Anonymous Ulster Photos: rediscovering lost images of Ulster lives

Anonymous Ulster Photos
Rediscovering lost images of Ulster lives

A fascinating aspect of researching one’s family history is viewing vintage photographs of ancestors you never knew, sometimes with those that you did know, intrigued by their youthful appearances. Then there are the random images where identities and details are uncertain. Or a shoebox or album of photos where no descendant knows anything of the portraits.

In our homes we display photos of our immediate family and grandparents as a visual family tree, even after the death of those we cherish and wish to keep alive fond memories. But what happens after we depart? Whose window sills or living room walls will we adorn? For how many of us exhibit portraits of our great-great grandparents?

It is a fact that ultimately our images are taken down or cleared out, placed in storage or if unappreciated, discarded to the rubbish heap, or with a modicum of mercy, an estate sale or random car boot sale.

In Belfast I saw a display of early 20th century black-and-white images in the window of a charity shop. Anonymous lives on show to passing strangers. They halted me because of my familiarity with the formal poses and thick paper board backing. Yet their stories will likely forever remain a mystery to me and other viewers.

But in the 21st century we now have the hope that through digital distribution on the world wide web, a chance encounter may trigger a memory or connection, offering a piece of genealogical puzzle to a current or future family historian.

This is my aspiration for this Anonymous Ulster Photos project — presenting otherwise lost images to be rediscovered. That moments of significance in others’ previous lives — important enough to be documented by photographs — may find resonance in our own.