Monday, December 6, 2010

'A photograph is not only an image,... an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace...' Susan Sontag 1977

Sharing family photographs

I sent the Birthday Card pictured right, to my sister in August this year. I loved the cute photograph of the twins. What a surprise I received when I collected my October issue of Family Tree, to find the very same photograph, reversed, and proudly adorning the cover of the magazine!

I was hoping that I would find out who the little twin girls were, however, the inside cover simply said: 'Twin girls in London, enjoying a day in the park on their push scooters.'

Aside from my finding this to be an amazing coincidence, I was reminded of how many family photographs end up in places other than the possession of the family. Too often I have found other people's family photos, their precious memories, in antique and second hand stores. Many of them have no writing on the back so are impossible to identify. Several years ago I found a family's entire collection of photographs, which had been sold as part of a deceased state, in a second hand store. The family's surname was Fenton which is a name in my husband's family. I would have loved to have 'saved' this collection to keep it together, however there was a hefty price tag attached to each of the the pictures and so, sadly, they remained in the store. In this instance, hundreds of family snapshots have been lost to future generations because they were not passed on to someone in the family. Perhaps there was no one to leave them to, but if they had been shared with other family members, their fate may have been otherwise. For those of us who partake in the satisfying quest for our ancestors, and for everyone for whom the internet has made the sharing of family photographs much easier, the loss of these family treasures becomes less likely.

Last week, I discovered a photograph of my great great grandfather, John Gottlieb Nargar (Nerger) on a tree on I had never seen an image of him before and so of course was most excited. I had also never met the relative who owns the photograph so would have been unlikely to have ever known what great great grandfather John Gottlieb looked like if the picture hadn't been generously shared on this genealogy website.

So often, in families, one member inherits a collection of old family photographs and unless there are copies made and shared amongst other famly members, it is more than likely that several generations later, they will be difficult to find or lost forever, as in the case of the Fenton family's photos, which ended up for sale, in a second hand store. I have been extremely fortunate in that most relatives whom I have discovered through tracing my family tree, have been mst generous in sharing copies of family photographs with me. I am happy to share my own phtographs, of course. It is surely every genealogist's dream to inherit the family history in photographic images, however it is important to share family portraits to ensure their longevity.

I was approached recently, by the Centenary Suburbs Historical Society in Brisbane, Queensland with a request to share with them, photographs of my great grandparents, Hugh and Sarah White whose farm 'Carrig-Na-Gule' was situated at Seventeen Mile Rocks. Often the society conducts talks and displays about the pioneers of this area and when a member found my family photographs on my blog, she asked if I would be happy to share some of the images of the past with them. The photograph on the right, taken from the front verandah of the home on "Carrig-Na-Gule' ( named after the flax farm which the family owned in County Tyrone, Ireland), shows a shed which the Centenary Suburbs Historical society believe once housed a biplane glider in which a Thomas McLeod made the first observed flight in a ' heavier than air' machine in Queensland.

Even though this attempt at flight, which is pictured below right, took place prior to my great grandparents purchase of the property, I was thrilled to find an invitation to the 100th anniversary of this event in my mailbox. Not only will a plaque be unveiled on the very land that my ancestors owned but the photograph at the top of the invitation shows my great grandfather's farmland at Seventeen Mile Rocks. The picture was taken when the previous owners of the land, the Belz family lived there but that takes nothing away from the excitement of seeing an image of the land which my family farmed. below left is a photograph of Hugh and Sarah White on their farm Carrig-Na-Gule at Seventeen Mile Rocks.

For a number of years, I have been collecting old photographs of 'lost' families and in particular 'lost' children. Some, I have managed to reunite happily with family members who are thrilled to have never before seen images of ancestors. Others have been safely placed in an acid free photograph album, patiently waiting for me to find the time to trace their family history.

'Finding' the child in the photograph on the right, is my next project. The baby pictured, is 1 year old Mary or May Theodora Marsh. The portrait was taken in Southampton, England, so I will begin by searching birth and census records to find her. The photograph was found in NSW so she possibly had relatives in Australia to whom the picture was sent.

Pictured below, are some of my 'lost children' waiting for homes. Perhaps someone will recognise an ancestor or a relative and contact me.

Right is Mary (May)
Theodora marsh 1 yr.

Eugene Percy

Mary Ann Holyland

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