There are families that embraced photography wholeheartedly when it was introduced. I think of them as being sentimental. They understood that life was fleeting and it was important to them to remember moments in time. Not all families are like that. My father’s side was very sentimental and there are hundreds of old photos of my grand and great grands as well as my father growing up. They go back even further to the ambrotypes and tintypes although those are fewer. My mother’s side was not recorded quite as well but there is still quite an archive.
I have always been the “keeper” of the photographs. When households were emptied the boxes of photos were brought to me. I have closets full of boxes of photographs dating from the 1850’s to the present. I have to say the advent of digital photography makes organizing and making sense of this archive much easier.
Recently I volunteered to digitize the photographic collection at the Rowe Historical Society. I became a trustee and am hoping to organize their collection to give everyone access and help make sense of some of this imagery. I have to tell you I’m extraordinarily happy that Rowe is an extremely small town. I can’t imagine trying to make sense of a collection that is much bigger.
This was also self-serving in some respects – I wanted to see more of the photographs of Fort Pelham Farm back in the days of rolling fields and farming. I was also in search of angles of the house from the south side. I had never seen any. The Wrights were photo centric people. They were very social, had a wide circle of friends and family and took pictures at many occasions. They also kept many of their photographs glued in albums. This helps give a timeline to the images you are viewing. You have to be a sort of sleuth to figure out what is going on because all of the players are long gone and the names and dates often went with them.
Last week I scanned roughly 400 photographs from a few albums. I haven’t taken the time at this point to really examine them. There were a few that caught my interest because they were what I was looking for but an interesting thing has happened along the way. Not all of the albums belonged to the Wrights but there were many photographs of Fort Pelham Farm in albums belonging to families I’m unfamiliar with. One of these albums was fairly well labelled as to who, what, where and when. I pulled out the genealogy and realized just how many people were related to each other in town.
I think I love doing this sort of project because of the stories that form while you’re looking at the images. The body language, the clothing, the history that is shown even though they weren’t aware of much of it at the time. The stories grow as the collections come together. It takes some patience and a good memory for detail to make this all work but the technology we have today makes it all so much easier. With a little luck and some time this story should come alive and an archive will be available for everyone.