Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Identifying photos and uncooperative relatives

Tam asks:
”I found a box of photos when I cleaned out my mom’s attic [mom is deceased].  None of them are labeled.  Do you have any suggestions on how I can figure out who these people are?”

William [named changed for privacy] asks:
”My Great-Aunt Matilda [named changed for privacy] refuses to talk to me about our family.  She is the oldest living member of the family and her mind is sharp as a tack.  I know that she knows a lot of things but I can’t get her to talk about any of it.  She just says that the past is the past and its nobody’s business.  I am so frustrated!  I don’t know what else to do.  The only thing I can think is that there is some big family secret she is trying to hide.”

There isn’t a lot you can do.  You can’t force her to talk about things that she doesn’t want to.  You can try giving it a rest for a while and then approach her again.  You can tell her what all you know and see if she is willing to contradict or add to what you tell her.  You can ask her if she has any old photos and that you would like to see them.  She might let some little tidbits slip when she is telling you who is in the photos (if she is even willing to show them to you).  There might not be a deep, dark family secret.  Some people just aren’t interested in talking about the past.  Maybe if you explained your intentions she will start talking.  Maybe she is afraid you are going to publish a book or something. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. For the Great-Aunt who won't talk about family history, I would suggest that William search newspaper archives for the family he is searching. He might also be able to find neighbors still living from that time period. Even those who are a generation younger than his great-aunt.

  2. Excellent! You never know what a neighbor might know, especially if they were a bit of a busybody :)