Genealogy and Scrapbooking: A Match Made in Heaven

Scrapbooks tell a story. Genealogy research finds the details of your family history - your family's story. I can't think of a more natural connection! The guide found here can get you started in creating a memorable heritage scrapbook that finds its roots in your genealogical research.

Why Scrapbook Genealogy?

Genealogists work with scads of documents--birth certificates, death notices, war records and many other sources essential to the family story. Each piece of information, whether documented orally or in writing, offers a unique and vital link to the past, but it often all ends up as just a dry pile of paper or disks. Even those genealogists who go on to write and publish family histories have often presented only the names and dates, with perhaps a story or two and a single photograph in accompaniment.

Family photographs have traditionally been mounted in albums using photo corners, glue, tape, and more recently, magnetic picture albums. Diaries and journals, if kept at all, have been personal and completely separate from the snapshots complementing the events and activities writ within. Scrapbooks were loosely bound clippings and memorabilia compiled with few explanations and fewer details and rarely included any photos.

These methods have many drawbacks. Practically speaking, photographs and newspaper clippings deteriorate rapidly when exposed to acids in paper, album pages and covers, and magnetic sheets. Pen writing used to identify pictures frequently results in their ruin when it bleeds over onto the face of the snapshot. Pencils mar photos by leaving indentations on the images.

But worse, the separation of family tales, family documents, family photographs, and oral tradition can leave the real story of your family lost in the details. Scrapbooking your family history solves all these dilemmas, by incorporating archival methods and materials with artist inspiration, family records and memorabilia, and participation by even the youngest members of a clan.

How Do I Begin?

Genealogists who use memory albums and scrappers who incorporate their family histories into their scrapbooks have popularized several family history and genealogy page types . There is not one right way to start scrapbooking your genealogy findings. The many different organization patterns and styles you have come across while doing your research can lead to many different kinds of genealogy scrapbooks. A scrapbook is, at its core, a visual storytelling technique.

Before you begin, as yourself: Who is this scrapbook for? What story do I want to tell? You may choose to tell the genealogy story of one family line, one family unit, the ancestry story of one person, the story of your ancestor's immigration...the possibilities are endless. Decide the story you want to tell and work from there.

Check out our How-To Scrapbook Guide for more useful tips.

As you work on your heritage scrapbook, always keep in mind the story you wish to tell. Avoid the temptation to include every item or piece of information – choose only those items that add to the story.

Including Photos

Genealogy Scrapbook
Because a scrapbook is a visual story – photos often take center stage. When dealing with heritage and history, using photos can be hit or miss. These tips can help you make the most of what you have – or supplement what you don't.

Seek out relatives and ask to view their old photos. You may come across some great finds. Ask if you can take the photo to be scanned. If that isn't an option, take your digital camera with you to take a photo of the photo for your use.

Also remember that people do not have to be the subject of every photo. Consider taking photos of related objects, items, or locations for inclusion. Take photos of: artwork or crafts created by the person, ancestral homes, important churches or other landmarks, military medals, recipes, jewelry, items used by that person, related occupational tools, etc. Get creative and remember that the photos are not the story – they serve as an enhancement for it.

Not Just Photos

As you do genealogy research and scour your relatives attics, you will come across items other than photos that can be used in scrapbooks as well. These items serve to help you tell your story – and can visually enhance your scrapbook. Consider including:

newspaper clippings ~ cards or letters ~ vital statistics ~ obituaries and birth announcementsmilitary records ~ family Bible notations ~ immigration records ~ maps of ancestral locationshistorical postcards ~ transcripts of stories told ~ journal/diary pages ~ wedding announcements

Anything that can be transcripted, written down, photographed, or scanned can be included.

Don't Forget the Stories

The most important part of a genealogy scrapbook is the story itself. In scrapbooking, the writing of the story is called journaling . When creating a genealogy scrapbook, you sometimes have to get creative with your journaling. You may not know the stories behind the people you are researching. However, scrapbooking doesn't have to be about telling their story (they should have made their own scrapbook!) - it can be about telling your story as it relates to them.

Genealogy Scrapbook

If you find yourself without a memory, relative or diary to tell you the story or you just need more ideas, use the journaling prompts below to help...

  • Write as much as you know; as much as you can find out, facts and great stories. Also, use people’s complete names. Instead of “My grandparents on their wedding day” write “Ludwig Heinz and Barbara Neubauer. Ludwig was 23 and Barbara 22 when they married on November 1, 1918. Ludwig had just returned from the World War I. Ludwig and Barbara became the parents of Emilie, Rosa, and Alfred.”

  • Give your reader some personal information and some perspective on the time period. Mention in the journaling what was happening in the world at that time; if you know someone’s salary or how much they paid for the house, that’s great information to include.

  • A journal is for the thoughts, emotions, and memories from finding the facts. Recording the location of my great-great-great grandmother's grave in a cemetery is a fact found in a library reference book. Finding her grave was a heady, emotional experience and worthy of a journal note.

  • Ponder some facts, trying to figure out why certain events occurred. Why did great grandpa move the family to the other side of town? You may have a theory, if so, put it in your journaling.

  • Record stories told to you by other relatives – those first hand memories can make for great journaling accounts. Don't stop with just the memories – ask others for stories about ancestors that have been passed down. What stories have they heard?

  • Journal how the decisions made by your ancestors may have affected you today. Write about your thoughts and feelings as you have done your research and uncovered some of the great, and not-so-great moments in your family's history.

Genealogy Scrapbook

In the end remember that your family history is about more than just names and dates. Scrapbooking your findings connects the real story of your family to the facts you have uncovered. It can make the history come alive and leave you (and generations to come) with a legacy that will have a lasting impact beyond a few pictures, names, and dates.

For ideas about how to research your family tree, and where to find various kinds of resources to turn those dates on the page into real life stories, see Family History Alive!.

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