Reclaiming photos 7 decades later

In 1938 Marge’s adopted mother Anna was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Despite planning for the eventuality: setting aside family heirlooms, photos, and hope chest items to pass onto her adopted daughter, her wishes were not granted.

Anna, second from right, with family members

When Anna passed away, family members distributed the estate among themselves. Marge was sent to live in a foster home until she was ten years old when she became a ward of the state. As a ward of the state, the remainder of the estate, including family photos, was disbursed among remaining family members. Marge would not see those photos again for many years.

A True Orphan

The years passed. Marge lived for six years at the orphanage then became independent when she was 16. She was released to the community, got a job, rented a apartment above the local funeral home, finished high school and eventually married.

She remained mostly estranged from those family members who had distributed ‘her things’ amongst themselves and was embittered by her orphanage experience.

Over the years, she had children of her own, parcelling out tiny bits and pieces of her life story to them. There was never much to share from a childhood that had been wracked with loss.

The Decades Flew By

Her own daughter never forgot the story of the abandoned little girl, or the photos that Anna, her adopted mother had set aside. Eventually, as her own mother’s 80th birthday approached, her daughter began reaching out to shirttail cousins about the missing heirloom photos.

Missing Photos Located

The stars began to align a few months before Marge’s 80th birthday. Marge’s son was arranging a birthday celebration just a few miles away from a distant cousin. It turned out that a cousin, Popsi was the keeper of the family photo collection. She agreed to a meeting a few days before the 80th birthday celebration. Now the challenge was getting copies of the photos.

A scanner was shipped across the country to be picked up a few days before the 80th birthday party. Daughter packed her computer and prepared to ‘meet’ the heirloom photos, scan them and create a slideshow for the birthday party.

Best Laid Plans Go Awry

USPS had other plans. Somehow, the scanner, which was mailed in plenty of time to complete the project never arrived to its destination in time to scan the photos. So her daughter packed her digital camera and extra batteries for the photo meeting and enlisted her youngest daughter to join in on the photo session. A way of bonding and learning about their past, together.

Digitally Archiving Photos

Over coffee and conversation, the old images were photographed and converted to digital. The originals stayed with the current owner, but the digital photos were captured for posterity. During the meeting, details about the images that were known were shared. The keeper of the photos was aging herself, which meant many of the details from the photos weren’t recalled.

Meeting Anna, At Last

Yet, there were the photos. Many in pristine condition, some fading, older photos from the turn of the 20th century ‘silvering’. And here was Anna, former nurse and adopted mother, long-lost grandmother, springing from those long-lost images. Wrapped in an antique frame, Anna’s high school portrait, her graduating class from nursing school, photographed with friends, family, children. She lived and breathed in those images, as did her own parents and siblings. It was a magical reunion, bonding great granddaughter, daughter, and mother together over stories and photos.

The Best Gifts Are The Ones The Make Them Cry

In spite of all the hurdles, many images were digitized using a cell phone and a camera (the scanner arrived a week after the 80th birthday celebration, long after landing back home) and a slideshow of those old photos was created for the occasion. As the program came on, the family huddled around the computer to watch the ‘show’. Mom’s surprise was also recorded. “Oh, MOTHER!” Her tearful reaction to seeing her Mothers face was priceless. Her tears were a testament to preserving family photos and reliving personal history through images.

A Decade Has Passed

This is a story about my own mother, Marge, orphaned from her own mother and her past. The story itself is now a decade old. I’ve told this story to many others, and found comfort in those reclaimed photos of ‘family’ many times.

My Mom unknowingly passed the flame of curiosity, causing it to burn a bit brighter. This story had a happy ending, because of the desire to right a wrong. Recovering the photos has bound our family together in small ways. Hopefully, by reclaiming my Mom’s visual heritage, I’ve led the way to healing a bit of her past trauma.

The Gift That Keeps Giving

Since I had digital copies of the photos and had also scanned my Mom’s personal photo albums, I had enough photos to ‘commemorate’ this particular birthday year. By printing copies of some of the photos, I created a treasure box with some of those same images transferred onto it to gift my mom for her 80th Christmas.

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2 Responses

  1. Mara LeGrand says:

    What a lovely piece and endeavor. The work you do for others is heart warming.

  2. Cynthia Ludwick says:

    Beautiful story!