Capturing the stories to go with the photo

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.

Four generations, child is my grandfather, c 1903

Four generations, child is my grandfather, c 1903

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.

bought on holiday promotion at your favorite big box store.

available at big box stores and online.

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.


Some basic tips for Memory Books in Dementia Care

When creating a memory book, there are a few important things to keep in mind. These will make your book as enjoyable as possible.

  1. Use a large, clear font. Avoid fancy script or crazy letters. Don’t make anyone strain to read your words.
  2. Dark text on a light background is much easier to read than the reverse.
  3. Keep your backgrounds simple. Let the reader’s focus be on the photos and text.What Not To Do
  4. Have plenty of white or negative space. Give tired eyes and brains an empty place to rest on the page.
  5. Keep the book at a manageable size. Square or landscape is much easier to handle than portrait layout.
  6. Include plenty of pictures of your loved one smiling. They don’t need to be recent (they may recognize their younger self better anyway).
  7. Stick to happy or neutral subject matter. Avoid historical events or people that are likely to cause distress or agitation.
  8. Use full names and give relationships in captions. If a new person is reading the book, they need to have cues to help talk about the people, places and stories.
  9. Especially on memory care units in facilities, belongings can wander. Have the book cover be distinctive with a photo of the owner and/or their name.SampleCover
  10. Be prepared to replace lost or damaged books. Don’t use a top of the line photo book printer for this copy (you can keep that version safe at home if you want it to become a keepsake).

Memory Books for Dementia Care

Dealing with dementia is hard. For families with a loved one who has dementia – there are countless tasks, support demands, and wishes that you could be “doing more.”
My father-in-law was the family historian. He made scrapbooks of trips, even wrote a genealogy book and self-published his own memoirs well before self-publishing became a thing. When he was in the later stages of Lewy Body Syndrome, he had very limited communication skills, but it was clear there was still quite a bit going on inside his mind.

the Dickens brothers' sorted and condensed childhood in a photo book

One Thanksgiving, I took home five boxes of family photos and memorabilia (spanning 3 generations). I took the best (200 +/-)  images from when my husband and his brothers were growing up and turned that into a very full book. I then shared 5 copies with the brothers and their parents. He got great enjoyment from looking at that book while in nursing care, and later on in hospice. He loved reliving the memories, and it was a prop that made communication easier for family and hospice volunteers who came to visit him. After he passed away, some of the family told me that going back through the book was an important part of the grieving process for them.
I made other books for him, and for friends who were dealing with dementia in a family member, and learned a few important lessons along the way.

In these blog posts, I’ll share some of them with you.

ENOUGH winter already.

It’s been a long winter. Thanks to a husband with a strong back and a recent photo organizing conference in Dallas, I’ve had it better than lots of people, but still. . . Enough snow already.

I’ve been trying to stay positive. Another week below freezing – fewer mosquitoes this summer. Sub zero temps? Think of all the stink bugs dying, and fewer weeds in the garden.

Even more snow

I was going through old photos, importing them into Lightroom, and I found this gem from 4 years ago. It brought back a lot of memories, like frantically rescheduling a couple trips out of town, and watching my young son experience LOTS of snow for the first time.

My take away message – keep this latest snow-flurry-whatever in perspective. It could be so much worse. And enjoy your trip(s) down memory lane as you organize your old pictures.