Scrapbooking Your Genealogy

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

I have to admit that I love the idea of scrapbooking. It may be my enthusiasm for office supplies, my yearning for organization, or perhaps it’s the storyteller in me. That said, I never seem to get started on my long-thought-about project. In the course of my research for this article, however, I have been able to reignite my interest through the discovery of new information and ideas. I hope you’ll feel the same creative impetus for the potentials of scrapbooking your genealogy.

  1. 1. First Steps

Getting ready to begin scrapbooking involves many of the standard basic genealogical research steps. Locate and gather together family photographs, letters, records, and memorabilia. Identify people’s names, dates, and locations for each document or object as well as the event being portrayed or described. In addition, you will want to learn the anecdotal information that brings detail to the individual or occasion represented by this family information. Locate photographs of buildings involved in a family story, or newspaper articles describing an event. Involve the older members of your family as well as your children or grandchildren in this process in order to acquire and pass on the family lore.

  1. 2. Learn About Scrapbooking

There are several types of genealogically-related scrapbooks. You will want to consider your intended audience and the types of materials you have available before choosing the appropriate kind for your project.

  • Heritage albums. This type of scrapbook preserves your family history through photographs and stories.
  • Legacy albums. Similar to the heritage album, the legacy album adds family documents to the mix of photographs and stories.
  • Recipe albums. This type of scrapbook focuses on the recipes that have passed down through the generations of your family as well as the traditions and stories that are attached to them.

Cyndi’s List is a great source of information about scrapbooks, with several pages of links to web pages on layout and album ideas, mailing lists, vendors, and articles about many facets of creating family history scrapbooks.

Look for books and magazines on scrapbooking. Suggested titles include Bev Kirschner Braun’s Crafting Your Own Heritage Album (Betterway Books, 2000); J. Stephani’s More than Memories: The Complete Guide for Preserving Your Family History (Krause Publications, 1998); Making Heritage Scrapbook Pages: It’s Easier Than You Think (Hot Off the Press, 1999); Memory Makers Magazine; and, an online monthly scrapbooking magazine. If you are thinking of working on a scrapbooking project with your children or grandchildren, Scrapbooking with Your Kids: The Ultimate Guide to Kid-Friendly Crafting (Leisure Arts, 2007) is a good choice.

  1. 3. Learn about Scrapbooking Supplies.

Scrapbooking is very popular at this time. Many craft stores have large scrapbooking supply sections and a variety of companies, such as Creative Memories, specialize in such supplies.

  • Paper. Always purchase acid free paper. Acid free refers to any material with a pH of 7.0 to 8.5. pH measures acidity or alkalinity on a scale of 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Lower numbers are more acidic; higher numbers more alkaline. Acids are corrosive and can cause paper to become brittle. Using acid free materials in your scrapbook will insure a long life and long-term preservation. If you are including documents printed on other than acid free paper, you may want to photocopy or photograph the item and then print it on acid free paper for inclusion in the album. Some products, such as Archival Mist, will allow you to treat non-acid free materials. You may also want to consider lignin-free paper. Lignin is a bonding agent found in plants and trees. Lignin in untreated paper breaks down into acids over time.
  • Plastic. If you are using page protectors (plastic sleeves), these should not only be acid free, but should also be PVC free. Polyvinyl chloride emits a corrosive gas that will be destructive to the materials in your scrapbook.
  • Albums. Purchase a post bound album which allow pages to be added or removed easily.
  • Acid-free pencils, pens, stickers, adhesives, highlighters, etc. are all available acid-free and should be used exclusively in your project.

Acid free archival-quality materials can be found in most office supply stores. Companies such as University Products offer a wide range of acid free tissue paper, paper, folders, and storage boxes of all kinds. Looking at their catalog can be a lot of fun!

You will also want to consider environmental issues with regard to the storage of your completed project including relative humidity and UV light. The latter, found in sunlight and fluorescent lights, causes fading and yellowing of papers, photographs, plastics and adhesives. The effects of UV light radiation can be minimized with products such as Paper Bright.

  1. 4. Learn About Journaling.

Journaling is an important element of any genealogy-related scrapbook project, whether it is a heritage album, a legacy album, or a recipe album. Stated simply, journaling is adding the written details or story that accompanies a picture, document, or piece of memorabilia. It is the process by which family stories and information are documented and passed throughout the family. It may, however, be the part of the scrapbooking process that causes many beginners to underestimate their abilities. Don’t! Instead, consider what you would say if you were showing a photograph, a document, or an album page to someone who did not know about the people or events depicted. If you can then write down that conversation, you have journaled! Be sure not to refer to people in captions only as “Mom,” or “Aunt Sue” (the bane of those of us who are indexers). Your family stories and pictures will eventually be passed on to someone without a clue as to who “Mom” and “Aunt Sue” were!  Provide background stories and details that will help to bring a picture or document to life. Be descriptive, conversational, and interesting in your journaling.

  1. Learn About Designing Your Scrapbook.

Design is very personal. I believe that the simpler layout the better, particularly if you are incorporating journaling with your photographs and documents. Your layout should invite the eye to stop, look at the illustrations, and read the stories accompanying them. If you are overwhelmed by the variety of papers, stickers, clip-art, stamps, embossing patterns, punch-outs, and other such embellishments that are available commercially, you may want to make use of free templates that are available from such web sites as You may also want to use family trees as an organizational motif. Two sources of scrapbook-oriented trees are available in two books by Tony Matthews: Paper Trees: Genealogical Clip Art (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2004) and Treets: a Feast of Family Trees (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2006).

If you are digitally oriented, consider creating a digital scrapbook. Articles such as those by Mark Howells, “Electronic Scrapbooking,” and Juliana Smith, “Putting Your Family Scrapbook Online,” provide useful information. “Heritage Scrap-Vintage and Heritage Themed Digital Scrapbooking” and “The Digital Scrapbook Teacher” are helpful websites; Digital Scrapbooking Magazine provides “freebies” at their website.

Scrapbooking and genealogy are natural partners. You indulge your creativity while you organize those piles or boxes of family photos, documents, and small memorabilia. (If the object is too large for an album, take a photograph and use that instead.) Scrapbooks provide an opportunity for you to tell your family’s story and bring people, events, and places to life, preserving them for your entire family through many generations. I hope you will consider a scrapbooking project

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