A cautionary tale about the box of family picturesRhea Gonzales September 10, 2018 0 COMMENTS
By Alice Liles
Alice’s note: This story first appeared in my blog The Bright Lights of Muleshoe on July 19, 2016. After researching the Ladies Golf Association story that was in last week’s paper and thinking about the frustration of working with the old photographs without labels and dates, I thought this story might be timely. It’s not about Muleshoe, but it’s about something everyone in Muleshoe can relate to.
Last week I drove to Graham, Texas, loaded with four boxes of pictures. You know, those boxes we all seem to have, the final resting place of ancient family pictures, early pictures of the current family, and odds and ends of family records that you don’t really know what to do with but aren’t quite willing to throw away. It’s all familyhistory, after all, and your mother would kill you if you throw them away because she has held onto them all these years herself, not knowing exactly what to do with them, either.
I went to Graham to enlist the help of my aunt, Loreda Drum, who married Mother’s brother, my uncle Dick Drum. She is the last living member of that generation on Mother’s side of the family, at least the last one I know of. So it fell to her to help me out. She married into the family rather than being born a Drum, but she is still my last source of information.
And help she did! She came to my rescue. I carted in those boxes, and we got right to it. For the rest of the afternoon and into the night we identified people in old, old pictures, remembered people in the more recent pictures, reminisced and shared memories till late in the night. And then we attempted to group and categorize all those pictures the next morning. We made it through all four boxes, and while we certainly didn’t try to count them, I’ll wager there had to be close to a thousand. Okay, maybe 500. But lots of pictures.
Like this one of my mother and her older sister Gladys. My sister Louise and I called her Sito; have no idea where we came up with that, another question that will go unanswered because all the people who would know are gone. Mother is the baby with Sito sitting in the back. This picture was not labeled, but it was easy to ID these two-we could recognize them. There is no date on it, and that would have been nice. But, see, in the future, or even now, I don’t think my kids would know it was their grandmother and their great-aunt in the picture.
I had multiple copies of one of my Grandmother Drum’s sister that everyone called Aunt Coon; again, no clue where that came from and without looking at some family tree or genealogical record I have no idea what her given name was. Their maiden name was Tate, Coon’s married name was Denison. Her son Frank is sitting in her lap. One of the copies had been labeled, thank goodness, because Loreda wasn’t really sure who these two in this photograph were, and I certainly didn’t know.
We found one picture I knew right away, Mother and Daddy. I also happen to know it is their wedding picture because I have that dress packed away somewhere in yet another box that I just don’t have the heart to throw away. And without looking for it, I can’t tell you their wedding date, other than it would have been in the 1930s.
We were ruthless and threw away duplicates as well as pictures of people we couldn’t identify or make a good guess as to who they were. We also threw away pictures that were faded or blurred. After all, if you can’t see the face or tell something about the subject matter, why keep it? This one, however, I chose to keep just because I thought it was an interesting picture. Loreda thought it might be of a store that my Grandfather Drum and one of his brothers had. We don’t know where the store was or when the picture was taken because it was not labeled. We also couldn’t recognize anyone in the picture as being a family member. But it’s a neat picture.
We found many pictures of my sister Louise and me, and of course, we were easy to recognize. She died at the age of 16 from leukemia, so I don’t have her to share all the family history with or help with the identifying and labeling, nor to enjoy reliving the activities and memories shown in the pictures.
I don’t know who might have the big box of Liles family pictures, but I do know that no one is left of their older generation to tell about those pictures. We do have quite a few, but they don’t go back quite as far as the pictures of my family do. But Bill can identify people in the ones we do have, and I have been adding information on the backs as we go. This one of Bill and his mother, however, was not dated, but I am guessing it would be around 1944, give or take.
The other thing I like about the old pictures is seeing the change in dress and fashion and the way things used to be. Apparently it was customary in the early 1900s to share pictures with family and friends by sending the picture as a postcard, because many of the pictures were postcard size and marked like a postcard on the back with a space for the address, stamp, and a message. This would also supply the opportunity to write news about the family at the time, which some of the postcard pictures in the boxes did.
Now, family history may not be important to you. Or if you are a young person, it may not be important to you yet. But as you get older, I suspect you will want to know about your family history and who those people in all those funny pictures are. And you will have questions that won’t be answered because the people who knew the answers are no longer around.
You actually may not have that ubiquitous box of old pictures, but I bet you will have a bunch of old school year pictures or family birthdays and weddings and such, and you think you will remember who all those people are and what school year that was.
But you won’t. Believe me. You won’t have a clue and at some point, I truly think you will want to know. It won’t be the end of the world if you don’t know, but it will bother you that you don’t know. And it will be frustrating to not be able to find out because you didn’t think to ask the people who would know when they were alive and would have enjoyed telling you.
So get out that marker and start marking! I would use a thin marker instead of a ball point pen so you won’t leave the impression of your writing on the good side of the picture. And pencils don’t always want to write on the back of photo paper. Add names, dates, locations, and events to pictures. Put the school year on the back of school pictures, starting with this coming year and then work your way back. And be diligent. I was pretty good at including information in my kids’ early years, but as time went on, alas, I know I grew lax. My daughter Caroline has always been very good about marking school pictures, and I am glad she includes the year on the back. But identify people in group pictures as well because, I promise, later you won’t remember who they all are. And your kids, when they look at those pictures years from now, won’t know who anyone is, either.
My grandchildren’s generation, and especially their children’s generation and on, may not be blessed with the box of old pictures, thanks to computers and the digital age. They may have a box of picture discs, but I suspect most of their pictures will be up in a cloud or somewhere else in that black hole of the Internet where pictures go to be saved. Or on their phones. All of that may not make it as easy to label and identify the contents of the pictures, but I hope they will think about the future and do whatever it takes to record who’s in the picture and what’s going on in their pictures. Images, I guess they will call them instead of pictures.
My next step now is go spend the day with Patsy Holt in Lubbock, who was married to Daddy’s nephew, my cousin Wayne Holt, and find out all about the Graves side of the family. Like Loreda, Patsy was not born a Graves, but she is my last connection to that generation of the Graves family.
And then the plan is to somehow get all these pictures and all that history into a family scrapbook so that someday my kids will have those family history questions answered, have those family members identified, and will have a book instead of a box to cart around every time they move.
And yep-you guessed it- I didn’t put the date on this one! Sometime in the 80s?
I edited this story and took out some of the pictures in the interest of space in the newspaper, so to read the original story and see all the old pictures, go to www.aliceliles.com and type in the story title in the search line.