I have found that a compelling graphic is a great way to attract attention to a family story. In the example above, a cousin shared her portrait of Frances giving me an opportunity to embellish a story I was writing about her time in Mississippi. The collage shows a map of the area in Mississippi where the family settled and the riverboat adds a bit of “atmosphere”.
Finding these elements isn’t difficult, but it can be time consuming. Vintage design elements are perfect for these projects. And, there are lots of public domain sources available for them. Yes, it took 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 ledgers 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.
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. There is also 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.
Flickr, the photo-sharing platform, is a fabulous resource. At Flickr Commons you will find photo and graphic collections from archives, museums, libraries and organizations around the world. Flickr’s search feature is impressive and even makes it possible to restrict your search to public domain images.
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!