Last year I spent quite a few hours sorting through photos of several generations of ancestors, my late husband’s family and mine, plus those of our own immediate family, children and grandchildren. I barely made a dent in the collections!
My husband’s family seems to have taken more photographs of their relations, and saved many more than people on my side have done. And while my siblings keep and store some of our relatives’ pictures, I am the sole curator of those that were passed to us from my in-laws and their in-laws, and so forth.
It wasn’t too hard to find at least a thousand pictures that could be put in the trash. It pains me to say that, because an image of a human made in the image of God feels like it retains something of the holiness of that connection, and it doesn’t seem right to be disrespectful of it. That shows that I come from a generation before digital images. I discard those with abandon.
Many that I tossed, however, were of such poor quality that I couldn’t see the faces, and quite a few were superfluous, because of there being much better or identical pictures of those people in existence. I have many more to purge, hopefully this year, but I have sifted through the oldest ones.
Among the boxes of pictures coming from my husband’s family, the third category that I needed to discard was this: Women who were unidentified, and did not match any pictures of known relations. Yes, there were also some mystery men, but they did not impress me in any way. Most didn’t look composed, or handsome. I felt differently about the women, I suppose because I am a woman.
Were they distant cousins? College friends? Maiden aunts? No one in my family knew them, no one cares about them. They all sleep in death. But — I did care about them. A hundred years ago they meant something to someone in our family, and since it is so easy to save digital images, I laid their paper pictures out on the carpet and took group photos.
I hope that each of them is known by name by someone somewhere, friends or descendants who have copies of these photos that that they won’t throw in the trash for a while yet. My curiosity about them is curious, these who represent thousands and billions who no longer walk the earth, most of whom never had their picture taken. But even if they are all forgotten by us living humans, God does know about them. And I, briefly, knew them ever so slightly….