It was a New Year’s Day visit to Far Side of Fifty’s blog, Forgotten Old Photos, that got me thinking.
More than that, it got me feeling guilty, actually.
Far Side had decided to post some old snapshots gathered from antique stores around the state of Minnesota.
Of course, that in itself is not guilt-inducing. There is much more to the story.
If you haven’t already stopped by to check it out, the blog Forgotten Old Photos is built upon a simple idea: each day, take one old photo and post it online, then wait to see if anyone can help figure out any more about the (often only partially identified) subject.
Usually, the pictures are old portraits, often from area photography studios—although some have come from as far away as Norway. This month’s foray into snapshots takes a step away from that professional ambience into the more candid fare of amateur shutterbugs. Like the feature for New Year’s Day.
That snapshot on January first got me thinking. I have a whole box of unidentified snapshots just sitting on a shelf in a dark corner of my bedroom closet. Why not get those pictures out into the light and share them?
On the other hand, as much as that thought is the “pull” enticing me to take action, a second thought stands in its way as the “push” of the “yeah-but.”
You know those “yeah-buts.” They are those annoying, squirmy thoughts that pop up just when you have a good idea—just in time to masquerade as The Voice of Reason, instead of the nay-sayers that they really are.
“Yeah, but those photographs aren’t identified.”
“Yeah, but those pictures are so tiny, so blurry, so nondescript.”
“Yeah, but there isn’t anyone left in that family to recognize them.”
This is the family whose last member unexpectedly passed away at the end of November. There is really no one else to tell the story to, let alone anyone left to help reconstruct facts and identities.
But I know this family’s story. Back several generations, in fact. When I first researched it, there were no online databases to consult. No Ancestry.com. Not even any FamilySearch.org. Just Family History Centers. And hand-cranked microfilm readers at repositories far enough away to make the trip an all-day event.
So, in memory of the last leaf on this family tree’s branch, and in the hopes that someone out there might be a distant cousin wanting to connect with more information, I’m putting aside all my “yeah-buts” and dragging out that box of old photos.
Along with those unidentified faces, I’ll unfold what I know of that family’s history. Just like almost everyone else’s family story, it will be the story of insignificant people—people living a common life through the uncommon times of history. While wars come and go, inventions change life-as-everyone-always-did-it, and America gets swept off its feet with the first heart-throbs of its continuing love affair with the automobile, this family just kept living life. Generation after generation. Mostly the same as your families. Except some ways.
And maybe—just maybe—in the midst of recounting what I do know about this family, some inquisitive researcher out of the crowd brought here thanks to a perceptive search engine may be able to add just the right two cents worth that will affix a name to some of these nameless faces.