One of my favorite things to do in terms of my genealogy research is to look at the old family photographs. For many, many years they sat in albums or in boxes, untouched and unseen. But from the first day I set eyes on these photos (at least as an adult) I noticed an interesting phenomenon: I cannot imagine my great-grandparents and their siblings and families … in color!
There is something intriguing about those old photographs in black and white, or sepia, and every time I look at them I try to imagine what life was like for them in the late 1890’s and the early 1900’s. I’ve heard family stories passed on for years about the trials and tribulations of my great-grandparents and their sons, who worked in the coal mines in Northeastern Pennsylvania. We’ve all heard the tales of woe of our grandparents having to walk to school in frigidly cold weather, including snow drifts taller than they were, barefoot and uphill … both ways. Okay, that one gets told by every generation but I’m sure you know what I mean: Stories of how our ancestors lived before the comforts of modern-day life. I have to admit that amidst the intrigue of imagining their lives is the frustration of knowing that I will never really … well, know what their lives were really like. It’s like an inner battle between feelings of awe and intrigue and feelings of confoundment and wonderment.
And when I’m finished with all of those mixed feelings about the people who shaped the lives of those who shaped me, I’m left with one other question: Will our grandchildren’s grandchildren ever wonder what life was like for us? And how in the world we functioned with just the basic accoutrements of life, like computers, the Internet, and Facebook?
Colleen McHugh is the author of Ancestral Profiling, a monthly column in The In-Depth Genealogist that helps you learn more about your ancestors as individuals. Colleen also blogs on Orations of OMcHodoy.
© Colleen McHugh 2012