Label those photographs!

Amy Sarah and MargaretWe are always being reminded to label all our old photographs so that future generations know who is in them, and this is good advice. How many photos have we seen of our parents, grandparents, and further back if we are lucky, and we do not know who is in them and neither does any one else? A simple label on the back would have been so helpful! So yes, we should write on the back of the photos, with a soft pencil, at least a 2B or 3B, and include as much information as we have or can find out – names, relationships, place, and date or an approximation.

Digital photos

What about the photos we are taking now? I have been using a digital camera for over five years now and I rarely, if ever, make prints from them, so there is no opportunity to write on the back. Perhaps you are the same. I file the photos under a folder structure that tells me what the photos are related to but I rarely rename them from that awful img000001.jpg name given by the camera, relying on thumbnails once they are on my laptop to show me who is in the photo, and the file date to tell me when it was taken.

This is an adequate strategy for me right now, but will it help my family and our descendants in a few years time? If I get hit by a courier van tomorrow will they know what they are? If an interested niece is looking over them in 30 years time will she even recognise the other people in the photos that she appears in as a child? Leaving aside the issue of whether digital files will be accessible in a few years time unless we continually back them up onto the latest media, we need to identify our digital photos as completely as the printed ones. Who is in them, where was it taken, and by whom, and at what date, and what was the occasion.

Scanned photos

If you have borrowed photos from relatives or friends and scanned them. What have you named the files? If they are just called img0001.jpg and you don’t change the name you may remember in 20 or 50 years who is in it but your children may not. The old Agfa scanner made me think up a name then and there before it did the scan so I would try to name the people and include an estimated year in the name. My nice new Canon scanner names the files Scan10001.tif and so on, which makes the scanning process much quicker, and I have to go through them later and give them real names.

How can your computer help?

File Properties - Summary TabYour software may allow you to add more information. I use Windows XP and so I cannot speak for other operating systems. In Windows Explorer when I right-click on the file name and then select Properties I get a General tab which displays the name of file, type of file, the program to display the file, location, file size, dates and times of creation, modification and access, and whether the file is read-only or hidden.

I also see a Summary tab, which allows me to enter Title, Subject, Author, Category, Keywords and Comments. These fields can be very useful to add more information than you can reasonably include in the file name, such as the names of every person in a wedding group or family gathering photo, where you got the photo from, and the original photographer. The information you enter should be carried over when you change programs and operating systems, although there is no guarantee.

PicasaOther photo-organising software allows similar information to be included. I use Picasa to organise photos because it loads thumbnails quickly so I can see all the photos in a folder at once; I can organise photos into an appropriate order instead of just by file name or date; I can create albums of photos taken from any folders organised as I wish and upload the albums to the web for public or private viewing; and I can do basic enhancement of photos such as cropping, contrast adjustment and red-eye removal while saving the original in a separate folder. I can also add captions to each photo. The size of the thumbnails can be controlled – larger to recognise individuals, as in the photo; smaller to see what’s in the folder at a glance. Picasa is one of the Google family of tools and is well-designed and reliable. I like software that plays nice together with others, but there are alternatives.

FastStone Image ViewerI also use FastStone Image Viewer, which allows me to do bulk renames, resizes and conversions of photos, as well as the standard viewing and organising. Thumbnails are, again, very quick to load. It has a long list of features that I have not even begun to explore in depth, including the ability to crop, adjust contrast and colour, change resolution and add text or watermarks, all in batch mode, and all at once if you prefer, so you can whip through a whole folder at once. I use FastStone for preparing images for the web and for my family tree software.

Both tools can be downloaded for free. Of course, if you rely on these programs to include extra information on your photos there is no guarantee that it will be available to future generations.

Another possibility, although more limited, is to use the features of your family tree program. I use The Master Genealogist which allows the inclusion of exhibits – photos,scanned images of documents, audio, video, etc, and extra information can be stored about the exhibit concerned. The drawbacks to relying on family tree software are – 1. the possibility of changing software in the future; and 2. not all the photos you take will be included. If you take 30 photos at your grandchild’s birthday party you might include one as an exhibit, or perhaps two.

It’s a difficult issue to come to terms with, and I wish I could say that I have been diligent in recording information on my own photos, but no. Other than using the name of the file to identify the people, date and place of the photo, I have not, as yet, been systematic in recording information about the photos I scan, and even less in the photos I take now, but I have been inspired to continue. Possibly the File Properties solution is the best so far, especially if I could find a batch method of updating it.

I would love to know what your solution is.

Genealogy on Wikipedia

Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of Evidence! : citation & analysis for the family historian and Evidence explained : citing history sources from artifacts to cyberspace has rewritten the definition of “Genealogy” on Wikipedia, or at least the first two paragraphs. Her text, as she informed* the mailing list of the Association of Professional Genealogists, was as follows:

“Genealogy (from Greek: ?e?ea, genea, “family”; and ?????, logos, “knowledge”; often misspelled “geneology.”[1]) is the study and tracing of families. Because many unrelated individuals can share a common name, modern genealogical research is more than a collection of names affixed to pedigree charts. Rather, genealogy involves identifying living and deceased individuals, differentiating between individuals who bear the same name in the same place and time, establishing biological or genetic kinships, and reassembling families. By modern standards, reliable conclusions are based on the quality of sources (ideally original records, rather than derivatives), the information within those sources (ideally primary or firsthand information, rather than secondary or secondhand information), and the evidence that can be drawn (directly or indirectly) from that information. In many instances, genealogists must skillfully assemble circumstantial evidence to build a case for identity and kinship. All evidence and conclusions, together with the documentation that supports them, is then assembled to create a cohesive “genealogy” or “family history”.[2] Traditionalists may differentiate between these last two terms, using the former to describe skeletal accounts of kinship (aka family trees) and the latter as a “fleshing out” of lives and personal histories. However, historical, social, and family context is still essential to achieving correct identification of individuals and relationships.

“OVERVIEW
“Genealogists begin their research by collecting family documents and stories, creating a foundation for documentary research by which they may discover ancestors and living relatives. Genealogists also attempt to understand not just where and when people lived but also their lifestyle, biography, and motivations. This often requires – or leads to – knowledge of antiquated laws, old political boundaries, immigration trends, and historical social conditions.”

  1. ^ The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, in conjunction with the Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2000), Standards 1-72; National Genealogical Society, American Genealogy (Arlington, Virginia: NGS, rev. 2005), lesson 15, “Interpreting and Evaluating Evidence”; Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 3d ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000), Chap. 1, “Understanding Genealogical Research.”
  2. ^ The mythological origin of English kings is related in a number of derivative sources, such as The Scyldings, an article at Ancient Worlds. In this article one primary source cited is the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”. The following passage appears in the entry for A.D. 449: “Their leaders were two brothers, Hengest and Horsa; who were the sons of Wihtgils; Wihtgils was the son of Witta, Witta of Wecta, Wecta of Woden. From this Woden arose all our royal kindred, and that of the Southumbrians also.” In this context “royal kindred” refers to English kings. Reference: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Part 1: A.D. 1 – 748, part of The Online Medieval & Classical Library. Accessed 2005 March 11.

Of course, Wikipedia can be changed at any time by anyone, and what she has written has already been changed as I write this. You can read the full Wikipedia article here.

Does it sound like what you do? I’d like to think it’s what I do, collecting original sources with primary information and drawing conclusions  from the evidence. That’s what it boils down to, in the end – can we back up what we say with reliable evidence? Do we record the source of each piece of data we collect so that we know where we got it? Could we find it again, or let others know where to find it?

And are we building family trees or family histories? Do we collect names and dates, or do we try to “flesh out” what we know about our ancestors with the interesting details that make up real lives?

That’s the question that most interests me!

* Mills, Elizabeth Shown, Re: [APG] WIKIPEDIA; email message to apg-l@rootsweb.com on Tue 11 December 2007 at 11:25am (Eastern Daylight Time in Sydney, Australia).

My apologies if I haven’t cited this correctly.

Who wants to know about their family history?

A post from Ancestry.com about how little Americans in general know about their family history has surprised me. In summary, the results are:

  • Most 18- to 34–years-old Americans (83%) are interested in learning their family history. For older age groups the percentages were increasingly smaller.
  • Half of Americans know the name of only one or none of their great-grandparents.
  • One in five Americans don’t know what either of their grandfathers do or did for a living.
  • One in five Americans don’t know where their family lived before they came to America.
  • Four out of five Americans say they are interested in learning more about their family history, and yet half have never tried.

Source: Survey Reveals Americans’ Surprising Lack of Family Knowledge, 24-7 Family History Circle, Ancestry.com, 7 Dec 2007.

I wonder what the results of such a survey would be in Australia? I suspect they would be much the same. I think the biggest surprise for me is the number of young people interested in their family history. That four out of five under-35s are interested in knowing more about their ancestors came as a bit of a shock. After all, these are not the people you see in family history societies and libraries.

How can we share what we know about our family history with the younger members of our own families? How can we make it interesting for them?

I don’t think kids will be interested if we show them the things that we get excited about – certificates and mentions of our ancestors in newspapers and the like. They like stories. I tell my nieces stories about individuals – about their great-great-grandmother Margaret who went from Scotland to New Zealand with her family when she was four years old to settle in the new town of Auckland, and went on to marry a man who had kids already by a first marriage and died when he was only 46, leaving her with her own kids and his too. And I ask them to imagine what it must have been like for her, as a four-year-old, to travel on a sailing ship for months to the other side of the world and live in what must have looked like a wild west town – dirt streets and horses and all.

Kids need to be involved, and all of this age group are much more accepting of new technology. Not just accepting, but expecting! They expect the internet to work like we expect the phone to work. Put it to use!

  • You could get them to create a family tree on Ancestry or FindMyPast or GenesReunited or one of the many other websites available for this purpose.
  • You can show them what is available on the web and how it can help build up a picture of the ancestor in question.
  • You can give them copies of photos of their ancestors and get them to upload them and link them to their family tree.
  • They could then print out a chart of their ancestors, complete with photos. They might be inspired to hunt for missing ones!
  • You could put them in touch with distant cousins and show them how they are related.

The possibilities are endless. Young adults could also be more involved by handling the web side, copying photos and hunting out more information.

And what about you? Do you know what your grandfathers did, or still do, for a living?

Do you know where your family (or families) lived before they came to Australia?

Do you know the names of your great-grandparents? Especially on the female side?

Do you know which of your younger relatives might be interested in the work you are doing in your own family history?

There is so much to learn, and so little time. The younger we start, the more time we will have, and the more we can build and what has been done before. It’s not just a hobby for the retired!

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