Don’t Wait to Share

I read an article recently advising me to ensure I safely save all my digital photos. This should be done in a way that they can be shared when it comes my time to pass on.

Good idea, I thought.

I learned the horrors of not doing this. All these precious photos would not get seen by the living relatives to the family tree enthusiasts in the distant future. I’d better get on this right away.


After reflecting and before acting I understood things had changed. In the old days of my parent’s era, photos were few and far between special occasions and certainly not wasted on images of plates of food. The development of each roll of film had to be sent away to a national processing centre which returned black and white prints. Oh, the joy!

These pictures would get inserted into a photo album and brought down from the shelf when friends and family came over the next time. Then they became door-stops-in-waiting.

Preserving these pictures of family life was important and these albums were handed down to the next generation – all 100 images!

Now, for better or for worse, most of us with a cell phone fall under the spell of visually recording every aspect of our lives; from the food we eat, to selfies of our heads that fill most of the frame with different expressions, to intimate photos best left to our imagination if you are so inclined.

And, oh boy, do we share these. I Googled to find the right answer, so it must be right; 54,400 photos are taken every second around the world. That’s every second. Probably a quarter of a million in the time it took to read this paragraph.

The problem has shifted from preserving the few images a life we may have produced to vetting all the photos so the gems are not tossed out with the bathwater – or I mean the garbage.

I’m focusing on a do-over of my family tree – but that story is for another time. I knew I could attach photos to individuals in the tree. I combined that knowledge with the finding of a metal lidded tray with close to 500 slides I had taken in my youth. There is no practical way to share all these images in the software. If I left them in the container, one look by my children and with guilt and relief they would toss the package into the garbage. Job done.

So, I’m trying to save them that moment. My parents never had to face this problem. It was important to curate the collection. So, I started viewing each coloured slide. Any sunsets were quickly left out. Same for rivers and mountains. A very few pictures of scenery were kept if they captured an entire trip or extended time together.

One criterion was the emotional reaction I had to the picture. A few of these photos I emailed to those I thought would be interested – at least for a few moments.

I’m actively and consciously sharing now. My children will be unknowingly grateful.

Please give this a bit of a think. After your passing are your digital photos available to your Executor?  Does this person have password access? How many photos do you have – take a wild guess? Are they all critically memorable to others? What is the risk that somebody will be overwhelmed during a time of deep grieving, and decide to toss them all out?

I’m curious about your thoughts. Please share your bit of a think below.

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

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7 thoughts on “Don’t Wait to Share

  1. Wayne MacDonald says:

    As usual Glen’s blog has given me something to think about!

    As the recognized “family historian,” who has been entrusted with two huge boxes of family photographs, I understand the importance that this photographic record plays in understanding and portraying the lives and events of family members who are long deceased and those who are still with us today.

    Recently my uncle turned 85 years of age. I forwarded to him the 1930’s farm radio that he had managed to rescue and provided him with several photographs of his mother, father, siblings and the family farm – pictures all covering the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s – when he and his wife and young family visited the homestead in Saskatchewan. The impact of receiving the restored and working radio and the family photographs had a powerful emotional impact on my uncle. Those present advised that he was moved to tears.

    The point I wish to make is that these images are more than just a picture. They have the power to transport us back in time and to remember and celebrate the moments portrayed in the photographs and to reconnect with our past and with how were were shaped as individuals.

    A few years ago I was asked to deliver a presentation at a national social work conference. I chose to speak on the importance of understanding Family History and the role this plays in shaping who we are and how we relate to the world around us. I illustrated my presentation by inserting some interesting photographs of my own family members and commenting on the contributions that these individuals made to our family, their community, province and to Canada. I pointed out that every family has important members who contribute to the fabric of each individual family – not everyone has to have a FAMOUS linage or incredible achievements to point to. I was amazed that members of the audience were moved to tears by my message and presentation (at first I thought boy did I blow this one). But the audience participants actively engaged me during and after the presentation and shared how very “powerful” family memories and family history are!

    One woman shared that she had mapped out the entire genealogy of her family to share with family members. She relayed that an aunt held all of the family’s historical photographs and was adamantly refusing to loan or share these photographs with her. In fact the aunt had advised her niece that all of the photographs would be destroyed upon her death. This obviously caused great feelings of anxiety, sadness and anticipated loss for this woman. I often wonder how this struggle involving “power and control” over these photographs turned out. I was left wondering why would someone want to prevent a loving niece from having access to these historical family photographs? When it comes to humans one has to EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED.

    Recently when revisiting and redoing our wills our family estate planner brought-up the issue that our historic family photographs are of significant monetary value and historical value worthy of being included in the archives of Canada. It was pointed out that upon the death of my wife and I that ownership of the photographs which are contained in Victorian and Edwardian picture frames could be claimed by other members of the family and possibly archives Canada. So you see possession and care of historical and family photographs carries a responsibility not only perhaps legally to your relatives but also to future generations. Glen is right – think about what you will be doing with your photographs and the important role and impact they will have on your immediate and future family members. These pictures are not just something to scroll through at your funeral as those in attendance listen to accompanying music.

    Thanks Glen for bringing-up this important topic.

  2. Alice marchand says:

    I too share your dilemma. 40 some cds full of ? Pictures that if important have already been shared with family They might be good for a ‘blast from the past’ but not much else. Not easy to destroy or recycle or garbage so what do you do with them? Will that be what I want to leave my family as a remembrance? No! I don’t think so. It’s just part of the stuff of life. Record and keep only what is heirloom or of value and part with the rest, hard as that may be. Agree separate and identify the good things to keep but give away the rest.

  3. Pat Morgan says:

    So interesting since this is the project I started doing Mother’s Day weekend, while looking for a picture of my Mom taken many years ago. So many albums and loose photos to go through!
    And then the digital ones with good intentions to print and keep? Oh my!!!

  4. Glenn says:

    Sharing this email comment from Diane, with permission:

    ‘thanks for the think’ which we’ve also thought about over the past few pandemic years. We considerably downsized those sunset, lakes, mountains etc pictures from wonderful outdoor adventures from 1995 to date which would not have the same significance for friends and family.

    We even weighed how many pounds of photos were deemed not to be included in our condensed photo albums, therefore were ‘chopped’ and discarded. ‘Moments in time’ we said, and ‘the kids would appreciate not dealing with those’.

    Other older photos may have more significance to my sister and her family, so we have one album to go to my sister Cathy and/or niece Diane; of my first 25 years in B.C. Relevant to both.

    We do not have many ‘hard copy’ prints of pictures in recent years. Any sharing now is through email or messaging.

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