Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Scanning Old Family Photos

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the things I've been doing lately is scanning old family photos.  This is an outgrowth of my interest in genealogy.  I've been working on my family history for many decades now.  I wound up with my parents' photos, yearbooks, and other memorabilia, and my cousins have sent me some stuff that they had, and pretty soon there was a huge collection scattered in various places around the house.  With the coronavirus lockdown, this is the perfect time to sort through all the stuff, scan some photos, save some, and trash a lot.

So what do I look for in keeping and/or scanning old photos?  There's gotta be some sort of catch.  Some of these photos go back to maybe 1850, and when you have one photo of an ancestor, there's your built-in catch.  One side of my family began taking photos more and more frequently starting in the early 1900's.  This was about the time that Kodak began producing the Brownie cameras and photography became available to regular people.  My grandparents, and then my parents, were just like every other set of parents since then: their kids are the cutest things to ever walk the face of the earth, and their every action must be recorded for posterity.  That's an attitude that results in lots and lots and LOTS of variations of the same picture.  Not only that, but people in the 1920's and 30's liked to ham it up for the camera just like people today do.  They didn't do selfies, but they did the same kind of silly poses you see today on Instagram.  People don't really change that much.  Another favorite photographic activity is "photographing the family vacation".  A picture of Yosemite from 1950 looks just like a picture of Yosemite from 2019: somebody smiling at the camera with Half Dome in the background.  And, as every person who has tried to capture an amazing landscape on film has learned the hard way, big landscape experiences are rarely impressive when compressed onto slides or 5x7 prints.

Most of us take photos as mementos of our own experiences.  We can flip back through them and remember what we were doing, who we were doing it with, and laugh or cry, all based on our own memories.  But those memories don't translate to other people.  I don't have my parents' memories, so a photo they may have taken, laughing it up with a group of friends, doesn't mean anything to me.  Not unless it shows me something special about my parents.  So what I'm doing, really, is combing through the photos with the idea that future generations of our families (both on my mom's and my dad's sides) can have an idea of who these people were.  They don't need to see ALL the photos to do that.

So I look for photos that tell us something.  On my great-grandparents' 50th anniversary, three generations got together and took a whole bunch of photos.  I scanned two of them, tossed some that were poorly exposed or taken at a wrong time, and kept a very few others that might be of some interest further down the line.  The ones I scanned show the great-grandparents just a few years before they died, my grandparents and a couple of their brothers and sisters as mature adults, and my dad and his sisters just entering adulthood and full of life and energy.  So those are important.  Another set of photos came from a day when my mom and her friends, all aged maybe 15, got hold of a camera and had a field day with it.  Of those pictures, only one is worth scanning for historical purposes.  I kept several more because, in flipping through them, you get a sense of a bunch of teenage girls at play.  And there are two from that day that I would like to use to make a painting.  The exposure and compositions were terrible, which in this case made them wonderfully mysterious.

But enough words.  You came here because you wanted to see old family photos, right?  Here are five to kinda show what I was getting at.

This picture of one of my great-great grandfathers was taken in about 1870.  I have a couple of other family photos that are even earlier, but can't quite determine the year.  It's always good to get a visual on one of your ancestors.  All photos back then were stiff and posed, so you can't tell much about his personality, but at least we have an idea of what he looked like.

 Great time at the beach, circa 1918!  My grandparents are in this picture.  Change the outfits and this could be on any beach today.

 My mom was a real live wire.  Her brother was more reserved, but she could get him to open up and goof around.

 My dad was a Navy pilot in World War II, flying the B-24 (the Navy called it a PB4Y-1).  This was on their base shortly after the end of the war.

This group of cousins was all dressed up for Easter church.  Let's just say we dress a little differently these days.

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