Thursday, August 27, 2009

The dusty old box of photos

One summer day when I was 12 or 13, my Grandparents, Everett and Lillian Smith came to visit us in Imlay City for a picnic. Grandma brought a large box of old dusty photos with them. I noticed them but showed little interest. After eating our picnic lunch, Dad went back to work at the dime store, Mom went off to do dishes and Grandma brought out the box! She had this job that she wanted to complete at the picnic table. I moaned and groaned making many teenage excuses to no avail, she had nominated me to be her scribe and that was that!

For the next hour or two, I sat at the picnic table with Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Everett and we sorted through old photos. The Photo’s were of people from a long time ago. They were of Grandpa’s Dad and Mother, their parents, his Uncles, Aunts and assorted cousins. It was almost like a game. Grandma would show Grandpa the photo like a flash card and he would tell us who it was. It was my duty to write the name on the back of the photo. So I wrote the names that I heard; McGoogan, Wert, Sparks, Meeks, Crites, Jackson, Smith and Denney. I wrote them on the photos in my 13 year old hand writing. Some were misspelled but I was in a hurry! I had better things to do, you know!

Some time later, Grandma went thru the photos again and wrote notes on the back trying to describe the family relationships. Notes like Grandpa Crites’ sister, Everett’s favorite Cousin, Grandma Crites’ mother. All added to assist someone to understand who these people were many years from now when she and Grandpa were long gone and someone decides to look at the old photos in this dusty box.

Fast forward 20 years, I have added the people that I “know” in Family Tree Maker. My father has died and I am trying to figure out who Grandpa Smith’s parents are and where they came from. Grandpa Smith told me that he was born in Indiana, I remembered that much. I talked to my Mother and she tells me that she has this dusty old box of photos that were Grandma and Grandpas. My next visit to Michigan, we got the photos out. As I search through the dusty box, I am startled by handwriting on the back of the first photo. Chills ran up and down my back and tears began to well in my eyes. Suddenly I am flooded with the memory of the afternoon at the picnic table with Grandma and Grandpa. I am in awe as I notice that Grandma wrote on the photos too. Grandma was talking to me loud and clear.

She sent me research hints to find 20 years later. Some of the hints sent me on wild goose chases and some goose chasing were of my own doing when I spelled the name wrong but each stoke of her pencil and mine gave me a place to start. After spending an hour or so with the box, I realized that it was much smaller than I had remembered. And there weren’t THAT many photos! Oh what I would have given to be able to ask Grandma and Grandpa some questions now. I was so lucky to be able to spend “that time” with my Grandparents that day. It was a gift that I will always cherish.

If you are the keeper of your family history, make sure you find someone to share it with a generation or two younger than you. Even if they do not seem as interested in it as you would like. It is important for these memories live on. Label your photos and make sure the young children in your family hear the family stories so they can understand and experience the joy of keeping the memories of their ancestor alive.

How my Grandmother knew that I was the one who would take on this mission, I’ll never know but she knew. Thank you, Grandma Lillian! I love you too!

These are two of the photos in the dusty old box. They are photos of John and Emma (McGoogan) Crites from Uniondale, Indiana. They are my Great, Great Grandparents on my Grandfather's Maternal side. I recieved my DAR through this family. I give them a hug everytime I look at these pictures. The picture with the home will lead to future blog


  1. Hi, Jan,
    Wow, what you wrote was so precious, and captured so many feelings that I have had.
    Thank you!
    I share your passion for finding whatever we can about our family histories [pictures/stories being the best!] from our families from the Yoder/Uniondale and nearby areas.

  2. HI "Sister Jan"....DOUBLE WOW! I am so excited to see all your efforts in this forum. You brought tears to my eyes, too! How proud I am to be a part of this family. How lucky we are to be drawn together in love and respect and to have YOU who has the talent and the love to keep our Smith family alive through the generations. Many, many thanks. Love you....Pam

  3. Hey Jan,

    Thanks for the information.....Triple Wow! It's very interesting and overwhelming. I'm plucking away at it! Thanks for your efforts.



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