In 2011 I joined flick.com, which is a site mainly for photographers to share their work. I am not a photographer. At least not one good enough to care about sharing my "work." I joined because a facebook friend with a similar ethnic background told me he posted old family photos there, and someone contacted him out of the blue because they recognized a person in the photos, and it turned out that they were related. What a cool story!
Around that time I had just helped my elderly mother sell her house and move into an apartment, which involved sorting through all her things in order to downsize and reorganize. In the process I became entranced by her old photos, which included my dad's and grandmother's photographs too ... pictures I had seen many times while growing up and didn't think too much about. Suddenly, in the context of this big change in my mother's life, they took on new meaning. They were now historical documents.
She had a pretty amazing collection, considering all the things she'd been through in her life and all the moves (including the post-WWII expulsion of ethnic Germans from Croatia.) There were many people in the photos whose names I didn't know, her old friends and neighbors and family members. Who are these people and what are the stories behind them? When she is gone, all that will be left is the nameless faces. I had to find out more while I still could. We started the laborious tasks of going through the photos, scanning them, writing down the names, etc. She'd veer off down memory lane and start telling me stories ... I couldn't write it all down, but I at least tried to get names, dates and places, as much as she could remember.
And then there were my dad's pictures. He died in 1988. I certainly can't ask him any questions. Not to mention, he was always pretty quiet about his past. Born in a rural village in western Ukraine, his dad died young, mom remarried, stepdad was cruel to him, he left home in his teens to avoid being drafted into the Russian army, lost all contact with his family for many years (didn't reconnect until shortly before death.) He spent some time working as a civilian cook for American troops in Salzburg (how did he get there?), then as a coal miner in England (again, how? Travel couldn't have easy during the war for a Ukrainian refugee.) From there on, he was fine with talking about his life, but the early stuff, back in Ukraine ... he just never wanted to talk about it. But he had pictures! Many very interesting pictures, full of mystery and faces of unknown people. I needed to scan them too, even if I didn't know the stories behind them.
But now what? Just file them away? The thought made me sad. So I followed my friend Dan's lead and posted them on flickr. What's cool about flickr is that any tags you include are searchable through the major search engines. A few of my mom's photos from her childhood in Mrzovic, Croatia are now among the pictures that come up if you search for images of "Mrzovic" through google or yahoo; I guess the internet just doesn't have a ton of pictures of Mrzovic? So far, no hits on any of my dad's photos (I did find a second cousin through ancestry.com who identified a man in one of dad's photos as his dad), but I've had several contacts through my mom's photos - people whose ancestors were from the same area, even one whose mother remembered the family name and recognized my aunt in the photos.