Black and white photos cover the desk and spill onto the table in my project room. Decades ago, the faces of those I lovehad looked into a camera and smiled. Now they are looking at me, and I smile back. They are all gone -- my father, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and last October, my mother.Their pictures are ever-precious to me, tangible reminders of their earthly existence and our eternal relationships.
I am the keeper of these photos which, for years, felt quite burdensome. Someone has to get these pictures out of the magnetic photo albums before they deteriorate, I often thought with dread since there was no "someone" but me. If these photos aren't digitized, they could be lost forever"-- just the idea was enough to haunt me but not motivate me to act.
Until Mom died.The shock of her passing and the resulting emptiness consumed me. I had a hard time letting go. Now I know why. Mom was my connection with the past -- a connection that is now unalterably broken. I not only lost a mother, I also lost the last living link to my history.
The whir of the scanner on my desk is continuous and monotonous. It is a spiritual catharsis, my source of healing. As I lift each picture and place it on the scanner, I am simultaneously connecting and letting go, both physically and symbolically.
Some scenes I can remember; most I do not. My mother's and grandmother's snapshotsare reflections of their own lives, stemming long before mine. Yet among their later pictures liesmy history:
There are hundreds and hundreds of photos to digitize and annotate. Years ago, I went through the albums with Mom. Thankfully (very thankfully!) I asked her to identify everyone I did not recognize. If she had a story to tell about a picture, I wrote it on a post-it note and put it next to the photo. Now, I'm transcribing those notes and including them with the photos. Digitally, the notes reside next to the photo;* physically, the typed note is stored behind the photo in an acid-free box.
This project began as a "to-do" task, but has emerged as a "must-do" labor of love. I look forward to passing these photos on to my children and grandchildren for this is their history, too.
*Give the note the same name as the photo and the computer will make them adjacent even though the file extensions will be different. For example, photo name: 1973 Smith, John 1st birthday.jpg; its note: 1973 Smith, John 1st birthday.doc.
Carol KostakosPetranek is one of the Directors of the Washington DC Family History Center and a Volunteer at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.