AncestorNews: Think of a Theme

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

I have to admit that I’m not one of the world’s most craft-savvy people. But, klutzy as I am, I do have an interest in scrapbooking. And like most people who are new to the hobby, I get hung up with “where do I begin?” syndrome.

In the past, I’ve concentrated on creating scrapbook pages about a specific ancestor, including vital statistics, photos, obituaries and other interesting information I’ve found about that person. However, I’ve recently been thinking about theme albums (I know, this is old hat for you scrappers!)&#151how best to use them for preserving my family history and for prompting me to learn even more about my family tree.

For example, most of us probably have several ancestors who were farmers. When making a farmer-themed album, you’d include the usual photos, pedigree and any vital statistics. But, more than that, wouldn’t it be interesting to do a little research on farming throughout the decades? For instance, what farm implements would your 1790 ancestor have used, and how did they differ from the ones on the 1850 farm? What crops would’ve been planted in that area, how much livestock would your ancestors have owned (if any) and what type of clothes did farmers wear? Clearly, the possibilities are endless.

Or, how about a military-themed album&#151one that includes all your ancestors who served in any branch of the military? This one could show uniforms, weaponry, campaigns, first-person narratives, pay rates, battles and regimental histories. Researching the specifics of your military ancestors’ service will give you a wonderful opportunity to learn more about their everyday lives.

Lastly, if your family has resided in the same area for several generations, how about a geographically based theme album. Items to include would be old and new postcards, descriptions from a local or county history book, census statistics, newspaper clippings and old maps.

I’ve always been more interested in the everyday life of my ancestors&#151those meaty, gritty true stories&#151than I’ve been in collecting names and dates. And working on a theme album is an excellent way to preserve memories and learn more about my family tree.

Here are some resources for scrapbook albums about your ancestors:

&#149 The Scrapbook Club (visit soon and look for the “buy one book, get two free” offer)

&#149 Memory Makers Magazine (great ideas!)

&#149 Farming in 19th Century Concord

&#149 Indiana Farming Yesterday and Today

&#149 Military Costumes and Armor

&#149 America as it Was (vintage postcards)

&#149 Maps Collection from the Library of Congress (1500-2004)

PS: I’m doing some research to track down the best shareware/freeware for genealogists. I’d love to hear your nominations, whether they’re for genealogy add-ons, on software to organize your research&#151whatever. Please e-mail me and tell me which shareware/freeware programs you like best. And thanks!

Nancy Hendrickson is a contributing editor for Family Tree Magazine. She also is a family historian, freelance writer and the author of the new book Finding Your Roots Online. Visit her Web site or e-mail her at