Without pictures, our words will still be valued by our descendants a hundred years from now, but without words the pictures will be meaningless.
Also see Journaling Tools and Journaling a Child's Album.


A thought...

Remember, each photo you take documents 1/100th of a second of your life. So if you have 3,000 photos, only thirty seconds have been documented. When you look at this fact, you understand the need to embellish your family album with careful labeling and photojournalism. Without this, you have thirty seconds of memories...valuable only to those who can remember them. With the added details, you have a lifetime of memories valuable to you, your family, friends and future generations!

Notes on a Family Album

I sit before some photographs of people I don't know.
Mom said "they are your relatives" But that was long ago.

She used to get the album out and put me on her knee;
then pointing, with a story line tell family history.

The captions used were all her own, each time developed new.
We never thought to write them down before her life was through.

I see some family features now; I have begun to care.
Since Mom is gone, I cannot ask, "Whose picture is that there?"

If you have the photos in a book without a caption, too.
Go get a pen and label them or you may wonder, "Who?"

Who is This Woman?

(Deanna Wentz)

Who is this woman with her hair of gray,
And what was she like back in her day?

Did she love to sing, cook or sew?
There's no one to ask, so we'll never know.

What were her dreams, did they come true?
Someone, somewhere at one time knew.

She was somebody's mother and somebody's wife,
But no one bothered to document her life.

Photos bridge the distance between then and now,
If we take time to record: Who, What, When and How.

Who is the Little Girl?

(Nanci B.)

Who is the little girl?
What happened on this day?
Did she grow up to be a mom?
No one can hardly say.

Such a pretty little picture.
And it's condition is quite good.
But no one ever placed it in
The place they really should.

How proud and honored you'd be
To look at your self someday.
But nothing ever happened
For it to be viewed today.

It wasn't ever enjoyed at all.
Found in a drawer in a box.
Stored right next to
Old letter, lingerie and socks.

So when I came across your picture
It made me sad to see.
For it meant your story's meaning
Has been lost in history.

Documentation and Photo Journaling


    What you can say, you can write. Some things can only be written by YOU. Good writing is plain people saying simple things. Writing is just 'thinking with a pen'. Write your thoughts as if you were writing a letter to a friend.
    You can't fail if you write, silence is the only failure. Each sentence is a small success. You will not be graded. This is 'Creative Memories 101' not 'Creative Writing 101'.
    There is no wrong way to write. Find your own style--one that you are comfortable with and that is uniquely yours.
    Most of the things you do on a daily basis (cooking, laundry, etc) must be done again and again. Recording your memories is an investment of time and energy that, done once, will be there for generations to come. Don't wait to write until you have large blocks of time. Snatch little bits here and there. Break it down into manageable increments (one page or one event) rather than thinking of the whole album.


  1. Get started NOW! Each pack of photos you get developed is brimming with memories that you will forget if you don't write them down.
  2. Include specific data as well as emotions, dreams and memories.
  3. Pick precise words over general words. Appeal to all the senses to create a "you are there" feeling.
  4. Use action verbs instead of adverbs
  5. Develop the characters and personalities of the people in the photos through emotional description and specific memories. Make them real to people who will never know them--except through your descriptions.
  6. Include current events in your captions or narrations. Bullet journaling works well for this. For example in a child's school album with their photo of a specific year include things like: who was president, fashion fads, food choices, major news stories, etc.
  7. List your memories or knowledge about a particular person (number of children, places lived, organizations they belonged to, their hobbies and interests, etc.)
  8. Each photo is different. For some the "who-what-where-when" type caption is plenty. Others beg for more detail or description. Write what is needed to capture the full spirit of the photo to ensure that the memory is preserved.
  9. For a photo that requires a lot of narration you may need to do some preparation. First think about the subject for a few days as you go about your daily routine. Make notes as they come to you. When you sit down to write it will be a lot easier to organize your thoughts and memories.
  10. It is best to write down ALL your thoughts in a rough draft and then edit out what you don't want to include. Try reading the words aloud to see how they flow. Try to stick to a main idea or subject. If one thought leads to another try to separate out the non-relevant things. You can always include them somewhere else in your album.


  1. Add poems or quotes that fit the theme of a page or the idea of a photo.
  2. For a page with a group of photos of a person at a particular age add info relating to that person during that time period. For example on a 16th birthday page include things like: their first job, the story about getting their driver's license, etc.
  3. Use the words to a favorite song or prayer or poem and use them in a decorative border around a page.
  4. Collect memories from friends, relatives, family members, neighbors, etc. to give more dimension to an album.
  5. Journal some of the everyday things from your life. They may seem ordinary and mundane but the biggest part of your life is the day to day activities and they should be remembered, too.

No Camera!

(If you want to journal an event for which you have no photos use this poem by Connie Sanderson)

Where was the camera?
Was it far away?
'Cause I have no pictures
for this special day.
What a crazy thing that I have done.
I can't believe there are really none!
So read the stories that I've written here
that tell about our memories, so dear.

VARIATIONS: You can substitute the words "Christmas day", "special birthday", etc. for "special day" and use the word "we" in place of "I".
For the sixth line you could substitute " there is really not a single one!

A Tale of Two Words

(posted on a board after a heated argument over the word 'journaling')

Said Journaling to Journalize
"I despise 'journalize'!"
Said Journalize to Journaling
"'Ding-a-lings' say 'journaling'!"

Thus began a tale of woe
As the BB posts began to grow.

Journalize stood firm as glue
For proper grammar, spelling true.
Journaling just would not fall
For stuffy grammar protocol.

Said Journalize to Journaling,
"How can you cling to misspelled things?"
Said Journaling to Journalize,
"I'd rather die than 'journalize'!"

Verbal mud began to flow.
Animosity continued to grow.
Both were stubborn, both were right.
Instead of scrapping, they'd rather fight!

Amidst the fighting, a voice was heard--
Children's voices--puzzled words.
"Everyone's fighting!"
"No one's writing!"

Words of wisdom, words so true!
Let's write, not fight, as others do.

Moral of the story:
There's a story to tell--let's tell it!
Who cares what you call it
or how you spell it?!?!?!


Writing in Your Album

Are you afraid of writing in your album?
Do you think your handwriting is not "good enough"?
Do you feel like you will "mess up" that white page, or that you won't "sound right"?

There are basically four journaling styles you could use:

  1. English 101 - Who, what, where journaling. "Just the facts, ma'am!"
  2. Captions - You know, the photos that are crying out for some clever quip.
  3. Bullets -
  4. Journaling - Some pictures and events need their story to be told. These photos are terrific, but they only represent a split second of time. Why did you take the photo in the first place? Was there a special reason, or emotion associated with the picture?

Have you ever gone to a party and someone whips out their pack of vacation photos and tells you about the 5-mile hike in a sudden rainstorm, or the time the deer came right up and nudged them on the shoulder? The photos have character and texture. Now imagine that someone just hands you the same pack of photos and walks off to get a drink of iced tea. You look through the pack and see someone in the rain and a deer, not really much to look at in themselves. The story behind the reason they were taken is missing and the pictures themselves just don't have the same impact.
The words are important! I also include stories about important events, even if no picture was taken. Just include it chronologically in your album.
If you are afraid you'll mess up, draw some light lines with pencil and erase them later or insert a ruled page periodically and do your story telling on it. (If you do make a mistake, you can always do "sticker surgery" and cover it up) Don't worry about how you sound.
Write the story as if you are showing someone the pack of photos at the party. Your family will be thrilled at the glimpse of your life that you have given them.
If you think your handwriting isn't "nice enough", you're wrong. Have you ever gone to the mailbox and looked through the stack of bills and come across a personal letter? Instantly you know who it is from. The handwritten address gives it away even if there is no return address. It's from a dear old friend. All of a sudden you are overwhelmed with the warm feeling so the times you spent together. You don't care that the writing is slanted uphill or that the spacing is uneven, you only think about opening up this wonderful gift. Your album is a reflection of you and your love for your family. Handwriting is very personal and an integral part of your history. Your family will not be going through your album to criticize the handwriting but will recognize it as the same writing they saw on school lunch bags and notes on the fridge. It's from someone they love!

Journaling Books

Turning Memories into Memoirs-A Handbook for Writing Lifestories and The Photoscribe both by Denis Ledoux, Soleil Press. These books detail step by step what you need to do to write life stories.

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