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Old family photographs


1959 - grape-picking

Old family photos are priceless treasures we ought to look after. Their colours, smell, the way the subjects are posing, even their quirky sizes remind us they are like an open door through which we can step into the past. They are a great way for younger generations to find out about their ancestors, share experiences, compare lifestyles and communicate with older members of their family.

These days, we tend to take endless strings of digital photos. I am certainly guilty of that! Thanks to advances in technology, our main way of freeze-framing memories has become our phone and more and more people can afford DSLR cameras, which take great photos even in automatic mode.

We can delete, edit, add effects, merge two photos together so that everyone looks their best, but we rarely print them, and look at them less than we used to when we had to take films to be developed before displaying them in albums.

My grandparents are not sentimental people. They are down-to-earth, hardworking, people who are rather quiet about their youth. They are not secretive, nor do they refuse to talk about their past, but when I ask them, they say there is nothing interesting to talk about; they just worked hard. I wish they had childhood diaries written in hesitant handwriting, old school books and letters from friends or family from their youth but they do not. I like to know about them before I knew them, not because I am nosy, but because I am interested in who they are, who they were, and I want to be able to tell my children stories about their great-grandparents when they are older.


My grandparents in 1954

 During a trip to my village in the Champagne region last summer, I convinced my Mamie (grandmother) to look for photos with me. We spent the whole afternoon in her loft rummaging through shoe boxes, putting aside photos that had nothing to do with our family, chatting away, labelling photographs that were relevant to us and our family history and selecting about a hundred I was to scan so that they would never get lost, whatever happened to the originals.

It was probably the best afternoon I have ever spent with my Mamie, and the photographs made her talk so much about her, her background and her family that I feel I know her a little bit better now, and I feel we are even closer now than we were before.

 Fête du bouquet

Mamie and her family

The photos we talked about ranged from pictures of my great-grandfather in the army in Lebanon (Syria at the time) almost a century ago (1920, picture below) to pictures of my grandparents’ growing romance in the 1950s, to snapshots of them doing what I have always seen them do: working in their beloved vines.


Mamie told me about her village, explained why she had to go to boarding school, spoke about her parents’ life as bakers. They were not all happy, cheerful testimonies of my grandparents’ past, but I wanted to hear all the anecdotes, happy and sad, and being able to put faces to some family members I had heard about brought my family history to life.


We found a picture (above) of her brother Marc with his twin sister Thérèse, who passed away at the very young age of six months. It was sad talking about it, and discussing the death of another sibling, Bernard. These are not happy memories, but they are part of Mamie’s past all the same, a testimony of an era when infant death was not so uncommon, when people were still raw after surviving two World Wars, when life was tough.

When Beanie was born just over three years ago and we shared her name with my family, my Mamie told me it had been the name of her own grandmother, and it gave even more sense to my little girl’s own name, especially since Mamie’s gran had been such a gentle, kind person. It was a big surprise to find a picture (below) of her in the loft, especially since Mamie had no recollection of having that photograph. Despite our choice of name being completely coincidental, I am proud of the fact my little girl shares her name with someone who was so influential in the life of my Mamie.

 mère de pèpère


Here are a few more of my favourites:

 Voiture de Pépère

My great-grandfather’s car, at the back of the bakery the family was running


My great-grandfather’s brother in the army in 1923. Can you spot the pets there?


My Papy (grandfather)’s parents’ wedding in the early 1930s


Maman (my mum) in 1960

Go on, you can do it too! Look for family photos, have those nostalgic discussions with your loved ones, find out about your own heritage and scan those photos. I know this kind of things is not a priority or an important item on a to-do list. With our busy lives, we do not have time to look for pictures, find out exactly who is in them, or where they were taken and scanning them one by one with the best resolution possible can be a tedious job, but once it is done, they can be shared easily with family members, and more importantly, you can look at them again and again without having to fumble in a dusty loft. Photos fade over time, get lost or thrown away and it is important to preserve these precious memories.

Have you stumbled upon old photos recently? What anecdotes did you hear after finding them? Let me know in a comment below!


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  1. Mary P (@minnowmep)
    08/01/2014 / 9:54 pm

    I adore old photographs and am really into family history. I could spend hours looking at old photographs and now I know a bit more about what my ancestors did. I never met my maternal Grandmother, I have some of her jewellery, some of her photos, I’d love to be able to hear her voice. I have only known my Dad’s cousins for a few years but have loved listening to them talk about my Granny. Lovely post #thethemegame

    • Mel
      08/01/2014 / 10:08 pm

      Thanks a lot. Make sure you scan those photos and write down the stories you have heard about your grandparents (wouldn’t that be a nice blog post?). I love your point about hearing their voices. You just gave me an idea: I am going to start filming my grandparents when I see them rather than just taking photos of them… Mel

  2. Mummy Says
    08/01/2014 / 10:30 pm

    These are amazing photos. We had a clearout at my parent’s recently and spent hours upon hours going through old albums. I love looking at pictures of us all as babies and seeing who my own children resemble! x

    • Mel
      08/01/2014 / 10:36 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Time just flies when you look at old photos. I just love it! Mel

  3. thereadingresidence
    09/01/2014 / 10:15 am

    These photos are just so wonderful. It sounds like a truly lovely afternoon was spent going through them with your Mamie, and how amazing to have named your child after an ancestor, too, albeit coincidentally. My aunt visited me recently, and brought with her a whole stack of photos of my grandparents that I’d never seen before and now hold precious. Yes, I think photos like this are doorways into the past, thank you for reminding us of that. Thanks for joining in with #TheThemeGame

    • Mel
      11/01/2014 / 10:01 am

      Thanks a lot! Make sure you make the time to scan those pictures of your grandparents. These precious heirlooms can get lost so quickly… Mel

  4. Alison
    09/01/2014 / 11:00 am

    Those are amazing photos, I love the old car

    • Mel
      11/01/2014 / 9:47 am

      Thanks Alison. I had so many of those photos I loved, it was really difficult to narrow things down and select just a few. Mel

  5. Sara (@mumturnedmom)
    09/01/2014 / 8:36 pm

    Wow, these are fabulous photos, you are so lucky to have them. I have a few of my paternal grandparents, but that’s really it. I must try and track down more. Lovely post xx #TheThemeGame

    • Mel
      11/01/2014 / 9:45 am

      Thanks Sara, I do feel very lucky indeed. Now they are saved on my computer, I feel like they will never be lost and whenever someone in the family wants to know more about our past, I can very easily share the photos with them. Track some down yourself, you will have a great time! Mel

  6. Virtually All Sorts
    09/01/2014 / 9:08 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful, timeless photos. Breath-taking.

    • Mel
      11/01/2014 / 9:56 am

      Thanks a lot. I just love family photos, and I also scanned about a hundred of my husband’s grandparents’ pictures from approximately the same time-frame as those I put on the blog. It is really interesting to compare how different they are. Mel

  7. redpefferIona@redpeffer
    10/01/2014 / 1:42 pm

    Wow, what brilliant photographs. I too love driving into the archives and have been sharing sone of my gran in particular. Such a lovely post. I I sited the Champagne region with my then boyfriend (now husband) many years ago ago loved it. Thank you do much for linking up with #TheThemeGame

    • Mel
      11/01/2014 / 9:42 am

      Thanks, it was amazing to find so many great old photographs I had never seen before, and to hear lots of stories about my grandparents… Where did you go in the Champagne region? Mel

  8. 10/01/2014 / 10:30 pm

    Such a wonderful post, raised the hairs on my arms, so full of love and nostalgia. I adore looking at my parents’ old photos too, helps us to understand who we are. Really touching x

    • Mel
      11/01/2014 / 9:40 am

      Thanks a lot for your kind comments, Vicky. I cannot wait to have the French version of my blog up and running so that my family can actually read it. Baby steps… Mel

  9. 26/02/2014 / 8:41 pm

    Really great photos Mel! And very good idea to have them all scanned in too – protected from damage for good. We don’t have a scanner (I know – dark ages!) but maybe I’ll get one eventually. We have a picture of my great grandparents and its extraordinary how similar they look to my cousin and uncle! Just like doubles of them really.

    • Mel
      26/02/2014 / 8:51 pm

      It took hours (days in fact) and I did it on my brother’s scanner, not being too sure how to operate the machine and trying to scan at the highest resolution possible (painfully slow process) but I was on holidays and it was part of the fun, chatting to my mum about those family members as I was scanning. I am really glad it is done now. You should do it with the picture of your great grandparents. It makes it so easy to share them when it is done. I remember scanning some pictures a few years ago in Jessops, so I am sure other places like Boots have the same kind of service for their customers. x

  10. sarah hill wheeler (@hill_wheeler)
    27/03/2014 / 12:35 pm

    This is a lovely post, which I came to via #Brillblogposts. You have some great pictures, and stories…and I especially love the picture taken at what looks like a village celebration.

    I also think you are right about how digital cameras have changed us and the way we interact, not always for the better.

    I am afraid I am guilty of snapping and downloading whilst having some “old” photos I keep meaning to do something with, and never “get around to”… sadly been clearing out my uncle’s house and have inherited some old albums, photos some of which I can’t even put a name to and old cine reels. Hopefully you will have galvinised me to blow the dust off the scanner and actually do something with them!

    Great record.

    • Mel
      27/03/2014 / 10:22 pm

      Thanks Sarah, I hope you do find the time to get scanning! Mel

  11. 27/03/2014 / 12:59 pm

    We are going to have a good look through our family photos sometime…time?! WHEN. They are intoxicating aren’t they and can take out a whole day!
    A window to the past- great post.

    • Mel
      27/03/2014 / 10:21 pm

      It could take weeks if you really got started, but I have to say seeing such old shots of my great-grandparents was amazing, especially with my Mamie’s anecdotes and fond memories. Mel

  12. 31/03/2014 / 7:01 pm

    Such a moving post, brought my hairs on end too, not often that happens with digital photos-something so touching about seeing a family archive in photos, the sad and the happy (so sorry for your Mamie’s loss in her daughter). Thanks so much for linking up to #brillblogposts with this x

    • Mel
      01/04/2014 / 10:12 pm

      Thanks Vicki. I really enjoy looking at those old photos and I feel really lucky now I have them at hand on my computer. I love looking at younger versions of my grandparents. x Mel

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