Scrapbooking Your Family History

Scrapbooking with old photographs. Photo: Getty Images/Photodisc/Walter B. McKenzie
Getty Images/Photodisc/Walter B. McKenzie

The perfect place to showcase and protect your precious family photos, heirlooms, and memories, a heritage scrapbook album is a wonderful way to document your family's history and create a lasting gift for future generations. While it may seem a daunting task when faced with boxes of dusty old photos, scrapbooking is actually both fun and easier than you might think.

Gather Your Memories

At the heart of most heritage scrapbooks is the photos — pictures of your grandparent's wedding, your great-grandfather at work in the fields, a family Christmas celebration, and so on. Begin your heritage scrapbook project by gathering together as many photographs as possible, from boxes, attics, old albums, and relatives. These photos don't necessarily need to have people in them - pictures of old houses, automobiles, and towns are great for adding historical interest to a family history scrapbook. Remember, in your quest, that pictures from slides and reel-to-reel 8mm films can be made at a relatively low cost through your local photo store.

Family mementos such as birth and marriage certificates, report cards, old letters, family recipes, clothing items, and a lock of hair can also add interest to a family history scrapbook. Smaller items can be incorporated into a heritage scrapbook by placing them in clear, self-adhesive, acid-free memorabilia pockets. Larger heirlooms such as a pocket watch, wedding dress, or family quilt can also be included by photocopying or scanning them and using the copies in your heritage album.

Get Organized

As you begin to accumulate photos and materials, work to organize and protect them by sorting them in archival safe photo files and boxes. Use labeled file dividers to help you divide the photos into groups - by person, family, time-period, life-stages, or another theme. This will help make it easy to find a specific item as you work, while also protecting the items which don't make it into the scrapbook. As you work, use a photo-safe pen or pencil to write details of each photo on the back, including the people's names, the event, the location and the date the photo was taken. Then, once your photos are organized, store them in a dark, cool, dry location, keeping in mind that it's best to store photos standing upright.

Assemble Your Supplies

Since the purpose of compiling a heritage scrapbook is to preserve family memories, it is important to start with supplies that will protect your precious photographs and memorabilia. Basic scrapbooking begins with just four items - an album, adhesive, scissors, and a journaling pen.

  • Scrapbook Album - Choose a photo album that contains acid-free pages, or purchase acid-free, PVC-free sheet protectors and slip them into a three-ring binder. The size of your scrapbook is a matter of personal preference (most scrapbooks are either 8 1/2" x 11" or 12" x 12."), but consider the availability and cost of supplies, as well as how many pictures you want to fit on each page when you make your choice. Scrapbook albums come in a variety of styles, with post bound, expandable spine and 3 ring albums being the most popular.
  • Adhesives - Used to secure everything to the album pages, adhesives come in many forms, including photo corners, photo tape, double-sided adhesive strips, and glue sticks.
  • Scissors - Available in both straight-edge and decorative-edge, scissors help cut your photos into interesting shapes and crop out any unwanted areas.
  • Journaling Pens - Acid-free, permanent markers, and pens are necessary for writing down important names, dates, and family memories, as well as for adding fun doodles and pictures to your scrapbook pages.

Other fun scrapbooking supplies to enhance your family history scrapbook include colored and patterned acid-free papers, stickers, a paper trimmer, templates, decorative rulers, paper punches, rubber stamps, computer clipart, and fonts, and a circle or pattern cutter.

Next Page > Step-by-Step Heritage Scrapbook Pages

After gathering the photos and memorabilia for your heritage scrapbook, it's finally time for the fun part - to sit down and create the pages. The basic steps for creating a scrapbook page include:

Select Your Photos

Begin your page by choosing a number of photos for your page which relate to a single theme - e.g. Great-grandma's wedding. For a single album page layout, select 3 to 5 photos. For a two page spread, select between 5 and 7 photos. When you have the option, use only the best photos for your heritage album - photos which are clear, focused, and best help to tell the "story."

  • Heritage Tip - If a photo that you wish to use in your album is torn, scratched, or faded, consider scanning in the photo and using a graphic editing program to repair the cracks and clean up the image. The restored image can then be printed and used for your heritage album.

Choose Your Colors

Select 2 or 3 colors to complement your photos. One of these may serve as a background or base page, and the others for matting photos. A variety of papers, including patterns and textures, are available which can serve as beautiful backgrounds and mats for heritage scrapbooks.

  • Heritage Tip - You can create your own background papers by photocopying precious family heirlooms (such as a bit of lace from your grandmother's wedding dress). If using patterned paper or a photocopied image for the background, then it is usually best to mat photos with plain papers to help them stand out from the busy background.

Crop Photos

Use a pair of sharp scissors to trim away unwanted background and other objects in your photos. You may want to keep cars, houses, furniture, or other background images in some photos for historical reference while highlighting just a specific individual in others. Cropping templates and cutters are available to help you crop your photos in a variety of shapes. Decorative-edged scissors can also be used to trim photos.

  • Heritage Tip - It is best to make and use copies of any precious heritage photos which you wish to crop, rather than cutting and possibly destroying the only photo you have of a deceased relative. Cropping can also cause crumbling edges and cracking emulsion in older, fragile photos.

Mat Photos

A bit different than the traditional picture mat, matting to scrapbookers means to glue a photograph on a piece of paper (the mat) and then trim the paper close to the edges of the photograph. This creates a decorative "frame" around the photo. Different combinations of decorative-edged scissors and straight scissors can help provide interest and help your photos "pop" from the pages.

  • Heritage Tip - When including original heritage photographs in your scrapbook, it is always a good idea to attach them to your page with photo corners rather than glue or other adhesive options. in case you need to remove them or make additional copies.

Arrange the Page

Begin by experimenting with possible layouts for your photos and memorabilia. Arrange and rearrange until the layout satisfies you. Be sure to leave room for titles, journaling, and embellishments. When you are happy with the layout to attach to the page using acid-free adhesive or tape. Alternatively, use photo corners or a corner slot punch.

  • Heritage Tip - Always assume that memorabilia is acidic, rather than finding out the hard way. Use a deacidification spray to deacidify book pages, newspaper clippings, and other papers, and enclose other memorabilia in acid-free sleeves.

Next Page > Add Interest With Journaling & Embellishments

Add Journaling

Personalize your page by writing down names, date, and place of event, as well as memories or quotes from some of the people involved. Called journaling, this is probably the most important step when creating a heritage scrapbook. For each photo or set of related photos, you should follow the five Ws - 1) who (who are the people in the photo), when (when was the photo taken), where (where was the photo taken), why (why is the moment significant), and what (what are the people doing in the photo). When journaling, be sure to use a waterproof, fade resistant, permanent, quick drying pen - preferably black as research has shown that black ink best stands the test of time. Other colors can be used for adding decoration, or other non-essential information.

  • Heritage Tip - When journaling in your heritage scrapbooking, it is important to be specific, adding related memories and details to the names and dates. "Grandma in her kitchen on June 1954" is nice, but it is better to write: "Grandma loves to cook and is very proud of her kitchen, seen here on June 1954. Her chocolate cake was always the hit of the party." Embellish by adding mementos from the occasion, such as a copy of Grandma's chocolate cake recipe (in her own handwriting, if possible).

Add Embellishments

To complete your scrapbook layout and complement your photos, consider adding some stickers, die cuts, punch art, or stamped images.

  • Stickers add interest with very little work on your part and help give your page a polished look.
  • Die Cuts are pre-cut shapes cut from cardstock, available in many sizes and colors. They help add pizzazz to your scrapbook without the need for a lot of creative talent. Solid die-cuts also make great spots for journaling. Be sure to select die-cuts made from acid-free and lignin-free paper.
  • Punch Art, the process of using shaped craft punches to cut various shapes from cardstock and them combining those shapes to create completed works of art, is another easy way to add interest to your scrapbook pages. Again, be sure that you use acid-free and lignin-free paper to create your punch art.
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Your Citation
Powell, Kimberly. "Scrapbooking Your Family History." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Powell, Kimberly. (2023, April 5). Scrapbooking Your Family History. Retrieved from Powell, Kimberly. "Scrapbooking Your Family History." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).