on Family tales and
PhotograPhiC reCords
fort WashIngton, maryland, chrIstmas 2006. I was visiting my Aunt
Joanne for the holidays, a ritual pleasure I try to enjoy whenever I travel
home to the DC area. For decades since my mother’s early death and her
own mother’s death years later, Joanne has been the glue that connects me to
my mother’s side of the family; linking and updating me regularly on aunts
and uncles, cousins and family friends scattered across the US with news and
photos, gossip and history. Her extraordinary channel of communication cer-
tainly works both ways, as she quizzes me lovingly and frequently during
phone conversations about my research and my travels, and circulates this in-
formation widely throughout our family. “Auntie Jo,” as we affectionately call
her, is the Barnes/Hammond family archivist.
A few months before my visit, we had spoken about the research I had been
doing on black European family photographs. She was so fascinated by the
idea of these photos that I brought along my laptop to show her some of the
images I had been describing. After seeing and talking about them for a while,
she said how much they reminded her of similar photographs of our family.
Unfamiliar with such photos, I asked which images she was referring to, since
the only ones I remembered were the Instamatic snapshots, department- store
portraits, and school or wedding photos that recorded the lives of my kin in
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