Computing Your Keepsakes

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

What do you need to create a scrapbook of your family’s history? You start with photos, memorabilia and research, of course. Then you turn those memories into a scrapbook using paper, pens, adhesives, stamps and photo corners. But now some scrapbookers are trading their papers and punches for scanners and software. They’re embracing the recent trend of e-scrapbooking — designing memory albums digitally rather than on paper.

E-scrapbooking presents family historians with a whole new realm of possibilities for preserving and displaying their heritage. When you see the beautiful results of e-scrapbooking endeavors it’s easy to understand why so many designers are going digital. Jenna Robertson of Henderson, Nev., is one who switched: She’d been a traditional scrapper for years. One day, she decided to try laying out her pages on her computer. “I liked the computer layouts so much that I have never gone back to paper scrapping,” she says. Robertson’s current project is a heritage album for her in-laws — she has 5×7-inch photos made of her pages and places them in albums for gift-giving.


Those more skilled in computing than crafting can create a knockout album without special scissors or stickers. There’s no need to cut and paste — just scan embellishments or download them from copyright-free Web sites. Using electronic copies of photos and memorabilia helps avoid damage to precious family memories. And no worries about finding acid-free paper and embellishments. A digital heritage scrapbook is easy to share — just burn CDs or e-mail copies to your kin. But you don’t have to forego the tangible format entirely: With recent technological advances in printers, inks and papers, you can print out your pages and assemble them in a physical scrapbook that will last for the ages.

One fun aspect of computerized scrapbooks is your ability to change history. You can use photo-editing software to remove parts of photographs (including annoying relatives) and add special effects. But don’t go crazy coloring Uncle Stan’s face green or swapping Grandma’s and Great-aunt Louisa’s heads — at least not in the family portrait you’ll use in your scrapbook. Your album will be a historical record, so he careful about altering pictures. As a historian, I like to represent history as it occurred. But if I need to erase cracks and scratches, or bring Grandpa’s skin to a more natural hue, photo-editing software gives me the tools.

Thanks to the growing interest in e-scrapbooking, you can take advantage of books, Web sites and magazine articles on the topic. Denis Germain of Montreal needed advice and inspiration for his digital scrap-books, so he posted a query on the message boards at Two Peas in a Bucket <>. His attempt to connect with other e-scrapbookers led to a growing list of people who swap advice and information about their computer-generated pages. And he launched his own site, <>, to offer digital designers instruction and inspiration.

Some digital scrapbook veterans, including Wendi Speciale of Round Rock, Texas, have set up commercial enterprises to serve up tools and templates for electronic layouts. The founder of c-scrapbooking company Ankle Biter Designs <>, Speciale had to change her phone number after the work she posted online brought what seemed like hundreds of requests for advice.

But you don’t have to be able to match the techniques of Robertson, Germain and Speciale to join the e-scrapbooking trend. You don’t need to be a graphic design specialist, either. All you need to create interesting heritage pages and albums on your computer is imagination, some basic hardware and software, and a willingness to try new things.

Begin by reviewing our “Heritage Album ABCs” from the April 2003 Family Tree Magazine (highlights are online at <>). These basic steps — deciding on your style (simple or elaborate), getting organized, choosing colors and embellishments, and using journaling to tell your story — apply to any heritage-album project. The only difference is you’ll be pointing and clicking instead of trimming and gluing.


And that comes pretty naturally to many of us. Genealogists are technologically savvy — we use microfilm and microfiche readers, search the Web and scan documents. Some of us even use laptop computers and digital cameras. So you probably already have two basic tools for starting a digital scrapbook: a computer and an Internet connection.

Your computer must have adequate storage capacity to handle graphics software and whatever peripheral devices, such as digital cameras and scanners, you decide you need. Your Internet connection allows you to share your creations via e-mail or take your e-scrapbooking to the next level by posting your work on a family Web site. When you think about it, what’s a family home page but a 21st century scrapbook on the Web?

Beyond your PC or Mac and the Web, what other “supplies” do you need? Let’s look at a few essentials:

Software: Image-editing programs let you retouch photos and documents, as well as create scrapbook pages. Digital cameras and scanners often come with image-editing packages. Typically, these bundled programs offer basics such as cropping and red-eye reduction, but they might not include more sophisticated features.

A professional photo-editing program such as Adobe Photoshop offers top-of-the-line, cutting-edge capabilities, but at $600-plus, it’s too pricey for average computer users, and it has a steep learning curve.

If you don’t have a graphic design background, plenty of other choices are geared toward amateurs. Photoshop Elements is a lower-end version of the original. Other popular programs include Microsoft Picture It! and Ulead PhotoImpact. They offer a large number of features at an affordable cost — and most people find them user-friendly.

If you have limited computer knowledge, try scrapbooking software such as Ulead My Scrapbook Edition <> or Nova Development Scrapbook Factory Deluxe <>. You can also use desktop publishing software such as Microsoft Publisher (included on many PCs) or Adobe PageMaker. These programs are relatively easy to use but offer few, if any, photo-editing features.

Before you buy a program, read product reviews such as those on <>. Keep in mind that there’s not one “best” program — it’s a personal choice. Carefully read the system requirements to make sure they’re compatible with your computer. Some software works only with Windows, for instance, while other packages may be designed for Macs. Once you pick a program, play with it until you’re comfortable using the features. When editing a photo, make a copy first in case you accidentally, say, remove Dad’s eyebrows instead of his red-eye.

Digital cameras: If you have a digital camera and download the pix to your PC, you know that the files add up quickly. In fact, Lyra Research <>, a leading digital-imaging research group, estimated that American families would store more than 15 billion photos on their home computers this year — and it predicts that number will rise to 27 billion in 2005.

Digital cameras have many genealogical pluses. Take the camera with you to a relative’s house, and copy family photographs. Going to a family reunion? Tote the camera with you and send pictures to relatives postage-free. Of course, when it comes to e-scrapbooking, digital cameras are especially convenient: Just download, select and design.

Should you decide to buy a digital camera, pick one that meets your technological needs as well as your budget. Try it out at the camera store, and read reviews at Steve’s DigiCams <> or other Web sites. The keyword in this technology is megapixel, which measures image resolution. If you intend to make traditional prints for your heritage albums, get a camera offering several megapixels in resolution, so you can get crisp-looking pictures. For a genealogy-focused buyer’s guide to digital cameras, see the September 2003 Preserving Your Memories, a special issue of Family Tree Magazine.

Scanners: These gizmos aren’t just for copying photos to your computer. Add embellishments to your digital pages by scanning fabric, designs from heirloom objects, old magazine pages, or mats and backgrounds from old photographs. Scan memorabilia such as ticket stubs, buttons or pressed flowers. With scanners selling for less than $100, they’re investments with value that far outweighs the price tag. Most flatbed scanners come with image-editing software; some include scanning wizards that lead you through the process.

When you scan images, you’ll select the type of image, output type and resolution. For image type, use color when you want to reproduce the look of a heritage photograph (even a black-and-white one); if a color photo has failed or you want a more dramatic effect, convert the color scan to a black-and-white image using photo-editing software.

How you’ll use your scanned images will help you determine what output type or file formats to create. For example, it you plan to post your pages on a web site, save your photos as JPEGs or GIFs. A TIFF format is better for images on pages you’ll print out. Also consider the pictures’ resolution (measured in dpi, or dots per inch): Web images are typically low-resolution, so the Web pages don’t take forever to load. But to get a high-quality printed picture, your images should be at least 300 dpi. Save two versions if necessary.


Once you have all the tools, you’re ready to start designing. Of course, that blank computer screen can he intimidating: Where do you begin? Think about the elements of a handcrafted album page. The basic pieces — paper, titles, journaling, photos — all come together in a layout. The same principles apply when you’re creating an e-scrapbook, except your palette is your screen rather than a sheet of paper.

Start by setting up a document in your desired page size. For the background, draw a box and fill it with a color or image. Add photos and embellishments, and draw text boxes for page titles and journaling. Consider these options for creating and embellishing your pages:

• Begin dabbling in digital scrapping with ready-made layout templates that need just your photos. Try Ankle Biter Designs and scrapbooking software. Scrapbook Factory Deluxe, for example, includes thousands of templates and graphics, hundreds of fonts and a photo editor.

• Add clip art from books and CD-ROMs, or find it free on the Internet.

• Scan an old fabric or wall-cove ring design, patterns from dishes or anything else reminiscent of the subject of your scrapbook page. Use the scans as page embellishments or memorabilia.

• Like the trendy three-dimensional look? You can still get that effect: Images such as eyelets, burtons and stitched paper are available online. Or you can make an embellishment and scan it. Save the image to use on future pages.

• Use patterns instead of plain color as backgrounds for your images and text. Germain’s high-resolution e-papers come in the traditional 12×12-inch scrapbook size, without “tiling” the pattern like many Web backgrounds. Scrapbook software also includes attractive page backgrounds.

• Create your own background by scanning elements from photographs and handwritten documents. For instance, use an ancestor’s handwriting to make digital paper, or use designs from photographs to add frames around your pictures.

• Re-create the look of old albums with Scotch-taped photo corners by following the instructions at <>.

• Journal using fonts that come with your software, or free fonts downloaded from the Web.

Of course, these ideas only scratch the surface: E-scrapbooking gives you endless possiblities for designing, preserving and sharing your heritage. If you think genealogy is addictive, just wait until you start expressing your family history with e-scrapbooking.
From the December 2003 issue of Family Tree Magazine.