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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

How to Quickly Choose Pictures for a Family History Book

Vintage family photos with title choose the best photos  for your story

Photos can turn a family history narrative or memoir from boring to amazing. But how do you choose which photos and scanned documents to include? Here are a few things to consider:

1. Does the photo include people?

Humans love looking at people. If a photo features an ancestor, they will spend time comparing themselves and their loved ones to the image. Choose relatively clear photos of people. A slightly damaged or technically inferior picture will still attract your reader's attention but leave blurry photos out of your book.

Alison Taylor, from Pictures and Stories, also suggests that the photos have an emotional impact.

Old Photograph perfect for adding to your family history book

2. Do documents or artifacts illustrate your family history?

Often family history writers neglect to include scanned documents or photographed family treasures in their projects.

I have photographed high school dance costumes and letterman jackets, charm bracelets, military insignias, medals, and childhood stuffed animals. The most photo I connect the most with is this bracelet that my Grandfather Lewis Brown wore during World War II. The emotional impact increased when I photographed the inscription, which reads, "With love, Louise."

Photographing a military bracelet's inscription can add power to a family history book

If you lack family photos, using documents and photographs of family keeps sakes can enhance your story. Some documents and photos that you could include in your family history project include:

  • birth, marriage, or death records

  • baby blankets, baby toys, bassinets

  • passenger lists or travel documents

  • military records

  • uniforms, insignia, medallions

  • newspaper clippings

  • sewing examples, handicrafts

  • clothing, jewelry, and other wearables

  • personal collections

  • letters, postcards, telegrams

  • handwritten recipes

  • china, housewares, silverware, and other cooking items

  • trophies, medals, ribbons, and sashes

  • diplomas, transcripts, and graduation regalia

  • journal or other handwriting samples

  • wall art, Christmas ornaments, home decor

  • buildings, cars, tools, and other homestead features

Make sure that the photos add to rather than detract from your story. I may have liked collecting troll dolls. A photograph of my collection would be miss placed in my pageant memoir, From Metal To Rhinestones a Quest for the Crown. It would be better placed in a scrapbook about my interests during high school.

3. Should you touch up a photo?

The jury is out on this, but I prefer historically accurate depictions in images that I add to family history books. If you restore a faded color photo to its original glory or repair some small rips and tears, then you have not changed the true nature of the story.

Avoid using interpretative tools to add color to an image that never had a photo in the slide or film. You change your photo biography reader's perspective for everything from the ancestor's hair color, skin color, clothing choices, and even the quality of their gardening.

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laptop and writing notes with title Free Guide: 5 Steps to Quickly Write Family Histories

4. Does the Document Add Historical Context?

  • Do you know what a bobsled from Ontario, Canada, in the 1870s looks like?

  • Can your reader visualize a potbelly stove?

  • Can a newspaper convey through a headline what will take you 100 words to relate?

Use photos of artifacts, historical figures, and newspaper clippings to add social context to your story. You're not writing a picture-less novel. You're writing a family history.

Video: Choose the Best Photos for Your Family History Book

Watch the replay video above.

You can create a great photo autobiography or family history book by knowing which photos will enhance your story rather than detract from it. Choose well.

Now that you know what kinds of photographs to choose for your project, discover different ways to arrange your pictures in your family history book.

Stack of old family photos with the title choose the best photos for your story
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