piecing together the past...

i have a nerdy little secret: i love to scrapbook. and because i have a habit of taking more than a few pictures here and there, my scrapbooks tend to weigh more than your average newborn. lucy and ruthie's first year baby books, for example, could take over a small city together. my latest photo projects, however, have been made the easy way - online. photobooks from snapfish, shutterfly etc. are compact, less time consuming and don't require glue or multiple trips to hobby lobby. but what do you do with family photos that are not on your computer, but sitting in boxes under the bed or in storage, stuffed behind a box marked christmas ornaments? what about a compilation of memorabilia left behind by a loved one? i wanted to share this project for those that need some inspiration to get started organizing those memories.

several years ago, my dad discovered a dusty old trunk that had sat, long forgotten, in a shed on the property of his family homestead. the trunk had belonged to his grandfather, edgar moss robinett. inside the trunk, my dad found letters, cards, photographs, record books, newspaper articles, personal journals, souvenirs, report cards & keepsakes; an entire lifetime's worth of mementos. my dad brought me the contents of that trunk, and asked me to come up with a creative way to organize it all. i have to say, i was a bit overwhelmed upon my initial review of the musty collection. however, the only thing i like better than a good project is a good challenge, so i immediately got to work. my little venture soon took over an entire guest bedroom - random stacks littered the floor, dresser and bed. (my husband LOVES it when i start a new project...poor guy.) to begin, i purchased a large black scrapbook - the old-fashioned kind with thick black pages and some black storage boxes. i came up with a goal - to get it all organized in time to give it to my dad for christmas, which was a few months away.

what began as a standard scrapbooking project soon became more than that. it became a quest to give these memories a new life, and to honor a man whom i'd never known, but had meant so much to my dad. i was piecing together a part of his past. and in a way, mine...

the photographs within the collection held no identifiying information - no dates, no names. some of them could be identified --there were photos of my dad and his sister, their parents, their uncles, aunts and families. so many of the people in the images, however, were of friends & family long forgotten. it was so strange to sit and look into the pile of fading black and whites. some of the faces were particularly haunting - i recognized my curly hair, my dimple, even my smile. as i sat there on the floor of that bedroom, the eyes of children, parents, soldiers, brides & grooms stared up at me from a different life - a different time. i had to come up with a plan for the organization of all those memories. i decided to group the pictures into categories. i ended up with several stacks and went from there.

i used white photo corners to adhere the photos in the sections: children, women, weddings, soldiers, etc. etc. because i didn't have names, dates or details, i needed a way to unify the photos in each section. to do that, i wrote quotes that fit each category on the pages in white pen. many photos were secured in keepsake booklets from a photographer's studio. i scanned some of those to avoid damaging the images. there were way too many to include in one scrapbook, so the extras were stacked into one of the black storage boxes.

as i sifted through the yellowed, fragile letters, i realized that many of them were not addressed to my great-grandfather, but perhaps had been handed down to him from a previous generation. i marveled at the dates, the handwriting, the ink. some of them were pre-civil war, clearly written with a quill. the language was archaic, from another world. as was the handwriting, so practiced, precise & deliberate - so beautiful. some, apparently written on scraps of paper rather than stationary, were covered with words on the front, back & margins. the authors had not wasted one square millimeter. those were postmarked during the depression era. all the letters rested tidily in their original envelopes,which had been ever-so-neatly opened. i envisioned my great-grandfather, sitting in his kitchen, carefully opening letter after letter with an old pocketknife. the envelopes were addressed without a street, number or zip code, only the recipient's name, town and occasionally the state. reminders of a simpler time. i placed some of the letters in the scrapbook in plastic sleeves. the rest filled one of the black boxes.

one section of the scrapbook was devoted to greeting cards. i fell in love with the vintage graphics, especially the christmas cards from the fifties. another section was for all the artifacts that were scanned and printed, then placed into the storage box labeled "keepsakes": bank journals, school handbooks, bibles and so on. yet another section held documents i secured in plastic sleeves, such as report cards, newspaper articles, wedding invitations. this section included a western union telegram that simply read: "mother passed unexpectedly. please come when you can." can you imagine? some of the items could not be scanned: baby shoes, satchels, a baby's trousers. those were placed in the keepsake box as well.

in the end, i had one large scrapbook and four labeled black boxes to give to my dad - just in time for christmas. i must admit, i have never been more proud of a gift. it was a labor of love in every sense of the term, and i enjoyed every minute of it. my dad was happy with the final product - his giant grin said it all. the collection now sits quietly on a shelf in my parent's home - a reminder of the past, and hopefully a time capsule for another generation to discover in the future.


pharker said...

That is so impressive. I have a passion for scrapbooking and especially to document our family history. My Grandmother was wonderful documenting pictures and letters. I get overwhelmed to do it so thank you for taking me through the steps you followed. I hope I can do something like this some day.

Shannon LaDuke Photography said...

thank you! i was so overwhelmed at the beginning, but just had to chip away at the piles a little at a time. what a blessing that she recorded the past for you! it's a great project for the dreary mid-winter days. good luck to you!