Heritage Albums: Step-by-Step

So, you’re the family historian! That likely happened in large part due by default, didn’t it? Good for you! It’s really an honor. Now it’s time to get organized and get those old photos into a heritage album, but where do you start?

First, gather the photos you’ll be using. Look through them. Is there any theme that comes out? Are many of them of the same person or same event? In the book featured here, most of the photos were of Paul’s grandmother, Clara, and her sisters. That became the theme. If there is no predominance of any person, family, place, or event, you can always do it chronologically. Is there other memorabilia from that time? In Clara’s book, I have letters, lace, and even a locket of her baby hair. Gather that with your photos.

Second, consider your audience. For whom is this book? Are you making it for yourself? For your parents or other older relatives? Or is it to be handed down? You may decide to leave out painful events or gloss them over if it is to be a gift. On the other hand, if it’s a family history, you’ll probably want to include them. Conversely, as a gift to your parents, events that impacted their lives (such as their wedding) might take a more prominent place than in a history book.

Third, choose your materials. Of course, you’ll need to pick acid- and lignin-free paper, and ink specific for scrapbooking. Beyond that, it’s up to you. I think that blacks, deep browns, and golds look much better for heritage albums, but it’s a personal preference. If you’re using old sepia-tone photos, they look especially good against deep browns.

Next, sort, sort, and sort again. Decide in advance which photos will go on which pages. It will save you time and aggravation in the long run. Now look at the group of photos for each page, and decide in what order you’ll place them. With most albums, you can always change it afterwards.

If you don’t know a lot about the photos, pick up the phone! Interview anyone and everyone who knows about the people and event in the pictures. Often old photos will have writing on the back. You might color copy those and adhere them next to the photo. Some people color copy the photos themselves and store the originals, but I think it loses the “feel” of the heritage album to do that. Still, it’s something to consider.

Journaling is going to be one of the most important things in a heritage album. Memories don’t last forever, but your archival-quality writing might. How interesting for your great-grandchildren to read about your great-grandmother. When you write, give as much information as possible. I like to write it out on a regular piece of paper first to make sure it makes sense to more than just me.

Use embellishments wisely. In an ordinary album, you might have a page that’s beautifully decorated and the artwork is the star. In a heritage album, the photos and journaling should always be center stage. Some embellishments that won’t overpower those old sepia photos include metal tags, burnished brads, lace and ribbon (off-white is great), plastic treasure keepers, and vellum. For heritage albums, I’d steer clear of popups, gaudy stickers, and anything else that takes the focus off the photos.

For photos and other memorabilia that don’t have a place, consider doing a pocket page. It keeps vital records and other important papers with the family history without displaying them.

A heritage album is not just a look into the past; it’s the history of your life and your family lineage. Put the care into it that it deserves.