When you’re writing, journaling, or scrapping your family’s  history, historic images, like pictures of your past, offer something other illustrations can’t.

Historic images include immigration and naturalization records

Just think how cool it would be to include an immigration record like this with the story of your ancestor.

Historic images don’t just increase visual appeal; they offer evidence of the footsteps of the past, bringing texture and meaning to your narratives.

If you watch “Who Do You Think You Are?” on TLC or BBC, you’ll notice a visceral reaction from people the first time they hold a new-to-them historic image or document. “Wow, so this was my ancestor?” That’s just the reaction you want from them when they read your stories.

Pair a census image with a photo of the family home

Historic images 1940 Census

My grandmother standing in front of her home around 1940. The background for this photo is their 1940 US Census

It’s easy to find a census image. In the USA, they’re available through 1940. FamilySearch.org and other sites let you search, access, and save historic images to your computer, although you may need to register with the site. Familysearch.org’s registration takes about one full minute—I timed it. After you enter your search parameters, you’ll get a listing of sources. Any sources that have a little photo icon by them will have downloadable historic images.

When you write about a family home during a time period, include not only a picture of that home (if you have a photo), but a census image that reveals the people living in it, their occupations and educations, and the neighbors surrounding it.

Historic Images of Draft Registrations

WWI Draft Registration historic images

My grandfather’s WWI portrait coupled with his draft registration.

WWI and WWII draft registrations are particularly meaningful because they reveal the life that war interrupted.

Though the resolution of my grandfather’s WWI draft registration is horrid, I still love to include it.  He grew up in Virginia, but was part of the southern migration for jobs in Detroit, Michigan.  WWI found him working at Hathaway Motors. After the war, he returned to Virginia. Now that I have left my southern roots to live in the Detroit area, I marvel at the fact that my grandpa walked the streets before me and enjoyed the Detroit Zoo and Tigers games, just like I do.

Birth Certificates and Obituaries

For many of us, the only newspaper ink we earn is our entry and exit from life, if that. Although you can often find them online, you might have copies of these in the shoeboxes lurking in your closets or under your beds.

Historic images Danville Bee newspaper

My dad, born to H.L. Wilkinson, was one of 39 babies born in April 1931 in Danville, VA, according to the “Danville Bee” newspaper

Even if the birth announcement is a one-liner, it does manage to strike an emotional chord. The excitement of the event is easy to visualize: receiving gifts and cards, changing diapers, and adjusting to being a family or larger family.

Obituaries often offer tidbits about a relative that other people might not know, such as service fraternities, military service, and religious affiliation.

Historic Images of Local Papers and City Directories

Whether you find historic images of local papers and directories via Internet searches, a subscription service like Ancestry.com (your local library may carry a library subscription to Ancestry.com.), or your own repository, these historic images are great for a “slice of life” description of family members and family life. The same Danville Bee newspaper that carried my father’s birth announcement also later carried an announcement that his mother would be out of town for two weeks. What a different world!

Immigration Records

Of course seeing the actual record of our forefathers’ and mothers’ immigration and naturalization is meaningful. If you’re able to find the record, you’ll often also be able to find a photograph of the vessel as well. (See Where to Find Historical Documents to Illustrate Your Writing.)

© Laura Hedgecock 2013

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