Not too long ago, I took possession of my immediate family’s collection of old baby books. The idea was that I’ll get everything from the baby books scanned and saved, before returning them to my siblings. That was a number of months ago and I still haven’t taken the time to digitize the books and archive the images.
I did spend a little time recently, however, just paging through my oldest brother’s baby book and absorbing all of the wonderful information that it contained. My brother Mike was born in 1956 and Mom diligently recorded many details about Mike’s birth and first few months. It was fascinating to see the variety of information recorded and to realize what a treasure trove these books are for family historians.
You can certainly still buy baby books today–sporting titles like “Baby’s First Year”, etc. But I get the sense that the heyday of detailed baby books was back in the 1940s and 1950s, with new Moms buying super detailed books and diligently filling in every page. When women started entering the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s, spending lots of time on baby books probably became much less common. It was probably only in the 1990s, with the renewed interest in scrapbooking, that creating a detailed account of your child’s first years probably started becoming common again.
I thought I would share some of the great images and content from my brother’s baby book. Click on any of the smaller images below to see the corresponding full-sized image.
Let’s start with the title page of the baby book:
I love the subtitle, which hints that this isn’t some artsy scrapbook, but a true scientific endeavor:
A baby record book including scientific charts which will prove of practical service to the mother and growing child.
Scientific charts?? Also notice mention of the “Chicago Lying-in Hospital”.
Next we have the “endorsements” page.
Some of what’s written here is also amazing. It seems like we weren’t allowed to keep scrapbooks as sentimental creations back in the 1950s, but somehow had to justify books like this as truly useful scientific records, to be used by attending physicians. Mothers would be gathering and keeping this information “for their own use in checking up on their methods and results”. Also note the goal, to keep “a simple, adequate, unsentimental record of the baby’s development”.
Unsentimental? Clearly, this is not your daughter’s lovely artistic scrapbook of the 1990s.
The next two images show the table of contents, which gives us an idea of the layout of the book.
Notice the detailed structure–so different from today’s idea of scrapbooking, which emphasizes open-ended creativity and originality.
Here’s one of the pages for recording some of the baby’s early behavior.
Of course some of this is sort of entertaining (e.g. Mike being labeled a “stinker” because he cried when he wanted to be held). But it also gives some real insight into the habits and culture surrounding a newborn in 1956. Going far beyond just a photo from the first days, we get a real sense of what life was like for mother and baby.
Here’s a footprint/handprint page.
It’s nice to have the little card listing details from the birth, in case this information isn’t recorded anywhere else.
Here’s a chart showing weight and height, up through Mike’s 6th year.
Wow–how many parents these days take the time to record height/weight data every month?
Here’s a page that had a few congratulatory cards pasted into it.
Next we have a page listing gifts received.
I find this pretty interesting. You get a sense of the relatives and friends who were part of my Mom’s social circle at the time. I’m especially intrigued by the appearance on this list of someone named “Fraulein Frickke”. Clearly, I need to ask my Mom about this person.
Then we have the following page, with photos of the homes where Mike lived for the first few years of his life.
This sort of information is a real gold mine for the family historian. It’s evidence that you can use in reconstructing information about where the family lived at a particular point in time. The polaroids automatically labeled with the date are especially helpful.
Here is Mike’s “physical and mental development”.
Again, this stuff is priceless. You really get a mental image of the person as a baby that goes far beyond a simple list of dates and places.
Here’s the “Talking” page.
And here is a summary of Mike’s 1st birthday celebration.
Again, this is great to use as a secondary source in your research, giving you some evidence about people who were associated with the family at this particular time. Note the comment about Daddy having to go to a ball game..
Here’s is the “Trips” page.
You can possibly use information like this to figure out the date/place of family photos that you might have in your collection. The page gives us some real specific data about some family trips.
Finally, here’s a “family album” page, with pictures of my Mom and her first husband.
Many of these baby books have plenty of space for photos. In the case of my brother, there weren’t that many photos in the book. But these two photos are ones that I don’t think I’ve found elsewhere in the family collection of photos.
Research Tool and Family Treasure
A well-stocked baby book is not only a family treasure, giving us glimpses into the early life of one of our relatives/ancestors. But clearly it can also prove to be a valuable research tool, providing additional data that we don’t find elsewhere.