Say there’s an old photo of your great-grandparents in a shoe box underneath your bed—one that was previously in an older shoe box underneath your parents’ bed—and which was in a very old picture frame for some time.
That photo might be faded, ripped and bent, and your great-grandparents are probably hard to identify. While these are cherished memories of your family’s long history, who has the knowledge to properly care and preserve these snapshots?
Maura Feeney, the local history librarian and archivist at the Montauk Library, knows how.
She will show library visitors how to keep family photos preserved while at the same time unfurling the history of Montauk through and exhibit of photographs of three local families. From October 1 through November 5, the Montauk Library’s “Family Archivist Series and Exhibit” will showcase a collection of historical photos from the Pitts, Burke and Cullum families in Montauk, courtesy of local environmentalist and photographer Dell Cullum, who has been collecting these them throughout his life.
On top of showcasing these preserved photographs, the library will offer the chance for patrons to come and have their family photographs scanned into digital format and preserved on a flash drive free of charge. For those who want to learn how to do this on their own, the library’s head of technology services, Brit Mansir, will offer classes every Tuesday through October 27 from 10:15 to 11 a.m.
In addition, Ms. Feeney will host two open house events—on Saturday, October 7, and Sunday, October 8, from 1 to 5 p.m.—at which she’ll explain what it means to be an archivist and how to preserve photos, and also introduce some of the jewels of the library’s archive collection.
Ms. Feeney offered a preview on Monday to help beginner archivists.
“First of all, what do I have?” she asked. “Secondly, let me separate these and assess the damage and what’s really good. Thirdly, how do I want to organize this? How do I take care of this? How do I preserve this for the future?”
Ms. Feeney said that even amateur archivists can find clues to when certain photos were taken by observing the hairstyles, bathing suits, cars and even the interior of cars.
“There’s one great photo we have of people sitting around eating lobster that’s probably from the 1970s,” she said. “One of the reasons I was able to tell is that the interiors had this orange color that only was produced in the 1970s with these rust and linoleum floors.”
Ms. Feeney explained that Mr. Cullum had inherited a vast collection of family photos from as far back as his grandparents: Evangeline Burke, his grandmother on his mother’s side, came into photography after winning a Kodak Brownie camera during a pull tab game in 1914 while living in Fort Pond Bay Fishing Village, and Raymond Cullum, Dell’s grandfather, bought a 3-A Folding Pocket Kodak camera on Shelter Island in 1926.
Mr. Cullum eventually inherited such a staggering amount of family photos that he published two books of them to detail the history of East End locations including Montauk, East Hampton and Amagansett.
“Dell was telling me that he remembers that when he was growing up, there was always a camera around,” Ms. Feeney said. She met Dell and his mother, Emily Cullum, at a Christmas fair in Amagansett last year, and after reading about Mr. Cullum and his photos, Ms. Feeney asked him about doing an exhibit to showcase these photos.
Mr. Cullum, who lives in East Hampton, will be at the library in person on October 28 for one of four presentations, each at 3 p.m., talk about an inherited trait passed down through his family called “The Shine”—which he described as “a strong connection between humans and animals, capable of eliminating fear while creating trust and a bridge of communication, sometimes without words or sounds.” A library program description calls it “a mutual acceptance, part instinctual and part spiritual.”
On October 15, genealogist Rhoda Miller will talk about the history to be discovered in Long Island’s gravestone inscriptions and cemetery records. The library will then host a collection of fishermen and fisherwomen families on October 22, who will talk about how commercial fishing in Montauk has changed and impacted their families’ lives over generations. The series of talks will close on November 5 with Nicole Menchise, regional archivist for the Long Island Library Resources Council, speaking about the importance of preserving family photos, books and other items and how to properly display and preserve them over time.
“I think a lot of people end up with family records and family photographs,” Ms. Feeney said. “Some people love them and continue to keep them in a shoe box and don’t know what to do with them, some people just chuck them.
“Some people have no emotion about the past, or it hits them later,” Ms. Feeney continued. “All of that stuff resonates with bona-fide history. We are the memory keepers not only for our own families but also our friends.”