Scrapbooks have been around for ages. They are a way of preserving elements of personal and family history in a traditional book format. Unlike a diary, text tends to be at a minimum in scrapbooks. Items such as photos, pressed flowers, keys, medals, and ephemera are the focus of a scrapbook page. Generally speaking, text is used to explain the significance of the items on a given page and/or identify the date and location of an event.
Creating scrapbooks became hugely popular in the Victorian Era. Long before it was practical to to lug around a large format camera, people had a desire to capture their memories and revisit them later. A first visit to the theater with a beau, a pretty flower from the garden of a good friend, the first dollar earned, business and calling cards of significant people, and a postcard from a travel vacation were all popular items on scrapbook pages. Both men and women kept souvenirs and remembrances on the blank pages of books designed just for that purpose. Decorating those souvenir pages was a natural next step.
Fast forward to the computer age and you find people still creating scrapbooks but now they're making use of current technology to do so. The art of creating scrapbooks has evolved into the art of digi-scrapping. The pages that were traditionally book bound have become individual works of art that may be printed as individual pages and inserted into page sleeves in an album. They can also be made into slide shows and sent around the world via email, printed as posters and displayed at funerals, framed and hung as works of art, and included in PowerPoint presentations at family reunions.
So now that you have a rudimentary understanding of why scrapbooks were originally created and how they've evolved, let's take a look at what their value is to the family historian. The best way to do this is by way of illustration. Let's start with an old family photograph.
Written on the back of this photograph is "1932". When my kids inherit my collection of old photos they'll look at this one and say to themselves, "Who do you think this is? Do you think that was grandma back in 1932?" What more do they know about the picture? Not much. What will anyone else looking at the picture know about it? Equally little. There's not a lot to go on here.
Now as it happens, I know what this picture is about because my mother told me. But if I don't take the time to record that information in some meaningful way it will be lost. Then it will become just another one of the pictures in "the box"of old photos, its significance lost to future generations.
Now let's take that same photo and create a scrapbook page for it. Let's add a theme and pull in other related items that my mom gave me. Individually most of these items would have little significance but put together they make an impact and tell a story. Take a look at this page and see if the significance of that photo doesn't become crystal clear. To everyone. (Click on the image to view larger if you need to.)
That same photo takes on a lot more meaning now, doesn't it? Same story with those individual lapel pins I used as elements on the page. If you found them in my jewelry box you probably wouldn't be able to figure out what they represented. But put on this page, they make sense. They've been given context.
I could have added a simple caption on the back of the original photo, "Lucille Lisowska 8th grade graduation from Assumption School" and that would have given some meaning to it. But that still leaves the lapel pins, the ribbon, and class ring. Sure, I could have photographed each item and printed them on a page with captions, a catalog of sorts. Or I could spend about the same amount of time creating this themed scrapbook page with it's vibrant spring colors and visual appeal. It's an example of the old "the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts".
Which would you rather have from your ancestor, the original photo or the scrapbook page? How about the original photo and the scrapbook page? Now we're talkin!
So what does it take to create a digi-scrap page like the one above? Basically, you need a computer, photo editing software that allows you to work in layers, and an old photo. That's it. That's all you need to start creating digi-scrap pages. True, a little more than that went into my scrapbook page. I used the Digi-scrapping kit: "Inherent Blessings", created by Netta of the Creative Victorian blog. Yellow paper from "Lovin Spring" kit by Jan Hosford on the Jan Hosford Designs blog. I also used an overlay created by Adeyeo of the Adeyeo blog. We'll get back to kits in a minute...
I personally use and recommend Adobe Photoshop Elements (the latest version is currently $69.99 with free shipping) but you can use any photo editing software that allows you to work in layers... including Paint.net which is a free download.
Everyone who creates art works a little differently. The same is true with creating scrapbook pages. Some people start with a photo and create backgrounds and theme elements to go with it. Other's will choose a pre-made kit and look through their photo collection for just the right photo to use with it. I've done both. There is no right way. It's a matter of personal preference.
Digi-scrapping is a huge industry and for a price you can make it much easier to create great looking pages. Investing in a good piece of software is the best place to start. The better photo/image editing software programs have all sorts of short cut ways to save time and get good results. If you're like me and time is at a premium, you can buy or get for free pre-designed kits that have color coordinated backgrounds and elements that make creating a theme sooo much easier. Why reinvent the wheel when hugely talented designers have already done it for you? Kits are generally priced from $1.99 - $9.99 with the more expensive kits having more backgrounds and more elements making them more useful for a larger variety of layouts.
You can also get equally beautiful kits absolutely free. Designers create them and give them away. Nope, I'm not kidding. Really! I was amazed when I first discovered this. There are literally hundreds of kits given away for free via the internet every day of the year. A good place to look for freebie kits is DigiFree the Freebie Search Engine. Everyday a new set of preview thumbnails are posted. All you have to do is click on one and it will take you to the designer's blog where you can down the kit for free. Often, kits are given away in parts so you might have to visit the designer's blog several days in a row to get a complete kit. But you can't beat the price. All they ask is for is a thank you comment!
Beware! Going after freebie kits can become addictive. I started almost a year ago and haven't missed a day since. I've amassed a huge collection of kits to cover every event, season, holiday, color scheme, era, and area you can imagine. When I get to the Fourth of July I'll have completed one year and that's when I plan to stop accumulating kits on a daily basis. Of course I've discovered several favorite designers over the last year and I'll continue to download their kits. But I need to deal with my addiction and move on to creating more pages and downloading fewer kits ;-)
I know what you're thinking... so how do I use the kits? Kits contain at a minimum background papers in .jpg format and elements in .png format. Some will also contain coordinating alphabets and frames for your photos (also .png format). Scrapbook pages are created by opening a background paper file in your photo editing software and adding your photos and elements on separate layers. Then you can move the items around independent of each other and resize as necessary to get the effect you want. Finishing touches such as bevels and drop shadows give a more authentic look and are usually added at the end.
Some designers create "templates" that you can download. Templates are pre-designed pages that can be huge time savers. You can use a kit in combination with a pre-designed template and create a great looking and unique scrapbook page in no time. Misty has created a great little tutorial that explains how easily it can be done. Here is an example of a template and how I used it to create my own page. (Template by Deltapdawn)
If you're really pressed for time you can use a "quick page". Some designers will create a complete page from their kits and all you have to do is download it and slip your photo into the frame(s). Here's an example of a freebie quick page (from the kit Musical Memories by Tina Williams).
The beauty of using a quick page is I completed this page in less than 15 minutes and it's ready for framing!
There are loads of tutorials available on how to create special effects and custom elements, and tips for using Photoshop Elements. You need only do a search on Google to find many, many good ones. Check out the Creative Genealogy blog for era and ethnic themed kits.
The best scrapbook pages for the family historian will include photos as well as other related items. But what if you don't have "other related items"? You can do some searches for related items that will give your page some context. Check out vintage postcard sites, Ebay, and ephemera collections for great period pieces. Here are some ideas for digi-scrap pages with family history themes:
- Use an image of a ship manifest with a photo or postcard of the ship your ancestor sailed on. Then add their citizenship photo for a terrific and personal immigration themed page.
- Scan a map of the country your ancestor was from, add a short list of the surnames of your ancestors and the name of their village. Then search for a village web site or on flickr.com for images of that village. (You might be surprised how many photographers will be happy to give you permission to use their photos for your personal use in a family history.) Voila! You have a great "starting point" page for your family history album!
- Create a series of pages using one theme like "summer fun" and devote a page to each family member you have a summer photo for. You can add vintage vacation postcards and fun elements like sand pails, sea shells, beach blankets, sunglasses, etc. from page to page. If you use a kit with coordinating backgrounds and elements everything will work beautifully together. Add a little journaling about favorite family vacation spots and you've got a priceless keepsake... the pages could be added to an album or you could buy some inexpensive and simple frames and create a gallery on a wall in your home. You could even coordinate the colors to match your decor and it would be a totally unique, one-of-a-kind display. Talk about a conversation piece!
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