Precious Photographs from the Past
My Great Grandfather
My Great Grandmother's Photo Album
Have you ever been asked what you would grab if your house caught on fire? I can tell you what I would run for first - because I did.
My house burned to the ground in less than half an hour back in 1980. I scooped up my great grandmother's photograph album and threw it in my car. When I went back the few steps to get my own album, it was far too late and all I could do was release the handbrake on my car and roll down the driveway to watch my house burn.
I lost so many things that day. But I still have the old photo album from a woman I never knew.
The Album is a work of Art
They made them well in those days
The album is covered in embossed leather, with painted insets, brass spine and a latch in gold. It really is a work of art in itself- you can see the size by the picture of my thumb.
Inside are tintypes and albumen photographs slipped inside pockets of very heavy, cardboard thickness pages.
Luckily, some of these photos have a name and a date and, while they all have a photographic studio address on the back side, these are mostly faded to illegibility or give an address in Edinburgh.
This great-grandmother of mine was the only child of Scottish migrants, making her parents the only members of my family not originally of Irish descent. A bit of variety, you could say.
A Page from the Photograph Album
Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present and future.
Inscription inside - United Ancient Order of Druids
The inscription reads
Mrs R.C. Murray
By the Officers & Members of the No.16 District, UAOD,
Token of Esteem
What's with the Druids?
Did my great grandmother wander around in a long white gown looking for mistletoe in Australia? What a thought!
No, the Druids were a Friendly Society, a Lodge, a sort of benevolent group.
The first Druids Lodge was set up in Melbourne, Australia in 1861 by Bro. Barnard from Canterbury, England. Throughout Victoria lodges were then opened in nearly every fledgling country township and especially through the goldfields. They provided sickness and funeral benefits to protect its members in times when no welfare benefits existed.
My great grandmother wouldn't have needed benefits - she owned a few hotels. And there's a clue - here's an except from an old pamphlet about benevolent societies in 19th century Australia
They provided a source of entertainment for the members. Many lodges held their meetings in hotels or licensed public halls.
Maybe she just supplied the venue for meetings - an astute business arrangement if nothing else. The present officials of the UAOD can give me no answers.
Who are you, Annette?
The search to find her
When my grandfather died, my Nanna gave me his mother's photo album. It was either give it to me or throw it away, she didn't want it, she had nothing to do with his family at all.
I had only sighted this album a few times, my Pop had shown me his mother's picture but hadn't actually told me her name. It took a fair bit of ratting around the registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to find these basic details. In fact, it was such a picky, and expensive, process that I put it aside as I was far more interested in my mother's family - in particular a poor little boy of 12 who was sent to Australia as a convict in 1842.
My great grandmother's name, as it turned out, was Annette, and she was a publican. Once I gathered these snippets of information it was a lot easier to find some more. I was enthralled by Annette's most colourful life and saddened by a family feud that had been concealed from two generations.
Family resemblances are strong
It's amazing how family resemblances are so strong. Perhaps I shouldn't be amazed at all, it's only a genetic heritage after all, not magic. Still, it's a little eerie to see. The first photo on this page is of my great grandfather, Richard Charles Murray. It was taken when he was very young and I can see his features clearly, a few years later he had a severe accident with a horse and sustained damage to his face - later photos show a badly smashed nose. No fancy cosmetic surgery in those days.
In this young man I can see my brother, my sons, my grandson and my nephew. And myself too!
Caring for old photographs
Don't toss them in a shoebox
On top of a wardrobe somewhere in your house, chances are there's a dusty box that an elderly relative gave you years ago and you've never touched.
Crammed with photographs and perhaps even letters, you know it's a worthy project to put them in some sort of order, but you put off that task for a rainy day. Don't wait too long.
I suggest you make digital copies and keep the originals safe. Scan them once, I'm not sure how much this can damage old photos. When handling your photos, don't touch the surface; only by the edges. Fingerprints are difficult to remove without special cleaning agents and the acid, oil, and other substances from your skin will transfer from your fingers and work to degrade your photos.
Then you have to store the originals properly. Here's some tips on looking after your family treasures.
Plus, some tips on getting an idea of the date of old photographs, Help in Dating Photographs
This Album is precious to me - It's for my own granddaughter
Sometimes I open this album and try to feel the presence of Annette. What would she think if she knew I was looking at photos of her father? Of her aunt in Edinburgh? Would she be offended? I hope not.
Whatever happens to my sundry bits and pieces when I die, I would want my granddaughter to also cherish this album, to see the people who formed her, to look as I do upon familiar features in people long dead and so far removed.
I'm looking after your precious photos, Annette. I always will.
How about you?
Have you got some old photos somewhere?
© 2009 Susanna Duffy