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How A Box In The Rafters Forever Changed My Life

How A Box In The Rafters Forever Changed My Life

In the early 80’s I was helping my parents do some spring cleaning.  We finally tackled the garage, and I was not looking forward to that project!  Way up in the rafters of the garage sat an enormous cardboard box.  Neither of my parents could remember what was in the box, so I got up there and hauled it down.  Right there in the rafters of the garage, the sometimes greasy, sometimes smelly, sometimes moldy garage was a box that contained photos of my ancestors.  This was quite possibly the very worst place they could have chosen for photo storage, but incredibly, almost every photo was intact!    My parents had forgotten that they had put the box there years ago when they first bought the house.

We took the box inside and sat down to examine its contents.  Every branch of the family was represented in photo form, and sometimes in letters.  Most of them were from the mid 1800’s and later.  We began by separating all of these photos by family, and when we ended, we had 10 or 12 families represented.  My mother was able to recognize most of the people in the photos, and many of them had information on the back of them.  This was the beginning of about a three week journey into exploring “the box”.  

Every afternoon I would go to their house and they would examine the photos, one by one.  My mother would recall a memory associated with that photo and tell me approximately when it was taken.  This, of course, led to much storytelling between my parents.  On day three of this adventure, I took a small tape recorder so that I could save these memories.  It gives me great comfort now that they have both passed, to know that I still have their voices on tape.  

After we had all of the photos identified and arranged in family groups, I took them home and began to make paper scrapbooks of them.  I had recently purchased a new computer, and one of the free add ons with the computer was Family Tree Maker.  My oldest son was in the first grade and was given the assignment to write down all of the information he could find about his parents and his Grandparents.  Well, I thought, this was a good time to put Family Tree Maker to use.  We did his assignment, but I believe I gained more than he did.  I could see how powerful the computer was for storing data.  I began plugging in all of the Aunts and Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents that were in my piles of photos.  I didn’t know anything about genealogy at that time and I did it all completely wrong, but I had a starting place.

A couple of years later I found digital scrapbooking.  My first task was to try and digitally recreate those paper scrapbooks I had made.  It was wonderful to be able to do this without glue!  Without the mess on the dining room table!  I also continued on with my family history, and google became my best friend!

Now, 30 years later, I’m still trying to digitally complete those paper scrapbooks and I’ve been able to take one of those family lines back to the 1650’s!  My family tree has grown to 3,632.  Google is still my best friend and I have loved every minute of it!!  There remained a very small pile of unidentified photos from that first encounter with “the box”.  I leave you with these two photos from that pile.  I have come to terms with the fact that it is highly unlikely I’ll ever identify the people in these photos but in the coming weeks I’ll be sharing some of my best tips on how to determine when they were taken.  

I would love to hear your story about how your genealogy journey began.  When did you start?  What prompted you like the box in rafters prompted me and where are you in your journey?