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Precious Photographs from the Past

Updated on December 18, 2014

My Great Grandfather

My great-grandfather, Richard Charles Murray
My great-grandfather, Richard Charles Murray

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

A page from my great-grandmother's photo album
A page from my great-grandmother's photo 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.

Storing old Photographs

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?

See results

© 2009 Susanna Duffy

Leave a comment for me .. - It's much appreciated

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    • profile image

      MagicBeanDip 6 years ago

      researching family photos and family history can be a very revealing experience.

    • EMangl profile image

      EMangl 6 years ago

      if my home starts burning, the first thing i take with me is the external 2TB disk where thousands of photos of my daughter are stored on

    • victorianpassage profile image

      victorianpassage 6 years ago

      Wow what a wonderful thing to be in possession of! I recently found a woman selling photos from my family's old album. It wasn't in our part of the family but a cousin line. Still so many of my ancestors & their cousins. Most dating around 1880s. I was grateful to get many of them so now I can have these kinds of treasures as well. =) Enjoyed your lens!

    • Sami4u LM profile image

      Sami4u LM 7 years ago


      A sprinkling of Angel Dust for Christmas :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Susanna...I enjoyed this so very much! I love old photos, and the stories you told were great! And your granddaughter is absolutely precious!!! How horrible to see your house burn down. My mom and her family lost everything when all 6 children were young. Her brother ran into the burning house and grabbed a handful of dishes, that some of us still have today. I always cry when I see someone's house that burned, because I know that some things just can't be replaced.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 8 years ago

      I love the expression on your granddaughter's face! I enjoyed reading the story about your family's irreplaceable keepsake. Blessings!

    • profile image

      bdkz 8 years ago

      Great lens!

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 8 years ago from USA


    • profile image

      Joan4 8 years ago

      What a treasure for your granddaughter! (and she is absolutely adorable!) I have stacks of old photos, and continue to wish they were labeled somehow. Each one tells a story, for sure! Blessed by a joyful angel this early morning!