Globe Syndicate

for release Friday November 28, 2003

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

Store It, Catalog It, Squirrel It Away

What advice have you been told so often you can’t count the times?

If my father-in-law told me this once, he told me at least 100 times (not exaggerating): “Always put names and dates on the back of your photos. Do it right away.” Good, time-tested advice, but how many of us actually do it? (I followed his advice part of the time but too many of my photos are now aging: dateless and nameless.)

Of course now there are technological gizmos that help us with those tasks, such as automatic date stamps on photos. Also, digital storage can seem to make record keeping easier—if you set up manageable digital folders and logs.

A reader from southern Indiana who reads Another Way in the Orange County Publisher asked whether I had ever written anything on the importance of keeping family history alive and accessible by organized scrapbooks and photo albums. This woman, Mavis Jean Doan, has more than 70 albums! People come to her when they need to know something, or need photos for a history book, or photos of their families. She wrote, “Our church celebrated its 100th anniversary last month and in just the 53 years I have lived here I had enough history and photos [on hand] to help make things interesting.”

Now, 70 books may seem a bit much to keep up with, and it makes Mrs. Doan your above-average chronicler of local history, but what a gift such people are to the rest of us! While I preach the gospel of “clear it out, get rid of it” on one hand, I’m sentimental enough and value history enough to squirrel away my own fair share of photos, memorabilia and clippings.

Scrapbooking has gotten to be a big and expensive business and many people have participated in the “creative memories” type parties that give people ideas on how to decorate scrapbooks. While those may be fun and very meaningful for some, creating albums doesn’t have to be expensive. You can keep albums at whatever level you and your budget allow.

I’ve always been grateful to the 11th grade “honors” English teacher at our local school who made an assignment out of creating a “Junior Portfolio,” over the course of the year. Students were to create and turn in a new section of scrapbook each six-weeks grading period chronicling all the outstanding events and memories of that period. They were encouraged to include activities from home, school, church or other events, while also writing narrative and doing speeches or presentations from them in class (the “English” part of the assignment). All of my daughters are happy to have those scrapbook pages now even though at the time they were frequently completed late late at night.

Old letters and postcards are another thing Mrs. Doan encourages saving. Our family was thrilled to be offered a pack of letters written by my husband’s father (who is now deceased) while he was in the service during World War II. One day out of the blue I got a call from a local Another Way reader who said she needed to downsize and give away her treasured mementos from the past, and wondered if the Davis boys would want letters their father had written. Or more accurately, letters he had “dictated” to someone with better penmanship, as was the habit of many servicemen. They were not “love” letters as such—she was merely a friend of my father-in-law’s and was writing to him out of friendship and patriotism. But the letters offer interesting insights into his past, and the life of a serviceman stationed in Hawaii, (even if strategic parts had been cut out by the military censors). She even passed on to us a genuine grass skirt from Hawaii saved from the 1940’s that he had sent home to her.

Mrs. Doan notes that even if you no longer want old photos or post cards etc., take them to your local library. Someone will want them. Take old family photos you no longer want to a family reunion for giveaway. My cousin who was moving to a retirement facility (obviously way older than me!) did that. I was tickled to get a great 8x10 black and white photo of my father and his entire family that I didn’t have before.

Mrs. Doan also says, “How often after older family members die, do people frequently say, ‘Oh I wish I had asked ….’” She reminds us: “Do so, now! Listen to and write down families stories. Hearing old people reminisce can be fascinating.”

So here’s another good piece of advice from someone who’s been there: take Mrs. Doan’s advice and today, call/visit/write that favorite aunt, grandfather, great uncle. You’ll have fewer regrets in the future and they’ll love you for it.

If you have stories to share, write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail:

You can also visit Another Way on the Web at

Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.

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