Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Sometimes you wish you could look into the eyes of a photographed person and get an answer to a burning question. I have many questions for this beauty. What is the occasion of this photo? What year is it? How old are you? Are you a wife? A mother? Does the thin leather your gloves are made of feel wonderfully supple against your cheek?
But most of all, I wish I could gaze into her eyes, and know some small details of her existence --beyond a photo with a name on the back.

She is one of my relatives on my Father's side of the family. No writing on the back to tell of anything about the life of the gorgeous image of a young woman, beyond a name. She had a full life of good things and bad things, that goes without saying, but wouldn't it be nice to know her favorite color or that she made wonderful baked goods and sweets? I have a Great Aunt, on my Mother's side that I never really knew- but I do know that she had a wonderful glass candy jar on her coffee table and pretty doilies everywhere in her house and she made homemade jelly with paraffin wax on top. That is the simple kind of stuff that can give you a fulfilled feeling when you do not know their whole life story!

It got me thinking of my own lack of even names and dates documented on modern day photos-hundreds and maybe thousands. Sometimes they end up being separated from a scrapbook or letter with the matching pertinent information. I know who they are. But I have found that is not enough. I have a monumental task ahead of me. Labeling those photos with names and dates (even an approximate guess on the date will help). I began to ask my kids if they could call out a name when I held up photos of my cousins and my husband's cousins; a kind of pop quiz. They failed miserably. But it is really me who has failed. Failed to uphold my end of the genealogy pact. LABEL everything.Even if it is just a name or just a date. It is a start and better than nothing at all.

I recall my husband's sister asking her Mother when she was still living, "Who is this in this picture...and this one...and these 500?" When her Mom sadly also failed to have an answer she replied, "We ought to throw these all in the coffin with you someday since they will do us no good, not knowing names." I know that was a sarcastic comment in an ugly sort of way...yet it was true. She felt the urgency of the matter. The bigger picture.

I was relaying the story to my cousin, Barry, about my little quiz experiment I conducted on my kids. I told him, "I have to get those labeled in case I may be hit by a train tomorrow." Again, yes I admit-- sarcasm in an ugly sort of way (it is not lost on me that I can be considered a little dramatic at times). Yet, because I am a genealogist it is my duty. My job description.

So always remember to label your photos (as you develop them is most logical!). Think about it. Your photos will long out-live you. You are not just taking them for this generation...even if your personal responsibility or job description is not genealogist .


Lori said...

Amy, I have always been the keeper of old family photos. I've amybe five who I can't remember who they are, didn't write it down. However I created a scrapbook of mom and dad and included all but the 8x10 pictures. The book begins in the 20's till mom's passing 2005. Nowmy kids will look back and know who's who and see the transition of how our family was, it's a beautiful book! Take care,Lori

~Red Tin Heart~ said...

Amy, thank you..And I love the photo. I do genealogy too. I have not done much this past year, but I am getting back into it.
Love Nita