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.

Beautiful Unknown Girls...could they be the same girl?

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?

Afternoon Picnic for the Unknown

An Unknown Day on the Porch. The women are certainly not happy.

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.


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§ 7 Responses to want a box of old photos?

  • david1levytm says:

    I have a ridiculous amount of old photos of me and friends growing up. So many people who I don’t even remember that have no long-term significance for me will mistakenly be thought of as equally important as some of those who do. I need to call those down and document the rest. Thanks for making me think of this, dia. My mind goes to those pictures a lot. I know they’re just sitting there, waiting for me. Life never seems to provide the right opportunity though. I guess I’ll just have to put it on my list of things to do while procrastinating doing what I SHOULD be doing. That’s one way to ensure it’ll get done! 🙂

    • dia says:

      Yes David start documenting some of those. It’s also a good time to sort through them, tossing those that are really bad and out of focus. Hand some out that others would enjoy having if you have similar/duplicates. Take a day each week and sort through a manageable portion so it doesn’t feel like a monumental task. Organize them into segments of your life and place in albums so you can view them whenever you feel nostalgic.

      I think there just might be a Toastmasters speech in there. Bring in a special photo and talk about it. Audiences love personal stories with props.

      Thanks for visiting. You are inspiring me to get back to this blog. I started journaling instead but I must have a ton of blog material percolating within those journals. I look forward to hearing you blog more about Toastmasters. That was the least costly educational component of my life but undoubtedly has carried the most value.

      • david1levytm says:

        Thanks, dia! Great ideas! I DO hope you start your blog up again. By the way, you started following my “Think Before You Speak” blog, but I’m abandoning that in favor of my “Before You Speak” blog at beforeyouspeak.wordpress.com. Please follow that one, instead. That’s where new posts will be going. Thanks!

  • dia says:

    If you date your photos Marsha, I would be sure and use one of those special pens designed for this purpose. You can get the pens at craft stores or maybe office supply stores. They don’t have any chemicals that could harm the photo. Another idea is to buy acid-free stickers and write on the sticker with a regular pen and then stick it on the back of the photo.

    Do you have any family members, like maybe cousins, that might be able to help you identify the people in the photos? Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  • Marsha says:

    I have tried to at least date all my photos, but will go over them and make sure names are also included. I have an old album from my mother and didn’t realize until it was too late that my mother never dated the pictures or put names to the persons in the photo. The photos are in great shape, but many of them were taken before I was born and I don’t recognize many of the faces in them.

  • Tobi-Dawne says:

    My mother has become the family scrapbooker. She has taken all of my grandparents old photos, and created several scrapbooks with them. Making sure to get dates, names, and stories for as many of them as she could. I am so grateful to her for this.

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