Saving family photographs is why I became a photo organizer. But a big part of that is recording the stories that go along with the photos. Photos without context and identifiers lose a lot of their value.
Recently, we’ve been cleaning out my mother-in-law’s apartment. We came across a few more photos I hadn’t already claimed, and sadly, many of them were stuck together. We couldn’t tell if there was writing on the back identifying who was in the images, and no one was left who could tell us the stories of the photos. So into the trash they went. I’m grateful that my father-in-law was into geneaology and wrote down many of the family stories.
I’m still trying to capture the stories that go along with the photos from my side of the family. I’ve tried to do this a variety of ways. Photo books are great. Lots of room for narrative, and easy for anyone to flip through them. You can even make extra copies for siblings or cousins. I’ve also tried to capture my parents telling stories. Sometimes about a picture, like the image below.
Just looking at that image, you might think it was a little girl. Actually, it was my grandfather with his great-grandmother, mother, and grandmother when he was a few years old. He was born in 1899. It’s important to capture the names to go along with the faces, even though we have family tree(s) and Bibles that record the generations. This not only told me the fact that little boys wore dresses back then, but also gives a glimpse into austere Quaker styles in turn of the century Philadelphia.
When there’s a longer story to capture, I like to use the app Saving Memories Forever. I can organize my father’s stories, my mother’s stories, and also collect tales from my friend’s mom all in the same app. One thing I have noticed while interviewing older friends and family is that they aren’t comfortable being videoed. Their posture and storytelling can get stilted and unnatural. They also don’t know what to do when you put a fancy microphone lavaliere on them, or stick a smart phone mic in their face. However, they’re usually very comfortable talking on the phone. So for longer stories that don’t work as video, I just try to get their voice. And I use this handy tool.
This microphone isn’t professional sound quality, but that’s OK. It looks and feels like a handset, and I’ve found that people of a certain generation are most comfortable with this kind of setup. There’s a button on the grip to start and stop the mic, so you have to watch that, but otherwise it works like a charm. Plugs right in to the jack on my iPhone, and away we go. I pick the story prompt from Saving Memories Forever, or create my own topic, and the oral history is recorded and filed away.
I hope these tips are helpful to you as we celebrate Save Your Photos Month. Having a backup plan is important, but capturing the stories that go with the pictures is a crucial first step in saving your family’s photos and legacy.