Picture this: you are moving things about in your house, minding your own business, when you stumble upon an absolute treasure trove of family photos. You are elated! This changes things. You know so much more about yourself and your roots in an instant. You find you have more questions than you did before. Now what do you do?
This happened to me personally just a little while ago so I know exactly what I would, and did, do. I was cleaning the house for a family party when I stumbled onto a stack of large poster boards with photos glued on them, as well as an over-sized manila envelope. I paused in my cleaning, careful not to breath in any more dust bunnies, and inspected what I’d found.
The poster boards looked like something I am familiar with from funerals. We had a couple of funerals in the family just this year and there were displays just like this. Only these were not the poster boards from deaths this year. It seemed to me that one of them must have been for my grandfather who passed away in 1991 and the other for someone who must have died much earlier than that, given the clothing in the photos.
Perhaps both of them were at my grandfather’s funeral or perhaps someone in the family had the foresight to store them in the same place. I can’t be sure, though I can say that they do look similar enough that it is likely that they were put together at the same time.
So what did I do? Well, I decided to wait to go through the photos in the envelope. I was having family over the next day and I knew that timing was perfect. Peeking inside showed me that opening it up would likely keep me from getting any more cleaning done. Thus I waited and it turned out to be the right thing to do. The family arrived and our house was thoroughly cleaned. Plus, we took the time to change out some of the photos in the house with my new finds! And then cousins and aunts and uncles arrived and the photos seemed even more important. I pulled out the envelope and we began to explore.
An aunt called out names and pointed out pictures of more recent memories: photos of her and her sister as children, photos of her parents. An uncle slowly sifted through the pictures in silence and then began to talk. It was his father, my grandfather, who was the focus of one of the poster boards. He had been at the funeral, though he didn’t remember this photo collage specifically. He recognized my great-grandfather and was able to start putting some names to faces. The beautiful picture of two Edwardian-era young women is probably my grandfather's older, half-sisters, he thought. The young woman reclining in a model-like pose was probably named Bernadette, a woman who featured in two photos on the poster board. In another, she looks much older with white hair done in classic 1920s finger waves.
There are dozens of photos in this collection I discovered, as well as newspaper clippings and a file folder full of old letters. I have only just started to catalog them and consider the best ways to keep the physical copies safe and organized so that the whole family, present and future, can enjoy them. I’ve researched the subject for clients before and presented them with ways to organize their own photos, and yet when faced with decisions for my own family I find myself pausing at all of the choices. In some ways, saving family photos can be deeply personal. There are lots of ways to go about it and I know that I will be taking the time to think through what is the best for me and my family.
Have you ever found family photos you'd never seen before? Let us know in the comments!