How to make a heritage junk journal on the computer

Heritage journals or heritage scrapbooks are kind of a new thing, though REALLY they’re just a spin-off from traditional scrapbooks.

Traditional scrapbooks combine photos and journals/stories, with artistic embellishments added onto the page to make it interesting. They’re often focused on recent family events, such as baby’s first birthday or a grand-daughter’s wedding.

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What’s a heritage junk journal?

Heritage junk journals do much the same thing as traditional scrapbooks, but with a more mixed media/junk journal style approach– and focused on family history rather than current family events. They’re a wonderful way to combine family history research with mixed media collage-style art.

Digital heritage journals are almost exactly like paper-created heritage journals, except you don’t have to worry about messing up important family photos or ephemera. Because everything is a digital copy, you can enhance photos or fix damaged areas without having to worry about messing up the originals. It’s also way easier to share digital copies with family members who live across the country or around the world! And of course, you can get them printed if you want a physical copy.

I’m an amateur genealogist as well as an artist, so this type of artistic expression calls to me. 😉 I started making my digital heritage journal using Canva and it went very fast– it took me longer to find the photographs I wanted to add than anything else.

Here’s some pages I created for my own heritage junk journal! Click to enlarge the photos:

I focused only on one photo per page for my journal and used ephemera I found online, making this very easy and quick to do. The map on the first page is a vintage state map of Pennsylvania, which is where that side of the family is from. On the second page, I used Canva’s background remover (only available for Canva Pro accounts) to edit the photo (of my grandmother) and then just duplicated and flipped it to make a visually interesting layout.

Ready to learn how to make your own heritage junk journal? Keep reading…

How to make a digital heritage journal

1. Decide on a topic.

“The entire history of the family” is a worthy subject to make a book about, but it’s also so huge of a topic that it can be daunting to tackle. I suggest deciding on a specific branch of the family, or one specific family group, and using that as a focus topic. After making a few heritage journals for different family branches, you can always combine them into one huge book if you want, too.

Topic ideas

  • Mothers, fathers: group matrilineal or patrilineal line together in one book, e.g. mother – grandmother – great-grandmother.
  • Immigrants– can find a lot of great info and photos if your family came over through Ellis Island, for instance.
  • Babies and baby photos
  • Marriages (or divorces!)
  • Everyone who lived in a certain specific location, especially if it’s a small town or regional area
  • People who worked a certain job. For instance, I have a good amount of miners and coal workers on one side of my family. It’d be very interesting to make a journal dedicated just to that job and the people who worked it!

2. Gather materials.

Technically you don’t NEED anything except maybe some names and dates, but a heritage journal is much more personal if you take the time to get copies of real family photos and ephemera. If you’re a family historian then you probably have a good amount of materials already organized on your hard drive.

If you aren’t a genealogist yourself, find the family member who IS a genealogist and ask them for help. Perhaps you could even collaborate on making these heritage junk journals!

Materials needed

  • Family photos, scanned at a high DPI. Don’t have enough? Ask elderly family members if they have some you can digitize. You’d be surprised what they have sitting around in their storage!
  • Paper ephemera like letters, tickets, cards, etc. scanned at a good DPI.
  • Official documents, such as birth/death certificates, marriage licenses, etc. These are often already digitized and online, though the quality may not be fantastic.
  • Maps of places family lived in. The Library of Congress has amazing high quality state and city maps available for download.
  • Historical photos from ancestors’ home towns. Check local history websites/local libraries to see if they have some already digitized that you can use.
  • Newspaper articles or obituaries.
  • Corresponding vintage clip art/image elements of things from the time period, e.g. Victorian flowers for family from the Victorian time period.
  • Stories and notes from genealogy research. If you’re writing about specific family members, get their name, birthday, death date, locations of birth/death, and any major life accomplishments they might’ve had.

Be sure that your scanned images and documents are at least 400 DPI, and your born-digital collage elements are at least 300 DPI. That way you’ll be able to create pages without having to worry about pixelation or distortion.

3. Decide on a color scheme.

There’s really no rules about what kind of colors to use in a heritage junk journal, though most people want some kind of “vintage feel.” However, there are NO LIMITS to the colors you can use in your digital heritage junk journal, so use your imagination and go wild.

Some ideas:

If you know the favorite colors of the family members you’re working on, build a color scheme around that. For instance, if your grandmother’s favorite color was blue, simply stick a few shades of blue in there.

Don’t know their favorite color? Try finding out ancestors’ wedding colors, school colors, etc. Maybe they were really into their university and donated money every year– incorporate the university colors into your journal.

Maybe your ancestor was in the military? Or belonged to a fraternal organization?

A very easy way to develop a palette is to just pick colors based on the photos or ephemera you’re planning on using. Most vintage photos are a sepia tone, so you can start with shades of brown and bring in contrasting colors to make it pop. Or you could use Canva’s color picker to find a color palette from a specific photo.

Tip: Coolors, a free color palette generator, can help you create wonderful sets of colors very quickly and easily.

Color palette ideas

Here are some color palettes I created using Coolors to use in a digital heritage junk journal! Feel free to download and save them for your own journals. Click the palette to enlarge the image:

4. Decide on a page size.

If you’re planning on EVER getting your heritage journal printed out, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief if you specifically build it around the correct measurements for printing. You don’t want to have created an entire heritage journal at 8.5″x11″ and then find out that your printer only accepts square pages at 12″x12″!

I can’t recommend a specific printer myself, but if you want to do some quick and easy booklets: Staples has a good print center with very easy-to-read measurements and page requirements.

5. Start working on pages.

This is the part that takes the longest: actually making the pages! Because this is a junk journal style creation, you don’t necessarily need to follow template layouts like you might do in a scrapbook. Let your creative juices flow and see what happens!

If you’re stuck on where to start: try using the same steps to make a digital collage.

Don’t forget to put your name and the date somewhere in there so people know who made this amazing heritage junk journal.

Building out the journal

Start with the “intro” page and then create complimentary pages to continue the story of that particular ancestor. Here I’ve used the “intro” page for Nancy and copied over the main colors and some of the image elements to continue the theme I started on it. I then added new image elements (a Sanborn map of the town they lived in and a census record from Nancy’s childhood) and different photos from my collection.

And now I can use those pages to build out even more, by creating “journal pages” where the text is the focus. (I don’t have a journal entry ready so the text is just an example.)

By alternating photo-heavy pages with text-heavy ones, you’ll be able to get a lot of family info into your heritage journal AND keep it interesting and fun to read.

Have you made a digital heritage junk journal? I’d love to see it! Leave a link in the comments to your creation and I’ll be sure to check it out.

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