Friday, December 1, 2023

"If You're Not in The Photo, You Weren't There"

On vacation or at family gatherings, my wonderful Sis strongly encourages friends and relatives to be visible in at least one photo. She reminds them: "If you're not in the photo, you weren't there." Translation: You'll remember you were there, but others won't know you were there unless you're in the photo. 

Who was there, who wasn't there?

Also true in family history. Years from now, who will know you were at that birthday party or holiday dinner or reunion if you don't appear in any photos from the event? Uh, people might remember you being there even if you're not in a photo, but it's a picture is worth 1000 words, right?

More than once, I've speculated about why an ancestor was not in a photo...sick or at work or out of town or estranged or actually behind the camera? Sometimes I can confirm my speculation, but often I just have to wonder. There's no one left to ask.

Photographer, step into the picture!

My late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) was a lifelong shutterbug, and thanks to him, we inherited a rich cache of photos and slides--usually with captions or some kind of identification. 

In most cases, Ed was taking the photos of family and friends. But he also made sure to appear in at least one photo when on vacation. At top, a photo of Ed and his wife, Marian McClure Wood (1909-1983), on one of their cruises to Europe. This photo, pasted into one of his albums, was accompanied by a caption detailing the name of the ship, the special event, and the date. 

I'm sure Ed and Marian smiled when they looked back at this photo and the wonderful memories of that vacation. As the family historian, I smiled too--and preserved it for the future so future generations can see them at dinner.

What to keep, what to toss

My hubby and I took time to sort through Ed's vast collection of personal photos and slides after he passed away. We retained and digitized his photos of people and places/buildings important to family history. 

Even when we couldn't immediately identify the faces, we held onto photos of people because in time, we hoped to learn more (and sometimes we later identified who was who). Happily, his collection included photos showing Ed at different points in his life--as a boy, a musician, a husband, a new father, a retiree.  

In the end, we tossed the many, many images of famous landmarks and city skylines after determining there was no real genealogical value. (See my book Planning a Future for Your Family's Past for more about curating and keeping ancestral photos and slides safe for the future.)

So please, if you're the usual family photographer, remember to step into a photo or video during each event. Be part of your own family history! And as reminder, be sure to back up your digitized photos and genealogy research regularly. 


  1. I always try to figure out who took the photo by figuring out who was missing. I have this photo of the family in front of a church for a child's baptism. I figured it was one of my uncles who took the group photo because he wasn't in it but his wife and children were.

  2. What a truly wonderful and inspirational blog Marian and this exact thing happened to me just a week ago! We visited some of my family down South, who live over 200 miles away from us and went out for a big family dinner. I asked my wife to capture the moments on my phone for me, which she duly did. However she managed to cut me out of every single picture, the best you can see is only half of me! So I was almost there! I will be sharing this picture in my Advent Calendar posts this month, so keep a look out!

  3. We had the same experience with my dad's photos as he was the family photographer. When we went through his photos, it was always such a pleasure to see him!