And The Photo Shall Remain Nameless

Thursday, November 6, 2014
Have you ever thought about the fact that one day, hopefully many years from now, people will come across your photo and won't have a clue who you are?

That's what happened today to the girl in this photo.  While in the process of cleaning out a relative's estate, my mom came across this photo.  The frame is quite ornate and beautiful but it was tarnished and had oxidized in a few places.  She asked me if I wanted to try to clean it up and use it, and while I was interested in restoring it to it's original state, I was more intrigued by the photo it held.  "Who is this little girl," I asked?

My mom didn't know.  It's unlikely that the relative who owned it would remember at this point in her life.  She might have an answer, but chances are that answer would be more a figment of her imagination than anything.  Her husband had worked as a furniture mover in his younger days and occasionally brought home boxes of discarded belongings.  Several such boxes still sat, unpacked, from many, many years ago.   Perhaps this was from one of those boxes. 

This little girl who was once so special that someone curled her hair, adorned it with a big bow, gave her a locket necklace and had her photographed, is now nothing more than a nameless face inside of a frame.  How sad!    When I took the frame apart to clean it, the photo was so old, it crumbled, leaving  several little pieces on the counter.  I didn't have the heart to throw away the remaining pieces.  It just made me sad to think about her.  Who was she?   What was her story?  And then it occurred to day, maybe our face will appear in old picture frames - nameless to the people who find them.  The way the digital world is progressing, paper photos probably won't exist in the future.  But until that time, I think most of us have many paper photos, some in boxes, some in albums, hundreds on our computer.  I love going through old photos.  I'm fortunate that my grandparents took lots of photos, so it's easy for me to 'go back in time' and look at my history.  I can imagine what their lives were like, joke about the clothes of the time, marvel at what the people I knew only as older adults looked like when they were young.  Fortunately, my family spent many sunday afternoons sitting around looking at photos, so I know who most of the people are in most old photos.  Yes, there are a few that even my mom, my only living relative of that generation, can't name, but except for my great-grandmother's photo which I recently uncovered the identity of, the rest my old photos are not 'nameless'.  Most are in albums with labels where someday when I'm old or have left this earth, my grandkids and great grandkids can travel back and know their ancestors.

I think today's lesson is this.   When you look at this photo, let it encourage you to organize your photos.  If you can't put them in albums, put them in boxes and write names on each of them.  Sure, right now everyone in your family knows who a face belongs to, but 50 or 60 years from now, all those people might be gone.  There might not be anyone left who recognizes "that face". Then, take it a step further.  Sit down with your kids, your grandkids, your nieces and nephews.   Talk about your family and it's history.   Tell family stories.....tell them over and over again so that the kids who take your place at the Sunday table will be able to tell their kids about the family that came before them.  We don't appreciate our ancestry, our family history, until the people who can relive it and narrate it are gone.  It is then, when we are older, that we come to realize how priceless those stories, those photos, those artifacts are.  Talk about the keepsakes and mementos you have from your parents and grandparents.   Tell them where they came from and why they're special. Those photos, artifacts and your stories are all they will have once you are gone. Take time to honor them now while you can.  Your life is your children's history.  Tell them, show them and encourage them to make the same history for their children.  Don't let them find a face in an ornate frame, or a tattered photo in a box, without a name and story!  History isn't just about presidents and wars, it's about people, your people, and what's more important than the people who lived your 'story'?  That's right - no one!  Consider it a gift, an inheritance - the most valuable inheritance of all.

If you missed the story about my great grandmother's photo, you can check it out under my August posts, entitled "A Grandmother's Love Never Ends".

Post Script: 11/07/16 My mom came across this post in her Facebook memories yesterday.  Upon re-examining the photo, she felt it bears a resemblance to childhood photo of her with her grandmother. Seeing them together, she now feels this is a photo of herself.  I can see the resemblance, can you?  Initially she rejected that idea based on the fancy frame, feeling that given their humble lifestyle they didn't own anything so ornate.  Her sister's dementia contributed to her feeling the photo was not her. But today, perhaps the mystery is solved and the face is no longer nameless, but indeed that of Anna Tatro Durocher.


  1. So interesting Gail. We all have boxes of photos, gathered from deceased relative's belongings.
    I was thinking it would be a great, beside the fire, wintertime activity to sort through and toss those where we have no clue. I usually label the current ones: Who, Date, How Old and Location.
    OR we could start a "I don't know who any of these people are. Do YOU," website where people can browse and find photos of loved ones and friends!

  2. Great Idea! Maybe then our mysterious could be solved!


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