The Pages of History, by Maureen Taylor

scrapbookAccording to the Hobby Industry Association contemporary scrapbookers spent an estimated $2.5 billion dollars on supplies last year. That’s a lot of stickers! The roots of this booming industry are centuries old. In fact so many men, women and children kept albums the chances are good you have one in your attic. Take a peek into the pages of an ancestral scrapbook to learn a little more about the people on your pedigree chart.

There’s a lot more going on between the covers than paste and colored papers. You might discover Great Aunt Bea’s gorgeous layouts could land her a spot as Memory Makers Magazine Master and that Grandpa Joe loved flying. Follow the clues, i.e. the trail of memorabilia collected in the album and soon you’ll be able to sit down to read it like a best-selling novel.  A few questions will get you started.

Who Created It?
Let’s start with the basics. Hopefully your scrapbook contains a name. If not, an unsigned scrapbook is a lot like an unidentified photograph. You’ll have to look for the answer.  The contents of the pages provide hints. If all the pages are filled with pressed flowers, household cleaning tips, product advertisements and valentines then it was probably created by a young woman. An album full of kid-themed memorabilia points to a child, but one with news, quotes and business keepsakes might be the pastime of the man of the house. Figuring out the gender of the compiler helps you pinpoint the hobbyist on the family tree.

Narrow down the suspects by looking for clues. Dated programs, invitations and cards supply a time frame for the album to compare to what you know about members of your family.

What’s In It?
Open the album carefully to see what’s on each page. Every item is a piece of evidence offering insights into the interests and hobbies of the creator while the general layout tells a story. Some people placed material in albums in random order while others spent time arranging their scrapbook for artistic or utilitarian reasons. For instance, a wedding scrapbook I’ve seen included memorabilia from her bridal shower and a list of gifts. Make a list of names and dates found in the album as well as the type of material. Along the way you’ll gain an awareness of your scrapper’s life and personality.

Look carefully at the beginning and the end of the album. It’s quite possible that more than one person worked on it. One way to tell is to watch for a change in handwriting. Mother’s and daughters often worked on scrapbooks together. The mother would start it and the daughter would complete it later on.

Saving It
Today’s scrapbooks are built to last thanks to manufacturer’s awareness of preservation standards. Unfortunately this wasn’t true before the late twentieth century. The wide range of materials found in scrapbooks-from petals to pictures-make them a preservation nightmare. Poor quality paper, glue, and reactions between items collected such as the stains left by plant material add up to a big problem. In fact, those colored bits of paper called scrap were intended to be disposable not collectible. Before the mid-nineteenth century rag paper made from cotton fibers was common, but most papers from then on consisted of wood pulp. The acid and lignin in those pages cause the paper to yellow and become fragile. When you look at an old scrapbook the corners of the pages may break off and items will fall out due to aging glue.

You need to be cautious about what you do to preserve these old albums. What’s good for one type of item may not necessarily be good for another. There are a couple of steps that keep them safe no matter what’s been collected. First wrap the album in acid and lignin free tissue or a clean 100% cotton cloth like muslin. This will prevent any loose pieces from becoming lost. Then place the album in an acid and lignin free box in an area away from fluctuations of temperature and humidity. You can place sheets of acid and lignin free paper between the pages but the added bulk can break the binding of the album causing more damage.

The first inclination is to take the items off the crumbling page and place them in a new album. Please don’t take the album apart or remove the items from the acid paper yourself. Let a professional conservator handle the process of deacidifying the original pages or removing the items to retain the original order.

Ancestral scrapbooks really do tell a story. It’s there. All you have to do is find it by researching the bits you find and studying your family history.

Maureen Taylor loves writing about photography and family history.
You can reach her through her website

8 thoughts on “The Pages of History, by Maureen Taylor

  1. My mother created a terrific scrapbook in 1938, documenting her first major trip (from Oklahoma to the west coast and north to Canada) by auto, a year before she married, with an aunt and an uncle. It includes photos, post cards, napkins and similar memorabilia, and hand-written comments about what she saw and experienced. It is priceless.

    My father did not make scrapbooks, but did save some things from his childhood, such as Valentine’s cards (home-made), report cards, perfect spelling and perfect attendance certificates, his eighth-grade diploma (his maximum education level), lots of photos, and similar items from his youth. He was born in 1905, so these items are fascinating. I have collected them into a scrapbook and identified them for future generations.

    For my mother’s 95th birthday celebration last year, I created (with my wife’s help) a scrapbook of her life, by decades. It was a lot of work, but a most enjoyable project, and everyone who has seen it has enjoyed it.

    My wife has created numerous scrapbooks about our 42 years of marriage, and I’ve created several scrapbooks of my family’s history. Using today’s archive-safe materials, it’s a great way to preserve documents and small items of family history, and it’s very entertaining to look through them occasionally and re-live some wonderful memories.

    We have created both scrapbooks and photo albums. We have documented almost all the photos in our collection that were taken in our families before we were married, and we are beginning to work on writing our “history” covering the past 42 years. We do hope our children, grandchildren, or future generations will obtain some enjoyment from them.

    My wife’s latest scrapbook projects were completed last week. She created one covering our senior year in high school (we were in the same class) and one covering general nostalgia of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. We will take these to our high school class 45th reunion in May. It’s a great way to share memories.

    Your article was excellent, and I enjoyed it very much. Scrapbooks are fun and important.

  2. For my grandfather’s 80th birthday my mom, two sisters and I put together a scrapbook of his life. What a treasure of family history it turned out to be. My mom took the original book to a photo print shop and had copies of the book made for each of us. With 4 of these scrapbooks spread out in our family tree it is a good chance at least one book will be around for many years to come and will be passed down through the generations.

    Creating scrapbooks is a great family event. We spent many hours together making this scrapbook for my grandfather and many stories were told.

    Shelley Johnson

  3. I would like to summit a jpeg of a cabinet card for possible publication in the Ancestry Weekly News. How do should I do it. Thank you. Ann Bowler, 510 Railroad Street, Carlisle, Iowa 50047-7673.

  4. I have a scrapbook that was my great-grandmother’s. She started it in 1900. There are many newspaper items about family and friends and I found much genealogical material. But the pages and papers are crumbling and disintegrating. I took it to a local company that transfers items to CD-ROM. They had never worked with a scrapbook before and, because they wanted the experience, they gave me a bargain. Some of the pages came out of the book in the process but they were able to scan the pages so now I have a reproducable CD-ROM which I can share with cousins and our hometown museum, but the original can be stored. I don’t think it will last another hundred years.

  5. I have a nephew who will graduate from high school this year. He is just a few months older than my son, and over the years the two have been as close as brothers. Looking back through the scrapbooks I have kept for my son, I realized how often the pictures included both boys. So I sorted through all of the duplicate pictures and ones that never made it into my son’s scrapbooks and have put together a scrapbook of my nephew’s life from birth to graduation. We intend to give it to him as a graduation gift and as a symbol of what a special part of our family he is.

  6. I have an old postcard album that was my Aunt’s and most likely made or started by her mother, my grandmother. It goes back to before 1899. Some of the paper pages are torn. I would like suggestions on how to repair them or should I leave it alone? I have found much geneological information from the information on these cards and they are beautiful.

  7. I am one of those family historians that has put together many scrapbooks with written articles and photographs for myself and also given to different family members as birthday gifts.

    We began having our youngest family members graduating high school about ten years ago. Each graduate has received an album that I put together for them with photos and stories relating to their lives from birth to graduation. I also begin the first page with a personal letter that tells the graduate my remembrances of them and how much I love them.

    My uncle sent a letter to me when I graduated (many years ago).
    He said many of the same kinds of things in that letter and it still means very much to me to have kept it in my family records.

  8. Pingback: Furthermore your citation is an 1982 UN treaty that had no effect in 1941 Guerin ;-) Did you even bother to read what you cited? ;-).

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