How to Make a Family Directory

by Freddie Silver

Whether organizing a family reunion or tracing your ancestry, having a family directory is invaluable. But even without a specific purpose, a family directory helps large families stay in touch. Most families are spread out across the country and around the world, so making it convenient to access contact information increases the likelihood family members will communicate more often. Deciding what will or won't be included in the directory and gathering the data might be time-consuming but, once complete regular updating should be fast and easy.

Print Directories

Make a list of the information you want included in the directory and create an easy-to-complete form. Include an introduction explaining the purpose of the directory and a return-by date. Be as comprehensive as possible, so members can select the communication methods and information they're most comfortable using. Data categories will probably include name (and maiden name), home and cell phone numbers, home address with ZIP code, email address, and video chat contact information. Consider adding categories such as birth-date, occupation, place of employment and work contact. Indicate which items are necessary and which are optional.

Gather home and email addresses along with phone numbers for family members whose basic contact information you already have, and circulate a request for any contact information they might have for other family members. You'll probably find email the fastest and easiest method for gathering this data, but for some members, such as 90-year-old Great Aunt Martha who lives in a nursing home, a phone call, "snail mail" letter or personal visit might be more effective.

Decide how many extended family members you want to include. If you have a small family, you'll probably include second and third cousins, and perhaps even the in-laws of those distant relatives. For larger families, your cut-off might be at first cousins.

Distribute your form requesting information.

Record all the information on a spread sheet. Put names in the first column on the left and include headings for the information across the first row.

Prepare a draft version of the information. Clearly mark all copies as "draft." Distribute it as widely as possible, either in person or by email or snail mail, asking for corrections and additions. If you send the draft by email, lock the file so it's a "read only." Request the corrections be sent to you in an email or you run the risk of new errors being introduced in the spreadsheet. Carefully make changes and verify the accuracy of your information. Check that all phone numbers include area codes.

Print copies of the directory to be distributed at a family reunion or to be mailed. If your directory is large, it might be cost effective to have this done at a local print shop, where they can bind the directory into a book. Consider charging a small fee to cover your expenses.

Digital Directories

Collect, assemble and double-check information for the directory as you would for a print version. Decide whether your final digital directory will be a spreadsheet or word processing document. While it might be easier to access the data and make updates in a spreadsheet format, word processing provides options for a more attractive layout. For example, for small family directories, you might include one page for each family member and include digital photographs or scanned artwork.

Instead of printing copies of your prepared spreadsheet, send it as an email attachment to family members who have supplied an email address. Lock the file so it's "read only."

Burn multiple copies of your spreadsheet file onto a disk, if your computer has the software and the capability of doing so. If not, put the information on a portable thumb drive and take it to a print shop that can make the disks for you. These disks can be snail mailed or distributed in person at a family event.

Consider appointing a few key family members to assist in ongoing updates of information. These people would receive unlocked versions of the file so they can make changes. For example, when a family member moves to a new home, they inform one of these appointed editors, who makes the appropriate revision and redistributes updated copies of the spreadsheet. File attachments can be sent whenever a change occurs, or you might prefer to only distribute updated disks at scheduled dates -- for example, at the start of a new year or on the anniversary date of the reunion.

Items you will need

  • Computer with Internet access
  • Printer
  • Spreadsheet software (optional)
  • Disk burning software (fir digital version, optional)
  • Telephone with low-cost long distance fees


  • To ensure fewer errors, don't rush the distribution of your final copy. Request regular updates of any changes to keep your data current.
  • Request a digital photograph to be included in the directory.


  • Don't include any family member's information unless you have first contacted them directly and received their permission.

About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

Photo Credits

  • Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images