Since I’ve found myself in the position of Keeper of the Family Photos these last couple of weeks, the immersion into family history has completely hijacked my daily routines. What I call “going down the rabbit hole again” while doing genealogy research, my husband refers to as “have you even showered today?” Right, about that. Don’t ask.
See, for every photo that I can actually link to a name, there are so many more faces-some bearing a no-nonsense grim expression, others beaming in black and white glory-I just can’t seem to identify. I carefully pluck an intriguing image from its four photo corners, where it’s been safely secured for the last, oh, hundred years or so, and turn the thing over to find … nothing.
And this is where I silently scream in frustration.
Just kidding. It’s more of a throaty, aargh-ish grunt; like the sound I make when I try to stand up from a too-soft sofa. With the contrary ancestral photo in hand, I hold it at arm’s length and cry out “who ARE you people?” They never answer.
Oh, and did I mention? This isn’t even my family, really. It’s my husband’s paternal side.
With that, let’s all pause here to write ourselves a reminder note to label your historical family photos. All of them. Before it’s too late, people. I’ll grab a cup of coffee while you do this.
Ok, y’all. I’m back. You know, your descendants will thank me later. Because what I have before me now are more than fifty photo albums and scrapbooks, plus another four storage boxes of loose photos and documents. And no one left in the family with a living memory of about a third of this collection of images.
So many magnificent mustaches, so few clues.
Speaking of furry facial features, this portrait of an adorable bearded dog has been gracing our walls since being gifted to us a few years ago after my husband’s uncle had passed. Before reaching us, this fella was in a place of honor in Uncle Jay’s study, right alongside the newlywed portraits of Jay’s mother and father, who married in 1911.
When we first received the portrait, I had a deep curiosity about the dog. Jay’s love of this companion was strong enough to have the dog’s image framed and on proud display. Yet today we have no historical context for it. Name, gender, when the dog was around to do his (or her) part in the human:animal bonding experience … nothing to offer us, but the solemn over-the-shoulder hundred yard stare and the knowledge this photo was taken decades ago. Or perhaps even a full century ago.
So maybe you can imagine the wonderful dopamine response when going through one of the newly acquired Sword turn-of-the-century scrapbooks and I find this treasure trove of vintage images.
Six glorious pages of nuthin’ but dogs and cats and chickens and ducks, all in the general era of 1911-20. What kind of person scrapbooks this stuff? My people, that’s who.
Do you see it? It’s the same photo in the oval frame. Except that it’s been altered to remove the background. The 1917 version of Photoshop.
This photo has generously rewarded me with info on the back. Handwritten there is my husband’s grandfather’s name and address – and instructions to the photo processor to create a block background.
Oh sure. But you know what’s not recorded in that brief script? That’s right. The we-love-him-so-much-let’s-frame-him dog’s name.
There are more photos of this guy. Like this one, which is my father-in-law, captured in time as a toddler enjoying a bonding moment with the dog.
Oh, mysterious terrier of 1917 House Sword. Who are you?
Seriously, don’t be that family. Why put your heirs through the awkwardness of monikers lost to history. Label those old photos before you, too, lose the living memories of your clan.
And hey, let’s bring those magnificent mustaches back, too. How did those ever fall out of style?