Family History Writing Exercise #2

Today I thought I would share another of my favorite family history writing exercises. This one is “Review and Write about a Photograph.”

Find one of your favorite old family photographs. Who is in it? What are they wearing? What are they doing? What is their facial expression? Is anyone else in the photograph? Describe it in as much detail as possible. For example, see the accompanying wedding photograph. Here’s a snippet of what I wrote about this photograph that appears in my book, Three Slovak Women.

After the ceremony, the couple and the wedding party boarded a train for St. Clairsville where a photograph—the one that triggered the memories of some the attendees so many years later—was taken in a local studio. I am fascinated by this surprisingly crisp image. This picture, I later learned, caused hard feelings between my grandfather and his brother, Jacob because Jacob’s wife, Eve, wanted their infant daughter to sit between the bride and groom in the picture. János refused because he thought a baby in between them would cause false speculation about the reason for the marriage. There are thirty-one people in the photograph—all dressed in their Sunday best. The men were attired in plain, dark suits, and the women wore dresses of varied lengths and colors (some white, some dark).
Stephen Troyanovich, János’ good friend and fellow coal miner, was the best man. The matron of honor was Helen Zaleta, a friend of Verona’s from Pittsburgh. Verona had become close to Helen while working in Pittsburgh and chose her over [her niece, Mary for this distinction]. Although included in the general wedding party photo, Mary did not play an important role. The other attendants included relatives, and several of János’ co-workers and their wives.

Typically Slovak couples were married in their best clothing. But often, as part of tradition, the groom paid for the bride’s wedding garment. The bride would get a new pair of boots for the occasion—after the wedding she seldom put them on again for fear of wearing them out, but would carry them over her shoulder to church or other special occasions to show that she had them and often saved them to be buried in.

Verona’s dress was white covered with beads, as was her thin, sheer veil. She wore the ankle-high lace-up boots, and held a bouquet of white carnations in her lap. János was clean-shaven, his mustache gone. He wore a dark suit, with a carnation pinned to the lapel. The look on his face makes me think he was much happier than Verona.

Now, it’s your turn: dig out a favorite old family photograph, let your imagination take over, and start writing!