Wednesday, 15 February 2017

NEVER Put Anything In a "Safe" Place

There was a really good article on Deseret News that came up on my Facebook feed today - "Preserve, digitise and share, but don't hoard family history". It's well worth the read. So here I am sharing. But not having hoarded. I wish it was that simple, but it isn't.

This day had to come, when I finally got up the courage to admit what has happened and to ensure that my egregious error isn't further compounded, that something lost is not lost in its entirety.

I suppose it's best to start with this:

Mary Marcella Hall, about 1871. Whereabouts of original photo unknown

That's my great grandmother, Mary Marcella Hall, taken in Balmain around 1871 when she was about four years old. And yes, the whereabouts of the photograph are unknown, but I fear the worst. At least it is out in the aether now, so it will survive in some form. Other photos will follow. Time to come clean.

My mother and I went to visit her cousin and partner, along with another cousin and partner, both cousins being on the O'Toole side of the family. The cousin who kindly hosted the day had this and many other family photos. We all had a great time. I learnt so much about Mum's family, her cousins and partners are all lovely people. I recorded the conversations, they were very generous with their time and memories.

At the end of the day, the cousin offered to lend me the photos to scan. I foolishly accepted, even though I was terrified of having these photos. I let my eagerness over-rule my judgement.

I brought them home, scanned them, put them in an archival satchel and then.... put them in a safe place.

The trouble with safe places is that they tend not to be usual places, or out in the open.

Worse than that, I forgot to write down what that place was. A couple of days later Mum said she'd take them back for me (she wanted to visit her cousin again) and I could not for the life of me remember where they were. Despite looking, they did not turn up. I realised many months later that I had, in my panic, been looking in the same places each time I looked. And by then it was too late. I am fairly certain that my spouse had thrown them out, along with a number of other items. Not done deliberately, just done. And I wasn't vigilant enough to have stopped it.

In the mean time, I had offered Mum's cousin copies until I could find the originals, but I felt weasely doing that. And she didn't reply, for which I don't blame her. I'd be livid if these were mine.

There is not a day that has passed when I don't start the day with "I should have...", "if only I hadn't...", images in my head of what I could have done at any point to avert this disaster. The day ends like this too. It makes me sick thinking about it. It makes me sick typing this, but that won't bring the photos back.

That's why this blog has been largely silent for such a very long time. I wasn't going to blog about any of the photos until they were found and returned. And then it became I can't blog at all until they are found and returned. And then I realised what had happened and doing anything with family history felt fraudulent.

And yes, I am a coward. It has taken me over a year from when I realised what had happened, to publicly admit this. If Mum's cousin is reading this, I am so sorry, and so sorry it has taken me so long to confess.

But... if I continue to mentally beat my breast and tear my hair, without publishing the photos, and something happens - to the hard drive or the backups - then those photos really are lost forever. So, for right or wrong, I'm going to publish most of them, send digital copies of all to Mum's cousin, and my eldest is going to photograph all the black and white ones, with actual film, and develop them. If you print greyscale, that's just a colour process, and colour fades. So hopefully this will help preserve physical copies too.

So if you want to abandon reading this blog because I am such an idiot, I won't blame you.

In the meantime, here's a digitally cleaned up copy of Mary Hall's photo. At least I can get that right.
Mary Marcella Hall, about 1871, digital clean up, whereabouts of original photo unknown.

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