Updated: Nov 16, 2018
My grandmother’s old photo album contained a number of beautiful and haunting pictures. One was a picture taken by a studio in Vienna marked 1902 of a woman with a kerchief, long flowered skirt and heavy overcoat. Next to her was a photograph of a soldier standing proudly. At the bottom of the page was a postcard with a picture of woman in a white shirt sitting in an elaborate wooden chair.
On the back of the postcard it said: Remember your mother.
I didn’t know who she was.
The day I sat down with my grandmother’s photo album changed my perspective on so many things. That photo album altered how I viewed photographs, family history and memories. It pushed me to seek a way to help people collect, compile and compose their stories and drew me to this company – the Family Narrative Project.
All because I realized that in spite of her photo album, kept for so many years, my grandmother’s stories were lost and someone who wanted to be remembered is not.
The photo album had a reddish cover and was of the self-adhesive variety, probably put together in the 1970s. One problem was that this type of photo album is terrible for photos. The glue not only makes it difficult to see if anything is written on the back of the photo, but it deteriorates the photos. You can see the yellowing and fading on every page.
I wish that were my only issue with this album. (And to see how to deal with some of these issues see Kim’s blog post.)
Here I had the photos that mattered most to my grandmother when she put the album together probably when she was in her 60s or 70s. Some of these certainly went back to before she was born, the earliest one was marked 1902, but others appeared older. Most were not marked at all.
And that was my biggest problem. My grandmother had not written the names, the dates, and the reason why she thought these were the most important photos of her life or of her family’s life. I am sure it was obvious to her, but it was not to me. The stories of the people looking back at me from the photo album were lost. I had the images, but not the stories.
I sat down with my dad, who is in his eighties. He knew many of the people in the photos, but not all. For example, he knew that the photo below showed his mother as a child (second from the left in the back row), her siblings, his grandmother AND his great-grandmother. His grandmother had been born on the ship coming across the Atlantic to America in 1880. You can just make out the sign for his grandfather’s cigars in the background (Mican – Maker of Fine Cigars).
But there were many photos – the oldest of the lot – which he could not identify.
And it struck me right there. Photographs are not enough. Recipes are not enough. Videos are not enough. Heirlooms are not enough. The most important of these must be left with the stories that go with them.
And that is our mission at the Family Narrative Project. To help people share the stories that go with the memories, media, heirlooms, and documents.
After years of family history research I have some ideas about who some of these people are, but they are not confirmed. I still do not know who the woman is who asked to be remembered. I wish I knew her story.
If you want to preserve your stories before they are lost, there are number of things you might do. First, you can choose your most important photographs and heirlooms and write out the names and dates associated with them AND add the reason why you consider the items to be important. Is there a story that goes with each special photo or object?
There are also ways that we can help you. You can save your favorite recipes with their stories in our Recipe Storybook online class (here). We will send you free writing prompts if you visit our website (here). Finally, join our mailing list to keep up with more opportunities (here) as we roll out more ways to save your important stories.
~ Laura Roselle