My Family History: Struggle and Accomplishment.

These came from a book of photos that belonged to my grandparents,  Hiawatha and Allene. My grandmother, she was born in 1910.  Before that, the book belonged to my grandmothers elder sister Vera, who was born in 1905. The pictures date back to before the end of slavery in some instances. 

My family. Proud Americans on vacation.

My family. Proud Americans on vacation.

Remember, these pictures were long before the digital age.  The photo album was 4 feet tall, 2 1/2 feet wide, and each picture was stuck to the page with cement and bulldog glue!  

I consulted with an archivist about the best way to remove and preserve the pictures so that I could scan them digitally.  After carefully looking over the pictures, he stopped, lowered his glasses, and told me that he was quite impressed with what he saw. Apparently, there are pictures in this collection that were taken at a time when a picture of any family was rare, but to have so many of a Black family was rarer still! From what we saw, I have become one of many in my line that has taken responsibility for documenting my familial journey through time.

There were +980 pictures in all.  It took me a year to safely remove each one from the pages with the thin, metal tool the curator gave me.  It was a meticulous task. With a latex glove on one hand, and the tool in the other I had to slowly slide the metal edge between the picture and the page then gently slide it back and froth until it was free from the page.  One picture could take 30-40 minutes to pry loose in order to be sure I didn’t tear it. It was well worth the effort!  I was able to remove them, and then scan them so I could send my family digital copies to keep for future generations.  Now there is no chance of the pictures being lost in any single catastrophe.

The story of my becoming the curator of my family photos is a sad one.  It started with a phone call telling me that the pipes in my grandmothers house exploded, and that I had to go check it out.

I hope none of you can ever relate to what I went through.  I saw my family home twisted and destroyed by water damage in ways that horribly disfigured not just the things inside it, but the physical structure as well. Seeing a place that I loved so much after it had been violently turned upside down was one of the most painful things I have ever endured.  The only thing I wanted to save was our picture album. I am sure there was jewelry and other valuables in the wreckage, but I wasn’t going to dig through for them.  My family picture album was all I wanted.  After searching the house, I saw the large, red tome teetering on a ledge just a few inches above the water. It would have destroyed everything if it had it fallen in. Thankfully it didn’t! I made it there and saved the album. I didn’t look for anything after that, I just walked away with the pictures you see here now.

These few are of my grandmother at 85 years old, when I was taking a 35mm photography course.  The issue wasn’t getting her to say OK to modeling for me.  She was a very beautiful woman and has always had pictures taken of her.  It was that I wanted to take them one morning, while she was still in her robe and hadn’t “made herself up” for the day.  I not only took the photos, I also did the chemical developing by hand.

If you like what I share, send $5, it’ll buy me coffee to fuel my mind while I do all this, but most importantly you can find me on Patreon!



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    • YusefWateef

      Believe me, I tried. Now I’m “crowd sourcing” the job. I’ve sent a copy of +900 pictures to as many relatives as I can think of. Hopefully we can piece together who the people in the pictures are over time. Unfortunately, most of those people are 2-3 generations removed.


  1. meaghan

    I’ve just begun to take on the task of organizing and naming my family photos. Reading this article makes me want to expedite the process!


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