“To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.” –Chinese Proverb
Do you have boxes of old family pictures and memorabilia stashed away in closets? If so, you might be looking for a way to use them to tell your family story.
Documenting your family history will preserve it for future generations, allowing them to remember and connect to their heritage. The good news is you don’t have to be a genealogy expert to create a lasting keepsake of your family’s history.
A wonderful way to hold onto and share the memories is to create a family history photo book. To celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday, my sisters and I created a keepsake album of our family history as our gift to her. (We included sample pages from the book in this post.)
As I work with my clients, I find that many families have a designated family historian. Is that you? If not, maybe you’re reading this post because you would like to be!
Here are our tips on telling your family story by creating a keepsake album.
Start by Gathering and Assembling the Photos
As a professional photo organizer, I may be biased, but I believe the best place to begin your family history project is with the photos.
Digitize the printed photos you already have.
To do this, scan, edit, and add metadata (information such as location, dates, names, and keywords) to your photos. Here’s a helpful post on how to identify dates of photos and the people in them.
Be sure to preserve your originals by organizing them in lignin-free and acid-free boxes.
Gather photos from other family members.
Try to get details about each photo if they know it. Ask for information such as the names and ages of people in the photo, dates, and events.
Family members don’t necessarily have to send you originals for your album project, but I do recommend families work toward keeping all older original family photos together in one location. That way, everyone knows how to find them.
We shared more tips to help with organizing older photos in this post.
Use Photo Search Sites to Find Additional Images
If you’re missing pictures of certain family members, or want to search for photos that illustrate a time in a particular relative’s history, the following sites are excellent resources:
Library of Congress – On this site, you can find collections of photos, prints, and drawings that are searchable by topic, name, or location.
National Archives – Search digital collections from subjects such as World War II or Native Americans. You can also browse thousands of historical photos from LIFE magazine.
History Pin – This interesting site allows you to type in a specific, geographical location, then see searchable photo collections associated with that place.
Use an Online Tool to Create Printable Family Trees to Add to Your Photo Book
Using your photos and the basic details you have about people, begin to build family trees. One software program we recommend for this is Family Tree Maker.
The downloadable software costs about $80. Some of Family Tree Maker’s advantages include:
- Hints to help you build your family trees.
- Clues to help you find family members.
- The ability to export family tree image files for use in photo books, or to share with your extended family.
Collect Additional Information, Details, and Family Stories to Fill In the Gaps
Everyone loves stories! It’s the stories that give depth and meaning to the photos and the family trees.
It’s easier than you might think to round up family history details. By tapping into the array of available resources, you can round up rich stories that will add interest and value to your family’s heritage.
Documented stories – Check with family who may have recorded stories collected over time, or told at family gatherings. You might also consider interviewing a family member. Read this post for creative ways to collect stories.
Old letters – Handwritten notes, letters, and other documents contain information that tell stories or give clues. Consider using images of some of those items in your photo book.
Memorabilia – Look at collected items and ephemera (i.e. draft cards, marriage licenses, handmade items, recipes, ticket stubs, etc.). Read tips on how to photograph memorabilia, including three-dimensional items, in this post.
Home movies – If you have access to them, watch home movies for clues about people, locations, and events.
Yearbooks – Many people save their high school yearbooks. Take photos of pages featuring family members to add to your history book.
Ancestry websites – If you don’t have copies of yearbooks, one place you might find them is on websites such as Ancestry.com. Searching for individuals on this site yields information like:
- Details about family members that other distant relatives may have added over time.
- Census documents that give clues about family member names, ages, and locations.
- Old phone book images that sometimes list the person’s occupation.
- Family trees (please note that while you can create family trees on Ancestry.com, they are complicated to export, which is why we recommend using Family Tree Maker).
Take Time to Outline Your Album into an Organized Flow
Before moving on to the next step, you’ll need to create an organized structure for your family history book.
One way to do this is to build a family timeline. Use your photos and detail to pinpoint major event dates such as births, deaths, marriages, military service, etc. Using your timeline, you can organize your album chronologically.
You could also organize your photo book in sections based on the different branches of the family, as we did in our book. We followed both sides of our mother’s family history in separate sections before telling her own story.
Put All of the Pieces Together to Create a Keepsake Family History Album
Now that you have all of your photos, family tree images, and stories organized, you are ready to create your family history book using a photo album tool. Many of the steps you will use to create your family history book are similar to those found in this recent post on how to create a travel album.
As you build your page layouts using your uploaded photos, family tree images, and document files, you can add stories and details to the pages.
Share Your Family Story By Taking if From a Box to a Book
Using today’s user-friendly technology, you can bring your family stories out of storage boxes into beautiful keepsake albums. Sharing these albums helps pass on your family legacy to future generations.
Preserving our family history keeps us grounded. Knowing where we came from, as well as the sacrifices and hard work of our ancestors, motivates us to carry on their legacy.
If you find you need help at any point in the process, our team can assist with scanning of old photos, or album creation. Contact us if you would like to discuss your family history project.