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Are those grumpy people in the photos related to us?

Joyce Walter writes about going through old photos
Reflective Moments by Joyce Walter

The man in the black and white photograph from many years ago looked familiar.

So did the woman in another photo from around the same era.

Because the photos were in one of the family’s many photo albums, the assumption was made that if this man and woman weren’t family members, they must at least be close friends to have a place in the family photo collection.

There was no writing on the back side of the photos and no indication of the identity of the pair. Sadly, because the generation is gone that might have been able to put names to faces, the photos were discarded into the great old photo landfill where they will rest with other photos belonging to other families.

If the parents, or even some aunts and uncles were still alive, they would have explained where the photos were taken, when, by whom, and more importantly, how the subjects were connected to each other or at least to our family.

But alas, I have been staring at many strange faces in our quest to rid our household of extraneous materials that haven’t been touched or enjoyed for at least a decade.

With the idea that someday I might begin an organized collection of the hundreds of photos in our possession, years ago I stocked up on several photos albums in which to categorize and display the life and times of all who came within range of the camera lens.

Some of those albums have been filled and others are blank pages, just waiting for the photographic diary of the life and times to be completed.

But first I was compelled to spend time going through the albums and remembering and laughing and then wondering: “Who the heck is that guy?” and “who is the baby?”

Then it hit me: We are as guilty of the same crime as others who came before us: we are guilty of the sin of omission, the omission of recording important details like marking on the photo backs some indication of the who, what, why and where. Certainly, photos may speak a thousand words, but the only words that come to mind in such circumstances are: “I don’t have a clue who that is.”

I know my frustration levels rise when the stern-looking men and women remain nameless. So, I can imagine how the younger folks in our family will react when they are forced to go through our treasures and come across a shelf filled with photo albums.

Their conversation might go something like this:

First person: “Wow, look at this. Who is that standing on the running board of that Hummer?”

Second person: “She sure looks familiar. Maybe she’s that lady who helped organize rodeos because here she is on a horse. And here she is standing beside a camel. Maybe she was part of the old-time circus that had animal acts.”

First person: “And there’s a man with her in this photo. He has sideburns so he must be really, really old. Then here he is with a crow sitting on his knee. They must be your relatives.”

At least we were smiling.

Joyce Walter can be reached at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.  

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