa Elder’s ancestors to give to my family for Christmas.
I was inspired by William R. Walker’s talk in the April 2014 General Conference about learning stories of faith of our ancestors. I knew some of the conversion stories of my Mormon pioneer forefathers, but not all. I determined to find and compile all the stories and records about my LDS ancestors’ faith. One repository that I was especially eager to use was the LDS Church History Library, where all kinds of LDS records are kept, including most of the patriarchal blessings given to church members since 1833.
Patriarchal blessings are an ordinance given to members of the LDS church, similar to the blessings Jacob and other biblical patriarchs gave their children. They give comfort and guidance to the recipient and can be a fascinating source of information about the recipient’s life and faith. Each blessing also includes the maiden name, birth date, birth place, and parents’ names of the recipient.
The blessings are written down and kept in the archives of the church. Using the Church History Library’s online service, you can request the patriarchal blessings of your deceased direct line ancestors. The information you’ll need to request them include name, date of birth, and parents’ names. If you know more information, such as the name of the patriarch and date the blessing was given, you can fill that in as well.
Getting Started with a Spreadsheet
To begin my project, I created a spreadsheet with the names of all my ancestors who I knew were members of the LDS church. When I got back to people I didn’t know very well, I checked the FamilySearch.org Family Tree to see if they were baptized and when. I made notes of the ancestors who didn’t get the chance to receive a patriarchal blessing – like those who didn’t immigrate to Utah or died on their way there.
As I went down my spreadsheet and started requesting the patriarchal blessings of my LDS ancestors, I learned that the Church History Library limited my number of requests to four per month. Realizing that I didn’t have enough time to research all my LDS ancestors by Christmas, I decided to limit the scope of my project just to Grandpa Elder’s ancestors for that year. (Now, the church history library doesn’t limit the amount of patriarchal blessings you can request at a time, but they do say that it may take up to 3 months for your order to be fulfilled.)
When researchers at the Church History Library were not able to locate the blessing of my ancestor, they emailed to let me know. (Some members did not receive patriarchal blessings, and some may not have been submitted to church headquarters.) When blessings were found, they mailed a copy to my home. I made notes in my spreadsheet accordingly.
Now LDS.org has an app for requesting and keeping track of patriarchal blessing requests. It also allows you to view your own blessing online. I was thrilled to see that when I logged in to the app all my previous requests were listed. Now I can compare the records of my previous requests with my spreadsheet to make sure I don’t duplicate a request or leave someone out.
Scan and Transcribe
As I received copies of the patriarchal blessings, I scanned them and saved them to the same folder on my hard drive. My next task was to transcribe them all. Most were handwritten. The earliest blessings I received were from the 1840s. Transcribing the blessings was one of the most challenging yet rewarding parts of the project. It was captivating and frustrating all at the same time. There were times when I would stare at a phrase for what seemed like hours, making no progress. Then, the next day, it would seem perfectly clear. It always helps to take a break.
After completing the transcriptions, I decided the book would not be complete without each ancestor’s life story. It wouldn’t be enough to include just their story of conversion to the LDS faith. For some, their lives were filled with stories of overcoming fear with faith, sacrifice to their church, and dedication to a life of service. I compiled all the stories I had – including several stories from a booklet my grandma made called “Conversion Stories of Our Ancestors” – and new stories that I found on FamilySearch.org. As I found anecdotes from their lives that intertwined with the counsel given in their patriarchal blessing, I inserted a relevant quotation in bold from the blessing.
This helped me understand my ancestors in a way that I had never done before. I learned that my 3rd great grandmother, Betsy Bradley, lost her husband at age 22, with three small children to care for. The words of her patriarchal blessing about experiencing sorrow and anxiety now painted such a vibrant image of her life in my mind. I felt very close to her. How comforting her patriarchal blessing must have been.
I couldn’t find a life history about my second great grandmother, Hannah Westenskow. I got creative and started reading all the stories attached to her family members on FamilySearch. Her daughter, my great-grandmother, Irma, had written a long and wonderful account of her own childhood with many memories of her mother. After compiling what I found, I uploaded the new story about Hannah to FamilySearch.org.
I decided to include the images of each original patriarchal blessing along with the transcription. I also selected 3-4 photos of each ancestor to include. I didn’t have more than one photo of some, so I supplemented with photos of the places they were born or the churches they were christened in as children.
Add an Introduction and Explanations
As I was transcribing, I noticed several phrases that seemed to be commonly used in patriarchal blessings. I researched these phrases in the scriptures and talks from general authorities. I shared what I learned in a section at the beginning of the book.
I researched the early patriarchs of the church who were giving these patriarchal blessings and included a paragraph about them with a photo.
I think an introduction is also important. It gives you a chance to explain why you created the book and the methodology you used. In my introduction, I quoted Elder Walker’s conference talk, which inspired me to begin this project, and pointed out some of the themes I noticed throughout the process.
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The next step in my project was to choose a publishing service to make my book. Since my book would be about half text and half images, I didn’t necessarily want to make a photo book. Photo book pages are more expensive and my book was over 100 pages. I didn’t want to pay for each page to be printed on pricey photo paper.
I looked at many options and finally selected Blurb.com’s trade book option with economy color printing, which uses white uncoated #70, 105 GSM paper. I’m happy with the way the images turned out, even though it was advertised as “low fidelity color printing.” Most of my images were not color, but some were, and I wanted to preserve the look of the photos that weren’t completely black and white.
If you sign up to receive Blurb’s promotional emails, you can order your book when you receive a coupon code. I knew there would be a Christmas coupon code, as usual, so I used that for my December order. To sign up and receive Blurb’s coupon codes, go here. There are volume discounts for ordering over 10 copies, over 51 copies, or over 101 copies of your book (10%, 15%, and 20% off respectively).
When I ordered my books in December 2014, the cost per book was $18.75. This included the following features: Hard cover image wrap, Standard portrait 8×10, 120 pages, economy trade paper, matte finish. In case you’re wondering, here is a breakdown of exactly what I paid :
7 copies x $18.75 per book = $131.25
1 PDF copy for download = $4.99
Shipping and Handling = $16.93
Discount from coupon code = $32.81
Total $120.36 (actual cost per printed book: $16.48, PDF: $4.99)
If you want to try using Blurb, they are offering new customers $10 off orders of $30+ now through March 30th.
I downloaded the free Blurb BookWright software to my desktop computer to lay out my book. It was intuitive to use and had several tools that were absolutely necessary to my project – such as text flow between pages, and alerts when my images were pixelated.
In the process of laying out and printing my book, I learned many things. Here are some tips.
Tips for Publishing Your Book
Give yourself extra time.
I spent a lot of additional time to make the book look the way I wanted. Don’t rush through it. For a project this size, you’ll be happy that you spent the time to add attractive headings and nicely formatted captions for your photos.
If you have a deadline, like ordering in time for Christmas, you’ll want to be done extra early. Trade books take a little longer than regular photo books to be printed. I wasn’t aware of this and my books arrived a few days after Christmas.
Proofread, proofread, and proofread again.
Double check for spelling errors, especially on the cover. I made sure to proofread the text inside my book for spelling errors over and over, only to miss a blazing type-o on the front cover! I left out an “l” in my Grandpa’s name. (Wiliam instead of William). Also, I think it’s so important to have someone else proofread your writing. They will see what you missed and help you correct errors you didn’t notice.
Order a “practice” copy first.
If you plan to order several copies, order a practice copy first and do a thorough proofreading and layout assessment. Seeing the book printed instead of previewing online gives you a fresh perspective on what it really looks like. If you’ve done your homework, hopefully everything will look great and you won’t need to make any changes before you order the rest.
I ordered seven copies the first time around only to realize I had an error on the cover. In a way, I was glad to re-do the book, because of all the little things I noticed that weren’t just right. I compared my first copies with other professionally published books and here are the main things I wanted to fix:
Cover – Originally, I chose a white cover. When I held the book in my hands, I was actually nervous about getting it dirty. I redid the cover to be dark blue. I also changed the image on the cover from artwork representing family history work to a photo of my grandfather. Although the book wasn’t directly about him, I thought it would be the best way to represent all of his ancestors without looking cluttered. It also gave the book a more personal feel.
Title page – I neglected to include a title page the first time around! It was easy to add one. I used a layout similar to the cover of my book. I also added the month and year the book was printed.
Table of contents – At first, I put the table of contents page on the left page of a spread with another section beginning on the right page. I think it makes more sense to give the contents its own spread with a blank page on the left. Designing the table of contents page was much easier when I looked at other books.
White space – My first book had very little white space. I crammed text, photos, and headings into every corner and made the margins very small. This gave the book a cramped feel. When I remade the book, I made the margins larger, added white space above each chapter heading, and left pages in the front matter intentionally blank. Yes, it added a few more pages to the book, but it easier to read.
Font – The original font I used for the paragraph text looked smooshed to me. I didn’t notice this until I received the printed version. I changed the font in the second printing to one that I was more familiar with. One way to tell if you will like the font is to try printing a page at home first.
Headers – In my first printing of the book, I put the page numbers at the bottom and included no headers. As I looked at professionally published books, I realized that placing a small header at the top of each right hand page was helpful. I included the chapter title and page number. For the left page header I just included the page number, although some books include the book title there. Here are more tips for laying out your book: How to Format Your Self-Published Book.
One of the things I like about making a book with an online self publisher like Blurb is that you can share the book easily with family members and they can order their own copy. Blurb even lets you sell your book for profit, if that’s something you want to undertake. You can set the price to be anything at or above the cost to print the book.
It was a delight to share my book with my siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents on my Grandpa Elder’s side. I don’t want to share my book with too many, though. The Church History Library sent a letter with each blessing reminding me that due to the sacred nature of patriarchal blessings, they should only be shared with close family members.
Next I’ll be making a book about the LDS ancestors of my other grandparents! My Grandpa Shults was the first in his family to join the LDS church, so his book will be quite different from the others. I do want to find out more about his conversion story, so I need to get started interviewing those who knew him back then.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
The talk that inspired this project was given by Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy, entitled “Live True to the Faith.” He said,
“It would be a wonderful thing if every Latter-day Saint knew the conversion stories of their forefathers.”
Elder Walker then shared a story about his ancestor who was part of the Mormon Battalion, and how his grandmother shared these stories. He said,
“[Grandma Walker] wanted her grandchildren to know of their righteous heritage—because she knew it would bless their lives. The more connected we feel to our righteous forefathers, the more likely we are to make wise and righteous choices. And so it is. Each of us will be greatly blessed if we know the stories of faith and sacrifice that led our forefathers to join the Lord’s Church.” …
“The two-pound coin of the United Kingdom has inscribed on its side “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.” When I think of our great pioneer forefathers, I feel that we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.”