Instant Ancestors

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Have you ever been drawn to an item while you were shopping? An item that you knew you couldn’t leave the store without. I’m sure you can relate. For some people, it may have been a pair of jeans that fit just right or a new pair of shoes that will draw everyone’s attention.

I recently had one of those moments while on a trip in Salem, Oregon. A day after arrival I decided to explore Salem’s downtown area. The historic downtown is filled with various stores, eateries and breath-taking landscaping.

As I was taking in the scenic view I stumbled upon a lovely antique shop. The shop was filled with antique furniture, pottery, china, dolls, clothing and more. I was amazed that this little shop was filled with so much history.  While browsing I encountered a box filled with antique photographs. The photographs were of individuals, couples and families. Each one told their own story within the still frame. During the process of flipping through the photos I discovered a photo that I felt drawn to. It was a photo from the 1930s eras. The image was a beautiful little girl, possibly age two, standing next to a Victorian style chair. The bottom of the photo had the location etched into it, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. I decided that I would hold on to the photo as I continued to look around the shop. I attempted to put the photo down a couple of times, since I really didn’t have a use for it. Honestly, I am not a collector of anything and what would be the use of having a random photograph on my shelf? Although these statements were true, I couldn’t leave the picture behind so I decided to purchase it. I headed to the counter with my one item and waited patiently for the clerk to ring me up. The gentleman looked at the photo and then at me and smiled. I told him, that out of all the items I gazed at, I was drawn to this one. The gentleman let out a chuckle and said, “Well, it looks like you just gained an Instant Ancestor.” I had never heard this term before but I liked it and it put a name to the reasoning behind my purchase.

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When I arrived back to my hotel, I decided to look at the photograph again. I began to think about how photography has evolved since the 1930s. How much did photography cost during that era? How long did it take to develop photos? What was the importance of taking photos during that time?  In comparison to today’s photography, we have it available at our fingertips. Our phones, computers, gaming systems and cars all have cameras. In the 1930s, cameras were accessible to the public but they were very expensive during that time. Professional photos were costly as well for citizens. The photos also took time to develop and unfortunately instant photos would not come around until 1948.  Unlike the 1930s, today’s photography is so advanced that we can share a photo instantly with family and friends. In the 1930s, one had to mail their pictures to loved ones to share a precious moment. Sometimes this process would take days, weeks or even months. Thanks to technology the waiting period has shorten tremendously for us when it comes to sharing our favorite selfies or moments.

As I gazed at my new found “Instant Ancestor” I knew that she was a prized possession. This photo survived the 1930s and over 2,000 miles of travel just to end up in my home. I was grateful to hold such a remarkable part of history within my fingertips. I expressed my gratitude by sending a picture of my newly discovered “Instant Ancestor” to my friend instantly on Instagram. What better way to honor my new Ancestor, right?


Joella Brewer is a freelance writer focused on connecting with her audience. By day she works within her community as an instructor providing an enriching environment for adults with disabilities. She is currently in the process of obtaining a degree in digital media arts. Joella’s passion for creativity stems from her love of the arts. When she is taking a break from her creative side she enjoys recreational activities and traveling.  

Instagram: lolazillaxoxo
Snapchat: lola1023jdw
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