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I Have No Photos!!

Making scrapbook albums of your heritage is a wonderfully creative way to tell your family story. Each page brings your ancestors alive to your scrapbook viewers. But perhaps you're hesitant to make a heritage scrapbook because you think you need a photograph of the person, and they're simply not always available. Although photography has been around for well over a century, pictures beyond a couple of generations can be rare in a family. If you're in this situation, you can still make artistic pages to display your family heritage, you just have to use other materials.

Assuming there are no pictures, then the materials you have on an ancestor can generally be put into three categories: documents, memorabilia, or data. They can be used singly or in combination in your scrapbook to tell your ancestor's "e;story"e;, and we'll work with each type to give you some ideas.

Let's start with documents. These could either be originals or copies and can include:
Birth/death/marriage certificates
Invitations & greeting cards
Military records
School/work records
Pages from bibles
Newspaper articles
Census records
And on and on...

These documents tell your family history in some way. Use them in your scrapbook to tell about the life of the person. For example, mount a marriage license using photo corners, then journal on the page about their life based on the facts your gathered during your research: "Great grandma Mary Jones was typical for her day, getting married at the young age of 17. Although January tends to be dreary in Maine, she probably had joy in her heart as she married her life-mate that 17th day of 1909." Be creative with your narrative. Spice up the page by adding clip art that relates to the event or time. In our example, we could add wedding related items.

A quick word on using original documents - make sure you de-acidify them and mount them on acid-free, lignin-free pages using non-permanent means. See our article on Document Preservation for more information. You may want to consider making copies for use in your scrapbook and keep the valuable originals safely stored away.

Just like documents, the same technique can be done with memorabilia like medals, jewelry, buttons, pins, and so forth. If they're not too big, mount them on the page with a memorabilia pocket. An alternative would be to take a picture of the item and use it on your page. Then write up a paragraph about the person and weave the item into the story. Paste the write-up on the page with decorative borders along side the memorabilia. Add any other related items that complement the person's life story (see below).

What if you have no documents or memorabilia? Use your data to write a brief biography that gives the essentials of your ancestor's life. Then include as many related "visuals", like those listed below, as makes sense. Or just focus on one aspect of your ancestor's life, like their occupation or where they lived, and write a brief narrative about it. Then include "visuals" on your page like:

  • a map showing where they lived. This could be done broadly, like the city on a state map, or more narrowly, like the township on a county map. Combine this with a copy of the census page, which will show the family details for that enumeration day.
  • a picture from the area where they lived, like the local courthouse. Or perhaps you can find copies of old photos at the local library that show scenes from the locale. If you know where their house was located, get a picture of whatever is there today.
  • clip art, scrapbook stickers, or pictures that related to the time period, occupation or the social aspect of their life. For example, if your ancestor was a trolley car driver, find a picture of one and use it on your page.
  • copies of old newspaper clippings of historical or personal events make great page additions. Historical information will allow you to weave the events of the day into their life story.

The idea is to use whatever facts you have about a person, family, area, or history to tell the "e;story"e; of your heritage. Use pictures if you have them, but when you don't, try some of the above techniques. Happy scrapping!

For related info:
Heritage Themes

Document Preservation

 For permission to reprint this article, visit our "Reprint" page.

 Download a copy of this article.
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