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Friday, April 21, 2017

The Baby Book: History & Use for Genealogists

One of my favorite things that we have in my personal family history collection, is my grandmother’s baby book.  It is a mixture of adorable facts about my grandmother as a baby.  From lovingly detailed descriptions of my grandmother’s first words & first holidays to advertisements for life insurance, this glimpse at my family’s history is delightful, but the history of the baby book is fascinating as well.

You begin finding baby books starting in the late 1800s, but by the early 1900s they had become mass-produced with fill-in-the-blank areas for parents to document their child’s progress.  They were “memory books in which parents could record a child's activities and developmental milestones and which provided a place to gather photographs, locks of hair, and other mementos.”1  

Nicholas Day, the author of Baby Meets World, said that these baby books were really the first baby blogs.  “Baby books were where mothers—and they were almost always mothers—recorded the mundane, wondrous details of infancy….it became common for a whole population to write down their random thoughts about their babies. The baby books, like baby blogs today, were a new genre that encouraged parents to pay more attention to every tiny detail of infancy.”2  He also surmises that baby books started to become popular in the early 1900s because of the drop in infant mortality; parents were able to expect babies to survive and therefore parents started to document their lives and plan for their futures.  This seems like a sound theory for the baby book boom.  In 1911 the infant mortality rate (IMR) in the United States was 135 deaths per 1000 live births3 but the “first third of the 20th century marked an era of significant growth in child health and welfare efforts….the US Children's Bureau (USCB) was founded in 1912, and both local and state public health departments began focusing many of their resources on mothers and children….Along with improved nutrition and public health, advances in medical therapy have reduced the IMR from more than 100 to fewer than 10 deaths per 1000 live births”.4

Another fascinating aspect of many of these mass-produced baby books is the social history of advertising they provide.  Baby books often have advertisements geared to sell products. “Businesses discovered that babies are a wonderful excuse for consumption, and they helpfully padded the pages of baby books with advertisements for all manner of things that that no baby [or parents] should be without.”5

Baby books can be an excellent tool for genealogists as they offer a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of that family.  The books often contain dates, and names of family members.  You might find the married names of female relatives.  You might find records of siblings.  As well as touching moments in that family’s lives.  It’s a great way to piece together the story of your relative’s infancy and the lives of the new parents.  Look in your attics or trunks to see if you have any baby books.  Generally speaking, you find them for the first child and other children in the family either don’t have one or very little was filled in - but even if the baby book you find isn’t your direct ancestor examine it for family details!

The UCLA’s Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library has a collection of baby books, the oldest book in their collection is “The Mother’s Record of the Physical, Mental, and Moral Growth of Her Child for the First Fifteen Years” published in 1882.6  The UCLA does take donations of baby books (it might be a good home for your baby books if you don’t want to keep them, or your family doesn’t want to inherit them).  Some researchers are using them to study baby development, health, and other social aspects from the home-documented sources such as baby books.  If you are interested in donating your baby book to the library, go to the library’s donations page:

My next post will examine more in depth my grandmother Betty's baby book and the story I was able to piece together using that family history document.

1 “Baby Books Collection.” UCLA Library, 20 Apr. 2017,
2 Day, Nicholas. “The First Baby Blogs, Over 100 Years Ago.” Los Angeles Times, 17 Apr. 2013,
3 Brosco, Jeffrey P. “The Early History of the Infant Mortality Rate in America: ‘A Reflection Upon the Past and a Prophecy of the Future.’” Pediatrics, vol. 103, 2, Feb. 1999, AAP News & Journals Gateway,
4 Brosco, Jeffrey P. “The Early History of the Infant Mortality Rate in America: ‘A Reflection Upon the Past and a Prophecy of the Future.’” Pediatrics, vol. 103, 2, Feb. 1999, AAP News & Journals Gateway,
5 Day, Nicholas. “The First Baby Blogs, Over 100 Years Ago.” Los Angeles Times, 17 Apr. 2013,
6 Lin, Judy. “Baby Books a Mother Lode for Research.” UCLA Newsroom, 3 June 2010,

Additional Sources:
  • Braun, Bob. “Rutgers University Professor Writes Book on How Infants Shape Culture, Economics.”, 1 Apr. 2010,
  • Denny, Melcena Burns. The Book of Baby Mine. Grand Rapids: The Simplicity Company, 1915. Print.
  • Kellogg, Carolyn. “The Hidden History of Baby Books.” Los Angeles Times, 11 June 2010,

Monday, April 17, 2017

Family Photo Project - Getting Started

I spent the long weekend over at my parents’ house to go through and scan photos and documents.  So, I have a lot of interesting things to share over the coming weeks!

I accomplished my goal which was to scan all the items on my maternal side.  I scanned about 500 photos – most of which we could identify but we do have a stack we need to examine and compare and see if we can maybe figure out who is who.

Mom & my uncle feeding a raccoon at Allegheny State Park
(Don't try this at home boys & girls!)
There were a lot of interesting and fun finds: my grandmother’s baby book, family letters confirming a theory I had, photos of some of my immigrant ancestors, my grandfather’s photos he took when he was abroad during WWII.

Lots of interesting stories from my Mom about food, family rumors, funny facts.

Carl & Dagmar Grann and Walt & Dorothy Grann
I think my favorite photo from this weekend is this one.  I also really, really like their hats!
It is a photo of my maternal great-uncles & great-aunts.  From left to right: Carl Grann & his wife, Dagmar Kallander and his brother, Walter Grann & his wife, Dorothy Walden.  I don’t have an exact date on the photo but judging from their clothes and ages it should be sometime in the mid-1920s. 
Carl and Dagmar were both born in Sweden (although married in the US), Walt was born after his parents immigrated to the US.

I find it’s funny how sometimes you can form an opinion or feeling just from photos.  For whatever reason, I have always been drawn to my great-aunt Dagmar.  She died in 1985 so I did meet her, but I don’t have any memories of her since I was young when she passed.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just her unusual name, or perhaps this photo below (which I just find fantastic).

Dagmar Kallander

I asked my Mom this weekend what Dagmar was like.  I asked if she was kind of spunky, because she looks like she would be.  Mom said that she did think that she was and always liked her (she was one of her favorite aunts).

One of the reasons I love genealogy research is creating these connections with my family (both living and not), discovering their stories and the different lives they have had.  I look forward to getting back into my family records & photos (we have bins full of stuff from my paternal side I still have to go through and scan) and helping to piece together more of these stories.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Family Recipe Project

Eunice Hunt Grann is my maternal great-grandmother.  My middle name is Eunice after her and I bear a great resemblance to her.  Seriously...when I found this photo and shared it with my family my brother thought it was me in one of those old-timey photos.

From 1978 - 1980 my maternal uncle, Bruce gathered and compiled a lot of the family recipes and had them typed up and gave them to members of the family.  My mom has always had a copy of the recipe book and I found my grandmother's copy when she passed away in 2015.  My grandmother, Betty is technically my step-grandmother since she was my grandfather's second wife, they were married in December 1979, but she is the only grandmother I knew on that side.  But, to keep us genealogists on our toes, both my biological and step grandmothers were named Betty.

Since I inherited my grandmother's copy, I also found this letter from Bruce to Betty in the cookbook:

"Christmas 1980
Dear Betty,
This project was started over three years ago and includes recipes from my mother's and grandmother's cookbooks, as well as sorted selections from other people.  Dorislee did the typing for a year and a half, and it's taken me another year plus to get the books put together.
Since this doesn't include the recipe for the one thing Dad can make - scalloped potatoes - I guess you'll have to execute any of the recipes if they are going to get done.  Since it's a loose-leaf book, I assume everyone will add their own favorites.  However, as I was folding all the pages and punching all the holes, I realized you'll have to annotate your contributions with Betty "B" Barber to make the distinction.
Welcome to the family!
Love, Bruce"
I do have to admit reading this that I am so grateful for modern technologies that make creating a recipe book for the family much less labor intensive (at least as far as typing on a typewriter and manually punching holes goes).

This recipe book has many recipes that have very basic (or no) instructions - mostly the ones from my great-grandmother.  Probably because most cookie and cake recipes tend to have similar assembly instructions so they just didn't bother writing down.

But, from a modern cooks perspective, these recipes can be very difficult to follow if you aren't familiar with some of those basics.  I know my mom has mentioned not making a lot of these recipes because she just wasn't sure what to do.

So, one of my projects is to create an updated family cookbook.  I want to update the recipes with some more detailed instructions as well as add some additional family recipes and like my uncle before me, distribute the cookbook to family members.  But, since it is 2017 - I can also detail my experiences online as well!  Again, reference above thought on modern technology!

So, for your first taste of my family recipes here is the recipe I have made several times for Spritz.  It's attributed to both Eunice and her daughter, Betty.

Since I've made this before, I did actually blog (on a different blog) this modern recipe equivalent so here is the link:

My mom remembers these cookies at Christmas-time and that is when I tend to make them as well.  They are a lovely soft, almond flavored cookie that uses a cookie press.

So, if you like vintage recipes, keep an eye on this spot for more.  I am actually cooking up a couple new recipes today that I haven't tried before so there will be another blog post soon on Danish Tarts!