Vintage Ephemera

I am a sucker for digital scrapbooking design elements – everything from backgrounds to frames to design embellishments. I’ve got a disk drive full of these elements that I’ve purchased from online shops. Unfortunately, I want to use my scrapping creations in any number of family history projects which I plan to share digitally, either as multimedia presentations or PDF documents. Yes, that’s a problem. Why? Because most of the elements I own are licensed for personal use only with restrictions related to online and PDF distribution. The moment I embed them in a PDF document or share that presentation online, I have violated the terms of the license. Yes, there are commercial licenses for many of these elements, but they are much more expensive than the personal license – MUCH MORE.

What’s a girl to do?

First, look at the digital scrapbooking shops you frequent and check their licensing/terms of use policy. If they don’t say anything about online and PDF usage, ask. I’ve had good luck with the growing number of graphics shops on Etsy like EclecticAnthology and Swiejko. One of my favorite sources is graphic designer, Cathe Holden, and her divine Just Something I Made blog. She’s always doing something creative – I love her chess set from a cabinet door project – and she not only shares her project ideas, but she shares all kinds of design elements too. You’ll find a lot of these graphic “sheets” in her Scribd library.

graphic ornament

From The Standard Guide (1898) by Charles B. Reynolds, courtesy Internet Archive

Fortunately, since most of my family history projects and stories are more than 50 years old, vintage design elements are perfect for these projects. And, there are lots of public domain sources available for them. Yes, it will take a bit more time and effort to build my project, but I don’t have to worry about legal problems or spend a lot of money for commercial licenses.

Start with what you’ve got. Family letters, envelopes, journal pages, even pages from old ledgers or deposit receipts can become interesting design elements. Scan blank ledger or diary pages to use behind your own journaling. Old tags, note cards and other ephemera can also be put to good use. Photograph jewelry against contrasting paper to make it easy to “extract” the item from the background and use it on a page. Yes, it will take time to do these things, but once created they can be used over and over again in different projects.

Standard Guide ad

Advertisement in The Standard Guide (1898)

Lots of periodicals from the late 19th century can be found at Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive and Google Books. You can find some gorgeous illustrations in magazines like Harper’s Weekly, Colliers and Scribners, and quite possibly something related to the area or period of time you are documenting in your project. I found architectural journals with plans and sketches of some of our local buildings. You’ll also find a wealth of graphic ornaments. And don’t forget the advertisements either. You might find a business or product advertised that fits into your family story.

While you may need to learn additional skills – especially in the area of screen capture – you will find many ways to put these new skills to good use. And, you’ll craft a family history that is truly unique. It’s well worth the effort!