Monday, 25 January 2010

Inheritance :: photographs

Inheritance :: possession by transmission from past generations
Chambers Concise Dictionary

The essay has been submitted and my OU course has now finished.  I'm now reflecting on everything I learned and thinking particularly about photos.

I have a great many photos in albums - pictures from my childhood, from when I was at school and university, from when G and I had romantic holidays and drunken house-parties together, and then huge numbers of pictures from when the children were born.   But suddenly at the end of 2004, the photos stop.  If my future great-grandchildren were to look back at my collection of photos, they would speculate as to what what horrible catastrophe had suddenly decimated my family life.In January 2005 the photographic catastrophe was that I bought myself a digital camera and the records of my family life moved away from albums and onto hard drives, backed up CDs, Flickr and eventually this blog.  The pictures exist, but not in a physical form.

The children love looking through old photos.  Particularly the pictures of them as babies.  When C saw the first photos (via email) of his new baby cousin two weeks ago he exclaimed "He looks like me!  There's a photo of me looking just like that!" and went off to rummage through the photo albums (and he found the picture he was thinking of and indeed he looks just like his cousin in it).  O will sit on the floor and flick through the albums for just general amusement.  She likes to point out to G how much hair he used to have, and says to me things like 'didn't you look young!'.

On my family history course we learnt how photographs can help us gain a better understanding of our family history, and how to find out important information from them.  I find old photographs incredibly moving.  Photographs bring my ancestors alive in a way that census returns and birth certificates never can.

This is a photograph of my grandfather's uncle.  He was born in 1876 in Yorkshire, and died in America sometime in the late 1890s.  I have inherited a vague story about him, told by my grandfather, but I'm still trying to support the story with facts. This photograph is of him as a teenager and would have been taken just a year or two before he sailed for America.  Possibly as a memento for his family, soon before he left.

And below, is a photo of my great-great-grandparents, taken around the turn of the twentieth century, probably to mark their silver wedding.  I love this photo because they look like a calm and contented middle-aged couple and I can't get enough of their wonderful clothes.  My great-great-grandfather was a tailor, and I think he would have been wearing his smartest handmade suit for the occasion!  I have the same first and last name as my great-great-grandmother and this photograph just strengthens that connection I already feel with her.

Photographs online are a great historical resource and a good way to preserve and share fragile pictures, but I want my great-great-grandchildren to have something physical to look through too.  I wonder what they'll think of my different hairstyles and clothes throughout the years.  Just like O, will they remark on how young I look in the pre-children photos?

The basket in our sitting room, with some of my photo albums in it. C and O like to rummage.

So I ordered a fairly random selection of fifty of my photos from 2004, 2005 and 2006 and started a new album.  I'm going to add to the album bit by bit each month until we're completely up to date, and then there will be a proper inheritance for my great-great-grandchildren.  Perhaps one of them will even share my (and my great-great-grandmother's) name.


  1. What do you look at when analyzing old images? Did your teacher talk about backdrops, how to tell if they are studio pics or from a house-to-house photographer, etc? I don't know much about that type of stuff, but I wish I did!

    Every year I go through many pics and make an album of two for our family. There's something really satisfying about looking at pictures in a book, in your hand. Of course, digitized are great too - we've got the best of both worlds as long as we keep printing.

    By the way, I loved the way your great great uncle's hair sort of burst out at the end, refusing to be tamed. He looks like he's about to go on an adventure!

  2. My albums stop in 2004. I think you're on to something here. the other thing I am trying to do is make sure that there are some photos of me around, much as I hate having my photo taken - because otherwise, my great great granchildren won't have a clue who I was!

  3. Family history is really interesting,my husband and I have occasional bursts of trying to sort out some of his relatives but they all seem to have the same few Christian names so it gets very confusing.


  4. I love the photo of your Great Great Grandparents!! They looks brilliant, and he in particular looks like a very cool character.
    It's a great idea to order a selection of prints from the last couple of years and make albums together...and will no doubt take longer than you thought once you all start reminiscing!

  5. Oddly, I've been thinking about doing completely the opposite. We only ever look at photos now in onscreen slideshows - the children love them - so I've been thinking of scanning in some of the older physical ones.


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