Identify Who’s in Those Old Photographs

Recently I obtained about 500 digital photos. scanned from originals taken by my grandparents on my mother’s side and my parents. Most were of good quality, with some dating back to the 1880’s and a genuine treasure for a genealogist who enjoys collecting photos, histories and stories about our ancestors.

But, a lesson has been learned worthy of passing on. Few of these photographs had anything that helped identify whose photo this was. Some were obvious, and yet others are great remembrances of people long since forgotten.

My mother was called in to help, and many copies of photos were sent to her. She wasn’t feeling well, and chose to put off reviewing them until she felt better. Unfortunately, she passed away before she could offer any help–removing a dwindling possibility of recognizing who some of these people really were.

Some of the best photos in these collections–most dating back to the 1920’s and 1930’s–had writing on the back that named individuals and locations. That really helps in putting these photos into perspective; but unfortunately only about 5% were so marked.

Of interest–I hear from a cinematographer cousin that we should not write on the backs of photos because it can distort the photographic paper and the photo image as well; but no distortion was apparent in this group of old photographs. What is distorting with respect to these images is that many are meaningless– other than for general interest–because we don’t know who these people were. Baby pictures of an 85 year old relative today are quite difficult to discern; and in most cases impossible.

I have learned a difficult and disappointing lesson, and the family genealogical history that I hope to leave for future generations will no doubt be left without its full richness because those that we wonder about can no longer be identified. I have identified Nick Glinnis as somebody’s cousin–but whose? I am almost certain that one of the four young men in the sailboat is Uncle Will, who died in 1926 by an accidental electrocution–but which one? And who was that lady holding my mother when she was about a year old? I really wonder.

Please make it your weekend project in the very near future to go through your family photos and identify who, where and why on those family photos. To soothe some feelings of guilt, obtain a small package of address labels and write or type the information on them–and attach the labels to the backs of the photographs.

One day, when you are long gone and your kids and grandkids decide to discover their roots; perhaps those people and events you felt were so important that you recorded their history can be shared and understood by those so dear to you.

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