My grandmother Kate was born in 1869. I discovered that the other day while going through a box stored under our eaves and labeled "our good crystal". That box actually contains not crystal, but four generations of family pictures.
Kate gave birth to my mother in 1903 when she was 34, and my mother wasn't her youngest child. This, in an era when the average life expectancy at birth was 40 years. An interesting, but irrelevant fact is that I was born when my mother was 34, and our son Jeremy was born when I was 34.
My mother dutifully recorded the birth and death of her parents and all her siblings on an envelope stuck in with the pictures. Her father, Isadore, didn't die until 1960 so I actually got to know Grandpa pretty well. An interesting, but irrelevant fact is that he lived a lot of his life with one kidney.
There are pictures of my mother from high school and with her five siblings. There are several with my mother and father before they married.
Of course there is my baby book with all appearances of teeth recorded and endless pictures of my brother and me. There is the announcement of my birth and both of our children's birth announcements.
There are pictures of Peter and his family from Germany where he was born, including pictures of his grandparents who died in Auschwitz. There is an Hungarian passport picturing him and his younger sister Eva at about four and six (odd since they were not Hungarian). And there are lots of pictures of our own family that probably didn't make it into our many photo albums.
All those lives, packed in a box under the eaves.
There aren't any pictures of our grandchildren there because they are too young. But one day, there will be five generations in a box. Or maybe not—because most photographs reside on the Internet now.
Looking at them online won't be the same as holding those old photos in your hands and imagining what life was like in the olden days.