I’ve been working on a series of Ponga “Storyboard-style” family albums for some time. My ultimate goal is to share everything I create with my cousins (all 1st cousins, plus one 1st cousin once removed), an auntie, nieces, nephews, siblings, and my children.
When I was confident that I had it all perfect, I could release my babies into the world. My pictures would finally leave the nest. With a click of the share button a couple of weeks ago, I sent out 25 Ponga share invites. So cool.
It’s simply amazing to me that a single photograph can ignite a deep dialogue with some family members. But it certainly can, and did!
One photo, two relatives. Both are 1st cousins. Norman, whom I’ve never met, and Wendy, whom I hadn’t talked to in perhaps 45 years.
Here are some snippets:
“I can’t wait to look this album over, thank you so much for sharing it with me — I love history and family trees but have never really done anything much with that passion. I can already tell that this was a total labour of love for you! I have to say — the Ponga notes/links that’s I’ve seen so far look like so much fun — with lots to learn too!! Thank you thank you thank you!”
I love the book and have only just started going through it.
The last photo you have of the 85th I think you have a couple of misnames — but I could be wrong. Before we discovered the label function, my wife and I both picked the one you named as John as my dad Frank. The one you have labeled as Ross I believe is John and the one missing is Ross.”
These two cousins found a photo of our Uncle Bert to be the one that prompted them to reach out to me.
I’ve cherished this original photo since it was given to me decades ago by my mother. What makes this so interesting is that Uncle Bert isn’t a blood relative. He’s my great uncle by marriage. He married my grandmother’s younger sister, Prudence.
My cousins had no idea that he played the violin as a young man. You see, we all knew Uncle Bert only as a very successful property developer. Not a violinist! Well, I knew, because I had the photograph. And eventually, the violin.
Don’t know about you, but I can almost hear the bow sweetly sing across the violin strings.
“Wow that is something — this would be the Uncle Bert of Uncle Bert and Auntie Pat? I believe they were the so generous relatives who sent a cheque each Christmas — I remember it as $50.00 and boy did my parents always cherish that cheque and purchase something very special for the family with it. One year it was waterskis I think. I don’t know that I ever met him. He and Auntie Pat (do I have that right?) were always offered up to us as the reason we must have good table manners — i.e. we’d never be invited to dinner with them if not — I don’t think we ever were so I believe we failed ….”
“That’s him. The 50.00 would be right…since there was 5 of you. We all had an envelope on the Christmas tree with 10.00 in it. Big money for a kid in the 1960s. They were very generous, extremely actually. Auntie Pat used to have Barbie doll clothes made for us that were exact replicas of her gorgeous outfits, complete with little fur collars. You’re right about the table manners… they were the gold standard.”
“Yes that was big money! You know, we got barbie doll clothes too and I thought they were from Gramma Ester — I wonder if she and Auntie Pat exchanged pattern or if we got some of Auntie Pat’s as they were gorgeous!”
“I’m thinking that they came from Auntie Pat… she was generous and fair and equal. What she gave to one, she gave to us all. Mind you, no idea what she gave to the boys!”
“One Christmas Uncle Bert passed on an old camera and asked my dad to take pictures of us kids on Christmas Day. Dad learned to develop the film and print them. That was the start of my photography.”
The spark for Norman was clearly my comment about the boys. It ignited a personal memory for him, of being given a camera, which in turn ignited his love of photography.
This is all terrifically exciting, wonderful, and exactly what my Ponga albums were intended to do. Open a dialogue of shared stories. But it has done so much more than just that.
My sweet cousin Wendy, after we’d giggled our way through a series of emails about the boy we both crushed on one summer in the early 1970s, took the opportunity to send me her personal memory of my parents, her aunt, and uncle. And yes, it made me cry.
“I always was in awe of your mom and loved her so much. She was smart and beautiful and I loved that she was so much like her brothers but in a feminine way — they all had a similar voice I thought? They were all very much siblings and her voice being female always made me happy. I guess that’s why I’m so thrilled that you followed the women in your family history. I loved your dad as well, he was tall and somewhat scary even though he never did anything to scare anyone that I ever saw, he just was very much a formidable presence I guess. A good thing because I think your mom was one herself. Seeing all these pictures of your dad when he was young — my god he was handsome wasn’t he? And your mom was beautiful!
Then in another message:
“Thank you again Vicki for sharing all this work you’ve done, and the fact that we’ve reconnected — well that’s a pretty special bonus to me.”
Final note: My 1st cousin once removed (meaning my great grandfather is her grandfather) is 88 years old, and has been touched by the spark and registered to view the albums I’ve shared. Age is no barrier. Magic.
As we share the details we find in pictures, clues lead from one story to the next. Connecting the dots with context and memories we soon reconnect as a family. Having reached out to my tier-one and tier-two relatives, siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews, I experienced pure unadulterated joy. Their comments, remembrances, and reconnections have been beyond amazing. I invited my family to the storyboard albums I’d created, …Then… I remembered Myrna. The game was afoot!
Following these steps will help you get your photos in order. Once you have the physical artifacts organized, you can digitize your collection and will be ready to get your digital collection into Ponga where you automatically organize them by person and start sharing your photos and the stories that go with them.
How does identifying the individual(s) in one photograph benefit my research? It’s more than curiosity. I want to be able to tell those individuals’ stories! I want to know the family stories contained within those old family photographs.