Saturday, July 14, 2012

Making my 2012 Family-a-Month Calendar

12 Month Calendar_Page_01 - CopyThis week one of my old posts has gotten a resurgence of interest due to a discussion on LinkedIn entitled “Thinking Out of the Box - Creating Things with Genealogy"  by Bernice Bennett.  Bernice hosts a weekly internet Radio show entitled  “Research at the National Archives and Beyond”.   Bernice asked for ideas for creative uses of genealogical research to share on her show.  I posted a link to A Genealogical Christmas Present from January 11, where I showed a calendar I created for my family as a Christmas gift this past year.  Well, I got a lot of comments and emails on the calendar asking what I did, so I figured I’d share the construction techniques I used.  I mentioned some of the ideas in my January post, but I wanted to expand on it.  The whole project, from conception to shipping was about  two weeks.

Family Groups

The main trick to making a wall calendar is to come up with the theme for the 12 monthly image pages.  The images should form a coherent collection and be of interest to the intended audience.  Since the calendar was for my family and the new family I had discovered through my research, I decided that I would feature a Family Group (mother, father, children) on each month. 
Deciding on a layout was fairly easy.  I wanted to include a Family Data box, listing what information I had at the time for the parents and children, including birth, death, and marriages. I filled the page with any relevant documents that would be interesting or enlightening, and photos if possible.  Most of the families pre-date photography, so relatively few had photos.  Most had documents. Documents with signatures are some of the most interesting.

Now, as I discuss the construction, keep in mind that I am not a graphic artist.  While the tools I used are the same tools professionals use, I am truly a beginner at them.  Nevertheless, I got great results. I used Adobe Illustrator, but just about any drawing package that will allow you to insert images and move them around will do. As you’ll see, I made a lot of use of Drop Shadow, creating the 3-D look on my elements.  Make sure your software can do this.

I created each page as a separate graphic file. I made them quite large so that I would be able to get the highest quality printing possible.  I first created a base page with just the colored background and data box. I added a drop shadow to give it depth.  I saved this base page as my starting point for each month.  I changed colors for each month to add interest.

Then I went through my collection for each family, looking for anything which stood out.  I tried to find a varied set of things, photos, registers, census, etc., that would make  a nice display and tell a little something about each family.  I cropped my images when the family was just a small part of the document, such as in a church register.  I added these, assembled them into something that looked balanced, and added captions to each item.  Adding drop shadow to all the elements, and stacking them made them look just like actual pages on a table.  In Illustrator, you can move, stack, resize, and rotate the graphics as you wish.  Frankly, dragging things around and arranging them so that you could read the important parts was the most time-consuming part of the project.

The page from June is shown below. Although the image here has a white border, the actual calendar is “full bleed”, that is it has no border.  One thing I discovered in printing was that you should allow yourself a bit of room at the border to accommodate printer accuracy in full bleed.  My first attempts had text near the edges and sometimes they got cut off.  You’ll notice that there is nothing of importance near the edges of the page in its final form.

12 Month Calendar_Page_12
Family Group from June
Then I had to decide which families would make the cut. I sat down with the list of cousins I had found and looked for family groups that would be familiar to them. I wanted everyone to have at least one familiar family in the calendar. Then I looked to the nodes where their branch separated from mine and included those families as well.  Then I looked further back for ancestors to those groups. 

This gave me a set of candidates (more than 12) to pick from.  Then I looked at my database to see what information I had so that I could pick families that had enough artifacts to make an interesting display.  Making these pages was the bulk of the work.  I could only do about 3 a night.


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Cover Page
A calendar needs a cover.  While I could just have used one of the months to be the cover, I decided on something else.  First, I figured I’d use the theme from this blog for the calendar, so I used the image from the blog, the color scheme, the name, and the font from the blog and organized the front page. 

As I blogged in Treasures from Mom’s House, I have a lot of photos of early 1900s St Croix from my grandfather which I have scanned.   I wanted to recreate what I see when I look into my box of unorganized pictures.  I went through my collection and selected a bunch of pictures and pulled them into the cover.  By adding white borders, stacking them in a seemingly random manner, and adding drop shadow to each picture I got a reasonably realistic “pile of photos”.  I added a page from one of the NARA microfilms as a backdrop to suggest old records.  Then I added my blog site address in the lower right.  Came out nice, if I do say so myself.

Days of the Year

imageThis was the easiest part.  Family Tree Maker (I was using version 2011) has a built-in calendar report that makes a nicely formatted calendar.   The calendar is supposedly for keeping up with birthdays and anniversaries of living people, but it’s just as simple to set it for your whole tree.    Here are the settings I used. Notice I restricted my entries to Birthdays only, to keep it simple.  The key here is to make sure “Include births & marriages only if still living” is unchecked.  I used married names for females because those would be the most familiar. 

This process only found people whose actual birth dates are recorded in my database.  If I only have a baptism record then I don’t know the exact birthday then that individual would not be printed.  That seemed ok to me because I really only wanted to record what I knew.  As long as I had enough to be interesting, I figured it was ok.

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Typical Calendar Page
The report produced a 12-page pdf file of a calendar with each person’s birthday and their age in 2012 printed.  On this sample page you can see that my Great Grandfather Christian A Conrad will turn 154 on November 18.  His sister Elizabeth will be 156.

I guessed that this would be the most interesting feature for my family, as they would not recognize most of the names.  One of the reasons we do things like this is to generate curiosity.  My family would ask: who are these people?  And they did.


The calendar, once printed would have a back as well as a front.  I used the back to provide one necessary piece of information: how the families fit together.  While we family historians can cite chapter and verse how our lines connect, my other family members have no idea.  My newly discovered cousins may know their lines, but don’t have a clue about the others.  A full tree is much too large so I created a simplified tree in Adobe Illustrator, just showing how the lines fit together.  I used the Family Group parents as the main element.  Here’s the tree I constructed for my families.  I added nodes where I needed to in order to show how the 12 families fit together.

12 Month Calendar_Page_28 - Copy (Medium)

Copyright and Disclaimer

12 Month Calendar_Page_28 - Copy (2)As a finishing touch, I figured I’d give it a copyright and date, but then thought I’d have a little fun.  I created a disclaimer to tell my family to contact me for any source information, and not to use the calendar in their research.  Also, the information is a Work-In-Progress.  Research progresses.  As an example, the sample shown above for June lists an “Anny van Beverhoudt” as one of the children.  I have since found that “Anny” and the next child “Amey” were, in fact, the same person.  That’s the fun of sharing research.  It gets better over time.


Once complete, I had 12 monthly graphics in Illustrator, a pdf of 12 calendar pages from Family Tree Maker, and Illustrator files for both the cover and the back.  In order to get it assembled I decided to make a pdf file of the whole thing.  I exported the Illustrator files into pdf files and, using Acrobat, dragged each page into the calendar file until I had it set up properly.  The whole file contained 26 pages (12 month graphics, 12 calendar, cover, back).  Unfortunately, to get something to print in book form, on two sides, your pages must be divisible by 4, so I added two blank pages at the end but before the back.  This way my “back” would actually print on the back.  The final pdf file is 179MB.  Much too large for any purpose except printing.  I also made smaller ones for email.  The graphics in this blog are jpg exports from the pdf.


You can get something like this printed yourself if you have access to any decent printing shop who can do 11x17 paper, folded and stapled.  I put it on heavy glossy paper and printed the cover on thicker stock so that it wouldn’t droop if you hung it on a wall.  There are a number of websites that offer printing of small batch orders for only a few dollars each.  Since I had access to good equipment, I only had to pay for materials so it was really cheap.  It came out very well and it is nearly indistinguishable from a calendar you might buy at the mall.  That’s a testament to the tools, and not to my skill; as I said, I’m a neophyte in graphics.  As a finishing touch, I inserted a piece of cardboard backing into the middle of each calendar to keep it stiff in the mail.  Mall calendars usually have one of those.

I mailed the calendars out on Christmas Eve.  While no one got theirs in time for Christmas, I could at least say that I met my deadline.  They went around the world so it was weeks before everyone had their gift.  The project was great fun and didn’t really take that long.  Figuring how to print it was probably the most difficult part.  Since I printed it myself I didn’t need to include printing time in my project plan, but then I thought of it two weeks before Christmas.


Reception was wonderful.  The family was very excited and thrilled to have something tangible.  I got lots of questions.  I also got information.  By creating a calendar of what I knew, it was clear what I didn’t know.  I got emails with birthdates and marriages from my cousins.  I got corrections to wrong information.  Anyone who has put up a family tree at a family reunion knows that the easiest way to get family information is for them to see a blank or an error.

If you’d like to see the full calendar, I have crunched it to 3MB, suitable for email.  Send me a note at and I’ll send you the file.  If you decide to try one for yourself, I’d love to see what you’ve done.

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