Sunday, March 21, 2010

A volatile past?

In the course of his enthusiasm for genealogical research, Tom came up with this 1885 tintype of his great-grandfather, my grandfather, Arthur Ellsworth Raymo. He looks strikingly like Tom at the same age, whereas we never saw much of ourselves in Tom, nor much of his grandparents. The genes seem to have skipped across two generations. Three acts of coupling, three shuffles of the genes, and out pops those particular facial features and curly hair. Click to enlarge.

A photograph was obviously a big thing in those days. Whereas before a formal portrait might be something only the child of wealth or nobility might enjoy, the camera brought portraiture to the masses, even if the mansions and manicured gardens were only painted on a backdrop. I love the shirt and straw hat, no doubt young Arthur's Sunday best. He doesn't look all that comfortable. No doubt his parents are standing behind the photographer and bulky cloth-draped camera, expecting their son to stand perfectly still and look like the handsome child he was. Do I detect rosy cheeks, hand-colored by the photographer?

And so we see him after 125 years, a little faded perhaps, but otherwise intact, and I wonder what will become of my huge archive of digital photographs. Will all those electronic bits -- those 1s and 0s -- go their volatile way? And if they somehow endure, will the technology to turn them into photographs be at hand. I suppose every family will need to designate an archivist in each generation to take the products of obsolete technologies and transfer them to the new. Businesses will no doubt make archival services available, as some already do. Perhaps I should think about printing out those photos on my hard drives that are likely to be of greatest historical interest, with the most enduring inks and papers available, and stash them away in a strongbox for future genealogists.