Written by: Shannon Combs-Bennett
Recently I was unpacking boxes filled with photo albums with my youngest child. I didn’t realize he had stopped helping me unpack until I heard him ask me what something was.
“Mom, where are you in this picture?”
Bending down for a better look I saw he had my travel journal from my trip to Europe in 1997. I sat down next to him on the floor as the memories and experiences from that time flooded back into my memory.
“That sweetie is me and my parents’ dog Sam. We are in a field of rapeseed on a hill above the village they lived in while in Germany.” It is one of my favorite pictures from that trip.
Sam was a Brittany spaniel who had just started to grey around the muzzle. I was in my junior year of college with the world in front of me. The hillsides for as far as you could see were yellow from the flowers and I thought it would be a perfect picture. I asked my boyfriend to snap the shot and I crouched down behind the dog.
I loved that dog, and I loved the walks we took when I would visit my parents while in college.
That was the first picture in my 6 week journal for that summer. My mom had saved up her leave and we drove, yes drove, through Germany to Paris then up to Calais, all over England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and then back to their home in time for us to do laundry and put me back on a plane to school. It was a whirlwind adventure and one that I still talk about to this day.
For the next 2 hours we sat there and looked at the pictures, read the words I wrote on the trip, and I filled in some of the back story that I did not write down. It was one of those times where mom was cool, did cool things, and there was proof!
Pictures are an amazing way to talk to people. They not only spark questions and discussions among generations, but they are also a slice of time frozen forever.
Have you ever looked at a picture of yourself, or maybe one that you have taken, and instantly remembered what should be in the picture but isn’t?
For example, the breeze through your hair, the smell of flowers, the chatter of people nearby perhaps?
Living now, where taking a picture is frankly taken for granted, we seem to have forgotten the rest of our stories from those long ago pictures. And having this conversation with my youngest made me realize just how much of the story I am leaving out of my photo albums.
Sure, I have the name(s), date, and usually where we were. What is missing is the rest of the story. The part that no one but you and a few others may know about. If your pictures could talk, what would they say?
Journaling and writing our stories is a common theme. Many people use writing prompts they find online and in books, but what about using something a little more close to home? For example: an old photo album. The clues and the writing cues are all there waiting for you. Simply pop open a book, or for those you less organized a box, and get to work.
What amazing stories are waiting to be told hidden in those slices of times? What stories need to be told?
It is a new game now in the house: stump mom with the picture. As long as it has me in it, or I took it, I am fine. I should, however, warn the grandparents. Because my kids can’t wait to ask about all of their pictures too.
Shannon Combs-Bennett is the Creative Director for The In-Depth Genealogist and Education Chair for NextGen Genealogy Network. She writes and lectures on a variety of topics from genetics to methodology and is contributor to Family Tree Magazine / University.