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: http://www.library.ucla.edu/about/giving-library/gifts-materials.
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, http://www.library.ucla.edu/special-collections/medicine-sciences-biomedical-library/baby-books-collection.↩
2 Day, Nicholas. “The First Baby Blogs, Over 100 Years Ago.” Los Angeles Times, 17 Apr. 2013, http://www.slate.com/blogs/how_babies_work/2013/04/17/history_of_baby_books_parents_recorded_children_s_lives_because_they_weren.html. ↩
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, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/103/2/478.short.↩
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, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/103/2/478.short.↩
5 Day, Nicholas. “The First Baby Blogs, Over 100 Years Ago.” Los Angeles Times, 17 Apr. 2013, http://www.slate.com/blogs/how_babies_work/2013/04/17/history_of_baby_books_parents_recorded_children_s_lives_because_they_weren.html. ↩
6 Lin, Judy. “Baby Books a Mother Lode for Research.” UCLA Newsroom, 3 June 2010, http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/baby-books-a-mother-lode-159628.↩
- Braun, Bob. “Rutgers University Professor Writes Book on How Infants Shape Culture, Economics.” NJ.com, 1 Apr. 2010, http://blog.nj.com/njv_bob_braun/2010/04/rutgers_university_professor_w.html.
- 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, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/06/the-hidden-history-of-baby-books.html.