Over a Hundred Years of Photographs

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted about anything archive related.  It’s time to rectify that.  With all the subbing and job applying I did in the spring, followed by the round of a dozen nearly back-to-back interviews in early summer, then moving and starting a new job, archive thoughts and projects have taken a backseat.  That’s said, I miss it since it is something I love-the prefect combination of history and library science.  While I am not working as an archivist (I’m a librarian for the visually and physically disabled), I can still tinker in the field on my own time.  And that’s just what I did in recent weeks.

Photo of three siblings

My great-grandfather’s generation, mentioned in detail below. Photo of a photo.

At the end of Summer 2014, my grandfather passes along an album of old photographs he had.  They were uncovered in his recent move and he thought Dad and I would appreciate them and ensure their survival long after he was gone (he’s still going).  I wanted to rehouse the photos since then, but hadn’t had the opportunity.  Unlike my similar previous project with his mother’s photos, these photos were not in a traditional or magnetic (sticky) album.  They were in a scrapbook basically made of construction paper that was flaking apart and held in with paper photo corners.  The cover had also been long-lost.  As construction paper is very acidic, I really waited too long to carry out his project.  Sadly, even an untrained eye can see the damage done to the photos, and old glue ate away as some as well (on these photos, I think they were originally in yet a different album).

My first step in the project was to visit the craft store.  I purchased a new scrapbook album with acid-free pockets; acid- and lignin-free 12X12″ cardstock in off-white; extra pockets; and box-upon-box of clear acid-free photo corners. Rehousing in this method ensure both preservation and display, especially since I could not rehouse the images in a traditional album. Some photos were as small as 1X3″ and others were as big as 8X10″ making the sizes too varied.

Besides removing the photos from their old housing and transferring them to the new, I had a family history lesson.  The back of the photos featured handwriting from both my great-grandmother and my grandfather.  As few had additional writing, one of which may have been my great-grandfather’s.  One even had a note written on back from my great-great grandfather to his mother!  Almost every photo had a label; often those that did not were of the same person in another image on the page, aiding identification.

So here is a sample of the things I learned:

  • I found two photographs of my great-grandfather’s sister, whose existence I stumbled upon previously when I found her birth certificate on Missouri Digital Heritage.  As she died between the 1900 and 1910 census, that is the only record.  I hadn’t realized any photos existed or her age, as the photos show a baby, then a toddler.
  • I located a copy of a tin-type of my great-grandfather’s maternal grandfather with one of his sons.  It probably dates back to the Civil War or just thereafter!
  • There was a photograph of my great-grandfather driving his Model T at his high school.  It shows his family once had some level of monetary comfort before the Great Depression hit over a decade later.
  • I found a series of photographs from a family vacation when my dad was a toddler that he, his parents, grandparents, and two brothers (at the time) went on to Colorado Springs.
  • I found quite a few older photographs of my still-living at 107 great-grandmother with her siblings while growing up.  Her younger sister (2 out of 4) wore glasses from toddlerhood.
  • I found my great-grandparents’ wedding photo!  As they eloped, for decades no one thought there were any photographs of that day!

In the weekend and week of evenings I worked on this project, not only did I transfer the information found on to the white space on the cardstock, I also shared my exciting findings.  I’d call my dad to share (he wasn’t always interested) and I’d share photos I took of the photos with my iPhone with my distant cousins.  They were ecstatic!  In the latter case, it promoted the sharing of more information learned and we had fun trading images our branches had.  That was fun!  I plan to scan and send copies of many photos over the holidays when I am home.

In many ways, this project reminded me of the photo collection I worked with during my volunteering at the state historical society while in grad school.  Those photos were also well-labeled and I learned a lot from them.  As I also organized the attached correspondence (all part of a much larger collection), that helped me related to the images and better understand them as well.

I hope you enjoyed this foray! Do you have any stories to share about going through old family photographs? And don’t forget to house photos and other paper-based heirlooms in acid-free housings!  Very important to longevity.  I cannot stress it enough!


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