Creating a Family History CD

Publishing and Sharing Your Genealogy on CD-ROM

Sharing your genealogy research with family and friends can be easy and inexpensive. A family history CD has the ability to hold large amounts of data in a small space, and include photos, sounds, scanned document images, and even video - something a printed family history just can't equal. And, since a CD is compact and relatively inexpensive, you can easily share it with other family history researchers at family reunions, genealogical conferences, or through the mail.

Showcasing Your Family History
One of the biggest challenges in creating a family history CD is to decide what information you'd like to present and how to organize the information on your CD. If you've spent years studying the genealogy of a particular family or surname, you probably want to include the results of that research in the form of lineage-linked family trees or register reports. You may also want to include a written family history, or photographs of your ancestors, their houses, headstones, etc. Or, perhaps, you have video or sound recordings of ancestors or family members that you would like to showcase.

Choosing Your Format
Several options are available to aid you in creating your family history CD.

  • CD Creation Software - Unless you have a lot of time and computer know-how to put into this project, you may find it easiest to use a software program which automates a lot of the work for you.
    • Family History CD - Created expressly for the purpose of simplifying the cd creation process, Family History CD helps you organize your cd project. An easy-to-use interface makes it easy to include GEDCOMS, photos, video, and digitized documents; create slideshows; and even burn the CDs for you when your project is completed. A free trial version is available for download, but if you when you're ready to burn a CD you will need to purchase the full version.
    • Several genealogy software programs have the ability to output family history files to CD-ROM. Most require you to also include a free form of the software on the CD to allow others to read the information, although Heredis (available for both Windows and Mac) can create a multimedia CD-ROM which requires no additional software to view.
  • Create Your Own CD - If you want to save the expense of purchasing specialized software, or just want more creative input, then you may want to tackle creating a family history CD on your own. Since it is important that this CD be able to be read, viewed, and printed without specialized software or viewers the following two formats are the most widely accepted:
    • Adobe Acrobat (PDF) - Ideal for distributing genealogical documents electronically, Adobe Acrobat files can be read on any computer with the free Acrobat Reader from Adobe. Second, hyperlinks make it easy to browse the document on a computer. You can click on a name, and go immediately to the page on which that person appears. Third, you can make a very high quality printout on any computer. The document can be printed in part, or in whole, using layout and fonts that match what you see on the computer screen (WYSIWYG). The resulting printout could be bound into a book, if desired. One possible downside of using PDF is that the user of your CD needs to have the Adobe Acrobat Reader installed. Most PCs already have Acrobat installed; but just in case, you may want to distribute the Acrobat reader on your CD.
    • HTML - Alternatively, you can design your family history CD in HTML, much like a Web site. This has nearly all the advantages of PDF, but has the distinct disadvantage that the genealogy can't easily be printed. They can, however, be read by a very wide audience - basically anyone with a Web browser. If you already maintain a genealogy Web site, then an HTML CD may be your best option.

    Both the PDF and HTML methods will require CD writer software, usually included free with most CD burners. So, if you have a CD writer you probably already have the necessary software. Windows XP also comes with built-in CD burning capabilities.

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    If you've decided to use a software program such as Family History CD to create your genealogy CD, you're pretty much good to go. If, however, you'd like to create a family history CD using PDF or HTML, then here are some tips to get you started:

    Creating a Family History CD Using PDF
    As mentioned previously, Adobe Acrobat's PDF format is very useful for family history cd's because it allows for easy navigation, formatted printing, searchable pages, and can be read by anyone if you include the free Adobe Acrobat reader software on the CD.

    If you don't own the fairly expensive Adobe Acrobat software, however, you still have a few options available to you:

    • Many genealogy software programs will export various reports or even a full family history book into PDF format. Look for this option in the software program that you use to maintain your genealogy data.
    • Ancestral Author software creates a hyperlinked PDF book from a GEDCOM file, with provisions to add title page, chapters, register style descendant reports, list of sources, index of names, etc. Free to try, US$19.95 to register.
    • Adobe's Create Adobe PDF Online service allows you to create PDF files from many formats, including Microsoft Office files (such as Microsoft Word and Power Point), graphics files, Web pages, text files, and even scanned images and documents. Unlimited files can be converted with this service for a monthly fee of US$9.99.

    Creating a Family History CD Using HTML
    If you have a genealogy Web site, or family history software that can create a stand-alone Web site, then these HTML pages can be re-used on your family history CD.

    Alternatively, you can use HTML authoring software to create a series of HTML pages from scratch and/or use on of the many free and shareware GEDCOM to HTML pages to generate lineage-linked family trees.

    • Make sure you keep your HTML pages simple. Images, audio files, etc. are fine, but you shouldn't use advanced features such as javascript and databases.
    • If you want your CD to be compatible with the largest number of browsers and operating systems (including MAC), then you should use "8.3" filenames - capital letters, numbers and underscores (_) with a maximum of 8 characters, a period, then a maximum of 3 characters (i.e. SOFTWARE.HTM is a valid 8.3 filename).
    • Since your HTML pages on CD may be at any position in a particular user's file system, make sure that all your HTML links are relative, and remember to use forward slash characters, not PC backslashes.
    • To make it easy for people to explore all of your content, be sure you include some type of navigation system.

    Alternative Ways to Present Your Family History on CD
    If you don't have the time or desire to include a full-fledged family history on CD-ROM, you can still use this method to create, save and share GEDCOM files or photo slideshows.