I mentioned in a recent post that Julie has collected a large quantity of family historical records. This includes a surprising quantity of photos, some of which were waiting for us at our parent’s homes. Since we’re “free as birds” we’ve been spending some of our time there. Looking at stacks of photo albums, suitcases full of loose photos, and Julie working tirelessly at assembling our family history compelled me to devise a project to put all of these photos online and provide a system for documenting them.
As I looked through the photos, the thing that really frustrated me was the fact that most of them had no documentation. Some did, and we’re lucky for that. The rest are just photos with a hint here or there via resemblance, an occasional print date, etc. Old photos are cool – at least many of them. Even the ones with documentation mostly just state simple facts – who, when and maybe where. Very few provide family or other historical context, what was happening in the photo or what led to the photo, etc. Julie and I are very fortunate that my mother and both her parents are alive and their memories are quite good. They’ve already played a significant role in this project, and we plan for that to continue.
The information that can be used to make a photograph a meaningful family heirloom exists in the minds of people that know something about the photograph. As time passes, memories fade and people die. Attempts are made to pass along these memories, but rarely are they organized or lasting. Computers and the Internet provide amazing opportunities to solve problems like these. So far, I’ve uploaded around 12,000 photographs. Most of these came from our parents collections – their own and their ancestor’s. It would be interesting to know how many photo prints others have in their collections, so please take a moment to answer the following poll:
When someone comes around to the conclusion that they want to “organize” their photo collection, the task can seem overwhelming. To scan or not to scan, and how to I approach scanning? Should I physically organize the photos? What about photos that are already in albums? How do I document the photos, and how do I associate the documentation with a given photo? The questions are many, and I haven’t found many useful discussions of the subject.
Between Joel and I, we’ve put together a pretty good solution to the problem of DIY computerization of a significant photo collection. We’re working hard to perfect the solution, and in the process, we’ve discovered quite a few things. One of the more significant is that it is REALLY hard to get people interested in the problem. This is much like Genealogy in general – either you are interested and have time and have the propensity and you work on it, or the stars aren’t aligned and you don’t. It’s a lot of work (Genealogy AND organizing your photo collection). Computerization and the right approach dramatically changes the level of work involved, but it’s still a lot of work. I’m sure I’ll talk about the photo organization approach more in the future.
We have concerted efforts by several companies today to index public records. The amount of information available already makes the pursuit of genealogy through online research very fruitful – to the point where offline Genealogists can no longer claim that there is nothing but junk online with respect to Genealogy – that’s simply no longer the case.
Why aren’t there more efforts in place to promote the indexing of family records like photographs? These would naturally be conducted by the families themselves, since they are the ones that would gain from the exercise if anyone would. I suppose it gets back to the problems I discussed in an earlier post about gaining broader participation. Let me conclude with another poll: