A good few years ago – in the mid-1980s, as a matter of fact – when I was on home leave with my daughter at my parent’s then-half-built home in the wilds of Northern San Diego County, I had it my mind that my then elementary-school aged offspring should know about her various ancestors, since a number of them had already passed on. So I took a number of pictures of ancestral pictures in the family horde with my trusty Canon camera – this being, Oh, Best Beloved, before the wide availability of printer/scanner/copier/fax machines. Not that my parents would have ever embraced such technology with anything but the deepest suspicion. Although Dad would have been open to internet connection, and the endless possibilities presented to the DIY enthusiasts on YouTube. Mom remained and still remains adamant that such is a temptation to an indecent waste of time, at the very least. So I came home with a round of photographs of photographs, eventually to be developed and printed, and set into an assortment of small frames, for the edification of my daughter. See, my child – these are your ancestors!

Thank the deity for this fortunate impulse, and for the fact that I scanned a number of the resulting pictures in the years since – because my parents’ retirement home burned to the ground in 2003, destroying everything in it, including photo albums and all the original photographs. Gone Mom and Dad’s wedding album, the studio picture of Dad in his Army uniform, of Uncle Jimmy in his … and me in the official picture, taken at Lackland AFB in 1978, in a uniform jacket that wasn’t mine, and very dark lipstick that wasn’t mine, either. Granny Jessie had both of those official pictures displayed in a sacred place in her household, until her dying day. Which is mildly embarrassing, because Uncle Jimmy didn’t like his official picture either. He wrote in his letters home about it – letters that I fortunately transcribed before they were all burned in the 2003 conflagration. Die in a bloody war, and your fate is to be memorialized in a picture that you didn’t like and were only harassed by the family into having taken…

But anyway … the other fortunate thing about having taken pictures of pictures and scanned about all of them … is that I have them all, or at least most of them. And now I have the ability to print them out on photographic paper, having tweaked and corrected them through various photo-editing programs.  The various framed versions all got pissed on and ruined by a particularly destructive cat over the last couple of years. Is there any more destructive element in the world than cat pee, other than straight-out nuclear? I don’t think so. All the framed versions and their frames too, are comprehensively ruined, and out into the trash they go. In this iteration, they took up too much space anyway. Now I am going to put them into an album, with everyone’s name and approximate year, for the edification of Wee Jamie, when he begins to wonder where he came from and who his ancestors were.


  1. Bless you for doing this! My husband has inherited a large amount of photos, many of which we have no idea who they are or any context related to the photo.

    Wee Jamie is a lucky grandson.

  2. Well, as they saying goes – it seemed like a good idea at the time! I wish that I had thought to take pictures or take some of the duplicates away with me, the last time I visited,
    What I do have is just a small fraction of the family pictures that we lost in the fire. When my daughter headed out to drive cross-country from San Diego to Cherry Point, she spent that last night at my parent’s house. There was a huge box full of pictures that we were sorting and identifying, and she looked at the box before she left that morning, considered taking it with her … and decided “no.” The fire in 2003 took the house and all that was in it, two weeks later.
    On the bright side, as my younger brother pointed out – it really reduces any fights over family stuff, later on.

  3. I too inherited a number of pictures — including several ancient tintypes — with no indication of who, when, where or why on any. I was able to puzzle out young adult photos of my grandparents by comparing facial features to decades later portraits and (maybe) identify a great grandmother by my memory of meeting her in 1950.

    Have you considered using one of the online family tree programs to create a tree of several generations of relatives and then post their pictures and narratives of your personal memories of them? I decided to post mine on FamilyTree.org, the official genealogy site of the LDS church (but open to anyone and free), and on Ancestry.com, which is the commercialized, more beginner-friendly version of FamilyTree. My thinking is that the Mormon connection ensures the records in both will continue to exist for a long, long time for future generations of our families to make a connection to us.

    There is the bonus of discovering cousins I never knew about and learning I’m closely related to Daniel Boone and have ancestors who came to America in the 1600s. I also found a Pabst ancestor, but so far that hasn’t gotten me any free beer.

  4. I’ve worked out a family tree, and posted many of the pictures on Ancestry/Family Tree, and discovered that one of the branches goes all the way back to the 1600s – some other kin have already done the heavy lifting on that one. We’ve already found a very distant cousin, through this.