Saving history for future generations

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When my wife and her sister cleaned out their old family home last year, my wife inherited hundreds of photographs dating back to long before the house was constructed in 1968. The photos included professional portraits by a renowned photographer and snapshots taken by my father-in-law and others. Some were loose in file folders and boxes; others were taped or pasted into crumbling photo albums and scrapbooks. She recognized some of the people in the photos, but not others.

She has spent much of her time for the past six months sorting through the photos and deciding what to do with them. She bought a desktop scanner and has scanned several hundred photos. Some photos were badly faded but could be enhanced with the scanning software so that the improved images were worth keeping. The pictures ranged in age from more than 100 years to about 50 years.

The scrapbooks also included pictures from her dad’s World War II Navy service, along with some souvenir menus, programs and orders that he had saved. For the first time, my wife got to see photos of the LST her dad commanded in the Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Photos show him as a thin, handsome young man in his early 20s bearing the responsibility of keeping his ship’s crew safe while defeating America’s enemies.

Because both of her parents grew up in Goldsboro, my wife eventually made a connection with Marty Tschetter, the local historian at the Wayne County Public Library. Tschetter had obtained copies of many of the photos by A.O. Clement, a prominent Goldsboro photographer who just happened to be my wife’s mother’s step-grandfather. My wife was able to identify some of the unidentified people in the library’s collection of Clement photos.

The library’s collection of old photos preserves a visual history of eastern North Carolina for future generations. And my wife has been able to share her scanned family images with her sisters, cousins and nephews.

Younger generations seldom seem to take an interest in genealogy, family history and old photos. I can recall laughing at the “old cars” in the snapshots in my parents’ photo albums. My father-in-law, who died in 2010, said he wished he had paid attention to his grandmother’s tales about life during the Civil War (her family home was occupied by Union soldiers). With few exceptions, our children show little interest in the photos my wife has so painstakingly sorted and scanned. She is glad the Goldsboro library wanted her old scrapbooks of people she couldn’t identify because she didn’t want to throw them in the trash.

Squirreled away in our home are thousands of print photos, slides and, more recently, digital images of my wife and me, our children and grandchildren. Will these be saved and preserved or will they add to the landfill refuse?

Inspired by my wife’s discoveries and her hard work at the computer desk, I have made an appointment with two of my first cousins to try to scan and preserve all the Tarleton family photographs that we can find. All of us are into our seventh decade of life, so there is some urgency to do it now or never. We’ve already missed our parents’ generation. I hope I can stir some interest among the folks back in Anson County, where most of the family resided.

Hal Tarleton was managing editor, editor and opinion of The Wilson Daily Times. Contact him at haltarleton@myglnc.com.