This past summer I stayed at a bed and breakfast in Colorado. It was a beautiful, well-restored Victorian home and in the parlor, hung many turn-of-the-century photos of the home and of some its residents. I asked the proprietor if she knew who the people were. She had bought the home a few years earlier and unfortunately, didn’t know much of the history. I’m sure that with some diligence she could look up the ownership deeds but that would do nothing to identify the people in the photos. Someone would need to be able to identify each person and put the appropriate name with the face.
Fast forward to now and your own photo albums. If you were suddenly gone, who would be able to identify all the people in those albums? My mother is the last person living in her family that can identify people of her generation in old photos. Not long ago, I made a point of sitting with her and going through these photos, identifying people and taking notes on what was going on at the time the photos were taken. I’m going through the same process now with my father’s family photos. When my parents are no longer here, I will now be able to pass these precious images on to my children and their children, fully confident that our photos will not end up like those photos on the bed-and-breakfast walls, anonymous to the future.
This Thanksgiving holiday, while loved ones are gathered, you too can start this process of pulling out the boxes of photos and have family members begin sorting and identifying them. It can seem overwhelming at first and may need to be done over the course of several days or even weeks but getting started is half the battle. If you have a ton of photos like my parents do, I recommend you start sorting them into boxes. I created a box each for my dad’s family and my mom’s family. These would hold all photos of the family before my mom and dad became a couple. Then there is their early years box for when they met, courted and married. After that time period, I have a box for my nuclear family; mom, dad, myself and my brother and sister. This spanned many years and you can even subdivide those into decades if you like. Then I started a box for my own family, one for my brother’s family and one for my sister. You get the idea. Once you get these ‘main’ boxes set up, you can then further sort each box and organize the photos chronologically. Start identifying the photos with those that are the oldest. Life happens and you want to make sure that your parents or grandparents are able to help in this process while they’re still around.
One really great thing that you can do when you get to the point of identifying photos is to set your video camera up and record the sessions where your elders are identifying photos. The process of identification will trigger many memories and they will be eager to share those with you as you sort. Having these sessions captured on tape can be the first step in creating a detailed and poignant family history project that weaves these reminiscences with the photos.
Stefani Twyford is a personal historian and video biographer sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.