Archive for May, 2009

Images from a Baby Book, 1956

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:

Title Page

Title Page

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.

Table of Contents, part 1

Table of Contents, part 1

Table of Contents, Part 2

Table of Contents, Part 2

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.

Baby's First Ten Days

Baby's First Ten Days

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.

Identification Marks

Identification Marks

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.

Record of Growth

Record of Growth

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.

Notes and Letters of Congratulations

Notes and Letters of Congratulations

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”.

Physical and Mental Development

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.

One Year Old

One Year Old

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.

Family Album

Family Album

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.


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One of the most useful software features that has shown up on most web sites these days is something called “look-ahead” technology.

Here’s the idea.  Let’s say you go to the Google web site and you’re looking for a way to hunt down relatives.  You begin typing “find my relatives” into the search box.  But as you type, Google lists a number of phrases that start with the characters that you’ve already typed–things that Google things you might be typing.  So by the time you’ve typed “find my r”, it lists “find my relatives” as one possible thing that you might be searching for.

This is really useful because Google often seems to figure out what you’re going to type, long before you finish typing.  Then you can just click on the phrase that you were going to type and proceed with your search.

How does this work?  Here’s where “look-ahead” comes into play.  Instead of waiting until you finish typing to search its database, Google takes what you’ve already typed and does a quick search in the database.  But instead of searching for web sites, which is what happens when you press the “Google Search” button, it searches for things that other users have typed in the past.

The reason that this is useful is that people tend to search for things that other people have already searched for.  You are definitely not the first person who has entered “find my relatives” into the Google search bar.  So it suggests “find my relatives” as one possible sentence you might be typing.

So this is basically a big time saver for you, since you rarely have to type the entire phrase that you’d thought of into the search bar.  Even better, you might see some phrases that are similar to yours that you had not thought of.

But Google doesn’t just list a bunch of things it thinks you might be typing.  It lists the most common search phrases that match what you’re typing.  What’s more, it orders the list by popularity, with the most common at the top.

This makes reading Google’s list of suggested search phrases very interesting.  By typing a word or two, we can get some insight into what people are searching for.

So, What Are People Searching For?

So now the fun begins.  Let’s enter a handful of interesting phrases into the Google search bar, to see what the most common searches are that start with that phrase.

find my ..

  • find my ip address
  • find my ip
  • find my congressman
  • find my house
  • find my spot

my family ..

  • my family tree
  • my family and other animals
  • myfamilytree.biz
  • myfamily.com
  • my family health portrait

genealogy ..

  • genealogy search
  • genealogy software
  • genealogy sites
  • genealogy free
  • genealogy websites

family photos ..

  • family photos ideas
  • family photos poses
  • family photos on the beach
  • family photos of barack obama
  • family photos what to wear

family tree ..

  • family tree maker
  • family tree template
  • family tree search
  • family tree chart
  • family tree dna

family history ..

  • family history library
  • family history library catalog
  • family history free
  • family history questions
  • family history online

ancestors ..

  • ancestors search
  • ancestors.com
  • ancestors in the attic
  • ancestors definition
  • ancestors myspace

You get the idea.  Google can tell you a lot about what people are searching for and that can be illuminating for certain search phrases.

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Here’s a poem that I wrote for my Dad back in 1993, to commemorate his 60th birthday.  We threw a huge birthday party and printed the poem out on cardstock and hung it up at the party.  The poem became a huge birthday card and everyone who attended the party got to sign it and leave a little message.

A Poem to Commemorate John Sexton’s 60th Birthday

John Sexton is about to turn sixty years old;
He’s come a long ways, so let the story be told.
This tale begins in St. Paul on a farm–
With a cute little kid, full of kindness and charm.

John lived on Bernard, two kids to a bed,
A house full of boys, run by Sugar and Ted.
They worked on the farm, through rain, snow and sleet
Looking forward all day to a slice of that teat.

Soon John went to Cretin, like many young men,
Where he learned honor and discipline and use of the pen.
Later came the army, when he volunteered to go.
Though about to be drafted—he was required to show.

After his time in Korea, that brief little stint,
John returned home and decided to print.
He went to work for his dad at the shop
And learned to run presses instead of a mop.

John in his twenties knew many young women;
He’d wine them and dine them or just take them swimmin’.
Show them the town, dance cheek to cheek,
John’s goal at this time: “A new girl each week!”

Until the day that he met a nurse named Claudette;
They both knew this was it, the minute they met.
In a very short while they decided to wed,
And a family of four now had to be fed.

John was happy with Claudette, Mike & Joe.
And the house on Summit with a lawn he could mow.
But two boys was too dull, they needed a spark,
So along came Sean, followed by Mark.

They all lived in Eagan, in the house that John built;
And the boys played outside, in the mud, sand and silt.
But with a house full of men, Claudette needed some peace,
So they asked for a girl, and along came Denise.

Having a daughter was so nice when he tried it,
That John wanted some others, and so they decided–
“We need a few more kids—we can’t settle for five”,
So Natalie & Nicole were the next to arrive.

John now, it seemed, was the father of seven.
And life was quite good, though not always heaven.
Since he loved them all deeply, through good times and bad,
He was the best father they could have ever had.

One by one the kids got older, and began to move away–
To start their own lives, and work instead of play,
But very soon the babies started to be born
And the call “grandpa” echoed through the corn.

Now John works in the house up on the hill
And toils at the computer, ‘till he’s had his fill.
He plans new projects, things to build or do
And he and Claudette travel, visiting places new.

What comes next for John?  It’s hard to tell;
But the first sixty years have sure been swell.
He’s done so much and traveled so far,
And someday he’ll finish that little green car.

So as you turn sixty John, we would just like to say,
That it’s been an adventure, every step of the way.
And so it should come as no great surprise
That we think that you’re truly the greatest of guys.

–Sean Sexton, 1993

Sadly, John passed away in 2005, after a battle with Melanoma.  We still miss him terribly, but are so grateful for the wonderful legacy of family and friends that he left behind.

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