Digital memories

Not Just Family Stories

Not Just Family Stories

I met a kind, elderly gentleman many years ago. He came to the library where I worked with a box of papers and explained that he was the last person in his family line.  His collection of family records had grown from generation to generation, handed down for almost one hundred and fifty years. He thought these materials might be of interest to others since they documented changes to his hometown over time.

“I don’t know if you want these, but my family has deep roots in this area,” he said to me.

His box included letters written home by a great uncle who served in the Civil War, and there was another great uncle writing home from the Gold Rush. He also had the papers of an aunt—a prominent educated business woman at the turn of the twentieth-century, when society discouraged women from being such things.

 “It’s okay if you don’t want really want these—they’re just my family stories.”

As an archivist, I hear these words often. “No one wants my stuff,” they say.  “My kids don’t want it and no one outside of my family has any interest in it.”

The Stranger in the Photograph

The Stranger in the Photograph

Many years ago, I purchased a black paper album at an estate sale. It contained images of a beautiful woman—her loose high school picture fell to the floor the first time I opened the album’s cover. Her smile grabbed me and her warm expression seemed to invite me into her life. I flipped past her wedding picture, a photo of a baby in her arms with a proud husband by her side, and a series of group photos.

The images from the mid-20th century told the story of a good life that at first made me happy, like I was a guest in a comfortable home. However, the reality of the moment soon hit. To me, this woman was really just a nameless face in print; she was left for a stranger to find in a box in a basement. She now seemed abandoned. Lost. Forgotten.

Back Up Your Carousel of Nostalgia: Don Draper Would Approve

Back Up Your Carousel of Nostalgia: Don Draper Would Approve

My dad had the coolest Nikkormat film camera and lenses. He shot vacations and family events almost exclusively on 35mm color slides. He taught me about f-stops and depth of field and Super 8 movies. Our basement darkroom reeked of stop bath and always had black-and-white prints hanging to dry. We even had a separate circuit for the red safelight.