Telling the story of a heritage photo is probably the most difficult. And what exactly is a heritage photo anyway? Old.


Really old.These photos are especially important as our children are growing up. That dreaded year of elementary school is bound to come. Your child will arrive home and say, “I have to draw a family tree.” And for elementary school, the lineage of parents and grandparents will be sufficient. But, eventually that same child will be in high school and suddenly faced with telling the stories of time honored traditions from their home. Now, let me just say that my family, having emigrated to the US with the Pilgrims, is rather “American”. We have traditions, but when stacked up against my daughter’s classmates who eat ethnic foods and always go to Great-Grandma Suzy’s house in Timbuktu for holidays, we appear rather routine. But isn’t that why they share these stories at school? Because whichever family we live in seems rather routine to us, it’s the family we don’t live with that is fascinating.

Well, you didn’t live with those ancestors from generations ago, and neither did your kids…maybe even your parents didn’t live with them. Those ancestors have the core traditions and background that your children will be looking for as they mature and look for their own identity. You can piece together the stories of these generations-ago family members, but you’ll need your spyglass and pipe! Not really, but you will need tenacity. Pull as many pictures together as possible. You’ll want to refer to them collectively, yet sort them by era (use people in the pictures or backgrounds to help determine the facts of the picture). If you’ve been blessed by another family member with a collection of already proven facts, use those as a reference for building on for the unknown stories of these pictures.

IMG_5008Record the facts as best you can. Talk to living relatives about the pictures. Ask questions about the people in the pictures, locations, and anything they may have been told by their parents or grandparents about those people and places. Ask especially about how events were celebrated or marked within the family. Did they graduate from college? High school? Earn money following the harvest, hitchhiking from Oklahoma to Canada when they were 15 because they grew up on a farm and flew the crop duster? Oh, wait, that was my dad. Record this information so that you can keep it separate but put it with the picture later should you determine it holds merit.

Do I have a picture of my dad at 15, or that crop duster he flew? No. But the story is amazing and I want it recorded so my children, siblings, and friends can be amazed and inspired by what he did. So as you’re collecting information, recognize that those stories, even without a picture, can be as powerful as the photos you’re preserving. All the stories of your family are important to your family’s history. Remember, if you enjoyed hearing the story, future generations will too. Now…where is that circa 1700 picture of my mom’s ancestors being arrested for crashing a wedding?

Stacy Cochrane is the founder of Managing Memory Lane and a member of APPO, the Association of Personal Photo Organizers. She specializes in establishing and maintaining photo storage and sharing systems that give her clients the freedom of sharing their photos as they choose while providing secure backup and privacy protection. You can contact Stacy via email at