May 18 - 24, 2014: Issue 163


By George Repin

As people grow older they tend to become more interested in their background – wanting to know something of their family, where they came from and the experiences they have lived through, whether in Australia struggling in the harsh environment of the Australian outback or in their countries of origin.   Over the years migrants have arrived from many nations and from different cultures, sometimes in the aftermath of wars, revolutions, civil disturbances and religious or other persecution.  Some of the information may be in photographs, in the few documents they may have been able to bring with them or in letters - but most is in the memories of individuals.

Some are reluctant to talk about their past, in many cases because the memories are too painful, in others because they do not think that their children or grandchildren are interested.  The reality is that children or grandchildren become really interested only when they reach a certain level of maturity - and then it is often too late.  Relatives die – or become infirm or even demented and their recollections are lost.

Photographs treasured by their owners during their lives often prove of little help.  The owners know who the people in the photographs are and where the pictures were taken but they tend to leave little if any information for those who, perhaps years later, may look at the pictures and have questions.  In my Reflections in Issue 158 (April 13–19) of Pittwater Online News I made the following plea:

“If you have a photograph worth keeping, identify the people in it and where and when it was taken. When you are gone, others may be interested in knowing something about relatives who lived before them and what they looked like.” 

This message is now even more to the point because of the use of digital cameras and the storage of photographs in computers.  Photographs over a hundred years old with notations on the back usually are well preserved and easily accessed.  Can we be sure that the same will apply with digital images?  Looking back at recent technological changes – ZIP discs are no longer widely used, floppy discs are largely replaced by CD’s and more recently by DVD’s, and new technologies doubtless will replace these in the future - the question arises whether the hardware and software to access treasured digital images will be available as the years go by.

Documents, including letters, are a potential source of information and, on the death of a relative, their papers should be looked at carefully before any thought is given to their destruction. Some may require translation.

However, much more importantly the best approach is to listen to what your relatives have to say – to you, to other family members and to friends – and to ask questions.  If they see you are interested they may open up to you and you may be fascinated by what you learn.  Listen - and make notes of what you hear while it is fresh in your mind.  You may not get another chance.

LISTEN      and      ASK

Copyright George Repin 2014. All Rights Reserved.