Like many people, I enjoy researching my family history, exploring my genealogy and collecting interesting facts, images, and records. As you can imagine, I sometimes come across visual materials in my work that make me think about my hobby. In our collections, we have many examples of commercially printed and sold family trees, records and registers. They were printed with empty spaces so your family members’ names, dates and other details could be added in. This wonderful family tree from 1888 was one of the first that caught my attention while searching in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. The tree itself – or the apples, more specifically – contain positive characteristics such as Politeness, Honor, Charity and Patience. In each corner, stages of family life are depicted. This particular print includes spaces for a small photo or other likeness in the empty ovals arrayed around the tree, and a spot for a name just below each portrait.This tree, while less colorful, depicts pendants meant to hold portraits hanging from the branches of the tree, with the eldest parents intended to be placed in an open locket sitting at the roots.
Getting away from the tree motif and into records and registers, other styles included more space for detailed information, including birth, death, and marriage dates. This particular one chose to use the phrase “Called away” instead of died. I also found in this print flowers where a photo might go, and saw many other prints also featuring flowers. Perhaps there is a symbolism in the flower choices beyond just their decorative qualities.
Like the example above, the colorful print below features many types of flowers to represent different family members, and includes a prayer and other religious iconography, another common feature of these types of documents.
All of the examples I’ve shared are from the late 19th century, including this one featuring an African American family in 1880. The central image of a family is surrounded by places to record life and marriage dates. Two scenes at the bottom are meant to contrast the lives of Black people before and after the U.S. Civil War, with these words tucked in the corners of each view: Slavery and Freedom.
Maybe, like me, you will be inspired to look more closely at the examples above and additional ones linked below, with an eye toward printing one for your own family!
- Explore family trees, family records and family registers in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- If you are a family historian or avid genealogist, be sure to visit the home page for the Local History & Genealogy Reference Services at the Library of Congress for access to resources and reference staff expertise through Ask a Librarian.
- View recorded presentations, interviews and other video content related to family history from the Library of Congress.