The Family Photo Album

by Ileen Johnson

[Although this was written nearly 20 years ago, it still brings back pleasant memories.  Pick up your pencil, pen or iPhone and start writing.  Write the way you talk and about common, every-day things.  Your posterity will love it!!]

I hope I live long enough to get my photographs in albums. This has been an ongoing project through the years but somehow never quite finished.  At one time I started albums for each child and attempted to place copies of all the “good” pictures
therein.  The children loved to look at their books,  and this was a good activity, but it required constant monitoring to preserve the photos from the ravages of little fingers.  “Is this me?” they would ask as they pointed to each baby picture. These albums were quickly outgrown and became much too expensive and time-consuming to maintain. “I’ll finish these when I have more time,” I rationalized, “and give them their albums when they get married.”

Only our first six children had photo albums; the younger three only knew manila envelopes. That was the makeshift method to sort out and store the photos until we could get them properly placed.  More than once I tried arranging the contents of the envelopes in chronological order.  Some progress was made, but usually I had too much “help,” from those who wanted to just enjoy looking at the pictures. Once again the photos went back into envelopes and on the closet shelf.

I wonder if teachers know how much stress they cause by asking students to bring a baby picture of themselves for this or that activity. Finding the “right” picture always meant sorting through every picture in the envelope. There is also the problem of
protecting the photo from damage during its trip to school and, hopefully, back. Too often this results in a blank spot in the album where a picture once was. I don’t think teachers will change in the future, but if I had it to do again, I think I would have copies made of those babies to use as loaners.

I found school pictures to be the biggest challenge.  They come around with regularity, thanks to the person who created this tradition, and also multiply by
children and years.  Add to this the issues of hand-me-down clothes and similar genes, and a problem of identity arises. “Is this Brian, or Mark in Brian’s old
shirt?” More than once we had pictures of the same child in the same favorite outfit for two years running.  “Was this Ann’s fifth grade picture, or her fourth?”

One summer Jennifer and I tackled the school picture problem once and for all. We put up a folding banquet table in an upstairs bedroom and laid them out, children on the Y axis and years on X.  Careful scrutiny of 30 years of school pictures ultimately revealed correct years and children. That was a productive summer resulting in every photo being placed neatly in albums!

The cycle continues, however, and now in the autumn of my life I feel a pressing need to get my life in order–including the photos. They really need to be taken
out of the sticky albums and mounted on acid-free paper, under acid-free plastic sheets, and properly labeled. That’s my current project.  I began by purchasing several three-ring binders, a ream heavy, black, acid-free paper, and began
punching holes. That was my first mistake. Now we need a new paper punch. Hindsight would suggest one have a copy center do the holes. Next, I bought three
boxes of photo corners and began pasting.  It seemed I had barely begun when they were all gone. So, I went back to the store and bought ten more boxes. If
that doesn’t do it, I will have to put corners on my Christmas wish list.

Computer file folder labels were used for the labels.  I had labeled perhaps 8 or 10 pages of photos when Kristen said, “I didn’t know Howard’s middle name is
spelled R-e-i-d.”  “It’s not,” I replied. “Well, that is what it says here.” Sure enough there it was, typed with my own fingers!  “Oops! This is not right. This
is Jennifer in the cupboard, not me. Just remember, Jennifer in the cupboard, Kristen in the fireplace.”

I admonish you not to procrastinate properly organizing, labeling, and storing your precious family photographs, an essential part of your family history.  I plan to use my albums to help construct the journal I never kept. I think this year at Christmastime I will gather the children around the kitchen table, bring out
the albums, turn on the tape recorder, and sit back and listen.

The contents of the family photo album can have a profound effect on later generations and help answer the gnawing questions of “Who are we?” and “Where do we come from?”  I remember how much fun it was as a child to look at
my mother’s albums. They were stored in her cedar chest under lock and key, and carried with them a nostalgic cedar fragrance. I hope our children and
grandchildren will remember our family albums and the people whose likenesses they contain with similar fondness.


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