We have a lot of family photo albums and scrapbooks in the Historical Society collections, along with the archival equivalent* of ye olde traditional “Shoebox of Photos I Never Got Around to Dealing With.”  We also have a few baby books, the commercially printed kind with pages for recording the date of baby’s first teeth, first sounds, first steps, etc.  One of my favorites is this book, which combines the written word with a number of snapshots and photographic portraits to record the early life of one William O. Hazard, Jr., of Garrett Park.

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Billy, as he was called, was born on August 6, 1913 to William Oscar Hazard, Sr., and his wife Maude Wagstaff Hazard; he was their first child.  We don’t know who gave this copy of Baby Days: A Sunbonnet Record (Bertha L. Corbett, 1910) to the happy couple, but one or both parents used it to diligently keep track of Billy’s vital statistics and development milestones, including his first words (“Mamma, Da-da and stick”), his baptismal sponsors, and the guests at his first birthday party.

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The Barth family (descendants of Billy’s younger sister Edith) has donated a large collection related to the Hazards, including clothes, toys, documents, this book, and photographs. Mr. Hazard was a professional photographer, and – as one might expect – he took a lot of photos of his new family.  Choice images appear throughout Billy’s baby book, not only pasted onto the designated pages (“Some precious pictures” and “More snapshots”) but also scattered throughout, sometimes illustrating the written info, sometimes as a little extra.  To the Hazards, the images were as important as the words.

A formal portrait and several snapshots (including both Mother and Father) adorn the "More snapshots" pages.

A formal portrait and several snapshots (including both Mother and Father) adorn the “More snapshots” pages.

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Another photo of Billy, deliberately placed and perhaps showing him in his “First Short Dress.”

These 1915 snapshots, showing Billy enjoying the garden (and the company of a few chickens), are opposite the unrelated page that demands info on Baby's First "Creeping" (crawling). (Which was at 9 months, by the way.)

These 1915 snapshots, showing Billy enjoying the garden (and the company of a few chickens), are pasted opposite the unrelated page that demands info on Baby’s First “Creeping” (crawling). (Which was at 9 months, by the way.)

Baby books – introduced in the late 19th century, but particularly popular starting in the 1910s – are a fantastic source of information, with clues about the lives of babies both as individuals and in the broader historical context.  What illnesses did they suffer?  What gifts and presents were appropriate?  What types of questions do the different books ask?  (E.g., how many modern baby books ask about “first dancing lessons,” as this book does?)

There is scholarship out there on the subject; this Slate article from April, 2013 summarizes some points, and the Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library at UCLA has a collection of, and I quote, “More baby books than you can shake a rattle at.”  However, today’s artifact is (at least in this case) intended less as an historic baby book, and more as an example of one family’s creative compilation of their child’s photographic record; the baby book became the photo album.  I had something else on deck for today’s post, but an NPR article caught my eye this morning: What happens to family photo albums in the digital age?  I was particularly struck by the suggestion that we’re in a strange place right now in terms of photo technology; we’ve moved to a primarily digital format, but we don’t yet have a handle on digital photo preservation, and that gap might one day prove problematic.  This might not be something you’ve worried about, blog readers, but believe me, historians, curators, and other museum people are concerned, and we’d like you to be as well.  (It will make our jobs easier someday!) Ready to start prepping your gigabytes of baby pictures, holiday snaps and other images for the future?  Here are some suggestions from the Library of Congress on how to start the process.  You’ll thank us later.

* That is to say, now the photos are stored in acid-free folders instead of shoeboxes.  (And I should clarify that these are donors’ collections of un-albumed photos, not photos the Society hasn’t gotten around to dealing with.)

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