Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lessons from a Stroll Down Memory Lane

I promised I would blog about my visit to see Rich and Rebecca in North Carolina so this is my first post from my visit with them.    Rebecca and I have planned to do some photo projects for a long time so we wasted no time getting started last night by comparing which photos I have on my computer and which ones she has scanned to hers.   We found many, many old pictures of various relatives directly connected to our family tree, some dating to the early part of the 20th century.   We laughed and had a lot of fun seeing certain family characteristics that are in evidence even today.     Noses, body build and face shapes get carried along in the genetic code that simply can't be denied.   The photographs reveal the truth.

Tonight we dipped back into the bags, boxes and albums that contain the story of our family life.   We shared more laughter and some tears as we moved around through decades of family photos and a few other treasured bits and pieces of our past.    A letter from my father written to my mother in 1937 made me choke up and shed tears as I read aloud how much he loved her and my newborn sister, Charlotte.   They had been married just a little over a year at that time and he desperately wanted them to be together as a family.   They were apart because he had moved to Jackson, MS to open an office for Orkin Exterminating and mama was in Memphis recovering from the birth of their daughter.   She was living temporarily with her parents until they could save enough money for her to come to Jackson.   The cost for her to take the train to Jackson was a big obstacle for them and rent was a whopping $25.00 a month!   Getting the money together for the train fare ($3.50) and the money needed to put up a deposit on an apartment seemed like an insurmountable task.    And yet he proclaimed his undying love for both of them and how much he wanted them to be together as a family.     That did happen just a short time later but at the time he wrote that letter, it was not a sure thing at all.      Just reading the words of my father----so young at the time---only about 21 years old, reminded me of how much he loved all of his children and my Mother up until his untimely death at age 51.    

So we have had fun, had tender moments and found a few surprises among the faded photographs and memorabilia.    And after we looked through the pictures and were sitting there quietly thinking about the things we found, I asked Rebecca what we had learned from this experience.     Well, for one thing we learned that there were many pictures of people we knew had to be relatives or kin folk of one kind or another---cousin? aunt?----who knows?   But who they were, when the picture was taken and where it was taken will remain mysteries for the ages.     Some had been labeled with at least who it was and when, but many had nothing at all on them to help give a clue to the who, when and where question.    A few had been stamped by a photo processor with a date of when it was processed into a print which is better than nothing but in no way gives accuracy since film has been known to stay in a drawer somewhere for years before someone gets around to developing it.    The upshot of it all is that most of the unlabeled pictures will remain a mystery because there is no one alive that can tell us who the people are or any other detail about the photograph. 

The moral of this story is simple.    When you take a photograph and get a print, please, please, please identify the who, what, where and when questions.    That is if you are still making prints or using film.   I am not sure anyone is still doing that these days since I just read that Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy today.     But if you among the people still wedded to the old fashion way to make your photographs, answering these important questions will be so helpful for future generations who find a box of pictures among your belongings after you are gone and get curious about who they are.    

Now for the rest of you who have gone digital, there is a different, although somewhat similar problem about identifying a photograph.     It seems that many of us----truthfully,  MOST of us----who have digital cameras take copious amounts of photographs at every opportunity.   If you count the number of people who are snapping pictures wildly with their iPhone, DSLR Rebel or Coolpix,  the number of images we are preserving has to be staggering.    Just how much space on YOUR hard drive is taken up with pictures from every event in your life since the dawn of time?    Now the bigger question:   how many of those pictures have you identified with a good file name of the person and other vital information (where and what)?    Digital cameras are amazing devices.  They can record an image and the date it was taken and even the GPS coordinates if you can translate what those numbers mean.     So even if you are too lazy or too busy to record who it is, the camera is smart enough to tell you where and when you decided to immortalize the moment.  It's up to you to add the all important information, the name of the subject.

Just some simple words of advice:   when you load your pictures to your computer, do yourself a favor and thin out duplicates, out of focus shots, badly composed shots and just rejects that you know in your heart you'll never print or use in a slide show.    Then for goodness sake, go back to what's left and give them a decent file name that makes it easy for you to find that photo you're looking for.   You know--- the perfect one that will make a great beginning to your vacation video that you want to compile for the next Family Reunion.   Organizing your photos on your computer is time consuming and a thankless task.   If you start out right, you won't have this problem of going back to a jumbled mess of digitized chaos that is way more frustrating than it should be.   

Oh and one last word on this subject:   Long ago, we thought if we had multiple copies of a picture we were safe from the ravages of time.     We also thought that magnetic photo albums were the perfect solution until we found out that the glue in them would literally leech the color out of a photograph and turn them into yellowish squares with colors not found in nature.    Acid free is your friend when it comes time to assemble your pictures into an album.      If you have pictures in the old kind of albums or the magnetic ones that are not acid free, please release them from their bondage and get reprints or scan them right away to preserve what is left of them.     If you have negatives, you can reprint or scan to your computer.     For the ones on your hard drive, back up, back up, back up.     Make a DVD or two or twelve.     Redundancy is the key word in back ups.    Since back ups are so cheap to do, it's silly not to take a little time and do it.  And if you don't want to do it yourself, sign up for an automatic back up to a reputable company where your images can be kept safely stored away in case one day you need to retrieve them.    Computers crash, get wiped out in storms or might even be stolen.    The treasures stored on them go away as easily as chalk on a blackboard.   So back up your family jewels that tell the story of your lives.    And give a few copies of the back up to other family members, too.      

I know that as Rebecca and I continue to work on our projects we'll come to new revelations about our family and what we learn from our meandering down that road they call Memory Lane.  If I get struck my anything else I consider worthy of passing along, I'll be posting it here on the blog.    This blog is about finding the "good life".    In my opinion, one way to find it is to look where you've been so maybe you can find the way to where you want to go.   

Happy Trails,



  1. I knew the two of you would be up to no good before long!!!! You need to come clean and admit the all of those photos have spent time on the Post Office Most Wanted Board. Good thing I'm coming over that way to set you straight on Monday. To quote a famous orator, Dub Bush, "you can fool people on time, but never late."

  2. I certainly need to take a lesson in better organizing our family's photos. Mine are nearly all in digital format (the past 8 years anyway) and very few have been printed. I have them in CD form in some cases, back up hard drive in others, and of course my laptop.

  3. When y'all finish, come to my house and do the same. Me being a professional photographer, most of our "family" photos are in boxes. BUT thanks to some WONDERFUL family members (u 2)we do have some in albumbs & scrapbooks. When I shoot photos either personal or for work, i create a file like this (family gathering-1-21-12), after I do that and download them, i create a "best of" file and copy the "best" to that file. Then I edit those. I NEVER get rid of the orginials unless it is real bad. I shed a few tears the other night when I was going through scrapbooks that y'all had done us, looking for photos of Catherine as a newborn to post on fb. Stay out of trouble you 2.
    Love y'all


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