Pictures of the Past
I attended two graduations this week, and I realized how drastically pictures differ in our lives than for our ancestors. We can take a picture anywhere or anytime, snap as many as we wish, and then go home and edit them to our heart’s content. Our ancestors did not have this luxury, and, of course, did not even have photographs until the more recent generations. For those mid-late-1800s relatives, they may have only had their picture made once or twice in a lifetime. Having a family portrait or picture was a big deal. As the years passed, pictures were taken more. Without having done any research on the subject, I imagine they were more common in cities and among the wealthy. In the twentieth century, photographs became more common even for the common man but still were primarily for special occasions. They had to be developed and printed unlike today where we can store thousands on a telephone.
Even someone who is not very interested in genealogy will usually enjoy seeing pictures of their long-gone relatives. I have a display in our hall that includes about 50 of our ancestors and it attracts a lot of attention from what few visitors we receive. A picture is worth 1000 words. Old pictures can also add a lot to your family history research. They can answer questions and help you find more questions you didn’t know you had. You may have heard that the camera doesn’t lie, but I assure you the stories surrounding the pictures are subject to error. That’s if you’re even lucky enough to have any oral tradition surrounding the pictures. It seems like no one ever thought to label who the pictures included or where and when they were taken. I’ve also seen some where people came by later and mislabeled them. My grandmother inherited some old pictures that belonged to her father from his mother (my great-great grandmother) Pearl Feeney Woods Holman (1879-1975). Great-Great grandmother had an amazing collection of very old pictures including a daguerreotype picture, but unfortunately she never considered that she might die and no one would be left to identify these 100+ year old pictures. Too bad…
Through the magic of ancestry.com, I met my wife’s fourth cousin. A fourth cousin means they share a set of great-great-great grandparents, and in this case, he happened to have a picture of my wife’s 3x great grandmother, Claracy Thompson Bobo Clinkscales (1829-1895). One of the first things I did was to print a copy for my wife’s 92 year-old grandmother. Despite probably being named after Claracy, she had never seen a picture or even heard of her. As a child, she had met Claracy’s son (her grandfather). When I showed her the picture of her great-grandmother, she was delighted. She was impressed with how pretty and well-dressed her ancestor appeared. Of course I was not surprised, as being a fox runs in my wife’s family.
I do not know much about graphic design or Photo Shop, but I did recently learn how to make a basic collage. I like these because they do a great job of showing certain family groups or blending multiple generations and branches. Here are some elementary collages I made a few weeks ago.
One last tip: older and distant relatives may not want you to take their photos away to make copies. Instead, offer to simply take a picture of a picture. I take pictures of old pictures on my cell phone, and they turn out pretty good. It is a lot better than being told “No” and ending up with no picture at all.
What do you think about old pictures? Or this blog? Or anything? Leave a comment!