With my mother’s passing last year, this ancestry wall means more than ever in our Franklin home. Out of all the decorating projects I’ve done, our Ancestry Wall of Old Family Photos gets more attention and fascination than anything else in our home. It’s a focal point in our living room. Plus, it’s a decorating win-win because it personalizes our home, and it teaches our children to honor our heritage. It’s the patchwork quilt of our lives!
This ancestry collage includes vintage photos from both sides of the family. It always attracts the interest of our dinner party guests. People gather around this wall of black-and-white photos and discuss how they wished they had an ancestry wall in their home.
A BEAUTIFUL WAY TO HONOR YOUR FAMILY’S LEGACY
Our ancestry wall project started as a way to honor the family members who came before us to America for a better life from France, Italy, Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. This wall has evolved into something so special to us. My hope is that your family will create your own ancestry wall to honor your unique heritage.
Follow these 7 steps for an ancestry wall your whole family will cherish:
1. GATHER PHOTOS
You may or you may not have an abundance of old photos. Gather the photos you do have. I’m talking about vintage black and white photos. If they are old and you love them, but they are not black and white, I’ll show you how to easily make them black and white in Step 4. Just gather photos!
If you don’t have any old family photos in your possession, or very few, reach out to family members. Ask your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. There is usually someone in the family who has a plethora of photos.
They don’t have to worry that you are taking their treasured photos. Because of the beauty of digital images, family photos can be scanned and shared with the entire family via email or text. This step is a fun way to get your extended family excited about the project.
2. ANCESTRY SEARCH
One of the most enjoyable parts of this process is doing an ancestry search. We used Ancestry.com. It’s an exciting process. You simply enter all the family members you know. Get your kids to help! This is such a fun learning experience. One Christmas, our daughter gave us an Ancestry.com DNA test kit. I had no idea my ancestry included Scandinavian!
You never know where your family tree will lead. We discovered our family is related to Mayflower passenger Richard Warren using Ancestry.com!
ANCESTRY.COM WILL HELP YOU UNCOVER YOUR FAMILY TREE!
Even if you don’t know all the dates or locations, Ancestry.com makes it really easy to grow your tree through their hints. They offer a free trial, and membership is only $24.99/month. Sign up for Ancestry.com today and start your journey!
In addition to Ancestry.com, we did an Ellis Island search because we knew my father’s grandfather, Emilio Gaiche and his wife Caterina Piazza Gaiche, boarded the ship, La Bretagne, in Port du Havre, France on March 5, 1907. Ironically, this is my wedding anniversary date. My precious great grandparents bravely crossed the Atlantic Ocean destined for Ellis Island. We were able to find his ship manifest and purchased the above certificate. My dad built a beautiful custom frame for it.
See if any of your family members came through Ellis Island using The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation website. Do a Passenger Search for Your Family Here!
My great-grandparents were so proud to become US citizens and begin a new life for their family. You too can gather information on your family heritage either through Ancestry.com or Find a Grave, which has millions of gravestones from cemeteries across America to help you research dates, photos, and many important pieces of information as you put your ancestry puzzle together.
3. GATHER FRAMES
The next step is to gather frames for this feature wall. They can be new, used or vintage. My ancestry wall is a combination of all three. The good news is they don’t have to match. Frames do not have to be expensive to be beautiful.
I chose to combine complementary colors like gold, silver, black and distressed white. Get a variety of sizes and shapes to make it more interesting! I like to mix vintage frames with modern.
When I started my ancestry wall, I looked for frames that I already owned. Then I searched yard sales, estate sales or Facebook marketplace. Choose vintage or ornate frames with pretty details. If you find a great frame, but you don’t love the color, the great news is that you can spray paint it. When using old frames, make sure you take them apart and give them a good dusting and clean the glass. Let the glass dry completely before adding photos.
4. SCAN, EDIT & PRINT PHOTOS
Now, take all your photos and scan in any you don’t already have on your PC, laptop, or mobile device. You can scan them the old-fashioned way, but my favorite mobile app that does a great job scanning photos is Photomyne. Organize all your ancestry together in a digital folder. Do this step even if you have the actual original copy of the photo. You never want to lose any old photos that could get damaged over time. Also, you will be able to share them with family since you’ll have a digital copy and upload them to your family tree.
Speaking of family trees, another source for old photos is Ancestry.com. When you connect to other family trees, you can discover new photos from your distant relatives.
PHOTO EDITING EASY WITH PICMONKEY
Once your photos are scanned, you can begin the editing process if needed. My favorite editing tool is PicMonkey. It’s super easy to use, even for beginners. This amazing tool lets you crop, brighten and touch up your photos, and it’s super inexpensive. You can even make color photos black & white using the Effects tool. Try PicMonkey for free! Also, make sure to back up all photos on your computer.
After your photos are edited, select which photos you want in each frame. Print the correct size image for the frame. Realize some photos cannot be enlarged to 5×7”, 8×10” or larger because the image will look too grainy. Keep this in mind when matching photos with frames. If you have a beautiful 8×10” frame but the image can only be enlarged to 5×7”, add a matte to the frame and it will look amazing.
For photo printing, I like to use Walgreens because their app makes it super simple to upload photos. Nations Photo Lab prints some of the highest quality photos online. This step can involve some trial and error as you match up the best frame with the best photo. If I’m unsure of the size, I like to print two different sizes of the same image to save time, rather than having to print a second time.
5. PLAN A FEATURE WALL
Select the wall in your home that you want to use for your ancestry wall. I recommend choosing a place of prominence for family and guests. This gallery wall will be a conversation piece, so you will want it located in a public area and a place of honor in your home. Measure the height and width of your area.
Some people have a great eye and can just start hanging photos with no measuring or special tools. If you want to be more precise, you can use another method.
Find an open space on the floor so that you can lay out your ancestry photos. I prefer doing this on carpet, a rug or a blanket to protect the frames. First, roll out a piece of kraft paper.
Start with one of the largest frames first and place it in the center. Then, create a collage around the central frame you selected.
Work your way around, going from largest frames to smallest. Over time, you may add new photos to the display on the outside edges. Consider it a living piece of art that can continue to expand over time as you discover more family members.
THERE ARE NO RIGHT OR WRONG PATTERNS
It will actually look better if all your ancestry photos are not all in a straight line. Vary the heights. It will make it easier not worrying about everything being perfectly lined up. Mix horizontals with verticals. This is your family’s creative process, the patchwork of your legacy.
Once you are happy with the design, measure it and make sure it fits within your measurements. If not, make adjustments. Then trace each frame and cut out the various shapes.
6. HANG PHOTOS STARTING IN THE CENTER
Now you’re ready to hang your ancestry photos! Tape the cut-out kraft paper pieces to the wall with painter’s tape for easy removal. I prefer starting in the center with the largest frame. Determine the exact center of the wall. Hang the first picture in the middle. Then, work your way around taking each photo one at a time and hanging it in the spot you arranged. I like to work in a clockwise direction. This will create a more balanced display.
After you are pleased with the way it’s arranged, take a small nail and push through the wall where the hole will go. Use the actual frame’s hanger as a guide. Then take down the kraft and nail the picture in place.
I have never been a fan of those picture hanging kits for small frames. Unless I’m hanging a large mirror or art piece, I just use small nails and a hammer. I’m saying all this at the risk of perfectionists not agreeing with this way of picture hanging. If you want to use picture hangers and measure every frame precisely, please go ahead. You might want to use Command strips behind the frames to keep them level over time.
I have a confession to make. Yikes! For my ancestry photo wall, I never laid it out on kraft paper. I just started with the largest picture and put it in the center. Then, I worked the other pictures around it, going mostly from largest to smallest. Some frames have multiple nail holes behind them because I didn’t hang them the correct height or the spacing was off. I never plan to move these photos, so I’m okay with that.
There is always spackling, I say!
After all the pictures are in place, take a step back and see if you need to make any more adjustments. Then take a moment to appreciate the masterpiece you’ve just created. This will be both a showpiece and a real-life museum in your home. It will be a place of respect and gratitude when you think of all the lives that came before you.
7. TEACH YOUR FAMILY THE IMPORTANCE OF HONOR & LEGACY
In my 7 Steps to a Lovely Home, decorating is really all about providing a beautiful place to create a legacy of love, laughter and lots of cherished memories. Respecting family members of the past and the present is an essential lesson for children.
Having a place of honor in your home for your family to see the path that was laid before them is essential. We are the sum of the parts of those who came before us. Let’s remember their struggles, their sacrifices and their courage. Because of them, we all have a better life today.
May your home be filled with all things beautiful and lovely, especially the people you love most.
Much love & joy,