Mapping Relatives from Old Family Photos

After my great grandfather passed away in 2003 at the age of 102, my family had the task of going through many of his keepsakes. Included in this treasure trove of items was a massive collection of postcards and photographs dating back to the late 1800’s. Over the next couple of years, my father painstakingly scanned most of the photos into the computer and met with friends to translate some of the notes scrawled throughout. As I graduated college to start my first job in the north, he handed me a couple of CD’s with some of the photos scanned in. I never really looked through them until this past summer. The first CD had more than 300 photos which were dated from 1905 to 1933. As I scrolled through them, I started to realize that many of the photos had addresses penned somewhere on their front or back. The weird thing is that I knew exactly where these addresses were: Brooklyn, NY; and some were as close as 10 blocks away from my current house. My mind was blown.

Three of my four family lineages can trace their passage through Brooklyn, and while the pictures below only show one branch, they tell so much more. In the pictures’ 28-year span, this collection of family and friends moved around to many apartments, went on vacations, got postcards from friends and family abroad, were married, and had children. I decided to map these locations to get a better understanding of what this 28 years looked like geographically. I know this is only a small sample of where they had been, with only a few of these pictures actually including a location.

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Growing up, I always heard stories about this or that relative living (generally) in the north, sometimes they said New York City, but rarely any more detail. And since I grew up in the south, any more detail would have been lost on me anyway. But now that I have lived in Brooklyn for a number of years, the streets and neighborhoods scribbled on these photos mean so much more to me. While I share their blood, I don’t know their faces, their names barely register as memories, let alone do I understand their lives. But when I started seeing these street names written down, the streetscapes in the background, the Brooklyn urban fabric immediately connected me. The buildings are the same, the street grid is the same, and their stories became clear.

I look forward to mapping more of my family photos as I come across them!

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2 Comments on “Mapping Relatives from Old Family Photos”

  1. Jessica October 26, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    This is a great post! What an incredible resource that your family has passed down to you, and what a great idea to bring the photos into the digital mapping age. Love it!


  2. Syed S. Ahmed October 30, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    Alex, I give credit to your family for keeping these photos and postcards together and to your dad for scanning them with dates and places. I am wondering if genealogical trees can be mapped like this?

    Great post and thanks for sharing it with us.



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