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Family Photo Albums

Earlier this summer, when one of my cousins came to visit from Paris, it occurred to me that she might like to look at the two or three family photo albums we have at our house that I’d been organizing and reorganizing obsessively. Both my French and American cousins spent hours poring over the pictures, and requesting copies, and Mom spent the next few days at the library scanning the pictures and downloading them to drop box, for everyone in the family to share.

My grandmother was the keeper of the family photo albums, and showed them to us as the only form of entertainment she could offer when we visited her. I loved the black and white pictures of serious people and children in sailor suits. I loved knowing that I was connected to this ongoing story and I wasn’t just a solitary blip in time.

I don’t know what it means that my grandmother created and kept the photo albums. She wasn’t a storyteller, she was a collector: colored glass, interesting people, recipes, and photo albums full of disconnected moments in time. When we looked through the photo albums at her house, she stood at a distance, and when we asked questions, she answered in one or two words, or not at all. She could only offer us the pictures, not the lives behind them.

After her death, my aunts divided up the photo albums and furniture and books. I don’t know if they looked through the boxes and made conscious decisions, or if they just put things where there seemed to be room. My French aunt took the blue and white sofas and put them in her country house, I have the old rocking chair with red cushions and a few photo albums, and the largest box of family photo albums was in my other aunt’s attic in Queens. Untouched. And after my cousin’s visit, I had to go get that box. I spread the photo albums out on the floor of the living room: a lot of them were falling apart at the binding, or had lost their stickum, and pictures were falling out the sides.

It was exciting to finally see so many pictures of my cousins as children, because they were all together each summer at my grandparents’ house in Lake Placid, even my brother was there one summer as a baby, but the house was sold the summer before I was born. We were rarely anywhere at the same time after that. One set of cousins or the other would visit, or my brother and I would visit our grandparents, but there were no big family gatherings again like those summers in Lake Placid.

But the great discovery was the dogs! All of these dogs I’d heard about over the years were finally visible. We are a dog family, no matter what else we are. My Grandmother, severe and moody, loved Rufus. My mom, skinny and lonely, had Minky by her side. Even the housekeeper, dour and apart, had Chihuahuas – given to her by my grandfather, for company – dogs that really did make her a part of the family. Dogs have magical powers to soften the harsh edges of life, and people. There was Lady, and Minky, and Rufus, and Hercules, and Bijou, and Sarika. The dogs were much easier to love than the people, but all of the people loved the dogs.

That's my aunt, mind-melding with a family dog.

That’s my aunt, mind-melding with a family dog.

Annie, the housekeeper, with Herculina.

Annie, the housekeeper, with Herculina.

Grandma with a puppy.

Grandma with a Momma and her puppy.

Mommy and Minky.

Mommy and Minky.

Rufus, guarding the house.

Rufus, guarding the house.

Through all of this, Cricket and Butterfly wandered around and sniffed. I don’t think they could identify which particular pictures were of their doggy relatives, but there were interesting smells everywhere nonetheless.

After-sniffing exhaustion.

After-sniffing exhaustion.

It’s going to take a while to scan all of these pictures, but it will be worth it, to keep the family narrative intact so that we all know where we came from and that we are different strands of the same complicated family story.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

97 responses »

  1. I found out the other day my Nana had a dog in the 1960’s, but she had to rehome him after only having him for 9 – 12 months as their jobs changed and they were out working all day…it seemed crazy to me that she could have had this dog I had never heard of. I wish I had some photos to enjoy as you do! 🙂

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  2. Thank you for sharing your family Rachel. You are your family historian! Wonderful post.

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  3. None of my relatives had pets growing up. None! I think that may be way I am so (borderline)obsessed with cats and dogs. I missed out on so much and now I love them so much. Freud would have a field day with that statement. 😀 Butterfly looks truly pooped from exhaustion!

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  4. Photos are such an important memory trove for families I have some lovely old black and white ones of what I think is a black and white springer spaniel that belonged to my maternal grandparents. Our family did not have dogs as we lived in town but as kids we were allowed Guinea pigs and cats. I am a doggy person, I also
    I’ve cats but the dog wins out for their loyalty and unconditional love.

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  5. How fun! A long line of dog lovers.

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  6. Dog Love is Genetic! 😀 I was just reading that political leanings are genetic so why not doggies. 😀

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  7. Many generations of dog lovers. How nice!

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  8. I just love the family connection through the dogs, and especially love the way your aunt was “mind-melding” with one … I often have a “meeting of the minds” with mine in just the same way! Yet again, we have proof of how much people are alike as opposed to different, especially when it comes to our love for our pets … I so look forward to reading your weekly posts Rachel!

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  9. I’m so glad your family’s photos fell into the right, respectful and fascinated hands. Such treasures!

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  10. I love going to France and sitting with my aunts looking through our family albums. Cricket and Butterfly must be so proud to be among the long line of faithful dogs taking care of your family. 😀

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  11. Lovely post, Rachel! What a discovery! It’ll take time to scan those pictures, but it’ll be worth it. I loved to see the pictures of people and dogs that belonged to the family. My dad has lots of photo albums with family history, including the dogs, and one day I want to scan all of them.

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  12. Keep up the good work. It’s worth it

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  13. What lovely photos and memories of family history. A glance into the past

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  14. I LOVED this addition of ‘The Sunday Papers’ Rach – so evocative, I could see the blue and white sofa and the rocker with the red cushions. And such wonderful photographs.
    I feel that there is an interesting family history here – I didn’t realise that you had relatives still here in Paris – you must come and make a return visit to see them and meet up with me at the same time.xx
    Next week, I will be at my mother’s place without net access, so I will miss you : (

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    • I would love to visit! And don’t worry, the Sunday papers are available all week!

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      • Ha ha ha yes – but I usually reply on Sunday and you might wonder why I had not.
        I’m having a really bad day – first I bought everything in my basket by mistake on Amazon and paid £196 for a book! I was panicking SO much that I almost ran out of time cancelling it all…….then Marc went to the market and bought a cooked chicken (in what I know know was a plastic lined paper bag!) and a plastic box of cooked potatoes – not very Lindy, but as I have been packing and sorting things for my trip. I put them in the ‘cold’ oven so that Willow would not eat the chicken – think Butterfly! Then I put the oven on to warm them through, forgetting that they were already in there, and then called my mother in Wales bla bla bla – anyone for poulet a la plastic!!! Come and I will cook yu a meal of choice from the blog – and you can chose where you want to go from the Paris on a Budget lol xx

      • Butterfly would still eat the poulet a la plastic, I promise. But, what kind of book were you going to pay that much for?

  15. How wonderful to have all of those family photos. I find genealogy and family history to be fascinating. I wish I had gathered more information while my parents, aunts and uncles were still here. 🙂

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  16. What a wonderful discovery to find photos of your family and the dogs! I became the “keeper of the photos” in my family- and uploaded them to a website so everyone could view them as you are doing. A lasting testament

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  17. What a lovely story. You made me almost as excited as you were to find and organize the family photos.

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  18. Worthwhile. It took me eighteen months to photo (with my iPhone), edit, catalogue and share on Dropbox all our family photos from 1870-2005 when I went digital. Good luck!

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  19. A history of dog lovers!!

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  20. Another great post.

    I love the line, “Dogs have magical powers to soften the harsh edges of life, and people. There was Lady, and Minky, and Rufus, and Hercules, and Bijou, and Sarika. The dogs were much easier to love than the people, but all of the people loved the dogs.”

    I believe they are magical, in some way, some how. I’m missing Brutis so much and your blog always brings me back to warm feeling of him. I know some day I will have another dog. But it is too soon. They are magical.

    —Mark—

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  21. After scanning them all, put them in a digital album and put comments on them that tell who, where, when, etc. Paper pictures can get burned, lost or destroyed but if everyone in the family has a digital album, it will live forever.

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  22. What a WONDERFUL treasure!! I hope you can take a few minutes in your organization and put some small bits of text to go along with the photos so future generations will know who the people in the pictures ARE. I have a large collection of my parents’ photos and half of them will remain a mystery because I have no idea who the people are or what significance they may have played in my parents’ lives. My husband was an only child and I inherited all the photos of his father and mother (as well as his) when he passed away. I am more at sea with those because those people are total strangers. I wish I’d have known about them (hubby was a sort of squirrel..he put these type of things away ‘for later’) because I would have made him tell me who the people were and label them for his children. I’m glad your family has this connection. And good for you for keeping the traditions going!!

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  23. I envy you the photo book genealogy. When my ancestors left the homeland (Ireland on on the paternal side and Ukraine on the maternal) they got out with not much other than the clothes on their backs and probably one step ahead of the law, too. So there are no photos of old ones and I’ve wondered what they looked like, did they have dogs and were they really all horse thieves…no, forget that last one.

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  24. Another lovely post. Preserving and sharing the old family photos, and the history that goes with them, will help your family stay connected despite time and distance. I’m finding that true of my extended family.

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  25. Dogs are as much of our heritage as people some time….love this post.

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  26. Family is so important. I’ve been digging in some old photos of family. Thank you for sharing yours!

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  27. Love vintage photos that include the family pets!!

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  28. Aren’t old photos wonderful? I have learned much about myself from looking at old photos my parents have of their families.

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  29. Wonderful! We have the same human/canine dynamics in my family too😉

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  30. I was already captivated by the stories, and then dogs! They are indeed magical. Lovely post.

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  31. Old family photos are such a gift! I’m glad you found some new ones. And I love the way you describe the dogs as connecting your family. I think that is one of the many gifts that dogs bring to people…a connection!

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  32. So glad you got that box. The pictures you shared are so nice.

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  33. greyzoned/angelsbark

    What a wonderful project! Old pictures are timeless and they have so many stories behind them. If only we knew all the stories.
    So sad that you don’t gather at Lake Placid anymore. But at least you have the memories…
    Michele at Angels Bark

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  34. Nice piece, Rachel! Reminiscent of my own family. Their summer family place was in Bud Lake, New Jersey. Those of us who are still around have scattered to the winds, and it makes me sad sometimes. Looking at photos is the one way we have of bringing all those memories back!

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  35. My aunt recently passed away and I’ve been looking through her photographs within similar emotions and sentiment. It’s striking how much more impactful a physical photo that you hold in your hands has over a digital version now so much more common.

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  36. My grandma moved out of her home into an apartment a few years ago, and started giving us her pictures in the process (a much better way to do it than to let it just happen haphazardly after she is gone). Even though the pictures were mostly of us, there were so many of us with their dogs, who we grew up with. It was wonderful to see those and remember all the good times we had with those dogs. I can certainly imagine how good it was to find these pictures.

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  37. Dogs are mans best friends, and they make better friends than some people do. Great post Rachel have a lovely day.

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  38. Before we left Scotland to come to Australia, Annabell and I took the boys on a tour of the major Abbeys and Cathedrals in Scotland as well as Edinburgh and Stirling Castles. This was recorded both on super 8 film and photographs. All of these were packed in a chest which we had intended to send for once we got settled. They were stored with Annabell’s parents – in their garage. Unfortunately this was broken into and the photographs as well as photographic equipment and other things were stolen. The things were probably sold on and the photographs were most likely dumped somewhere. So I have no photographs of our family or our children when they were young. Fortunately, we did bring our wedding photographs with us.

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  39. What a lovely story–and good motivation to get my pictures into albums. But first I need to print them from their digital form!

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  40. Amongst my Grandfather’s war photos were some “photos of home” including my great-grandmother and a little dog, maybe a fox terrier. This dog must have been very special to her as it appeared in a number of the photos which were taken in different places and times. She was a widow and with her 3 sons away at war, likely the little dog was a constant companion to her.

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  41. I’m just now getting a chance to read this post, and I love it – nothing is more important to me than my family and their dogs. I, too, come by my love of dogs naturally from my mother, daddy and grandfather. I have a wonderful old picture of my daddy sitting in his chair reading the Bible…and holding this large German pointer bird hunting dog in his lap. That dog thought he was as small as Cricket. I love that picture – and I have collected so many albums and other loose pictures from that entire generation of Texas people that I loved dearly. I will be 70 next year and have a real dilemma about the pictures. Apparently I am the last of my lineage with an interest in family history so what to do with all these treasured memories? It is a puzzle I must solve.
    I loved your family pictures, too – and to know that you also come from dog people. Why am I not surprised?
    BTW, your “blurb” was one of two selected by my publisher for the back cover of my new book! I can’t thank you enough and will send you a copy when it comes out…:)

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  42. That’s lovely!
    I, too, come from a dog-loving family (on my father’s side). There are old photos of his mother and her Pomeranians. And Dad’s father loved (and kept) that hard to train breed, Red Setter. It’s so nice to see pieces of the past.

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  43. Looks like my family with all the dogs throughout the years. Makes me want to dig out some old family albums.

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  44. Hi, Rachel. Thanks for visiting the TaiChiAndCo site. We continue to be illuminated by the insights in your writings. They are warm gifts here on the cold prairies!

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  45. I enjoyed your story — brought back memories of my mother, who was also the keeper of the stories and the photos. When she passed, I got boxes and boxes of photos of folks and handwritten/typed genealogy/stories of people I didn’t know. After retiring, I took one long period of time to go through, sort and, I cringe saying this, put the really unknowns in large garbage bags to shred. When I finished and was ready to go to the local shredders, Mom “showed up” about 3AM, waking me. She stood at the end of the bed, arms crossed, with that “And just what do you think you’re doing, young lady?” look.

    The photos and stories did not get shredded. Instead I went on Ancestry.com, where there was not only a wealth of information about who was who, but also distant relatives with stories that went with the photos or photos that went with mom’s stories. It was quite amazing to figure out the story of our family.

    It all went into a book template, made at Blurb.com — one page a person, one column of their life story and the rest photos of the family, the pets, the farms or the area. I actually got back to one generation in the county of origin. I made hardback books for each of my kids and grandkids and pdf.s for anyone else who wanted them.

    Now, they get to be the keeper of the stories!

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  46. Thank you for reading my blog post. I enjoyed reading yours about family photos. And your two dogs are absolutely adorable.

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  47. I love looking at old family photos and the pets. My father had dogs and my mother kitties. Even her father, who could be a rather dour individual had a soft spot for the cats. And I loved the line “Dogs have magical powers to soften the harsh edges of life, and people.” That is so very, very true. A wonderful post Rachel-

    Reply

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