13 March 2020

My Aunt's Photos Tell the Other Side of the Story

Your photos are only part of the story. Imagine seeing the rest of it!

I received an amazing gift this week. My 1st cousin on my dad's side of the family sent me a carton filled with her late mother's old photos. I never saw this collection before. But I'm familiar with many of the photos because I've seen other photos taken at the same time.

It's the gift every genealogy fan dreams of.
It's the gift every genealogy fan dreams of getting.

Location Shots

My aunt's photographs are the companions to individual photos I got from my mom, my dad, and my grandfather. For example, I have one photo of my grandfather and his 1st cousin. They were both named Pietro Iamarino. Written at the top are the words "Lonesome Pals."

Imagine my amazement when I found in this collection several photos taken in the exact same spot! They appear to be standing on a sidewalk, but in the background there's nothing but bare trees. I imagine my grandmother pasted them into this photo album with others taken in Ohio in about 1930.

Grandpa's photo had no backstory. Suddenly I discover it was only one photo in a series.
Grandpa's photo had no backstory. Suddenly I discover it was only one photo in a series.

Familiar Buildings

I have a photo of my dad and my aunt from the early 1950s. My dad said it was taken in Cleveland when the family moved back to Ohio. Now, in my aunt's collection, I've got an entire series of photos taken in the exact same spot. In the background of all the photos is the brick house where they lived. Several photos show my grandmother and the family car. I was always lacking photos of my grandma Lucy. Now I have so many!

There are lots of photos I recognize as being taken on the roof of my dad's apartment building in the Bronx in the 1940s. Dad's building is still standing, and you can see it on Google Street View. I recently asked him which door he used to enter. He said it's the one to the right of today's 99-cent store. But at the time, that storefront was my uncle's family's bar.

My uncle's bar is to the left as my grandparents stand outside their front door.
My uncle's bar is to the left as my grandparents stand outside their front door.

I now have several photos taken in that doorway. And I can see the awning of my uncle's bar at the edge of the photos. From these photos I learned that my Ohio great grandmother came to visit my dad's family in the Bronx. I never knew that before.

Then there's a photo of my great grandfather swimming. On the back of the photo it says, "This is on Lake Erie. We had Pa out while Ma was in NY." Was this what great grandpa was doing while great grandma was visiting my dad?

Family Legends

The first photos I took out of the box happened to include my mom and her sister. My parents came from a tight-knit neighborhood where everyone knew each other. So, as it happens, my mom's sister went to her prom with my dad's sister's future husband (my future uncle)! And my aunt and another young man once went on a double date with my mom and that same future uncle. I've heard the story of that night a million times. Now I have a beautiful souvenir photo in a cover that's signed by my mom and her sister.

In a small album filled with Bronx photos I found 2 pictures of what looks like Frank Sinatra. I texted my mom, is it him? She texted me, "OMG Yes! This must be from the day your uncle and I played hookey." That's another family story, brought to life in these 2 little photos of Old Blue Eyes.

The House I Can't Remember

Another series of photos finally shows me my great grandparents' house in Girard, Ohio. I'd only been there as a little girl, and I don't remember anything about it. I have Ohio photos from before I was born, but they don't show the house. Now I know how lovely it was. I texted a couple of the pictures to my dad and asked, "Is this the house on Dearborn Street?" Yes, it is!

The Old Neighborhood

One more. I found a little photo that shows my aunt and her future husband together as school kids. I like how my aunt has her hand on my uncle's shoulder. They're in a group of kids wearing hats and the letters OLP on their sweaters. Behind them is one football player and another young man in plain clothes. I knew OLP stood for Our Lady of Pity, the name of their church and grade school in the Bronx. I noticed they were in front of an undertaker's building with the number 273. The church address was 274. So I was guessing this funeral parlor was across from the church. I sent my dad the photo. He said they were the cheerleading squad for the football team my other uncle (the one with the bar) played on. And yes, this undertaker was directly across the street from the church.

Next Steps

I've divided the photos into groups on my kitchen table: Bronx, Ohio, photos from Italy, cousins, portraits. Many are permanently glued into paper albums. Now begins the work of scanning and enhancing them. Then I'll reach out again to my parents and others, hoping to identify more people.

Finally, it's time to invest in some safe containers to store all my old family photos. I have a metal file cabinet/safe combo in the garage. That may be the best place for me to protect these treasures from fire. That sounds like a future blog topic, doesn't it?

It pays to tell all your relatives about your genealogy hobby. My cousin knew I would appreciate these photos more than anyone else. And she says she has more to send!


  1. I've just finished scanning about 3,000 photos from my own photo albums, and those albums and lose photos rescued from Mamabola's cedar drawer. Mamabola was our paternal grandmother and the nickname all grandkids called her. Because I haven't devoted full time to this, it took a year. I sorted them by decades as best as I could determine by dates, cars, clothes worn and approximate age the subjects seemed to be. Once done with each batch I filed them by decade in photo acid proof boxes. Since details were included in the scanned names, for now I'm content to just label each decade - each box holds about 1000 photos and fits about 3 to 5 decades depending on the volume of photos. I did the same with MawMaw's Sears Roebucks shirt box. MawMaw was my husband's mother and kept all clippings and photos in shirt boxes. There were notes and letters I scanned from an uncle who had an adventurous and interesting life with 2 PhDs. His wife recorded everything and wrote many letters. It's worth the time to go through old family books and photos. I was able to find sources of birth dates, baptisms, marriages, deaths etc. for my father's family back to 1911 using the remembrance cards that were printed for these occasions. After recording the dates and entering the source, the cards were scanned are will be filed along with the photos. My cousins have provided narratives which are also valuable.

    1. Awesome and inspiring! I need those boxes. My husband said we'll put my metal cabinet in the crawlspace instead of the garage because the temperature is never hot or cold.