want a box of old photos?
January 27, 2011 § 7 Comments
As a member of my local Historical Society and as the editor of the society’s newsletter, I had a women contact me recently telling me that she had a box of very old photographs of possible prominent individuals from our city’s history. She asked if the historical society would be interested in the photos. I told her we’d be very happy to go through them and possibly archive them in the museum. This woman didn’t know much about this old box of memories, except that it was given to her husband many years ago by his mother, who grew up in the area. This box had been sitting around for a very long time.
Inside the old crusty box, lay a vast assortment of photographs from the late 1800s to the 1950s. There were handwritten postcards, autograph books with writing from the 1890s. I felt sad as I looked through the pictures, these images were special memories for some family that I didn’t know and would never know. The beautifully hand-written postcards were so meaningful and important at the time and eventually were just tossed aside as the generations became less and less interested in their ancestors. Too much time had passed. No one could relate or remember who any of these folks were and maybe never took much interest.
What I found very sad was not having much documentation on any of the photographs. I guess that just wasn’t done back then. Who were these people? What year was the picture taken? I see the horse and carriage—I can guess, but I will never know. Who are all the people on the porch? What did they do for a living? Why were they gathered? Where are the descendants now?
The important lesson I learned from this exercise—DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT. Write notes in your photo albums, write on the back of your old photos. Before it’s too late. Before it’s at the point where no one knows anymore.
My grandmother on my father’s side was the master of documentation. She wrote on everything. She taped notes on the bottom of souvenirs as to when, where and how she acquired the item. She went as far as to “X” out dead people in photographs. I guess they either didn’t matter anymore or maybe that was her way of keeping track of who was still around and who wasn’t. We giggled at her intense, descriptive documentation (she often wrote her first and last name on photos of herself and in the greeting cards she would send to her own family ). We thought she was going overboard, but maybe not. Maybe she was thinking of the future generations who may find that photo or card some day. Maybe someone several generations forward who may wonder what their ancestors were like. Because they matter. Family history matters.
It’s a huge pain and takes a lot of time, but grab that old box of photos in the attic. Go through it and document everything you can, organize by family and era. If you don’t know all the information, try to find a family member that can help. Before it’s too late.