Gransnet forums


To throw away old photographs when I don't know who the people are...

(26 Posts)
Mamie Tue 25-Sep-12 13:57:43

I have spent a lot of time researching family history so I think I have a pretty good idea about who is who in our family. I have collected all the ones of our direct ancestors / relations and have put them in labelled bags. What do I do about the group photos where I don't know who anyone is? Tennis parties, trips to the seaside, health and beauty movement, wedding parties etc
AIBU to feel soooo guilty about throwing them away? I know my DD will treasure the family photos, but the rest?

Greatnan Tue 25-Sep-12 14:02:00

Sometimes albums of old photos get sold at auction - you could put them in an album and try your local auctioneers. Otherwise - I would bin them.

Ella46 Tue 25-Sep-12 14:04:54

I have this problem too, as I've got loads of old photos from my parents as well as my own.
I am giving them all to my dd later today and I will feel a lot better!!

Mamie Tue 25-Sep-12 14:32:56

Letters of wedding congratulations to my parents - bin. Telegrams - not sure. List of wedding presents (fascinating) - keep.
Some of it is so touching - a letter from my grandfather (a retired soldier) to my father as he went off to war; the last letter from my grandmother who was locked away in a mental hospital and couldn't bring up my father, her youngest child; my mother's dramatic letter on being bombed in August 1940 (I am keeping those, obviously.)
I have done this get it out, read it, can't bear to throw it away, put it back cycle before!

Elegran Tue 25-Sep-12 15:13:41

There are websites for unidentified photographs (can't remember any URLs at the moment, but I might Google them later on) You add any details that you do know - the town in which they were taken, date, any names or relationships that you think are possible, anything identifiable in the background, name of the photographic studio if it is on the mount or the back. Someone recognising one of their ancestors would be delighted to receive a copy.

Can you scan them onto a memory stick so that they take up less space? Someone might trace the people in them in the future and once they are thrown out they will be lost.

Elegran Tue 25-Sep-12 15:25:08

There were too many Google hits for "unidentified family photographs" for me to list.

Suggest you have a browse yourself (lots of examples in the ones I glanced at, if you were an orphan with no known relations you could borrow a whole album of these and make up your own tree and stories!)

crimson Tue 25-Sep-12 15:45:25

Oh no. When they're gone they're gone forever and their souls are in the photo sad....

Barrow Tue 25-Sep-12 16:16:21

My brother has all our family photos (I have copies) and Mum has managed to identify them but I have a baby photo which I found whilst going through some things, I know its not me or my brother but I have no idea who else it could be. I keep meaning to scan it into my computer and send it to my brother so he can ask Mum if she knows, the baby looks adorable and I really don't want to throw it away! This thread has reminded me that I should send it to my brother now!!!

Elegran Tue 25-Sep-12 17:12:00

Sometimes you can compare an unknown face with other photos which may be of the same person in later life and find resemblances - ear shapes and eyebrows, hairlines and mouth angles, and the way they hold their heads. I have identified several old photos of relatives as children this way.

Babies are difficult though, most have not yet developed enough to be distinctive.

Butternut Tue 25-Sep-12 17:42:21

If photos touch you in a way you may or may not understand - keep. If they do not - dump.

Mamie Tue 25-Sep-12 17:49:23

Absolutely right, Butternut. I hadn't realised it, but that is what I had done. I have also dumped the relatives I didn't like and kept the ones I did. I found a letter from my grandfather's half-sister with loads of clues for the next bit of family research too.

absentgrana Tue 25-Sep-12 17:50:41

It's a hard one. I have well over two dozen boxes of family archive from various sources and it is my retirement plan to sort, conserve and catalogue family history. There are documents, such as birth certificates, exam certificates and letters, cine film taken by my father and endless photographs. Absentdaughter is keen to help once we get to NZ and, rather nicely, so is ex-Mr absent who is already in NZ and, by happy coincidence a graphic artist. Present Mr Absent will, of course, help, even if all he can do is scan photographs into a computer or provide me with cups of coffee. It's a huge project and I shall not junk anything until I am sure it has no relevance.

Wheniwasyourage Tue 25-Sep-12 18:10:36

I have a pile of photos which came from my Granny. A few years ago I took them to my mother who could identify quite a lot of them (she couldn't manage it now, unfortunately, so I'm glad I did it) and for once we were organised enough to write the names on the back. The trouble is that I can't bear to throw the others away, and so thank you, Elegran for your ideas. Sometimes the clothes are too interesting to let you throw the photo away - there's one with a dress made of some sort of shiny material which looks really uncomfortable and not anything like what would appear on TV in a period drama!

Wheniwasyourage Tue 25-Sep-12 18:12:03

Should have admitted it - my name is wheniwasyourage and I am a compulsive hoarder blush, so any excuse not to throw things away is welcome...

nightowl Tue 25-Sep-12 18:21:30

Oh no, I'm with crimson on this one, I can't bear to let any photos go. I have all my mum's old photos. From childhood I used to go through them with her and she could tell me who eveyone was and their story - if only I had written it all down when I had the chance! I find myself looking at them now and knowing they are linked to me but not remembering who is who. I will probably put them in a separate album labelled 'important people - unidentified' sad

Wheniwasyourage Tue 25-Sep-12 18:33:19

Oh nightowl, what a lovely idea! flowers. Everybody has been important to somebody at some time!

crimson Tue 25-Sep-12 19:11:46

A photo is a moment in time captured forever; it's magical. Someone gave me an old photo of a member of my family; it was a lovely lady wearing beautiful clothes. Somewhere along the way I lost it and I'd give anything to have it back. At the same time I was given a postcard and on the back was the address of my mum's family; thankfully I still have that. My cousin sent me a photo of my dad at a wedding that I'd never seen before and I kept it next to my computer for ages just gazing at his face. I think it was the wedding that had a couple of people missing; they'd stopped of at the pub on the way and stayed there for the duration. As I pass the photo of me aged two with my teddy which is in the hall I sometimes talk to it. If I see old photos in shops I want to take them home and look after them so that someone, somewhere thinks of them. I worry about digital photo's which are here today gone tomorrow. Another cousin has all the old family photo's and she's in her 80's and losing her memory..I so need to visit her and see them all again.

nightowl Tue 25-Sep-12 19:50:17

crimson I'm like that with other people's photos! I thought it was just me. Last week I was in a junk shop and saw a most beautifully framed photo of a little boy complete with toy dog, that I guess dated from the 1930s. I couldn't stop thinking about him afterwards, and wished I had brought him home. I kept thinking that he was someone's little boy.....

Mamie Wed 26-Sep-12 06:56:05

I have already researched and written the family "story", back to my great-grandparents and illustrated it with scanned photographs as a book for the grandchildren. I honestly think that if you hoard masses of stuff, someone will just throw it out later on as they won't have a clue what any of it means. I think I have now been able to decide that re my original post IANBU - so thank you!
Thank you Butternut for "keep the ones that touch you" - the best criterion I have heard.

Golightly Wed 26-Sep-12 10:49:47

Mamie, what a wonderful idea to write and illustrate your family story. As soon as Virgin sort out my new phone line I will get my fax/scanner installed and begin a fascinating winter project! Thank you so much! I can even look forward to winter now!

Mamie Wed 26-Sep-12 11:23:40

I decided that I had to write it for a particular audience, so I chose grandchildren aged ten (knowing a bit about ten year olds from teaching). I still need to do some appendices with more detail for later, because there is some complicated medical stuff which is part of the story, but not appropriate for them at the moment. I researched on going back to the beginning of the nineteenth century when most of the ancestors were working on the land and one can more or less assume that they hadn't moved much before that. Then I wrote a short chapter for each "couple" of parents, grand-parents and great grand-parents. I included the stuff from before that with the great-grandparents. It seems to work, but it has taken ages and I still have work to do. I particularly enjoyed writing the introduction for them.

dahlia Wed 26-Sep-12 14:49:04

Mamie, I have just been looking through my collection of birth certificates, etc., this morning and tried to make a start on my family tree, now that it looks as if summer is over for another year. Your idea of a family story is such a good one, I shall have to try this for my own grandchildren. I too have some unidentified strangers in photographs - some of them are even of weddings where my parents are the only people I know! Having lived in the cramped conditions of a caravan for several years in the past, and also experiencing the horrors of sorting out Mum's home (she was a compulsive hoarder!), I don't have the bug myself, but these old photo's are a real glimpse into my past and I do treasure them all. smile

Ariadne Thu 27-Sep-12 05:04:38

One of the pieces of furniture that went to charity when we moved (yes, we did it! I'm in Devon!) DH said that a few bits of paper had fallen out. One was an old photo of my mum as a child on her father's knee, and I am so happy to have it. There are no others of my dear grandfather as a young man.

I have told the story before on GN of how my mother destroyed nearly all the family photos "I cut the faces out, dear, then burned them all." and I have absolutely no idea why. She was not particularly old, and definitely not losing it. I do wish I had those photos.

NannaB Thu 27-Sep-12 08:31:36

Years ago we bought a travel writing slope at a jumble sake, and inside a drawer we found a small photo of a woman. She looks very seriious . We had the writing slope repaired and have kept the photo in the box. Haven't had thee heart to throw the it away. Every now and then I look at it and wonder who she might be. Someone's Grandma!

Sonsybesom Thu 27-Sep-12 08:53:40

My family photos were lost in a fire, and it is irreparable. I now can't destroy old photos. i found three WW 1 wedding photo snapshots in a second- hand Girls' Own Annual, a little bride with her officer husband, could not detroy them. i wonder what happened, and if he survived. The book came from Norfolk, but no way of knowing. I have a little album of cartes de visite fom a sale, lovely babies, women in pretty dresses, men in uniform with moustaches, precious things to look at.