keeping history

by | Feb 24, 2015 | Decorating, My House | 59 comments

I have had a bin of family pictures, a box of matts and glass, a stash of frames and a mat cutter hanging out in my to-do pile for years.  YEARS!  And that is not an exaggeration.  It really is ridiculous.  Since I’m working on the finishing touches on my house, it is time to do some framing.

I have had dreams of creating a gallery wall in our stairway since the day we moved in.  Now that things are freshly painted, I’m ready to create the gallery wall.  (I think just on the wall to the right, so it’s not too overwhelming for the narrow space.)


That project starts with the pictures.

I get emotional going through old pictures.  I’m not sentimental about very many things, but pictures and handwritten letters, get me choked up.  I think it’s because I know what happens to old, nameless pictures.  They end up in the trash, maybe in an antique store or an auction lot.  They end up lost, forgotten.  I don’t want that to happen to these pictures.  I feel a weight of responsibility to frame them, label them, in the hopes they might hang in the homes of their descendants for generations to come.  I think that’s easier with large portraits, but what about little snapshots glued to paper that some bug snacked on?


These pictures of my Oma (who I was named after) are so precious.  I can recognize her smile, even though I only knew her as an old woman.  Along with her name, I inherited her blue eyes and unruly curls.



I selected my seven favorites snapshots and arranged them in a long and narrow frame I picked up from an antique store.  The smallest picture was 2″ x 2″, so I had to cut all of the windows in the mat to that size for the sake of uniformity.


It took a bit of math to figure it all out, but, despite my deficiencies in that discipline, it looks beautiful.


I need to have glass cut for it and several other frames, so I wrote down the dimensions and ordered them from the glass shop today.

mms-5145 mms-5146

I labeled the back of the mat, so future generations know who the people are.


Most frames only cost a few dollars at thrift stores, yard sales and antique stores, the mat board is usually about $5.00 for a large sheet and the glass is just a few dollars per sheet, so I’m able to do all of this custom framing for about $5 – 15/each.


Cutting mats is tedious work, but I did get four other pictures done yesterday and seven more done today.



While it is tedious, it feels like important work.  It’s a part of keeping the history of our family; preserving it for others to remember.  As I poured over the pictures, I loved seeing my youngest son in the childhood face of my mother-in-law and my oldest boy in the wiry frame of my Opa, who he was named after.

Yeah, I also see where I get my thighs.


Thanks for those, Eppes.  You work it, girl.


  1. Lori

    I love that you have an Oma and Opa, I did as well and now my children call my parents by the same. Preserving history is so important! Can’t wait to see the gallery wall completed!

  2. Monica

    Marian, you look so much like your Oma! It’s an important job to be the caretaker of family history – someday your grandchildren will thank you for having the foresight to preserve these precious memories.

  3. Lisa

    I love them!
    You look like the woman (your great grandmother?) that is holding your grandmother. And I see you look just like the girl in the school picture, front row, second from the left.

    Every time I visit older relative, I want to pour over their old pictures!

    • Amy

      Yes, I thought the same thing. The woman holding the baby. I see a clear family resemblance. You are doing a good thing!

  4. Maureen

    Thank you for sharing this. They’re beautifully done and I felt moved to tears somehow. I have pictures to preserve myself…. I’ll begin this week. This was a precious reminder.

  5. Teresa

    I love the frame! When I have done something similar I put the birthday and date of death of the person. Future generations would appreciate that.

  6. Elizabeth

    First, I love the idea of a gallery wall in a stairway. What a neat use of space. Also, I love the sentimentality of these old photos, and the way you framed them. You’ve inspired me to dig up some old photos to frame in our home!

  7. Anita

    Oh my goodness, so, so awesome! I am all about family history and so happy to know I am not alone! What amazing photos you have and the way you are showcasing them is so beautiful and thoughtful. What a gift to your family:-)

  8. Kelly

    Such a great post. If we are so lucky to have great family pictures it is our responsibility to preserve and respect them. Copy them, buy a frame, give them as gifts to the next generation. I have often thought I would love to buy those old pictures, trophies, etc. I see in shops and try to find the family they belonged too. Stay warm”

  9. Sylvia

    As they get older, your boys will really appreciate these wonderful photos. I can see a genetics project in their future (science teacher here) as they look for traits you and they have in common with past generations. It is important to preserve history for our children.

  10. Paula Cunningham

    So awesome! I have boxes of old black and whites left to me from my parents, plus I have a box of love letters written by my parents to each other as my Dad served in WWII. Now I know something I can do with my treasures.

  11. taria

    My 90 yo dad has us over to label pics once in awhile. It is always a fun family day. We have some that are unidentifiable from my mom’s side. We are still trying to id them. I really appreciate your treasuring old pics. Getting them out where they can be seen is awesome. Hurray for stalled projects that awaken anew.


    Genetics of big strong thighs….runs in my family too! I am learning to embrace them. Theoretically speaking. 🙂

  13. JJ

    Those are fabulous! I love the pose in the last pic! Of course I want to know what kind of mat cutter you are using?

    • joanna n.

      yes, i wondered about the mat cutter, too. everything else sounds very reasonably priced; much more so than buying pre-cut mats. thanks for the inspiration, marion! btw, i, too, come from a long line of sturdy-thighed ladies; i tell my farmer husband that i am a much better farm wife due to my sturdy thighs. =)

  14. beck campbell

    Marian, I just posted a tutorial on preserving old family photos. I too decorate with family photos, but it is important to properly store the photos you are not using! Maybe this will help you and some of your readers. BTW, it is so nice to see that someone else takes the responsibility of “possessing” these heirlooms seriously!

  15. Lisa

    I love that you have done this! And I’m jealous that you have the ability to do it yourself! I paid about $100 to have a picture of my dad and his army unit matted and framed, and another $100 for a pencil drawing of him that was done while in the army. That one was done on tissue-like paper and was folded in quarters so has the aged yellow fold lines in it…but it’s a treasure that my son will hang in his own home one day. I also came across his army patch and his little union books for the entire time he was in the union. They have stamps in for each week he paid his dues. Since my son is now a union electrician he will LOVE having those. I’m giving them to him when he comes up for a visit this Sunday.
    Ok…so I rambled there…but just wanted to say that I agree about family history and how important it is to share with our children so it doesn’t get lost.
    Hugs and have a blessed day!

  16. anya

    These have turned out beautifully, and I look forward to seeing the rest once you have them framed. Family photos really seem like something that is losing focus, so it is great to see you making them important in your home. I just lost my Nana, and we found boxes of photos that we never knew she had. I am looking forward to taking the time to go through them and pick some to add to my home. I will keep an eye out for frames when thrifting!

  17. Toni

    Those photos are precious! I look at my grandmother’s family and see so many of our family’s faces there. You are incredible to tackle the mats. I do buy antique frames and get glass cut for them, but I leave matting for the pros. I have no patience and will gladly pay someone else to do that.
    Congratulations on the progress on your project. It will look great~!!

  18. Peg

    Love this post! Always like to see what you’re doing:)

  19. Kris

    When my daughter was born, the first thing the staff in the delivery room said was, “Look at those thighs!” and I apologized to my newborn then and there for carrying on the dreaded sturdy thigh gene. 🙂

    I LOVE this project. Beautifully done. We have several large antique frames inherited from my husband’s grandparents … you are giving me ideas on how to use these treasures!

  20. Stephanie

    Thank you for sharing and for the inspiration. My mom sees my love of old photos as sad memories, I, like you, see this as a way to preserve family history.

    My great-grandparents were always so dressed up in photos. My great-grandmother was a seamstress and like to imagine her making an outfit for everyone before they took a picture.

    Great work – as always.

  21. Mary McNeil

    You have inspired me to get going on framing my photos that have sat in a bin for many even before I inherited them. Time to record history!

  22. Kim in MN

    Marion, Thank you for the motivation to start framing my own large collection of family photos. A real do-it-myself, I would love to figure out how to cut matting. Last time I took 3 small photos to have matts cut, they cost $100. So much for an “inexpensive” project using my own vintage frames! And thanks beck campbell for the tutorial on photo preservation.

  23. MaryLisa Noyes

    My niece is going through ALL her pictures right now and placing them in new albums in order. Tedious but so worth it.

  24. mary young

    You look so much like your gg mother! Do you see it Marian? I have a hallway with family pictures. Every time I go down that hall it is a walk down memory lane. Most frustrating is a professional picture of two little girls dressed to the nines and barefoot! They look like family but don’t have
    names. What I did was xeroxed a bunch of pictures and sent them to my father’s cousin to
    ID after he died. She was a big help as she was really into family stuff. Also acid free mats
    are important too and I think Michael’s has them in stock.

  25. Camille

    Oh Marian, you have inspired me to keep 3 generations of photos. Unfortunately, so many of them I have no idea who they are as no one labeled them, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of them! We are in the process of moving to a new home, so they will make another journey and then the sorting and framing begins. I did find a cute way to display photos – bunches of them in a relatively small amount of space. I used a baby crib mattress spring (roadside find) and used mini clothes pins to hang them. I’m able to rotate them every so often.

  26. Christy Keyton

    Do you know how much I LOVE this? I was a consultant with Creative Memories for twenty years. I spent my days helping people preserve their family photos and stories. It was the best job in the world!! My heart still flutters at the sight of old photos and I collect them. Passing on the family history and stories is so important. It gives children roots – and wings! My favorite album I have created is one with stories, photos, and memorabilia all about the ways I have seen God work in our life. In this way, I will pass on a spiritual heritage to my children and grandchildren as well. Beautiful work, Marian!

  27. Holly

    I got a little choked up just looking at your pictures and feeling your emotion. They look wonderful!

  28. Cynthia

    Hi Marian~
    You inspire me and yes, I feel the same about old photo’s. I see so many “loved” photo’s at estate sales and it always caused me to pause~ Someone’s history is going, going, gone. It’s hard to find a realistic balance as I am now the recipient of family photo’s going back generations. I too, love how you look just like you Oma! My grand children have an Oma and Opa and I find those names so endearing~ I hope your grands call you and Jeff that one day too!
    Stay well sweet pea~

  29. Karine

    Really fantastic. I also do restorations by profession and family photos are so important. They feed the soul, they give us a sense of place, heritage,….just amazing. I have an original family photo taken around 1907, it so big and clear (11×17) and I can see all the descendants of that family line in the faces of those ancestors, I think I would have recognized them as relatives anywhere!
    Well done, Marian!

  30. Beth

    Lovely photos and what you’ve done to them in that frame. I believe you’ve also inherited the photographic gene. The baby on the porch has great lighting and composition. My Mimi could not take a photo to save her life! Most are blurry, subject too far, poor lighting with heads chopped off; not suitable for framing. Luckily she liked professional photos so have some decent ones that I’ve framed. But love the all natural and home-spun photos that you have and can cherish.

  31. Jelena

    Love that antique gilded frame with tiny photos!
    You are so blessed to have the family who preserved all those old pictures.

  32. Susan Mark

    I would love to see a tutorial showing how you custom cut the mats for photo frames. I’ve had a big piece of mat board for years that I’ve been to scared to cut. I’m sure there are others who would benefit also. Yours looks great! I can’t wait to see your finished, picture-enhanced stairway wall!

  33. April

    Precious and inspirational. Can not wait to see your gallery wall. I have 3 staircases just like that in our Dr. Seuss house and would like to do gallery walls, but also don’t want it to look too crowded. Maybe I will get our mat cutter out and have another crack at it. 🙂 I wasn’t very good at it the first time around.

  34. Trudi

    Beautiful! And you look just like the woman holding the baby (your Oma, I believe) The resemblance is quite strong. I’d also love to see a mat cutting tutorial if you ever feel so inclined:)

  35. Christine

    Marian, I love this post! I also had to comment on how much you resemble the woman holding the baby!

  36. Carlotta

    Thanks for sharing. Now, I don’t feel so guilty about my unfinished projects. Also, where in the world do you find a mat cutter? I have paid a fortune to have pictures framed & matted by professionals & I know that I could do at least a few of my smaller projects. Thanks.

  37. Tina Polito

    Hello Marian, how lucky are you to have photos of your great gran parents especially baby photos! I am first generation Australian & I only have 1 photo of my father as a young child & none of my Mum (very sad!)…
    Great work with the matting & framing of these treasures. Like the others I would also love to see a tutorial regarding the matt board cutting. I know a big ask!
    Could you also post photos of your gallery wall once you put the photos on the stair well wall? I am interested in how you will hang them, as I want to do the same thing..
    I love your work, your energy, your talent and generosity in sharing all your wonderful projects. You have made your house a warm, inviting and gorgeous HOME! Huge hugs form down under x Tina

  38. Naomi S.

    Oh, Marian, I got a little teary and emotional looking at your photos, too. I have lots of the same type of my family–grandparents and great grandparents, my mom and step-dad, my sister and brother when we were all children and myself. You inspire me to do something with them like you are. The first one you did is just lovely. That vintage frame is so, so beautiful and the small images are just perfect in it. I have SUCH a soft place in my heart for vintage photos. Must be because I’m a photographer myself and I know how they came from the film and the old cameras which were so much harder to use than our digital ones today. And I do think family history is something to be cherished, so I love the way you are labeling everything. And thanks so much for sharing your project with us. You will love being able to see these every day once they are hung!

  39. Ashley

    This is so beautiful. I, myself, am a sap over my family’s old photos, so I hear ya! What a great job you did with that long frame. You should be so proud to have displayed them in such a gorgeous way and preserved them for your family forever.

    xo Ashley

  40. Julie

    I can’t tell you how much I love this! Doing a gallery wall is on my list too. It’s very daunting!! I can’t wait to see your finished wall. I’m wondering… will you also frame sepia and black and white pictures of your children on this wall – or will you use any color photos. Help! 🙂 And thank you, ~julie

    • marian

      I definitely won’t mix in color photos, but I might include some current ones of our family in black & white or sepia tones.

      • Julie

        You are so sweet to respond! Ok, that’s what I was thinking but glad I asked! I love the timelessness of b&w and sepia – but sometimes I’m torn b/c I want to remember their blue or brown eyes, light hair, etc. Can I just say, I LOVE your style. You are so incredibly talented and resourceful. Thanks for the inspiration. ~julie @

  41. Dorothee

    Marian, just want to tell you my mother labelled the back of family photos and I am soooo grateful that she did, as I have many of my ancestors 2 & 3 generations back that I
    would never have known who they were if not for her labels.
    I love the way you matted all the small ones.

  42. Kathryn

    back in the day they didn’t care about their thighs. And you oughn’t either. Celebrate your beauty and enjoy your inherent qualities. You’re darling just the way you are. Great pics too…

  43. Crystal

    I feel exactly the same about my family photos. I’m always sad when I see “orphans” in thrift stores. I worry that my precious family photos will end up being “pawed over” by strangers in some dark shop. I often think I should bring some of those orphans home and place them in my home…..My adopted family. But, alas, I have no room. I love that vintage frame! Great job.

  44. Lorna Wooldridge

    Would you be willing to offer a tutorial on how to do this? I’d love to do the same one day. 🙂

  45. Sharon Bates

    Hi Marian,

    I totally get your feelings about family photos and notes. My father gave me several boxes last year from his mom’s house. They contain such family items back to the 1700’s. I am so grateful my grandmother made notations on just about everything.

    May I suggest you add your name, the date you framed the pictures and your city/state on the back? You never know what future family member will be glad to know who created such a kind gift for the future!


  46. Jessica @ Dear Emmeline

    it turned out beautifully! that frame is stunning!

    my mom is the keeper of any old family photos our family has. She has her favorites framed and it’s fun to look at them for family resemblance.

  47. Paige

    I love that you are using these old photos and notes in your home! I have plans to do the same (with purchased mats though) and maybe this will give me the push I need!
    I did want to let you know that you can have these old images digitized to preserve them and I’d be happy to help you with that process. You’d get your original media back, along the a DVD of pdfs of the images and a cloud account so you can access them anywhere.
    Let me know if you are interested!

  48. Maria Heikoop

    The long antique frame is gorgeous, and it displays the photos perfectly! I so often get turned off by gallery walls, but this looks so promising. I can’t wait to see it all finished. The photos are beautiful, and it really is such important work.

  49. Vicki Obenhaus

    Your description of photos, frames, etc. is EXACTLY where I am right now in this process! I have a wall designated as my “gallery wall” and you have now given me the direction I need to move forward. Thanks for sharing! I hope my framing attempts will turn out as beautiful as yours!

  50. Carolyn

    Love your work on these photos! Just one archiving comment, on the back of the photo please also include your grandmother’s maiden name….something an historian taught me years ago. Thanks for all you share with the world!

    • Carolyn

      Oops, I should have said Great Grandmother’s maiden name, Rosa……..

  51. Siggie

    Those are done absolutely beautiful Marian! What a wonderful idea.

  52. B Folk

    Also, I always put the date of the photo (even just a “circa”), or the age of the people in the photo…something to tie the photo into the era. I also have photos of one set of grandparents on the beach in those 1920’s bathing suits, with an umbrella, too! I think it is so important for us to remember from whence we came. I think that part of the reason for angst is not having that sense of grounded-ness, not knowing your “roots”. Glad to see you lovingly getting this info preserved for your children.

  53. Mary Jane

    I love your wall of photos, I have been planning for years to update my picture wall also. I have been saving up vintage frames and have a stock pile. I have questions about your mat cutter. Do you like it, or would you get something different? Would you let me know what you got? Thanks for any help on this, i am so encouraged to get going now:)


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


Subscribe today

and receive a FREE e-version of my planning sheets!


Articles by Date


our sponsors

Bliss and Tell Branding Company