A cautionary tale, young researcher, I have for you today!
Y'all, this is probably the most perfect gif in a blog post ever. What could be better than reminding all of you that Justin Timberlake once crossdressed and danced with Beyonce to "All the Single Ladies"!?
So how did this get to be in the blog? I'll tell you: I want a hilariously memorable title that will REMIND YOU, you researchers, that if you know someone in a family history picture you need to label them. Now. Right now. Yes, you. Write on that old picture and tell the next generation who those people are - and don't use nicknames without putting a real name too.
I try to give some backstory with a lot of my blog posts. So here's the backstory. It's a cautionary tale. One of my researcher friends put all of her family history information on an external hard drive.
Everything had to be rescanned. Everything had to be re-located. E-mails had to be searched. Old contacts, if they were still alive, had to be found again. It was really starting over from square one. This process is still ongoing for her. There is a silver lining - reconnecting with cousins that haven't been spoken to in about seven years (not that it was intentional, sometimes you fall out of touch with people) has been great for her. Yet, in her search for reorganizing her information she has found something, and it's a recurrent something, people don't identify ancestry photos specifically.
Photo Identification (that makes you want to bite someone's face):
Ladies and Gentlemen, this fine specimen to the right of the screen is a perfectly labeled picture.
This picture is a genealogical gold mine. Look at it. Here's why I love it: 1) It's super old, which is super cool. It's oozing history. You can practically taste the American dream in this picture. Westward expansion. Covered wagons. Calico dresses. It's amazing! 2) The ancestors are LABELED CLEARLY IN THIS PICTURE! Look at this! The labeling is even a bonus - because not only is EVERY, SINGLE ANCESTOR named with their named written on them. You can easily find Cora and Alice and Mrs Newcomb in the picture. This is great!! So, now that you've seen the unicorn picture of all old pictures, here's my list of photo identification pet peeves:
2. Naming people without identifying their location in the picture. This one is pretty legit for me. It's so difficult to look at a group of people you've never seen before...and the back of the picture just THROWS names out there. No particular order. No rhyme or reason. This is even done with digital copies. A researcher that I know found a picture of her grandfather, his brother, and their cousins. The boys were really generally identified - the caption to the picture listed all of their names. It did not identify the positioning of the children in the picture. This might be THE MOST frustrating thing for a researcher because it's such a tease. Here, right here, are all of the ancestors that you've been searching for. Their names are even listed on the document! The next generation, though, has no idea who anyone is, and so the true identification of the picture hasn't happened and may never happen. Solution: If you know someone in the picture, always label left to right using their full names. That way, no one is confused. You can even specify - Left to Right: John "Bubba" Smith, James Smith (shorter), John Smith, Sr., etc. Or can even use numbers!
3. Using rows...when they're not real rows. This one really applies to large family pictures. The identification by this method can be so confusing. People tend to overlap, the rows aren't neat and tidy, smaller relatives are sitting on cousins laps - there are too many variables. Solution: One way to over come this is by numbering digital copies and creating a legend for the next generation. I'm writing this as someone who has tried to go back to row labeled pictures...and it can be really confusing.
4. Referring to location in a picture...by giving the "placemark" a nickname. This applies to pictures with multiple people and large group photos featuring rows. Often there are smaller ancestors sitting on the laps of their mothers or grandmothers. This maternal (or parental) figure will sometimes be referred to as "Nonna" or "Nan." What's the problem with this you ask? The next generation may not know who "Moo Moo" was! Solution: The solution to this problem is the same as using nicknames. It's important to record the pet names for ancestors. So, be sure that it is documented WITH their given name.
5. Not naming anyone at all. I'm not talking about actually not naming someone in a picture. This is something that my ancestor were notorious for (please see image to the right). They would write cutesy things on the back of old pictures and send it to their aunts, cousins, daughters, etc. And then those relatives would keep said picture...and then a researcher three generations later STILL CAN'T GUESS WHO YOU ARE! As much fun as this is - because the original holder of the picture knew the subject - future generations do not know.
I saw a post on Facebook about this subject. The user stressed the importance of not only labeling pictures with names, dates, and location but also emphasized the importance of recording information for heirlooms and keeping this list in a safe place or with an attorney. I agree with this. All researchers work hard on their family history. We put a lot of time and effort into our research. We save it for the people who come after us. Don't let all of your hard work go to waste because you didn't want to write on the back of an original picture or you felt that using a nickname to identify someone would be sufficient.