[Above: My great grandmother Mary O’Brien (left) with her sisters and my great-great-great grandmother. 1908.]
Somehow I became the keeper of many of my family’s old photos. Spanning from the 1870’s through the present, these boxes and albums are some of my most cherished possessions. I’ve often thought about how my chosen profession has been influenced by growing up with these images. I hope that the photographs I’m taking of wedding couples and families today will resonate as much 100 years from now as my own family images.
Below are a few the older photos, starting with a 1906 photograph of my great-grandparents. I’m guessing it may have been their wedding day. Below that, a uniformed portrait of her brother who died in WWI. There’s a photo of her driving a tractor and another of an uncle who joined the circus. There’s a photo of my Aunt Myra as a little girl with her hand on my great-great grandmother’s shoulder, penciled on the back it says “Ma and me.” My grandfather is jauntily posed against a rock, and there’s a staged fight on Palm Sunday. I see my half Native American great-great grandmother and next to that, an image of her daughter Marilda who died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. There’s my Aunt Rose Scanlon and her brother George – taking snap shots of each other at home – posed in front of a stove with my great-great-great grandfather’s portrait hanging on the wall.
Online sharing has allowed me to widely expand my family photo collection. Cousins and aunts and uncles continue adding images. I don’t care if the composition isn’t perfect or the horizon line is off. I don’t know if someone “looks fat” or it’s not the best angle of their nose. I just see people. Unlike the Ancestry.com commercials, none of these people were famous — having their name in the newspaper would have been a big deal for them. But they lived and through photography, I know that like me, for a while they were here.