• Devon Noel Lee

Create an Awesome Family History Book Cover Using Canva

Family history books have a bad reputation for having boring covers.


Hundreds of these books line the shelves of genealogical society libraries and archives.

Boring family history book covers.
Let's avoid these styles, shall we?

Since people judge books by their covers, do you really want to project boredom even before your family members pick up the story of their heritage?


I hope not.

Today, I want to help you invite your family members to experience their heritage through better cover designs.

Hiring a professional is the best way to design a fantastic book cover. My friends at Stories to Tell or Pictures and Stories continue to produce top-notch books from cover to cover.


However, some of you might want to attempt to design a cover on your own. While I love creating book covers in Photoshop Elements, many of you will find that platform has a steep learning curve.

Therefore I will show you how to use Canva. Canva does offer free and paid memberships. Since I use this website weekly, I have a paid account.


Let's talk about creating a stunning family history cover.



Step 1: What Do You Have Available?


Before you design an awesome cover, you need to know what you have available.

Do you have photos of your ancestor?

If so, which one stands out to you the most?


In my Grandpa Lew's story, I love the photo where he's wearing his military uniform. When it hung in the home of my parent's house, I thought Papa's eyes always followed me as I passed down the hall.

Do you have photos of your ancestor's life?

If you do not have photographs of a person, perhaps you have images of family homes, family cars, military uniforms, dinnerware, or souvenirs. A picture of where someone lived, worked, or worshipped or their possessions offer a portal to the past and can serve you well as a cover photo.



What graphics or artifacts do you have available if you do not have a photo?


When writing my pageant memoir, I had two paper dolls created by celebrity doll designer Greg Nystrom. With his permission, I used the doll he made of me for the cover of my book.

Photographs of paintings, drawings, or other graphics can substitute for portraits of an ancestor.

If you do not have graphics featuring your ancestor, you might have images related to your ancestor. For example, a ship or a map could serve you well for an immigrant ancestor's story. A drafting table with slide rules and blueprints may serve well for a story about a carpenter.

Before you design a cover, focus on the visual elements you uncovered while writing your family history. Then proceed to Canva to choose a template.

Step 2: Chose a Template


Canva has a plethora of templates for many graphic projects. However, we want to focus on book covers.

  • In the Canva Search bar, type in "Book Cover."

  • Select the "Book Cover" prompt.

  • Filter the thousands of templates to reduce "choice paralysis."


Based on what was available in Step 1, perhaps the "Photo Style" option may serve you best.

Review the Canva Template options. Look for templates that do the following:

  1. The Title is Clear and Easy to Read - An easy-to-read title avoids difficult-to-read fonts. Also, the title does not blend into the background. The cover has enough contrast between the text and the image or color.

  2. The Title is Prominent - Chose a cover where the title is large and does not compete with other elements on the template.

  3. The Design is Simple - While many Canva has many creative template designers, less is more with your project.

  4. Your Photo Fits The Layout - If your photo has a critical element in the center of the image, you do not want to choose a layout where a text block will cover it.

  5. The Theme Matches the Story Arc of Your Book - While the Vampire is an eye-catching template, I wouldn't want to use this if your ancestor was a service missionary who brought joy to everyone they met.

After you select a template, Canva will open a workspace for you to customize.

Resize this workspace to match the dimensions of your project.

  • Click on Resize in the top menu bar.

  • In the "Custom Size" fields, change the unit from px to in (for US publishers).

  • Adjust the width and height. In this example, I will make my favorite 6x9 inch book.

  • Then, click "Resize" to change this layout.

Step 3: Add Photo or Graphic


In Step 1, you discovered what you have available for use in your project. Next, ensure that you create a high-resolution copy of your photograph or graphic. The minimum DPI is 300 and should be large enough to fill the size of your book.

If you have a high-quality image on your computer, upload it to Canva.

Step 4: Customize Template

Watching this video is the best way to see how to do this.




I customize the title, byline, and graphics on two different layouts.

Step 5: Test The Photo Quality

Next, create a PDF Proof to ensure the image quality is acceptable. Sadly, there isn't a great way to do this digitally with Canva.

(I wish there were warning icons like Mixbook.com offers when I create scrapbooks.)

What I do is I run a test print on my computer. Or, if it will take too much ink, I send the image to a service like Office Max or Office Depot to run a test copy. My main goal is to ensure the image I chose is not blurry.


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FREE Family History Writing Guide

Step 6: Seek Feedback


Before finalizing your cover, seek out feedback from like-minded family historians. Don’t be afraid to share your cover design with others. Sometimes, someone will see something you have overlooked.


You likely do not want to share the high-resolution version of the image online or through email. Instead, use the "share on social" option that appears after you click the Share button in the top menu bar.

You can share your design to your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or other accounts. You can then share that post in groups, like the one mentioned below.

Or you can click on the "Share" button in the top menu bar. Then select the 'download' option. Then select the 'jpg' format and reduce the size and/or quality for easier sharing. Then upload that image to social media groups.


By the way, you may share your book cover ideas in the Family History Fanatics Facebook group. Myself and others would be happy to give you some feedback before you go to print.

Step 7: Export Your Design


Once your cover is complete, then download your final version. Once again,

  • Click the "Share" button.

  • Click "Download."

  • Click the box beside "Flatten Image."

  • Click the box beside "Crop marks and bleed."

  • Switch the Color Profile to "CMYK," which is best for professional printing.

  • Save to your computer.

Now you have a publisher's quality PDF for many professional printers.

If you're using a digital on-demand printer, you might need to

  • Select the "JPG" option.

  • Leave the Size settings as they appear when this option loads.

  • Increase the Quality to 100.

  • Save to your computer.

Canva is an excellent option for those who wish to create a cover with little to no design skills. The disadvantage is that you do not receive image quality alerts in the workspace. Without this alter, you might print a pixilated image without testing it first.

Those are my steps for creating a book cover. Was it helpful?



Continue Learning How to Write a Family History

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