When I was growing up, I loved going to antique shops with my mom and my Aunt Pat.  They would scrounge through dusty shelves for anything that struck their fancy, coming home with World War 2-era sewing ephemera to decorate Mom’s craft room, old hunting and fishing equipment for my dad, or unique artwork for my aunt.

While the adults picked through blue and green depression ware, I was drawn to the boxes of old photos.  I flipped through the sepia-toned images of unsmiling families standing stiffly in ruffles and laces, and I wondered where they came from, where they lived, and what brought joy to their lives.

My mom called them “instant ancestors.”  “You can always buy a few,” she would say, “and hang them on your wall.  Then, tell your friends about your Great-great Grandma Hazel’s sister, Elizabeth!”

Mom was being silly, of course, and we never bought any instant ancestors, but I loved the idea of making up stories.  It was fun for me to examine the details and clues in the photos and rewrite the histories of the farmers, bankers, and housewives at the turn of the century.

At the same time, however, I thought it was incredibly sad.  The abandoned photos represented stories that only needed to be rewritten because their actual stories had been forgotten.  Did the children in the photos lived to adulthood or grew to have families of their own?  Did they live in the same small town their entire life, or did they leave a big city and move away from their friends and family?  What was their cultural history?  Were they recent immigrants, or were they descendants of the first colonists?

The real stories of the flea market photos are lost forever, but I can do something about the heritage photos that I have been entrusted with.  I have beautiful studio portraits and snapshots of family members through history.  Thanks to my dad’s genealogy efforts, I even have a photo of my great-great-great grandfather in his Union army uniform in 1863!

Sometimes, little is known about people in my family tree, but at least their names are known.  And, because of them, I am who I am, and I know where I came from.

Lori Smoll

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12 Responses to Guest Blog: Everyone Has A Story by Lori Smoll

  1. Terry Vachowski says:

    Love this, Lori! Every year we (normally) go to Brimfield Antiques Show, which is a mile of fields filled with antiques. I always feel sad when I come upon the boxes of old photos. Last year my daughter actually told me to bring her a new ancestor, so I did. But I love seeing the genealogy stories my cousins have written about out common ancestors. Thank you!

  2. adakallen says:

    Lore your story! It could be the same story for many of us!

  3. Sharon Eash says:

    Genealogy is really why I do what I do. Yes, I want the current family history and memories, but one day they will also be the thing of ancestors! Thanks Lori.

  4. LindaGuth says:

    Such a great reminder.

    I am working on my families heritage so I can pass that down to future generations. Sorry to say but I have a file marked unknown, the pictures are to old for me to find anyone left to tell me who they are, so sad that their stories are gone forever.

    Also remember you don’t need a photo to tell a story. Share what you have.

    Just the other week I was showing some old photos of my dad’s family to a few cousins visiting from out of state. I had a picture of one of our uncles in his 20’s, they couldn’t believe it was him, (he had lots of curly hair in the photo, he has been bald as far back as my memories of him go) they had never seen a picture of him in his younger years, how easy it would have been for him to have fallen into an unknow file if I hadn’t documented it. This was and uncle we saw routinely growing up and yet they had no idea it was him. I had several photos of their parents they had never seen either. These photos are a treasure in so many ways.

  5. Melode Hall says:

    Lori – great message. You are so “right on”!!

  6. Taylor Teresa says:

    So true.

  7. Nancy Ballance says:

    Great message! Ten years ago, my nephew told me, after looking at a family photo album which goes back to 1848, that even though the names were there, his dad, my brother, had not included stories. My brother was not a keeper of family stories and my SIL knew none of the people or stories, so I promised I’d get the stories down. That plus the fact that one of my great aunts is so alive I feel as if I had known her, but she died before my dad was born! (1908). But her adventures, her fun, her love of music, etc. were passed down, so even my daughter “knows” Aunt charlotte. So, your message fits! These stories, with and with out pictures, make people real for generations. Now to make sure all the photos have as much info attached to them as possible so if I don’t get them in the books, others can.

  8. Jan B says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am the keeper of my family history. I remember as a teenager my mother came home with a big box of photos when her mother passed away. I loved going through those photos. After all the kids left home and my mother approached the end of her life, she thought none of us would want “those old photos” so she got rid of them. I was so disappointed. Your blog made me realize, I need to get names on all the photos I have so they don’t become lost. Thanks again.

  9. embmoore@yahoo.com says:

    I am blessed to have old pictures of my great great grandparents and other family members. I really should scrapbook some of them for my children. I grew up knowing several of my great Uncles and a great Aunt on my Dad’s side.

  10. heatheraward@msn.com says:

    What a wonderful memory and message! Thank you Lori!

  11. Sandy Norman says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Lori. I am the keeper of the family photos. Your message reminded me that I need to be working on keeping everything updated as best as I can so there are no faces left behind without names.

  12. Susan Hill says:

    Thank you Lori. It is important to know the names and as many of the faces as possible. Love your page too!

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