By Pamela Pacelli-Cooper
President, Verissima Productions Incorporated
Who takes the photos in your family? Do you have stacks and stacks of albums from past years, a Picasa or Flickr account with thousands of images, or do you stay away from taking photographs because it’s too much trouble? And what about photos from your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents’ generation? Were your ancestors photo- inclined? Or are there just one or two precious pictures of family gatherings?
May is National Photography month, and it’s a good time to think about the ways that photographs, past and present, can help create the context of your family history. Using photographs to enrich personal histories involves three major functions:
Identification: Who is the person/people in the photograph you own? When was it taken? Where was it taken? What is going on around the people in the image? If you can follow some of the clues in even the simplest photograph, you may learn things about your family that provide missing details about how they lived and what they enjoyed, details not found in genealogical records or oral histories handed down over the generations.
Organization: Where are your family photos? Online? In a closet? In someone else’s closet? Pulling everything together into categories that make sense is often a huge task, but one that can yield great benefits for generations to come. If you organize your photos, which includes pruning your collection, you can ensure that noone down the line says: “ Didn’t Joe have seven siblings? Where are their pictures?”
Preservation: While it’s tempting to think you can save everything online, the Internet is far from foolproof. Photo sites can be hacked, go down, or disappear altogether. Familiarizing yourself with the best methods for backing up your files digitally and preserving older, valuable prints and photographs (such as daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes) in hard copy is essential for maintaining a complete family record.
With these three steps and help from the listed online resources it’s easy to get started on making your family photographs a rich and informative part of your history.
Photo credits in top banner from L to R: Young Child, 1850 (public domain); Brownie Camera (Library of Congress); Oregon Ladies Basketball Team (public domain).