I have embarked on quite an interesting project that involves pieces of the past, moments of time that were captured and passed down for generations. It all began when we found a box in a closet at my grandparents’ house. The box was a typical gift wrap box, the kind you might wrap a shirt in to give your dad for Christmas. As soon as I opened it, I knew the contents of the box would have to handled carefully. I could tell the papers were quite old and delicate. So I closed the box and set it aside. I did not closely examine the contents of the box the day it was found. I only knew it was full of old photographs and newspaper clippings.
August is a good time of the year for indoor projects down south. It’s just too hot to undertake too much outdoors (at least if you’re sensitive to the humidity like I am). So this past weekend I decided it was time to see exactly what the box held. Inside I found not only a treasure trove of photographs that belonged to my paternal great-grandmother, but also a glimpse of what life was like for my ancestors that were living in America in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Thankfully, my grandmother was a meticulously organized lady. She labeled everything in her elegant cursive script. I was always in awe of how she could write such tiny words and keep them legible at the same time. She labeled so many things that eventually you didn’t notice that she did so. Such a gift this labeling is now that she is no longer with us and I’m sifting through a pile of old photographs full of faces that I do not recognize.
The image shown here is of my great-great grandparents, who were married in the late 1800s in Massachusetts. The original print is quite washed out and faded, but by scanning it into the computer I was able to bring it back to life. If it weren’t for my grandmother’s notes written on the back of the print, I wouldn’t know that this is a photograph of Charles and Margaret on their wedding day. There is something quite amazing about staring into the faces of the past. After all, I’m partly here because of them and the family they created.
Nearly every photograph in the box was labeled with names, dates and other notes. I also found a family tree in the box, written in my grandmother’s hand. I presume she must have made it before my great-grandmother passed away, as it appears to have been written before my cousin Chad was born. The humble box that was found in a closet held part of our family’s history. My grandmother, and her mother before her, preserved it for us, so that we might one day discover these pieces of our past and continue to pass them down. Thus, I find myself scanning the entire contents of the box, one image after another. It is a tedious process, but one I know I must undertake so that these memories may continue to be preserved for future generations of our family. I’m sure my great-great grandparents would be amazed that their photograph survived all this time.
My great-grandparents probably had their photograph taken only a handful of times in their life, which makes it even more amazing that this print has survived all this time. Today we take photographs almost daily. Selfies have become part of our culture. We are the most photographed generation, but when was the last time you had a portrait taken of yourself, or your family? When was the last time you printed your own photographs and shared them? Yes, digital files are easier to share. Yes, I’m turning these old photographs into digital images, but there is something so personal about a print, especially one with a handwritten note on the back. Prints become stories. The stories become our heritage. I encourage you to print at least some of your own photographs. Print them for yourself and your children. Share them so that the story of your family might be preserved.