The R. Stanton Avery Special Collections has been collecting and preserving family records since 1845. Among our collection are bible records, family journals, samplers and decorative family registers. This online exhibit contains a sample of decorative family registers from our collection.
The family register as a decorative art form began in the late 18th century and continued in popularity through the mid 19th century. It was very popular among school children and was often part of their curriculum. Others were created by town clerks and teachers. Some families commissioned artists and engravers to create their family register.
The designs used in decorative family registers often incorporated touching or interlocking chains, circles, and hearts. The Daniel Dodge family register is an example of this kind of register. In this register, the names of each of Daniel Dodge’s wives and children are written in touching half-circles, all enclosed in a large heart. The Blake Parker family register also includes a variation on this type of imagery. The Parker register contains a painting of a house, surrounded by a chain, with each link containing information about a member of the family. Architectural structures, like columns, pillars, and buildings, were also common. In the Abraham and Lucy Hews family register, a pair of pillars, connected by an archway and a clock, form the borders around a list of family information. Vines and trees were also used to indicate relationships between family members. The Amos and Marcy (Severy) Pearson family record provides information about Amos and his wife in a pair of overlapping hearts at the base of a tree; the names and dates of birth and death for their children are given in the pieces of fruit growing in the tree. Another example of this motif is the Daniel Noyes Poor family record, which uses vines to surround and connect the information about each family member. The design of the Capt. Jonathan Woodbury family record also incorporates leaves and branches, although they are not used to connect family data.
Additional images of most of these family registers are available through the Digital Library and Archive in our library catalog. If you wish to learn more about family registers as an art form we recommend the book The Art of Family: Genealogical Artifacts of New England, published by NEHGS in 2002. It is available in our library (NK810 .S56 2002) and can be purchased from the Bookstore at NEHGS.