Monday, July 4, 2011

Who’s in Your Photo Album?

Here’s a great way to prepare for a family reunion, real or imagined.

FINDING FAMILY by Tonya Bolden, Bloomsbury, 2010

Being twelve can be boring. Delana’s homelife is especially bland, considering she’s being raised by her grandfather and her Aunt Tilley who tell her tales about family members she’s never met. Unknown faces stare into space from the family’s many photos, photos on the walls, the tables, and stuffed into albums. Each photo has a story Aunt Tilley loves to tell. Delana isn’t fond of listening. Then Aunt Tilley dies and life turns from boring stories to shocking tales.

Delana finds out her grandfather bought his own freedom and then tried to relocate the many members of his family that had been sold and scattered. His hard exterior gives Delana the idea that he doesn’t love her, but she discovers how much love this man has for family. His life is bound up in finding and protecting family. Delana learns who she is and who her people were, an overwhelming experience in this coming of age tale set in the early 1900's in Charleston, West Virginia.

The author has written more than 20 books for children and young adults, and counts a Coretta Scott King Honor Book Award among them. In her author’s note, she confesses to collecting photos because the expressions on the faces made her wonder about the people and their lives.
The black and white photos illustrating the pages of Finding Family give witness to how well this works.

Many people today store their photos online. Boxes and albums of pictures may be the legacy of past generations only, just as my mother left me stacks of boxes and albums. I have countless pictures of groups, all lined up and smiling, individuals posing with small children in their arms, and many other scenes peopled with vacationers and a variety of state line signs in the background. No information on the back. I have no idea who these people were or why they were important to someone on my family tree. However, author Bolden inspires me to give a second life to these photos, to imagine who they were and make up stories about them. My mother's stacks of photos of unknown people is now a writer's treasure trove of ideas.

Still, I wish somebody had written on the back of my ancestors’ photos Names? Dates? Events?

Memo to self: be sure the photos I’ve taken carry identifying information. Whose feet are those?

1 comment:

  1. When my Mother died, my sister and I found a treasure beyond any in a carved chest in my mother's bedroom. The chest was filled with photo albums and memorabilia from our grandparents. I won't say mysteries were solved. But new mysteries and dimensions to our ancestors certainly were revealed.


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