Hidden Gems in Old Photos

Is your family one that has regular annual reunions either in the summer or at other holiday times? If so, it’s likely that in the past one of the family members was a faithful picture-taker and you could count on always having a great record of the family through the years. Then there was the fun of everyone trying to squeeze into one big group picture before the timer went off. Today it’s quite different with a person with our camera phones at the ready. Rarely have I seen a group photo that was taken at a family gathering taken with a “real” camera. Fortunately, professional photographers have studios or will come to your home to get those extra special pictures as your family grows.

One of the things we are hearing about from our families are the discoveries of boxes of photographs in their family attics or basements where hundreds of photos or photo albums are stored, having been unknown or unseen for decades. These old photos represent massive treasures in terms of presenting family histories and tales of when grandparents were growing up. If they are fortunate to have that many pictures, it’s difficult to get excited if you don’t have any idea who is in the photos. What a joy it is when someone has taken the time to inscribe the history of the photographs on the back of each picture, plus the added bonus of adding the year.

What is passed on with photos that is most valuable to generations that come later is to have the history of the instants and moments that are preserved in those photos. One of the best parts of reunions is to sit with the family patriarchs and hear the old stories about where their relatives lived growing up, what they did for a living, whether times were hard or easy and how they handled life, either way. You study the pictures together and see where there might be a nose or hairline in common, whether someone has the same expression in a photograph, etc. and how connected you feel to your ancestors, just by studying photographs.

Statistics show that “1.72 trillion photos are taken each year, worldwide” and in case you were wondering, the same survey noted that the average user has at least 2,100 photos on their smartphone. Now, only “750 billion images are on the internet, which is only 6% of the total photos that were ever taken, since most of the photos we take are never shared.” Now we do know from social media that photos of food served to guests manage to find their way to Facebook and Instagram for sure. It’s amusing but it happens! If it’s hard to wrap your head around 1.72 trillion pictures each year, it’s about 196 million pictures per hour, 3.3 million pictures per minute, or 54,400 pictures per second.

The sheer volume of photos then calls upon us to take the extra steps we need to, for us to be able to share our history with future generations. If you belong to an online genealogy service, such as ancestry.com or geni.com, you can upload photos directly to your own media files, but it would be helpful to identify or tag everyone in the photos so that 20–30 years from now people will know and appreciate who was in these photos. Every year we lose one more person, it seems, who holds the keys to this information about our families and no one else has this knowledge.

In addition to these genealogy services, other valuable ones exist, including familysearch.org and genealogybank.com as well as myheritage.com. But, beyond names, identifying photo and dates of birth and death, each person has a story to tell, and it’s key that we capture as many as we can from the individuals who have firsthand knowledge and the stories that connect our generations together.

Imagine what your gift of time and memories today will mean to people you’ve never even yet met who can feel a connection to you with the gift of your history.

One idea, if you discovered a box of photos before you could ask one of your relatives before they died, you can create a memory board and post them on presentation board with the caption “Are you in these photos?” If you display this board at visitation, many of the visitors might just be able to help you out with identifying people in the photos, their relationship to the family (relative or friend) and maybe each one will inspire a memory or a story about a loved one.

If you scan the photos into your computer, launch them on your Facebook page and ask for help. Anyone who can identify the photo subjects might appreciate receiving the original for their scrapbooks too.

No matter how “high tech” our society appears to approach as a status, photos are the only validation that we were once all together, happy, sharing life experiences in celebration and in sorrow, but most of all, we were together. Go check out your attic or basement today and see what you can find. Good luck!



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