My Happy Place
The reasons we become involved with family history vary. I have genealogist friends who search tirelessly for that last elusive proof in a family’s lineage – whether it is for their family or for someone else. I have history-buff friends who have traced their lineage and act that connection out by participating in historical reenactments that honor the lives their ancestors led. I have friends heavily involved in lineage-societies who love the community of the society accompanied by a side hobby of collecting ancestors. While I also search for proofs, trace my family’s lives/stories, and belong to lineage-societies, my interest in family history is driven by photography.
This is where it began – my grandma’s camera. I remember being more than a little curious about the camera and how it worked. Every time we visited, she would strap this camera around her neck and take photos.
I am fortunate to have many of her snapshots. Back then folks would mail prints to other family members. The negative size for her camera was large enough (127) that the prints have an amazing amount of detail in them – perfect for scanning and sharing with the current generation that is reliant, almost exclusively, on digital communication.
My Beginning: Kodak Brownie Starmite
Santa brought me my first camera – a Kodak Brownie Starmite when I was about 12 years old. I felt as though I was releasing magical powers when I opened the box and saw this camera waiting for me to capture and communicate the world around me.
Oh, I loved this camera!
I don’t know what it is about viewing the world through a viewfinder that so inspires me, but it does. Maybe it’s that the viewfinder eliminates distractions. Maybe the viewfinder forces the one holding the camera to consider what they are hoping to accomplish when they push the shutter and hear that incredibly satisfying “click”.
(Two of my photos – scanned and unretouched.)
Vintage Cameras –> Vintage Images
There were always old photos lying around our house. They may have been in albums. Or boxes. Or envelopes. They may have been mailed with handwritten letters. They made me curious. I wondered who the people were and why they were important enough for us to have pictures of them. How were we connected? How do we fit together? Each picture seemed to be a piece of a multi-generational jigsaw puzzle. A puzzle that could be solved with just a little effort.
There were ystery photos like this one. There were names on the back – names I didn’t recognize. I wondered why someone decided to save this picture if the people weren’t part of our family. And by the time I came into possession of the photograph, there were no family members who could identify our connection to these people.
Enter genealogy-made -easier by ancestry.com. 😀
Turns out the baby is my uncle, held by his mother, my grandaddy’s first wife. The couple in front are my uncle’s grandparents – no direct connection to me. However, this baby grew up to be my favorite uncle. And to see him with his mother and grandparents gave a whole new perspective on our family.
Other puzzle pieces fell into place. This is why there’s a tombstone with my granddaddy’s name on it but he’s buried in a different cemetery. His first wife died young and left him with two small children (thank you, ancestry.com). He later married my grandmother and they had five children, one of whom is my mother. Now all these pictures my mother had of faces and names that I didn’t recognize began to make sense. They belonged to my uncle and after he died, my mother inherited the collection.
Imagine the Treasure
Imagine my excitement when recently my husband and I opened tubs of memorabilia I had packed away following the passing of my father-in-law. We re-discovered stacks of photographs along with journals, albums, memorials, boxes of “stuff” that have been passed down through at least four generations.
And so I entered my happy place. My camera, my new most wonderful little light along with my cool vintage light, my laptop, all focused on the subject.
And what is the subject of this photo shoot?
A fragile photo album filled with near-pristine Cabinet Prints. Who are these people? I’ll find out. How do they fit in my husband’s tree? I’ll research.
They were important enough to be saved – they are important enough to re-discover.
Whether behind my camera or sitting at my computer, I am in my element. Hours will pass without me noticing. I become laser-focused on the task at hand. The present fades into the past. The past merges with the present. I become totally immersed in the moment even though the “moment” may span more than 100 years. I am always humbled by the experience of taking forgotten, unidentifiable images, “listening” to the stories they tell and then retelling those stories using today’s means of communication.
Do you have photographs of people with names you don’t recognize? With so many historical records now digitized and with the pandemic forcing many of our historical societies, museums, and genealogical libraries to remain closed to the public, this is an absolutely perfect time to get started – right from your own home!
I’m not a genealogist. I’m a family historian, amateur archivist, keeper-of-stuff, and throughly photography-obsessed. You don’t have to love history to preserve your own. You don’t have to be a professional genealogist to find your family tree.
Don’t let more time pass before you start telling your stories.
(One easy place to get help with your tree is Daughters of the American Revolution. They maintain a database, searchable by the public, as well as volunteer genealogists who live close to you who are eager to help you discover your family’s connections.)