5 easy steps for how to honor a loved one who has died in an heirloom book

How to Make a Tribute Memory Book

Tribute memory books can be made by hand (DIY) or professionally crafted to honor a lost loved one. It is best to use both photographs and words to honor a person’s memory and establish their legacy for future generations. While online memorial sites share pictures and remembrances, the transitory nature of the web makes books a better alternative for long-term preservation of memories. First, gather stories by reminiscing about your deceased loved one. Second, curate your family photos. The final step in creating your tribute memory book: Assemble these memories into a cohesive storyline and design beautiful layouts.

  1. Share memories.
  2. Go through family photos.
  3. Figure out the structure of your book.
  4. Design beautiful page layouts.
  5. Print your tribute memory book.
 
Gathering with family members to look at old photos and share memories about a lost loved one is a healing part of the grief process—and ultimately, a helpful way to get the raw materials for a meaningful tribute book.

Gathering with family members to look at old photos and share memories about a lost loved one is a healing part of the grief process—and ultimately, a helpful way to get the raw materials for a meaningful tribute book.

1  Share memories.

Whether around the dinner table with other family members or on the phone with a friend, talk about the person you have lost. Say their name, recount their stories (funny, sad, typical!), remember what they loved. “Remember that time…” is the start of a perfect sentence.

This will jog your memory and bring your loved one’s spirit closer to you. If you plan to make a tribute book yourself, sit down at the computer in the evenings and retell your reminiscences in writing. If you prefer to hire a professional such as Modern Heirloom Books to create your tribute book, hit “record” on your smart phone’s audio recording app so a personal historian will have the raw material needed to put your loved one’s stories into words. Alternatively, keep a list of topics about your loved one that come up in conversation so that you can share them again with your personal historian in a professional interview setting.

Don’t forget: Tribute books by their very nature are positive—celebrations of an individual. So focus on capturing your subject’s admirable traits, remembering what he or she has done to make you appreciate, admire, or love them!

 
old family photos story prompts for memories about lost loved one

2  Go through family photos.

Dig out those boxes of family photos from the back of the closet. Gather around an iPad to click through your loved one’s digital photo library. The most important thing is to use the photographs to prompt stories, to help the memories flow. The serendipity involved in drawing a random photo for reflection can prompt tears and laughter, always evoking emotions. And the ones that do evoke the most feeling are the ones that you should set aside for inclusion in your book. Choose a few portraits of your deceased loved one for formal pages, but focus on candids and pictures that bring that person to vivid life for the majority of the book. Remember: You are creating this tribute book to help keep your deceased loved one’s spirit alive, so choose images to include that do just that!

Tip: Don’t forget to ask friends and other family members for their photographs, too. Sometimes there is a gem you have never seen of your loved one that just feels right—like their essence. More often than not the experience of getting together to go over family photos will be an important part of your grieving process, too.

books can take many forms, so you need to choose what structure helps you best tell your personal stories

3  Figure out the structure of your book.

Maybe you have a lot of pictures and prefer a photographic book with long captions illuminating the personality and life story of your loved one. Perhaps your prefer to have family members be interviewed for detailed remembrances, creating a collective portrait of him or her through tributes and stories. There are many options for how to structure your tribute memory book, including through letters and journals that help tell their stories; through recipes and food memories that celebrate their life in a very particular way; even through lists of lessons they have taught you and others over the years.

Consider: Often this is the most challenging part for a non-editor to tackle, and may be your strongest reason for opting to hire a professional to create your book, should you choose to. 

The opening spread for a section of remembrances of one woman's years spent in Greece: By blowing up lovingly restored photographs that originally fit in the palm of one's hand to be featured across the pages of a large-format book, the design invites readers to spend time with the book's stories, to linger and experience the subject's memories in a meaningful way.

The opening spread for a section of remembrances of one woman's years spent in Greece: By blowing up lovingly restored photographs that originally fit in the palm of one's hand to be featured across the pages of a large-format book, the design invites readers to spend time with the book's stories, to linger and experience the subject's memories in a meaningful way.

4  Design beautiful page layouts.

There are plenty of DIY sites that allow you to easily put together photo-driven memory books, but using graphic design to enhance the stories you are telling magnifies the importance of the person to whom you are paying tribute. When a personal historian works in tandem with an editor and designer who understand the power of visuals to help tell a story, the resulting book is more engaging, more aesthetically pleasing, and more likely to be pulled out again and again—and, after all, isn’t that exactly what you want your memory book to be, a living tribute? Through such a book you can commune with your lost loved one any time, reliving their stories in private or with family.

Tip: Even if you decide to “do it yourself,” design some pages as lists or Q&As, set some memories apart visually in boxes, and treat your stories with respect. Include scans of memorabilia that help tell your loved one’s stories (ticket stubs, his driver’s license, or her handwritten recipes). And retouch older images so they look glorious in print.

privately published tribute memory books often include old family photos and other pictures of the deceased

5  Print your tribute memory book.

We often print smaller softcover editions of our bespoke heirloom books that our clients can give as budget-friendly gifts to other family members. Our top two picks for printers for these types of books are also good candidates for DIY types who prefer to make their own tribute book: Blurb (ideal if you need a bookmaking tool to guide you through design) and Edition One Books (better for those already comfortable with InDesign or other design software).

Books produced by our team at Modern Heirloom Books are higher-end, and typically privately published in coffee-table format or even larger. Designs are elegant and engaging, inviting readers to enter a book and then stay for a while. If you choose to have your book professionally produced by us or another company, be sure to ask about archival papers, binding techniques, and whether a digital press or traditional printing method is right for your needs.

Consider: Often professionally published books offer more bespoke printing options, from gilded pages to debossed leather covers, but turnaround times are much quicker for DIY memory books. If you need a book quickly but prefer a professional to do the heavy lifting, inquire about fast-tracking the production process in order to have a digital version of the book for an upcoming event in advance of your actual tribute book being ready to hold and treasure.

 

Despite being an emotional time, NOW is always the best time to begin a tribute book.

I know from experience that the time immediately after losing a beloved family member or friend is challenging—not exactly a time we feel compelled to take on a new project. But it’s also a time when grief compels us to remember: to reminisce about the mother we have lost; to share stories that make us laugh and nod our heads in fond disbelief at grandpa’s antics; to pass around family photos of our father who has just died, reveling in his innocence as a child, or his playfulness as a dad.

Remembering—and sharing stories about—your lost loved one is part of the grieving process, and not only can it be healing for you, it can be among the first steps you take in beginning a tribute memory book in their honor.

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Still have questions about tribute memory books?

Read our FAQ for answers to the most commonly asked questions about tribute memory books, often commonly called legacy books, including when and how to begin making one.

Interested in something other than a book to honor your loved one?

Need help accessing your memories about the deceased?

Ask us to make an heirloom book for you.

Have you lost a loved one recently? Do you desire to memorialize their legacy in a book? Do you want to honor their memory and preserve the stories of their life for your children?

Contact us now at 917.922.7415 to see how we can work together to create a most meaningful heirloom.