Preserving Family History, One Memory at a Time

My sister is on the couch with my grandfather and grandmother during one of our many times of watching the slide show my grandfather had created from his recording of our family that year and often years in the past as well. Not sure if my dad or uncle took this photo.

Webster’s Dictionary defines a family historian is an authority on known or recorded family events. Most everyone on both sides of my family were recording our family history with photos and movies through the years.

April Saul won first place in the Feature Picture Story category at the 1992 Pictures of the Year competition for her portrayal of the American family. She believed that family struggles were an important topic of journalism. “I hope what it [winning] means is that the everyday struggles of an American family are as valid in their own way as the struggles going on in Azerbajian or Sarajevo — and that the private wars next door can be as compelling as the bloody, public ones thousands of miles away.”

Family photographs can be considered cultural artifacts because they document the events that shape families’ lives. Thus, the recording of family history becomes an important endeavor. In many cases, photographs are the only biographical material people leave behind after they die. But, the impact of family photo albums extends beyond merely recording history. Interpretation of family structures, relationships and self is possible through viewing family photographs.

Preserving Family History, One Memory at a Time

One of the biggest roles one can serve as a photographer is to help with the recording of their family history.

Now taking those pictures isn’t enough. You need to share them with the family. You can do this many different ways. A traditional print that you give people is still a great way for them to enjoy what you have captured. They can put it on the museum wall that most homes have, which is also referred to as the front of the refrigerator.

This is my sister and I with our grandparents being photographed by my dad or mom at our home across from the church at the orphanage in Kinston, NC.

At my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary we pulled these photos and had them in a slide show for those attending the event.

For our daugther’s last musical we bought a 1/2 page ad and used the photos I had made of her in high school plays.

For her yearbook we bought a 1/4 page ad and used photos from early to now that captured her personality.

We take pictures to celebrate our new babies and birthdays. Later at weddings we put together slide shows for rehearsal dinners and the receptions to show the young couple growing up.

We use photos at our anniversary parties to remember all we have celebrated as families through the years.

I had the privilege of recording a video of a cancer patient who was dying and wanted to capture in her own words thing she wanted to share with them before she passed on from this life to the next. We found photos to use as she talked about her children and grandchildren.

Tomorrow I am going to her funeral where for the first time the family will see the video. I believe it will help them celebrate their family member in a way that many never get to have at their funerals. The great thing is that all the friends that will show up that may have never met their family member will be introduced to her for the first time.

Knolan and Therese enjoy some father and daughter time together on January 30, 1985.

First of all taking the time to make these photos shows your love of your family. Taking the time to share it with them at poignant moments in your families celebrations is a way you serve as the family historian.

This Subaru ad captures that special relationship between a father and daughter using images of the girl when she is young and now.

My daughter in front seat after attending pre-school

Here is one that a dad did over 14 years to show his little girl growing up in front of the camera with just


Here we did a book when our oldest graduated from high school and was going off to college.

Family milestones often cause us to find our photos and take the time to look at them and remember them.

As we grow older, some may start to suffer from memory loss. These photos will become what our memories used to do for us and help us know those around us and that they are our family.

Photographs can be an invaluable source of information when resolving personal problems. Photos are not subject to memory recollection, and a person’s portrayal of events can differ from what appears in the pictures. The information is intimate because family photographs are collected from the inside compared with journalistic institutions, which usually operate as outsiders. Photo albums and home movies provide the richest sources of memories about the family. They offer an intimate look at personal relationships. Psychologists recently have begun using this display of intimacy to help resolve family conflicts.

Just imagine a couple getting close to divorce that pulls out the photos and then starts to remember all the good times and takes the time to work things out because of the memories that helped to build those bridges necessary to save the marriage.

Photos are potent reminders of family ties.

My great grandmother holding my baby sister and me.
Photo taken by my grandfather a month or so before my sister married my brother-in-law.

A photo I took of my daughter testing a lighting setup for a musical. While I was taking it for another reason, I appreciated it because it was one of our father and daughter times together. It is a powerful memory for me.
One of my wife and I’s favorite photos of our daughter Chelle. She has her first Shirley Temple drink at the beach. Her expression of how much fun she was having and that we had this experience with her and the photo now helps us remember that moment like it just happened.

Nothing means as much to me as watching my family and capturing our times together. How do you value what your photos do for your immediate family as much as you do for how the rest of the world sees them?