COVID Christmas 2020. For too many this will be a profoundly and starkly different holiday. The gatherings, the meals, the presents… they will haunt us with their absence. The Ghost of Christmas Past will be this year’s star as we recall happier days.
But for those who are at wit’s end as they face a quieter Yule time, may I suggest an activity that will likely bring happiness to you and joy to those of Christmases Yet to Come: sort AND label your pictures. Yes, those pictures in your closet and on your computer, the ones (probably most of them) that have no labels to explain who those people are (were). Your children’s children will thank you.
I’m inspired to make this suggestion by a recent event in my own life that shows the value of taking some time to make these notations. I have only known my great grandfather, Milo Rockwood Whitaker, by pictures of him as an old man with a well-trimmed beard and a kindly face. He died the year before I was born so I have no direct memories of him.
Last summer I received a message via the online genealogy program ancestry.com. The unknown woman offered me a picture of Milo that she had found in a batch of old photographs purchased —sight unseen — from an online antique dealer. The picture is remarkable for its quality and data. It is from 1875 and shows a very young Milo Rockwood Whitaker at around eighteen years old. Perhaps it was his school graduation picture? Someone had written his name on the back of the picture, misspelling “Whittaker” but it was enough to make the connection. The woman offering the photo wanted $10 for her efforts, which seemed quite reasonable for the treasure it is to me.
Several months later I came across a photo of a family gathering taken sometime in the 1920s and there is old Milo once again, along with fourteen other people. I recognize a few, most notably my cousin Bunny (Phyllis Gavin Robinson) of whom I have written about before in these pages and who passed in 2016 at the age of 96. In this picture she appears to be about eight. And there are two of Bunny’s three sisters, Milo’s wife Caroline and my great aunt Helen Whitaker Gavin. But who are those other eight?
I have concluded that they are likely members of the Gavin family but a simple notation on the back would have been helpful. “Gavins gather in Norton, Mass,” or something like that.
These photos from our past become so important as we continue along into the future. The dilemma is magnified in today’s world with the millions of photos clogging our phones and iPads. All those precious babies, grand babies, holidays, and family gatherings that will become the talk of future family gatherings for generations. The events of one’s life are becoming incredibly well documented but to what end? How will the children of Christmas Yet to Come be linked to a photo of their great grandfather from 145 years ago?
I have no idea but it starts with having some names somewhere on the picture, or in the caption block.
So, this COVID Christmas, relive the past by reviewing those old photographs… and make notes! Begin anywhere, with photos from any time, and do what you can to keep the human links that photography offers us.
Merry Christmas. ❧