The Fate of Unlabelled Photographs

When you die, your stories and your memories die with you. This includes the stories you know about your grandparents and great-grandparents; the stories your mother told you about relatives you never met; the stories your grandfather told about life in bygone days.  Unless you preserve these stories in a way that your family can access them and in a way that is meaningful, your family legacy will die, if not with you, then with your children.

mable, edna as kids with unknown other kidsWhen my childless Aunt Hope died I took a box of photographs stored in her closet that my cousin was going to throw them out.  I couldn’t wait to get home to see what was in them.  I opened the box anxiously anticipating what I would find hoping to see pictures of my father and aunts and uncles when they were little.

What I found was disappointing. I didn’t know who was in the pictures or where they were taken.  Pictures are of my father’s mother’s relatives who I never met remain mysterious.  Without information accompanying the pictures, their meaning is lost to me. 

I brought the box of photographs to Hope’s sister, Thelma in the hopes she could identify them.  She was helpful to a point, but dementia had already set in and I quickly became aware that she was making up names in an effort to do a good job and please me.  Taking the time to include the who, what, where, why and how of photographs may be the difference between a photograph being kept and cherished and one that finds its way to the trash bin.

Have you ever gone to a flea market, yard sale or church bazaar and found a box of photographs on the table ready to be sold to the next buyer?   I’ve always wondered how those photographs ended up in a place like that.  After seeing my aunt’s photographs, I understood why a family member would have no reason to keep them.  Why not get rid of a box of photographs that are meaningless to you?  Without an explanation of who is in the picture and what is going on, the pictures are just clutter.  Unless you take the time to organize and preserve your photographs, they might end up in a flea market bin someday, too.  On the other hand, if you take the time to describe your photographs and other materials, you will create a family legacy that people in your family will appreciate for generations.


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