Getting Started on Your Family Scrapbook

Photos are the heart of most scrapbooks, but they are just the start of the items you can include in a scrapbook that tells the story of your family.

Start Simply

A family scrapbook tells a timeless tale. It can never reach to the beginning of your family, but it can create a link from one generation to the next, a link that will last as long as your family.

Scrapbooks can be very complex, with fancy fonts, embellishments, expensive papers, and hours of painstaking hand-crafting. Many of the examples displayed on these pages fall into this category. But a meaningful family scrapbook can be a much simpler affair, too. Don’t hesitate to start your family scrapbook because you don’t feel you have the time or artistic talent. A simple tale, told simply, is every bit as compelling as the most elaborate yarn.

So where do you begin? At the beginning, of course. And for every scrapbook, the beginning is the process of gathering the photos, letters, objects, and memorabilia that have meaning to you and the members of your family.

Add Photos

Gather as many photographs as possible. Sort them so they relate to one another and to the album’s theme. You can affix the original photos in your album. However, if you want to save them for other purposes, make copies of the originals on a color photocopier.

Find “hidden” photos. Remember your collection of slides and reel-to-reel 8mm films? These can be converted to photographs at a relatively low cost. Check your local photography supply shops and photo studios.

Treat photos with respect. Be sure to wash your hands before handling your old photos. The dirt and oils from your skin could damage them. The same is true for handling photo negatives.

Make copies. A family photo that has yellowed, become brittle, or been affixed with tape should be moved to a safer environment. However, you may want to copy the photo before moving it or have it professionally photographed while it’s still in its current site. If you decide to use the original photos, consider securing them to the scrapbook pages with archival photo corners, instead of permanently adhering them to a page.

Include Mementos Collect everything! Save small items that relate to your theme — old letters, awards, certificates, ribbons, calling cards, a lock of hair, menus, place mats, brochures, business cards, newspaper and magazine articles, programs, announcements, matchbooks, and food wrappers. These items add interest to the pages — and to your family’s history. Even objects from nature make interesting mementos. Use a pH tester pen to determine the acidity or alkalinity of such items.

Protect scrapbook pages by photocopying or by placing the item in a clear, self-adhesive, acid-free memorabilia pocket. They’re available in several sizes with Scrapbooking supplies.

Use photos of objects. Heirlooms, such as a brooch, pocket watch, or even a large quilt, are family keepsakes worth preserving. To enjoy these items, photograph or copy them and include them in your heirloom scrapbook.

Tips: Taking Great Photos Keep your camera handy. Great photographs make great scrapbooks. Carry your camera everywhere and keep these simple guidelines in mind whenever you want to capture a memory:

Be generous with film. Opportunities will present themselves just once, and the price of film is very minor when compared to the cost of a vacation or a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Capture the moment. The best shots are unposed and capture the personality of the subjects. Blurred movements rarely occur with today’s super-fast films.

Record the moment. Keep a small notebook with you so you can write down names, places, dates, and any other pertinent information about the people and the places you photograph.

Stay close to the scene. Try to position the camera no more than 8 feet from the subject.

Two is better than one. Take one shot of the people, and then take a second shot of the background in order to set the mood.

Throw some light on it. Have your subject face the sun, or keep the sun behind your own shoulder. Early morning and late afternoon on a sunny day are ideal times for taking pictures; bright noonday sun creates harsh shadows and makes people squint their eyes. Gray days produce grainy photos.

Create an eye-catching composition. Rather than place your subject directly in the center of the photo, adjust your frame so the subject is about one-third of the way from the edge. The same rule applies when shooting a still life or landscape.