Friday, July 31, 2009

Me And My Family On Tenterhooks

For some years now there has been an old photograph curled up in a tight roll sat in the bottom of the box where I keep family photographs. The last time I rolled it open was several years ago. It is in a perilous state, cracked, dried and brittle. I know that I will be able to open it just a few more times before it disintegrates into shards of bromide paper, and then it will be lost for ever. I need to scan it, to preserve it, but I know that the very act of scanning it will destroy the original for ever. For ages I have been trying to work up the courage to make a start on the process, and this morning I took a deep breath, stretched it out and started the scanning and restoration process. The print was on tenterhooks - and so was I.
This is the first scan. You can see that it is already in a poor state. The restoration process should keep me occupied most of the day. But what you can see already is my fathers' family in 1917. Let me introduce them. From the left you have my Auntie Annie, my grandfather Enoch, my grandmother Harriet, my Uncle John, my father dressed in his sailor suit, and finally my Auntie Miriam. As you can see both my grandfather and my Uncle John were in uniform : this is 1917 at the height of the Great War. If you look very carefully you can detect a slightly different background at the part of the photograph where my grandfather was standing. This was because he wasn't actually there when the photograph was taken : he will have been far off in Flanders digging tunnels. It was a standard procedure to "burn" in images of absent soldiers in order to produce family groups even though, in reality, the family has been split open by the war.
Six members of the family, frozen in time in 1917. Over the next six Fridays I will try and tell the stories of each one of them : to unfreeze the image and let it move forward. We will start next Friday with Auntie Annie.


  1. Hay has just been researching her Great Uncle Percy, who died in Flanders in 1914.

    The family is convinced he was 21 when he died, but his gravestone (which can be seen on the War Graves Commission website) gives his age as 31. The mystery deepens.

  2. You should be able to get his Service Record Book on the site. If you have to have a subscription to access it, let me know as I have one.

  3. I love how they incorporated your grandfather into the family portrait. It's beautiful! I'm glad to hear you're taking the time to restore and preserve it. I was just telling Subtorp this morning how I am in the midst of scanning over 30 albums of my grandfather's photos. I want to make one of those hard copy books online for the extended family.

    Looking forward to the coming Fridays. I love old photos and their history.

  4. I'm really looking forward to this--what a fine photograph to use as a starting point to family history!

  5. What a wonderful photo - looking forward to hearing their stories.

    My great-grandfather died fighting in WWI. My uncle has the journals he wrote whilst away - must chase up that scanned copy!

  6. Anonymous12:32 PM

    Interesting facts about photos, incorporating absent relatives. I linked the post on
    Hope you don't mind.


  7. AV : Link away, I don't mind at all.

  8. I am in the middle of nowhere in cornfields and bean fields. I like to visit all around the world. I have Abernathy and Turner blood in me from your country. I think it will be great to follow your daily thoughts.

  9. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Will be folowing this one Alan. My Grandmum was prob'ly round five years old when her family left the Ukraine in 1917( during the Bolshevik uprising ). Here at least, you know who your ancestors are, yes? Auntie has snaps that are yet to be identified...


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...