How to Tell Your Family History in a Keepsake Photo Album

“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.

Example of photos with details

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.

Family tree example

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.

Example of added detail and memorabilia

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 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, 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.

Example one of organizing book by family branch

Example two of organizing book by family branch

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.

24 thoughts on “How to Tell Your Family History in a Keepsake Photo Album

  1. Thank you. I’m doing a scrapbook on my life right now and having a blast. I only wish I had ask stories before all the relatives had passed away. Even mom and dad are gone now.

    1. Good for you, Sheryl. For my dad’s album we did get stories from his friends – in some cases their children helped email them to me! All the best to you!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this, I myself have been sifting and sighing at how to start my family history album and your insight has helped me greatly, I am now organized and ready to begin thanks to your personal experience. Thank you so much!

  3. My Father and Mother In Law are 97 & 100 years old. She was a Family History buff. She kept everything and even has copies of birth certificates and death records. She kept a date book of births, deaths, divorces, and remarriages. We have old news paper clippings from areas where they lived and even photo’s of the church they went to. My Father In Law is a World War II Vet so we have his discharge papers and the metals he earned while serving our country. He was one of the first units to hit the beaches of Normandy. We have GG Grand parents photo’s plus their marriage license’s and death certificates. Lots of old memorabilia. Now all their children except one daughter is still alive and they have families. We would like to achieve an order to all we have. Possibly from the oldest to youngest. Covering this many years what is you suggestion on how to organize. I have organized some photo’s mainly the older ones. They had 8 children and some of those children have 7 children. I do have Family Tree Maker and I am just finishing up proving the data with some of the family that not much is known about. Then I need to record it to Family Tree maker. On family Tree Maker there is a place where you can save information that you wanted to keep until ready for it.. I have 42 pages saved so far to enter into FTM. I have read your organizing comments so to make sure I am on the right path do you have anything that can further help me as I take on this task. Been working about 15 years now and think I am getting close to putting things together. This will cover about 150- 200 years of this families lives including their parents and again their parents. Thank you for putting this online so we can have a helper along the way to take helps from.. Hope to hear from you soon. Lucy

    1. Hi Lucy:
      What a fabulous yet huge project! Let the information you’ve gathered serve as a guide to how to organize the project. Take a look at the Gallery on the website for family history album. You’ll see this was organized by family and then by each person in the family. Some had vast amounts of information so they got more real estate in the project. For others, they just had a short caption.

      Given the number of children in each family, I think your idea to layout the stories in birth order makes good sense.

      Best of luck to you!

  4. I would like to create a Family Genealogy Photo Album to hand down to my offspring. I would like to be able to create it myself using some kind of software. What I see on your website seems to be exactly what I visualized. Can you tell me more about how I can fulfill my requirements?

    1. Hi John:
      I think you’ll want to give some thought to what you want to include – family tree, memorabilia, photos and stories. An album project like this requires some pre-planning so I’d want to think about how you want to organize it . sometimes using a story board can be helpful. Then you can design the album using InDesign or the software provided by the album publisher. M-Pix is a decent quality, affordable publisher if you’re on a budget. Good luck!

  5. HI Julie
    Following on from John’s comment above, I’m wondering what program to use to make the photobook. I just used Vimeo which I found very clunky, I want something where I can put in photos and text and easily move it around.
    We have all our family tree information on however i note you say its difficult to export it – so do I need to put it in to FTM so its easier to do this? I’m imagining having a family tree and then going through and providing some information on each member in a few pages. I think it will be harder than it sounds!

    1. Hi Daley:
      Creating family trees is so important for a family history album. As you noted, we’ve found that exporting trees out of Ancestry isn’t as easy as one would think. We did try Family Tree Maker for this purpose but the outcome wasn’t to our liking. I’m seeking a better source for family tree making. I think that might make for a good blog topic! So stay tuned. If I find anything worthy, will let you know. In the meantime, we’ve been making trees using Photoshop. The outcome is lovely but time consuming for sure!

  6. I have traced both sides of my family ancestors back to 1500 or so. How can I ever make sense of this in a chart plus photos for the more recent photos in the 20th century?

    1. Hi Michele,
      It sounds like you wish to make a family tree of several generations? If I’ve understood you correctly, that can be done! For that much time and likely many generations, you might consider a family tree that’s hung on a wall. Another way is to do a family tree for each generation.

  7. Thank you for the useful information! I am interested in the link for “Here’s a helpful post on how to identify dates of photos and the people in them.” but the link is broken.

  8. Hi Julie,
    A lot of what you show is what I want to with my family tree photos. Place photos and tell a story . I do not want editing because I have that on Coral Painter. Family tree maker software does good in arranging names, but poor in the photo album section of the program. I like to use the Family tree maker at the beginning and than places photos and stories after that. What software do suggest for photo arranging and stories, titles and captions pages? Thank you Bob

  9. Hi Julie. I will be making family history photo books soon. My question is, in your opinion, when showing a family tree with photos, what age should the people be in the photos? Current age, age at marriage, or somewhere in between? One of my books will start with my parents, then me and my siblings, and our children (all adults now). There will be separate spreads with birth to adulthood pictures of everyone, so this is just about the basic family tree photos. Thanks for your thoughts.

    1. Hi Cindy,
      I like to show eras through family trees. For the one with your parents, it might be fun to show them as a young couple and their offspring as children. Then for the one with you and your siblings, you could show you as teens – at a time when you were all at home. Then for your family, I typically show the family as they are at the time the family tree was done – so more of a present representation. Since you’ll likely also show each family member as they grow, you’ll also get a good taste of the eras that go with the stories! Good luck! Sounds like a great project!

  10. Hi Julie,
    So glad to find this, as it is just how I want to lay out a book. It has given me the incentive to start,
    Thank You,

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