How To Incorporate Your Family History Into Your Home Decor

How To Incorporate Your Family History Into Your Home Decor

by Kerry Scott on 18 September 2011

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I often hear other researchers talking about how tough it is to get relatives interested in genealogy. Many of us are the lone nutjobs who like dead people family historians in our clan, and it can be hard to rope the relatives into listening to us talk about our finds. One of the ways I’ve gotten the (brief) attention of my husband’s teenage nieces and nephew is by incorporating their family history into our home decor. That way I can secretly work on getting them hooked every time they visit. We’re a little sneaky here at Clue Wagon Worldwide Headquarters.

This wasn’t my original purpose when I started this project. When we moved into our current home, we had just had our first baby, and I was about to change jobs. We had a lot of space to fill in our new house, and we didn’t have a lot of cash to do it.  I was looking for cheap ways to fill the walls, and I didn’t want generic stuff that had nothing to do with us.

I started out using maps and posters in my office (you can see how that turned out here), thinking that they’d come in handy in my research. Then I realized I liked them too much to stop, so I ended up using them throughout the first floor of my house.

These maps of Sheboygan and Calumet Counties in Wisconsin cost me $10 each on eBay. They weren’t standard sizes, so I bought cheap frame components on the internet and framed them myself. Some of my ancestors settled in Calumet County, and I’ve used the map quite a bit when I work on that line. My husband’s family has lived in Sheboygan County for generations, and most of my in-laws still live there.

 

This old map of Glenbeulah, Wisconsin (my husband’s hometown) is also in the dining room. I caught our 15-year-old nephew looking at it when he visited a couple of weeks ago. I believe people who fish call that a nibble. I paid $14.74 for this on eBay.

 

This bird’s eye view of St. Paul is a reproduction. I don’t remember how much I paid for it, but I’m certain it was under $20. I love that it’s dated January 1888, because my great-grandfather, Art Scheiber, was born in St. Paul in January 1888. I also love that the person who created it was obviously not a real Minnesotan, because there are leaves on the trees, there’s no snow on the ground, and there are boats on the totally-not-frozen river. Maybe that’s how January works in Louisiana or something…but not Minnesota.

 

When I was a kid, I collected postcards. Although I’ve moved a bunch of times throughout my life, and I’m not a packrat at all, for some reason, I kept my postcard collection. When I started to decorate this interior hallway, I didn’t have much left in my budget. I found this postcard rack at Pottery Barn on clearance, and I knew I’d finally found a home for my childhood postcards. For the walls, I bought antique postcards on eBay from locations where my husband’s family or mine had lived, and I put them in cheap (REALLY cheap—like, $2.99 or so) frames from a craft store.  The postcard sits between two panes of glass so that you can see the back if you need to (because the back of a postcard is often just as interesting as the front). This is the project I was working on when I accidentally bought a postcard that had been sent by one of my husband’s ancestors.

 

I’ve talked about my love for stuff from Red Owl Food Stores in the past. My house came with these knickknack shelves in the kitchen, and I am not at all a knickknack person, so I didn’t know what to do with them. I finally decided to fill them up with Red Owl stuff. These items are useful, too—the glass is a measuring cup that I actually use, my kids do their homework with the Red Owl pencils, and the coffee can holds crayons, so I can keep them busy while I make dinner. The Fanny Farmer truck on top is actually a piggy bank where I store loose change, so I always have some for the parking meters when I go downtown to do research. I get lots of comments from people from Minnesota or northern Wisconsin who visit and see this stuff, because folks from those areas remember Red Owl and Fanny Farmer.

What about you? Do you have family history stuff in your home decor?

 

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo September 18, 2011 at 10:14 am

After re-decorating a while ago, I don’t have anything on my walls yet, but I have a TON of old family photos which I could use in some way but I don’t want lots of little frames. Your maps are fab – I’ll be borrowing that idea. AND, I’ve finally found someone with more pencils than I have. Are those timers on the bottom shelf?

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Kerry Scott September 18, 2011 at 10:29 am

Yep, that’s a timer. It has three of them in one piece, and the bells are nice and loud. That one’s modern, though—I got it at Williams-Sonoma last year.

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Jo September 18, 2011 at 10:43 am

I have a digital timer and it’s helped so much with my procrastination that it has pride of place on my shelf!

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Lynn Palermo September 18, 2011 at 10:55 am

Great ideas Kerry, I have the typical family tree framed and on the wall, however I love your postcard collection. I think what catches people’s attention is my choice of pictures. I try to choose pictures that show a different side of a personality. For instance my Mother who is 80, I have a picture of her in her bikini on the beach when she is a hot 20 something. My Dad as a young handsome baseball player, my great-grandmother feeding her chickens. I think choosing pictures that hint to the story behind a person can really make a person stop and ask for more detail.

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Yvonne September 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Oooohhhh, too neat!

My office is decorated with MAPS! I have them taped on my shelves, so I can track this crazy family who gave me life. I like your decorating much better!

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Banai Lynn Feldstein September 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Very nice. I thought of putting up large posters and marking where relatives lived, but smaller maps, framed nicely, like yours look much better.

I do have family photos on my walls. It used to be one large grouping but I broke it into two (by each parent) to make room for adding more, which I haven’t yet. I love when people stop to look at them. My parents visited and examined them. Even my house appraiser was a little jealous that I had photos of ancestors and relatives.

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Diane Boumenot September 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Kerry, I wonder how many genealogists began as postcard collectors? I think there may be quite a few.

I have a very similar display of 4 red-framed Rhode Island postcards. When I didn’t like the prices at the craft store I had hubby make them for me (he’s a woodworker). I didn’t think of the double glass, though — great idea!

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Susan Tiner September 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm

What a great idea, and I love it that your nephew couldn’t help checking out the map of Glenbeulah. You are a sneaky one!

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Blanka Lednicka September 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I did it similar way as you did. Almost everyone stops by our family tree in A2 format we have on a wall. I also have pictures (printed old photos) of places are ancestors lived in, few historical maps etc. And it really works!

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Jenny Lanctot September 18, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Kerry, what you’ve done with the maps is great! I found a great antique map of 1860ish Germany on eBay and spent far too much having it framed, but it looks amazing in my living room, and a set of 2 old map reproductions of Ireland are framed in my dining room (significantly less spent framing those). I never thought about framing the old postcards. I may have to find some of those frames. Incidentally, where do you get your cheap framing supplies?

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Kerry Scott September 18, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I went and looked in my old emails to see where the frames came from. I got the big frames at http://www.pictureframes.com. The little $2.99 postcard frames came from a Michael’s retail store. All of this stuff was bought in early 2006 (right after we moved in to our current house).

One important note: I wouldn’t put truly valuable stuff in do-it-yourself frames (at least, not the kind I’m qualified to do myself). We do have a couple of maps that are genuinely valuable, and for those, I ponied up the dough to have them professionally framed with UV glass to keep them from fading. But the cheap frames are just fine for stuff you don’t mind replacing when the sun finally takes its toll.

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Jacquie September 18, 2011 at 3:55 pm

At first all I could think of was a large handwritten family tree I framed, that against my husband’s wishes (at the time, now he thinks it’s fabulous) I hung smack dab in the prominent wall of the family room. But today, I looked around. I have a large 1860 map of Belgium & Luxembourg (where dad’s family is from) framed in my dining room. In the 70′s, while touring Europe, I bought it for his office ($25 Harrod’s antique floor) and when he retired, he gave it back to me. In a hallway, I have 5 black and white photos of Luxembourg City. I dumpster dived for them. Mom threw them out when she down sized, (full of mold, but it turned out the photos were perfect, the glass kept out the mold) and reframed them with Target frames. Later I learned my dad actually took the photos just before coming to the US, May 1949. Speaking of which, I have a beautiful photo of the Queen Mary in New York Harbor in May 1949 hanging above my kitchen desk. Aunt Adelia’s quilt on a quilt rack. She sewed a quilt for each of her neices when they married in the 40′s. My mother-in-law’s is the only survivor. In my living room, my coffee table has a glass top and a black drawer below, it is filled with a display of family favorites, wedding rings, gr-grandpa’s pocket watch etc. It sounds like my home is full of knicknacks, it’s not. My house looks much like Kerri’s, but the things I mention what’s noticed by guests. Did I mention that my livingroom has the (refurbished) couch that my grandfather gave my grandmother as an 1929 engagement gift…and the 12 gallon crock used during prohibition by…oops maybe that’s too much information.

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Kerry Scott September 18, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Holy cow—you’re a pro at this! I love that you pulled stuff out of the dumpster. Rock on!

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Rondina Muncy September 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm

In the new (old) bungalow I’m down to a birdseye of Austin where my great-grandfather’s home is in view; a reprint of a pre-statehood map of Texas; a framed certificate of payment from Sam Houston to John Tumlinson (who manned forts and fought Indians), and my Norwegian grandmother’s (Rändine) college portrait. I have somewhere around 175 framed ancestral family photos that are now packed into big Rubbermaid bins. My second daughter told me about this wonderful home she was a guest at in Fairhope, Alabama. The owner had taken her hundreds of family photos and mounted them on the wall with the edges butting each other. That would leave no room between the pictures. My daughter said they looked awesome.

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Greta Koehl September 18, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Right now the family history element in my decorating (if you can call my random placement of stuff in our house “decorating”) is limited to maps of Tennessee and South Carolina in my office (cheap ones that are not framed; I’m using the TN map to plot the locations of “candidate families” for my brick wall great-grandmother and I use the SC map to try to sort out families with a couple of very common last names). However, I did purchase a poster that recreates a memorial to the Civil War unit in which a couple of great-great uncles served and plan to get it framed. Also have a couple a small unit flag for that unit and another SC unit.

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Geniaus September 18, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Great ideas, thanks Kerry.

You’ve also given me an idea for a blog post – better grab the camera and start snapping pictures in the museum I call home!

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Lisa September 19, 2011 at 7:20 am

I love your ideas, Kerry! I use my ancestors portraits to decorate my mantle. I consider myself fortunate to have as many as I do. I also display some of my grandmother’s antique kitchen utensils around the house. They make me smile when I see them.

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Debi Austen September 19, 2011 at 2:28 pm

We’ve had a “wall of shame” in our home for the last 30 years or so (yes, I’m old). I have photos of ancestors (even before I cared about that type of stuff) all the way up to my grandchildren. And I have a few very special photos of my grandmother and her mother beautifully framed on the sideboard in our family room.

And you know I have the Eastern Star document of my 2nd great grandmother’s which I treasure. I spent a lot of money to have the 120+ year document restored and framed so you bet I’m going to display it proudly.

I also have my first postcard on the way from eBay of the street in the town my grandmother grew up in and I’ve also found a photographer who has a historic photo for sale of the dry goods store her family owned. I need to order that and then I’ll frame the two together or side-by-side or something.

I love your idea of the maps. I have a few antique maps (of France and Israel) on the wall but I would love to have something with more meaning for me. I’ll be looking for those soon!

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Denise Levenick September 19, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Really really really like that postcard rack. . . Great ideas!

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Colleen September 20, 2011 at 8:19 am

Hello. Thanks for sharing your family decorating ideas! I love the post card rack. I do not have maps (a good idea that I will steal.) but I do have family photos in every room. I move them around occasionally. At Christmas I put out a set that are all holiday photos, three generations of the family by the tree, opening gifts or baking cookies. Our Christmas tree is a family tree because I have mini photos all over the tree. That inspires lots of questions from the younger generation and stories follow.
My son’s wedding is coming up and we will have a small table with wedding photos of his and her grandparents with small cards telling who everyone is. Even those no longer with us will be a part of the special day.

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Shaz September 20, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Not only do I have ancestors photos framed and hanging on the wall in our entry, I embroidered cross stitch maps of the countries where our ancestors came from (Holland, Poland, Sweden and Germany) and I added place names and the ancestors’ names, and vital dates on each. There is also map of Ancient Windsor, CT., my grandparents’ large marriage certificate, as well as a wedding ‘broom’ (Polish custom), pen and ink drawings of Swedish farms where my husband’s grandfather was born, Polish and Swedish plates, an old engraving of a Dutch windmill, Delft tiles, etc. etc. etc. Everything has meaning. I have tried to cluster the Dutch, Polish, Swedish mementos together, but I keep adding items. Someday soon I should probably redo the walls. When friends come to call it takes quite awhile to leave the front hall for the rest of the house! Same thing happens when it’s time to leave. You cannot visit me without hearing about my family history. My guest bathroom is full of framed maps from an atlas showing our travels to visit the ancestral origins as well as business travels. I even found a shower curtain with a world map!

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Shaz September 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I wrote the above comment in my office and totally forgot to look at the walls around me. More maps, photos of living cousins found in my research, genealogy books, foreign dictionaries, two HUGE family trees. If I count my huge entry hall as a room, I have three rooms totally devoted to genealogy and family history! And it’s a small house!

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Catherine September 20, 2011 at 8:15 pm

I love what you’ve done! I have a copy of an 1885 birds-eye view map and post cards of my hometown that I have framed on my wall. The map has my paternal great grandfather’s grocery store. I also have a Firestone tire ad with my home town fire department, and I have a copy of an ad from my maternal great grandfather’s buggy business. Most everything came from ebay; my mom gave me the copy of the buggy business ad. I have several more home town post cards that I haven’t framed. I got a little too post card happy on ebay and tried to snag every one I could. My mom has always used family items in her decor, so I was inspired to do the same. I have some books written by a great uncle that I have “arranged” on a shelf. I’ve actually read them, too :)

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Kathleen Moore September 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I can guarantee I’d be looking through all those postcards. That’s a nifty, unique idea!

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Linda Gartz September 22, 2011 at 10:50 am

Hi Kerry,
The postcard rack is a sure conversation starter. I can just see friends pulling them out one-by-one and commenting. If I’d had this Idea when i went through my family’s trove and found dozens of old postcards, I’d have them on display now! I went all out last year and created a 100 picture photo wall that goes up the front stairway and tells the story of my family from the earliest photo (about 1890) to pictures of my family and sons. I found a very reasonable frame shop on line and got all frames to match, sized photos in various ways, and ended it with a black and white of my brothers and me at the family gravesite after my mom’s death. It’s now filled with all members of the older generation. At the top of the stairs, on either side of the window, I added my grandmother’s two samplers (one embroidery, one crochet stitches). The whole thing took months and scores of hours, but I love seeing these folks every day!

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Jennifer September 22, 2011 at 11:04 pm

I love, love, love these ideas!!!

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Jacquie October 8, 2011 at 9:49 am

When I first read this post, I thought it was about decorating, but in rereading I also thought it is about getting brief attention about genealogy to other member of family and friends. Here is how I’ve been doing that. Whenever there is a current event or anniversary of an event, I write a brief email to family. For example President O was speaking in Atkinson, IL last month. Small town of 2000 people, where so happens 3 generations of family, 1860′s-early 1900′s grew up and are buried. Sent an email, which generated interest and some interesting facts others knew. Great-grandparent’s 100 birthdays etc. Huge fire that was world news in Belgian town where family came from. Little factoid emails to generate a touch of interest.

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Sharie Merline October 28, 2011 at 10:08 am

We started a website on my husbands hometown, Oconto,WI with newspaper articles, on the Fire Dept., Veterans, postcards of old Main street, businesses anything we have also related to us in a genealogical way. My walls of my home are full as well. Anybody looking for Oconto info. is welcome to visit our FB site and stay awhile and browse. Thanks for checking us out!

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Kerry Scott October 28, 2011 at 10:14 am

Sharie, that is awesome. I’m going to tweet that right now. I love these grassroots history efforts, and this is a great example of how social media allows everyone to be involved in preserving history.

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Linda March 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm

I believe all family objects should be used or displayed in some way in order to pay homage to our ancestors. My little son’s great-grandfather collected smoking pipes. I hung the pipes in his bathroom, using fishing line threaded through the pipes, which is hung over a small nail. I hung my grandfather’s skeleton keys all in a row next to my front door. I hung my grandmother’s hats and purses in two bedrooms. I covered cork board in silk fabric and framed the board in antique frames. I use lovely stick pins to hold all my ancestors’ jewelry. I just slip an item off the pin when I want to wear it. Since I no longer have my ancestors, I love being surrounded by the things they treasured.

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Annie January 6, 2013 at 7:10 am

I know this is a late reply, but I’m a very recent convert!
I have recently ordered an ordinance survey map of my grandmother’s county from the time she was a child, and am looking for one mapped when my dad was young. My dad and I are going to map the places the family lived within the county, schools, their church etc. and frame it for the wall. I *hope* it works out, and not only helps me visualise their lives (eg. stories of walking down the hill to school) but adds personal interest for the rest of my family.

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