Photographs Prompt the Memory and Develop the Story

As I write life stories, I find that one really good way to encourage thought is to use a photo album with an older person. People enjoy looking through old albums anyway especially women and at each photo there is a chance to remember the event and say something about it .

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words but , for someone who is delving into family history, it is often meaningless without the words of another family member who remembers the time and can explain the photo. Even with wedding pictures that are only black and white, it is good to hear a description of dresses and know why a particular colour (which is meaningful to the speaker) was chosen. We learn through conversations about old photos where the event took place, who was there, why certain things happened and how it all ended.

I was looking at one photo with a gentleman over 90 when he was standing by the wing of an airplane; through questions, I discovered that he was in Italy where a German plane had been brought down on a very hot day after much resistance. That picture became a real souvenir and was put into a local paper report before he came home after WWII.

My own mother had a picture of our house which showed her business in the front and shop windows. I always wondered why she did not have herself taken on the day my father and her cousins stood at the shop door. When I asked, I found out she was seven months pregnant with me and did not want to be photographed although she served others in her new shop. This told me more about my mother’s character and what was acceptable in 1935.

One old photo a friend had of a familygroup prompted him to discover more; it led to a fascinating pioneer story of a journey from Owen Sound to North Dakota and eventually into Manitoba. He had always wondered why his grandfather went west and how he made it. We discovered old photos on the web of early trains going west and added those to his story as well as the river boat used from St Cloud Minnesota to North Dakota, travelling the Mississippi in about 1882.

Mentioning the internet reminds me of the wealth of information often backed by old photographs. There are pictures of towns back in 1900 or later, there are old maps that explain previous boundaries and people dressed in period clothes that help us date the times our relatives lived. They all lead to fascinating conversations and bring up a flood of memories for older relatives.

I even found a photograph of my uncle in a football club in Wales when I could not even imagine he played! I was able to use that in my own family stories.  I am so glad to have discovered photographs that go back to 1870 as they have given me a glimpse into my family’s past.

Use photographs to talk and include them in any stories you write. It is well worth it.

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