Photos of Forgotten Relatives in the Northeast


A lot of memories can be inspired by a single photo.

By Eric Peterschmidt

forgotten relativesIn the northeastern corner of the US, a group of people created a Facebook group called “Old Pictures of Forgotten Maine.” Most of the photos shared in the group are of places – old time postcard views of main streets, long-gone fancy hotels, farms, waterways, and, of course, photos of ships and shipyards.

But, a few days ago, a woman posted a photo of her great-great grandfather and her great aunt playing on the family farm.

The comments on this photo are what inspired me to write this. By itself, the photo isn’t very remarkable – just a photo of practically forgotten relatives from generations ago. But the stories. Oh my, the stories.

One person tagged another person, who weighed in with the family tree information and the comment “Just like with all the Maine and New Hampshire [family name], we’re all cousins to one degree or another.”

How fun!

But here’s the comment that really got me: “Look at our grandparents!! So adorable.. I needs [sic] copies of these cousin!” To which the original poster replied “Your auntie has them! I took pictures of them this summer.”

And then things really went crazy. “This is my mother and my grampy!” and “My great grandmother was married to a [family name] from over that way. Are we related?”

And just like that… a family story was started, and grew, and became a family legacy. And nearly forgotten relatives are suddenly remembered in vivid color.

But… and this is a big one.

That family story is sitting on a Facebook group that has nothing to do with that family. Before too long, it will vanish into the lands of “below the fold” and “down the feed.”

Will the far-flung family members know to “save as” that image for their own digital scrapbook?

Will they invite other family members to join “Old Pictures of Forgotten Maine” to see that one family photo that seems to have so much meaning and so many stories?

What will they do?

(If I must be honest, the temptation to ride into the comments section and recommend they try TightKnit was a little hard to resist, but resist it I did. At least for now…)

This story goes right back to what we’ve said before – “everyone has something, but no one has everything.” Even a person who acts as a “family historian,” who takes on the responsibility of collecting and categorizing the old family photos, won’t have everything. But the family, as a collective group, will have rich stories to tell and wonderful contributions to make – photographic and otherwise.

If only there were a place where they could tell those stories and post those photos.

And frankly, Facebook isn’t the place to do that. While a photo, like this one, can create a lot of conversation when it’s in the top of the group, it will soon disappear – and so will the stories that go with it – down in the feed, beyond the “what’s the latest” zone that is the hallmark of Facebook.

This happens when people create family groups on Facebook, too, as I mentioned in my earlier post. Down the feed and out of mind – the conversations just get lost and forgotten, doomed to obscurity while the photos at the top of the group get the attention of the moment.

Family photos don’t have to be of generations-old and nearly forgotten relatives to be meaningful, either. A photo of the family homestead can cause wonderful stories to come out. A photo of a treasured heirloom can do the same. What about a pet? Or an old car? Or a buggy pulled by a horse? A favorite picnic place? Or a wedding cake…

The stories are the memories, and the photos are the prompts, the thought-joggers, the reminders of times gone by – the times we want to share and remember when we’re sitting with family members around the kitchen table , whether the actual kitchen table or a virtual kitchen table your family creates together.

Interestingly, as I look again at the group, I see that the next post down is about a family farmhouse (different family) that burned down in the late 1970s. The post includes photos of the farmhouse while it was standing as well as photos of it burning to the ground.

That’s another photo that is perfect for storytelling, don’t you think?

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