If you know me, then you know that I’m a scrapbooker. That’s right, I scrapbook, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. There are many reasons why I choose to scrapbook my daily life and the lives of my past and present family members, but the most important reason is that it captures a snapshot for posterity. Unlike photo albums, scrapbooks document stories, not just images. They provide viewers with a fuller picture of who we are, what we do, what’s important to us…in other words, all the things that we as genealogists strive to discover about our ancestors.
For nearly 200 years, scrapbooks have served as a way of documenting lives. Each one was created by someone for a particular purpose, and each one is entirely unique.
Some scrapbooks were created to document specific events, like my great-grandparents’ wedding book (above) or this scrapbook of the Indianapolis street car strike in 1913 (below), digitized and available online through IUPUI’s University Library.
Others were created to document a particular person or group of people, such as a mother’s scrapbook of a son who was away at war, or a fan’s scrapbook of a favorite sport or team. Even some companies and organizations kept scrapbooks.
They may be surprisingly ornate, or they may be beautifully simple. They may contain only photos and their descriptions, or they may house everything from ticket stubs to postcards, candy wrappers to news clippings. And while they are incredibly difficult to archive and preserve, they are infinitely valuable as historical documents.
So what does all this mean for you? First of all, it’s a reminder that you should consider using scrapbooks in your family history research. Even if no one in your family left behind a scrapbook, there may be someone in their community that did. And in many cases, the things that were important to one person in the community reflect the views of others as well. At the very least, it will help you to add historical context to your ancestors’ lives.
Secondly, it’s a call for you to consider creating a scrapbook of your own to leave behind for future generations. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be made from special papers or products (though it should be acid-free). It only has to be a collection of the people, places, stories, and/or things that are a reflection of what is important to you in this place and time. Give it a try, and believe me, future generations will thank you.