Found Ephemera – Public Domain Ideas

Judy Russell’s recent article, “The Commercial Conundrum”, at The Legal Genealogist got me to thinking about ways to find/create my own ephemera for use in family history projects. Later articles will provide details on how to digitize specific types of ephemera, but first some quick and easy ideas to get you started.

  • Scan old notepads, receipt pads, recipe cards, ledger pages and stationery to use as journaling cards for scrapbooks and collage projects.
  • Scan old (as in public domain old) newspaper and magazine pages. These make good backgrounds when you reduce the opacity of that layer so it doesn’t compete with the other elements on the page.
  • Browse the scanned copies of public domain books and magazines at Internet Archive and Google Books for interesting graphics. Here’s a portrait of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles – the founder of the city of St. Augustine – from a history book published in 1858 by C. B. Norton. I found it on Internet Archive.
Screen shot of portrait in history book.

Useful historical ephemera from a 19th century history book.

  • Don’t just look for history books or family histories. There are a lot of tourist guides and journals that include interesting illustrations too. Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband had a winter home on the St. Johns River. She wrote Palmetto Leaves, a memoir full of descriptions of north Florida which is credited as the spark that ignited Florida’s tourist industry. It has some beautiful illustrations. 
  • Look for old periodicals too. They are full of illustrations, advertising and all kinds of other interesting goodies. Several of Jack London’s books were serialized in magazines – with some gorgeous illustrations.
  • Then there are children’s books and the delightful illustrations you’ll find in them . . .

I know browsing through all these books and such can take time, but you’re already doing it as part of your research. Just make sure you’ve got a decent screen capture app installed and ready to grab anything interesting that you stumble across while researching. And, you can always find tons of royalty-free clipart books at Amazon ranging in price from $10 to $15 – many with the graphics already digitized on included CDs.

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