We’ve all heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words – but have you ever written a thousand words to describe both your new and old photos? I have and I love it! Telling a story with an old photo, combined with words, either oral or written, is something special. It completes a story. And nowadays there are so many ways to tell your story with pictures there’s no reason not to do it.
I help people write their personal histories often and it usually works that I write the story and add the pictures where they fit later. But recently I have noticed that there is some real magic that occurs when you write a story based on a photo. I have done this a few times and I think I often get the best emotions when I do. I was recently interviewing a client about his story. He was telling me about a vacation he and his family went on and they fun they had. “I think we have a lot of photos of that trip!” he said excitedly. I asked him to dig out the photos before our next interviewing session so he could describe the trip in more detail. That’s what old photos do – they bring back memories in greater detail.
I would like to outline a few ways to use photos to tell your story and also a few ideas on the mechanics of getting it done.
Use old photos to learn about your family history
There are times when we are trying to tell a story about family members or experiences that we may not know much about. A photo can give us clues about the people we may not know or understand. Really studying an old family photo can become a fun game. My husband and I have spent quite a lot of time getting to know our ancestors’ stories through photos. The picture below is a prime example of how a photo can tell a story when you have few other details.
From the photo you can tell that my Grandma Kap was a bit more frugal (she’s the one on the right) than her sister because her clothing isn’t quite as fancy, but you can tell she loves to go shopping and takes it seriously (those hats are priceless). You can also tell the sisters had quite a lot of love between them. In both photos they are embracing. In the photo on the right they are full of life and energy – on the left you can tell they are older and have seen quite a lot of life – but they still like to get fancy for a day on the town. You can also tell they pay close attention to details in both photos – earrings, necklaces, and nice, but fashionable shoes. You can also tell the era the photos were taken – although the photos are some years apart – dresses were still always worn by women. I could go on, but you get the idea. By really studying a photo – we start to gain a better understanding of their story – and it feels pretty priceless to me.
I would encourage you to sit down with your family and tell some stories from old photos. FamilySearch has a treasure trove of photos from your family tree. Write down the stories or encourage your children to do it. You will love what they come up with.
Use new photos to capture a story
Photos are so easy to take in this day and age. We pretty much always have a camera in our hands. But are we using our photos to the best of our abilities? Do our photos stay stuck in our phones with no place to go? How much enjoyment do we get from our photos once we snap them? I dare say, not enough. A few years ago my daughter was leaving to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The week before she left a good friend and professional photographer took some photos for us. As we chatted between photos we caught all six of my children in an embrace. She quickly snapped the photos and it has become a snapshot of how I view my children in my mind. I made an Instragram post about the moment and my colleague suggested I write an entire blog post about the photo and the feelings it evoked. I cherish both the photo and the article now.
Funny photos are screaming for a story to be told. Find your funny stories and write about what happened. You and your descendants will laugh forever for about them.
I think people should take all the photos – but then do something with them. I am not always the best at this, but they should be somewhere and backed up somewhere as well. In the old days we would print photos and so many other people can touch them, handle them and examine them. If they are in our phones, there are only a couple of people who can really see them. In that vain I would encourage posting them on social media so people can see them, save them to a genealogy site so they will always have a place to be, or even print them! I know people love using Chatbooks, small book publishers or even calendars. I made a photo calendar for my parents for Christmas and I notice people looking at it and rubbing their fingers along the photos every time I go visit.
Don’t know how to use some of those features? Here are a few ideas:
The FamilySearch Memories App should be used over and over again
Ever used the FamilySearch memories app? If you haven’t, you should! And if you have, you should use it more! The cool thing about the memories app is that it guides you through the storytelling process and it can be done right on your phone. Once you download the app, go to plus sign in the bottom right hand corner. A list of prompts will appear and you can choose the photo prompt. You then can choose where to select your photo – your camera roll, Instagram or Facebook. Once you choose your photo there is space to type text to describe your photo or there is a microphone option where you can describe the photo. This is really the best of both worlds in my opinion, because you can not only have a beautiful visual, but a voice to go with it. Nothing is much better than that! Read more about the perks of oral history here.
My Heritage also offers some of the same photo option as FamilySearch’s Memories App, except you can all also pull photos from Twitter and Snapchat, but not Facebook. Ancestry offers video uploads which people love – especially the younger generation. They also offer a great public forum to discuss photos and share stories between family members about photos. This is another great way to get stories flowing.
Create family pages on social media to share pictures and stories
A lot of people create their own private family Facebook pages to swap stories and videos. This has been quite rewarding in my family. My husband has created separate pages for all our maternal and paternal family lines. All family members can post photos there and it has created ways for our families to become closer as we reminisce about old photos and also proven to be a valuable tool to glean new information for family stories or family history work. If you come across a photo you may not know much about, chances are someone in your family will. The pages can be set to private so only family members can see the photos. It strengthens family bonds and gives us a place to enjoy all the family photos.
Families also use family hashtags so photos can be found easily, especially on Instagram or they create family Instagram pages where the only followers are family members. We use this tool when we go on vacation and create a “Trotter vacation hashtag” for each excursion we take. Everyone who posts photos uses the hashtag and you have a storage place for all those new photos that will become old photos before you know it.
Remind everyone to take pictures!
I have found with my young adult children that they hesitate to take photos because they don’t want to be “posting photos all the time” or they get too caught up in the moment to take photos. I am always reminding them to not hesitate to take the photos! As a young mom, I would have loved to have the technology they have today! I missed so many great parts of my family’s life by not taking enough photos. Photos tell stories when we don’t have the time to write them down. An old photo makes people come to life. Take the photos. Use the photos. Write your 1,000 words!
Rachel J. Trotter is a writer at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire, and help you tell yours. She has worked as a writer since her college days over 20 years ago. She loves telling people’s stories. She lives in Ogden, Utah and is busy raising six children and loves working on family history alongside her husband, Mat.