When Hurricane Sandy flooded Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn in October 2012,we worried about the water damage in our aunt’s basement and the reconstruction that would be required.
But, when my cousin’s daughter, Gianna, dashed to the house, she saw that something even more precious was in danger of being destroyed — my grandparents photo albums. She gathered up the water-logged treasures and spread them out on sheets and towels. She tried to separate the ones that had already begun to stick together, and to remove the ones that were in those awful “magnetic” photo albums. Although some photos were lost, thanks to Gianna, over 400 were saved.
My cousin, John, mentioned to me that he was concerned about the state of these pictures. Many had curled when they dried, some were getting black mold, and others were brittle. I offered to come to the house with a flat-bed scanner and digitize every one of them. Last weekend, I made the drive from Maryland to Brooklyn.
Our “scanfest” began on Saturday morning at the Sheepshead Bay home of my Aunt Alice Kostakos. When John retrieved the box of photos, it didn’t look like this would be such a big job, but it took 2 days and over 10 hours!
We set up shop at Aunt Alice Kostakos’ kitchen table and began by retrieving oldest black and white photos.
Thanks to Aunts Georgia and Alice, we were able to identify every person in every photo! We affixed post-it notes to the bottom of each, identifying people, dates and places. The photo and post-it note were then scanned as one image, ensuring that the information would not be separated from the picture. Over the coming months, I will crop each photo and add its identifying information into the metadata. This photo shows my grandparents sitting in front, Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and John Andrew Kostakos — surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and extended family members.
Every photo tells a story, and thanks to our Aunts, we heard many great ones. My family moved from Brooklyn when I was five, and one great blessing to me was hearing about many of the relatives in these pictures whose names I had heard, but whom I barely knew. This photo is among the earliest we found, dated 1934: on the left is my father (age 17) and my godfather, Peter Aridas, age 50). You can see how the ink on the back of the photo bled through when the photo was wet.
We worked for eight hours on Saturday, and even ordered in lunch so we would not have to take time to go out. We enjoyed dinner at a Greek (of course!) restaurant at the waterfront on Saturday evening, and on Sunday morning, regrouped for day two. This time, we set up shop on Aunt Alice’s dining room table which gave us much more room to spread out.
By using both a flatbed scanner and a portable Flip-Pal scanner, we digitized 400 photos. These raw and unedited images are now online in a private Flickr account, with links sent to all of our cousins. It will take time to crop and electronically tag each photo, but everyone now has access to what we accomplished.
I’m headed to Sparta, Greece, at the end of the month, with the hopes of finding additional documents on my family. My long-term goal is to create a family history book, incorporating many of the photos we scanned and the documents I obtained, along with some family stories. The next generations — Gianna and beyond — will not know their ancestors unless our generation does its part.