Old Family Photos

Why You Should Save & Share Family Photos

Save family photos to convey chapters of our family history and serve as passports to our family memories and connections.

I am so excited to have Rachel LaCour Niesen of Save Family Photos as guest poster today! Welcome, Rachel!  Rachel is on a mission to save family stories, one photo at a time. Once you learn more about Rachel and her website SaveFamilyPhotos, you will be motivated to save your own family stories through your photos, too!

 Our family photos convey chapters of our family history – from milestones like weddings to everyday moments like our children’s first steps

Why Save Family Photos? How did you get started? Was there one photograph that started it all?  

As a former photojournalist, I value storytelling and curation. All great photographs tell stories and careful curation helps convey those stories. After years pursuing a career in professional photography, I emerged as both a trained storyteller and experienced curator. And that’s why I believe photos play a vital role in preserving family history.

Our family photos convey chapters of our family history – from milestones like weddings to everyday moments like our children’s first steps. There are countless, priceless photographs hidden in attics and basements all over the world. I think those photographs are artifacts and passports to a place called memory.

We must rally around those photographs and make a concerted effort to rescue them from deterioration, theft, natural disaster and loss. Those photos are in danger; as a result, so is family history. My mission reflects my training in photojournalism and my passion for curation. My goal is simply to grow a community that’s passionate about saving and share family stories, one photo at time.  

What are the three biggest benefits to saving and sharing our family photographs?  

This is a wonderful question! Practically speaking, we all know that is seems simultaneously magical and overwhelming to discover a box of old family albums and pictures. In order to take the next steps and preserve them, we have to understand WHY our family pictures are so important. For me, there are three motivators:  

  • Time Flies: we all know how fast our children seem to grow up. In the same way, our family members age and are gone before we have time to ask them about their life stories. Family photos contain clues to our ancestors’ lives and legacies. When we take time to ask our family members for information about old family pictures, we ensure that valuable stories are saved.
  • Preserving Your Visual Legacy :Simply put, visual assets are the images that you create during your lifetime. They may be moving images, in the form of videos. They may be still images, in the form of photos. They may be in digital form, or analog form. Above all, they capture moments and milestones; they tell your life story.
  • Fun family activity: Photographs are priceless mementos that act like your own personal time machine. One of the most enjoyable part of having all these great pictures in your life is displaying them! Printing and showcasing family photos makes them easier to share. A framed print that’s hung on your wall is there for all to see — you don’t have to go scrolling through Facebook or your iPad to point out something to a family member. Vintage pictures also make great conversation starters: break the ice at a family reunion by talking about the location on display in one vintage snapshot or describing an ancestor featured in another.

“We know that America’s cultural heritage isn’t found only in libraries and museums, but in our homes, in our family histories and the stories and objects we pass down to our children.”

William Adams

  National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman William Adams recently said, “We know that America’s cultural heritage isn’t found only in libraries and museums, but in our homes, in our family histories, and the stories and objects we pass down to our children.” I truly believe our vintage family photos are artifacts of our lives; they help us to remember to remember.  

Scattering of black and white photos and white words on red background reading Why You Should Save Family Photos
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What is your favorite photo? And what story does it tell?

Wow, that’s tough! The entire community archive of Save Family Photos is a treasure trove of stories. Yet there is one photo that stands out to me. It’s actually a series of photos.

When the Save Family Photos Instagram project was still in its infancy, community member Sara Pupa shared a stunning series of old-fashioned photo booth portraits of her grandmother. The photo received a record number of likes, which delighted Sara. The response the photos received also delighted someone else: Sara’s grandmother.  

 Our family photos convey chapters of our family history – from milestones like weddings to everyday moments like our children’s first steps

In her heartfelt message to me, Sara wrote, “I don’t think many people realize the value of family photos until it’s too late. In hindsight they wish they would have asked where or when the photo was taken – and maybe they’ll never find out.”  

The day after Sara shared the photo on @savefamilyphotos, her grandmother suffered a mild heart attack. When Sara went to visit her grandmother in the hospital, she took something other than flowers. Inside Sara’s bag was an envelope full of old family photos. “I didn’t want to be that person who doesn’t have a story to tell when they share photos of their ancestors,” Sara said.  

She continued, “My grandma was nearly in tears when I spread the photos out in front of her. I found out that she was under the impression that she had thrown out all the photos. She said it had been her biggest regret. Needless to say, she was over the moon when she found out they were safe with me. We sat for hours talking about each photo, and I learned things about my grandma that I never would have known otherwise.”  

The simplicity of that statement tells us a bit more about the value of family photos. They’re keys to unlocking conversations with family members; they’re glue that holds our stories together.

When was the last time you took an envelope of old family photos to your grandparent’s home and asked them about each memory? Have you ever spent an afternoon asking your grandmother about her experience growing up, as seen in vintage photos of her childhood?   But Sara still says it best: “If you hadn’t shared the photo of my grandma on Save Family Photos, it might not have occurred to me to ask her about them.

Ultimately, sharing a few photos prompted me to sit down with my grandma and have one of the most meaningful conversations I’ve ever had with her. Not only do I have beautiful photos to share with my children someday – I will also have stories to tell them.” Sara’s experience reminds us that old family photos are more than two-dimensional pieces of paper. They’re tangible reminders of family relationships. They’re records of life experiences. They’re memories made visible.  

young girl in blue and white checked swimsuit standing on beach chair at the beach

Can you give us some Ideas for incorporating family photos into family celebrations such as family reunions, Mother’s Day, & Father’s Day?

Absolutely! This is one of my favorite tips to offer individuals and families who value their photo archives. Print your favorite photos and incorporate them into your everyday life. Don’t put it off; start today. Here are four fun ideas for incorporating family photos into family celebrations:  

  • Set aside a space for family photos at your Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthday or holiday celebration. Perhaps you have an entry table, or even a few coffee tables or side tables that would look lovely decorated with a combination of family photographs and florals?
  • Use vintage family photos as place cards to assign seats at your family dinner or brunch. (Be sure to use copies of the originals.) You could even frame a few favorite family photos and scatter them around the center of the table.
  • Print a small copy of a favorite family snapshot on classic card stock paper and use it as a “gift tag!”
  • Create an annual calendar of family photos that highlight key chapters of your family history. Artifact Uprising has awesome wood and paper calendars you could consider trying!

What is the one piece of advice you would give family historians about their family photographs?

Capture the stories behind the photos will you still can. Be sure you are proactively adding metadata to your image files. Metadata is just a fancy term for caption info. For more in-depth guidance on how to add metadata to your family’s photo archives, check out this helpful blog post we hosted recently.  

Where can we find SaveFamilyPhotos  on the web?

Our primary site: http://www.savefamilyphotos.com

Our community blog that’s full of amazing resources: https://www.savefamilyphotos.com/category/family-photo-resources/  

Instagram: over 90k people have joined the mission of Save Family Photos by following along and posting their favorite vintage family photos. You can follow along too http://instagram.com/savefamilyphotos/  

If you’re more of a Facebook person, find us here and join the community: https://www.facebook.com/savefamilyphotos/

Other Old Family Photo Articles of Interest at Are You My Cousin?

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