Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Lost Archive

My Great-Great Auntie Enid Baker

Hello! Today I have a slight detour from my normal posts, no pictures of me but instead photographs of my family unearthed from the deep. Let me explain last weekend my family descended on Worcester to host a tea party for my Granddad's 80th birthday. We stayed for a few days and whilst there I decided to delve into his shed. It's a fairly terrifying place; there are thousands of spiders and moths and a strange dank smell that hangs over it all.

I had a very good reason to brave this all though, some years ago Granddad moved all the family photographs and papers in to this dank environment. Being the former archivist that I am, I was horrified when I discovered this recently, so the mission to save them began! I co-opted my Mum, Auntie and Cousin into the process, as I knew it would be a long one. What none of us really knew was how many delights would meet us when we prized open the boxes. My Great Auntie, Barbara (or Bar as she was known) was a librarian, we knew she had kept some pictures of the family but was unbeknown to us was that she had spent most of her life compiling an amazingly complete record of our entire family and its many fractions. Many of the pictures are labeled in her neat handwriting, and she spent much of her time writing to people to get photographs of distant relatives.  We found, alongside the enormous spiders, piles and piles of photographs dating right back to the 19th Century, correspondence from Great-Great Aunts, drawings from my Grandma's and Great-Auntie's childhood, receipts from the 1920s  etc etc! The sadness in it all was how many pictures had got wet and stuck together (luckily I've read up on how to save them!) and that many of the documents had seen better days. However, the great joy was finding photographs of people who we hadn't met but looked a bit like us. There is still an enormous quantity of things to sift through (and there are still things we've yet to save from the shed because we ran out of time). On their own, and out of context of the rest of the archive, these objects seem meaningless but altogether they build a wonderfully clear picture of a period of history and the people that inhabited it.

There are so many things to sort and arrange properly that I've decided to start The Museum of Family a project that will label and digitise the entire collection and offer tips to others looking to preserve their own family's history. Before moving to London I worked in a Museum/Archive so I've had to delve into plenty of jumbled boxes and try and make sense of seemingly inconsequently pieces of paper. I hope to build an exhibition out of it all: exploring the need to archive, the meaning of family and the hierarchy of objects.

These scanned images are just the very beginning, they are just a few of my favourites so far.  I haven't yet begun to scan the very old pictures yet but I will post some when I do. Then comes the mountain of correspondence (including beautiful 1920s & 30s Christmas cards), the photo albums (including one from a trip to India in the 1930s), developing negatives and miscellaneous bits left over!

I hope you enjoy this very small snippet. I hope that the project will make people think about the way we preserve history. It is so apparent to me sorting through all these photographs how important it is to PRINT photographs, to label them, to care for them and to celebrate them. Don't leave them festering away in a shed or in folders hidden in the depths of your computer; someone, by clicking the shutter, thought those moments were worth saving.

My Great-Great Grandma Elsie's (or Karnie as she was known) garden

My Mum (on Dobbin the horse), My Grandma Di, My Great-Great Grandma Elsie & My Great-Great Aunts Winnie & Enid
My Great-Great Grandma Elsie

My Great-Great Uncle Harvey Baker with some children from the school he taught at
My Great-Great-Auntie Enid, My Great-Great Uncle Leslie & My Great-Great Auntie Winnie

My Great-Great Auntie Enid at high school
My Great-Great Auntie Enid

My Great-Great Auntie Enid
My Auntie Bar, My Great-Great Grandpa Ted Ronchetti & My Granny Di
My Great-Great Grandfather Albert Baker & My Great-Great Grandma Mary (Elsie, Winnie & Enid's parents)
My Great-Great Aunt Winnie Baker
My Great Auntie Bar Ronchetti
My Great-Great-Great Grandma Elizabeth 



  1. Yay! I love other people's family photos. What a beauty Elsie was, her smile is gorgeous.
    I seem to have inherited all our ancestors' stuff as my brother isn't the least bit interested. there's boxes and boxes of photos, school reports, army records and envelopes stuffed with hair (why?) I really ought to take a leaf out of your book and follow suit. xxx

    1. Ditto with my brother, he is completely not fussed! Hah yes plenty of strange oddities like that, they were all big into gardening so lots of notebooks with strange dried specimens! Oh you should, it's a lovely experience leafing through it all, I've found out so many wonderful things. X

  2. Family history is just wonderful. I love finding out about mine and I love hearing about and seeing other people's. Yours is an absolute treasure trove! Elsie is lovely, as is Enid when she smiles and I love Mary's hairdo. How incredible to see your great great grandmother! Wow. I have photos of my great grandmother, and I've just had a sudden thought, you're actually a generation younger than me! How have you fitted so much in?! Now, Ronchetti is a rather fabulous name. Are there some Italian ancestors I wonder? Really looking forward to seeing this project develop. I put 18 boxes of slides in order a couple of weeks ago ready to start scanning, only to discover the flipping scanner's broken. Guess they'll carry on gathering dust for a while longer! Xxx

  3. Your family comes alive in these photos and it's clear why you would be so happy to find them and have the opportunity to restore and cherish them. Clearly you will have many wonderful hours and hours getting this collection into shape. Bravo for braving the spiders!! And thanks to your Granddad as well - many people would have thrown these treasure out.

  4. When Grandma turned 80 we gave her the gift of researching the family tree and suddenly she let forth with all of these Amazing! Stories of her life. I am somhappynthat you are doing this. Braving the spiders to unearth your history. I'm sure that your grandchildren will be doing catwheels to know that you are their awesome granny.their

  5. As treasure hauls go, this is pure gold. I can only imagine the electric thrill of your discovery of each new image or detail from previous lives.
    When my late grandad entered a care home, my mum became the repository for all the family photos from his side of the family, and going through them, she suddenly realised that if she didn't find out who the people were in the photos she didn't recognise, then she'd never know. She used to take a few photos each time she visited - and found that not only did she then find out who was who, but it also generated stories of past generations she would not otherwise have heard.
    Your family archive plan sounds entirely brilliant.

  6. Well done you on saving all those glorious old photos. Aren't they just the best!! I love the stories behind old photos, family history is important to know.

  7. I´m very glad that my grandpa took such good care of all his photos! He was 92 when he died last year, so there are probably less generations in between than in your case. I took all of them along with old love letters sent by my gran and an old letter from ww1, i still didn´t figure out who wrote it though! This is really really cool and all your aunties look very lovely in their pretty dresses and bows!!! You´re very luck that you managed to get hold of them!!! xx

    dresses-and-travels //@susandollparts

  8. These are amazing, wonderful photos :)) xx