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  • Writer's pictureJeannine Tuffin

Unnamed and untamed

When photos are all what you got left

Living far away from home has at least one disadvantage - not being there for friends and family, especially for our aging parents. When one of them passes away, sometimes there remain many questions unasked and unanswered. In May I travelled back to Berlin to sort my father's estate.

I knew that the only items I would love to keep are the family photos. They were scattered everywhere - even in suitcases out in the old barn building. 99% of these are unnamed. I can never ask again who these people are in the photos. Many family stories are lost now. It'll take me lots of effort to scan and date these photos. Therefore there are three things you can do right away

1) Always write details on the back of photos (when / who / what / where) 2) Store photos appropriately (so they don't bend due to humidity 3) Ask questions - be interested in your family history and stories

What I did do while spending a month in my fathers' home is meeting up with his old friends and also neighbours in the village. I wanted to collect as many little and big, important and unimportant information about my father but also his parents, my grandparents.

A friend of my father holding a photo from 1977 and telling stories about that event.

What then happened was very touching. This little story from the photo turned into a string of stories I have never heard of and our family friend thought has long forgotten. We laughed a lot and I made sure to remember everything so I would write it down later on.

I also gathered precious stories and snippets from neighbours who told me about my grandparents back in the 60s and 70s. These mean a lot to me.

While rummaging around family photos, letters and documents I found my great-grandfathers music documents. He never accompanied his wife and children to Germany in the 1930s but remained in Romania. There he followed his profession and kept writing and collecting musical pieces.

These pieces I am now holding in my hands. I know nothing about him apart from his musical ambitions. But when I sorted and photographed his pieces which were dated and named, I could nearly feel his mood. There is even one piece called 'Lieblingslieder Polka' (favourite polka songs) from end of 1947 when he heard that his son (my grandfather) has been sent home from camp and was alive. He dedicated it to his son (' Für A. Tuffin, 23. Oktober 1948).

For the first time ever I saw and unrolled our family tree which dated back to 1753. I made sure to document everything related to our family branch as the roll was too big to carry home with me.

This masterpiece of a family tree offered invaluable information about my ancestors. '

While sorting all family photos and documents and letters, I made sure to photograph most and preserve the most precious ones. A lot also ended up on the bin pile. That's fine too. It gave my mind peace and I took home a sorted selection which now needs proper scanning and renaming.

Piles of photos going to the dump. Make sure not to put them in the paper bin as the chemicals in the photos are not classified for the paper or recycling.

More information about how to sort your photos can be found the website The Photo Managers


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