Do you know who you are? The fascination of family photographs

I have always been interested in family history and on a recent visit to my father he showed me some old family albums – my grandparents’ wedding, him as a young man, husband and father – I loved it.

For a long time I have wanted to explore my father’s side of the family at least in pictures. My dad is the youngest of four brothers, all of who have passed away and although I remember my grandparents vaguely from when I was little, there were never all that many photos from his side of the family around. On my mum’s side it was a different story: she was an only child and my grandma was much younger and therefore around longer, always telling us family stories. Ever since I was little I loved looking at the old photos and hearing the stories that went with them. As I got older and the grandparents were gone I realised that I never asked enough questions about this family that I come from. Since I have become an aunt to a niece who will barely see enough of her own grandparents – we are strewn across Europe and don’t see each other often as a family – it became ever more important to find out about them, as much for me as for my niece when she is older.

Everyone always said that I looked like my paternal grandmother, a woman I only remember as an old lady (bizarrely she always seemed the same age to me) with white hair who always wanted to hug me but who I never had any real connection too. I have no idea what she was like as a young woman, what dreams or hopes she might have had for her own life. Who were her family, her siblings, her parents?

Now I have seen photos of her as a young woman, I do feel closer to her even though I still don’t know anything about her. I can see myself in her features and I have a sense of coming from somewhere. I do remember my granddad very clearly as a lovely and funny man who was always dressed in suit and tie – not forgetting a hat of course! I have now seen a photo of him as a young boy, with blonde curls and ruffled shirt, very Victorian. Does it change the way I remember him? I don’t think so but it definitely creates a fuller picture of a man I barely know but who is a part of who I am.

At akg-images we have 1000s of old family photographs in the archive, private snapshots, formal portrait sessions and group photos. I love looking through them even if they make me a little sad at the same time, discarded family albums, full of people who nobody is interested any more. I find it reassuring that archives such as ours give these images a new home and often a new audience in form of a book cover or other publications.