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Keeping Your Relatives In The Picture
Gordon Johnson

Gordon Johnson Index Page

 Family History

Advice from Gordon Johnson on family photos.

Here is an easy-to-follow series of hints and tips on how to cope with family photographs. These are an important part of your family history - a visual record of people, many of whom may be long gone by now.

Never write directly on the back of a photo, or you can damage the front. Always add your caption on a label, or directly on the page of your photo album. Some labels are o.k. for sticking on the back of thick photos, but not on thin or fragile ones.

Never stick photos into an album. The glue may damage the pics, or prevent their removal for copying.

Use photo corners or photo albums with clear pockets.

Try to use albums that have enough space for captions.  Flip albums are poor in this way, but you can stick small captions on the plastic sleeve.

Every photo should have a caption, otherwise it will later become useless.

Captions should be immediately below, or immediately to the lower left or right of a picture.

Ensure that it is clear which caption relates to which picture on a page.

Name people in sequence: back row, left to right; front row, left to right.

Take a note of how newspapers caption pictures, as a general guide.

If space is available, give a married womanís maiden surname in brackets: e.g. Mrs. Jane (Brown) Smith.

Date the picture - the exact date it was taken, or the month and year if possible; or at least the year. If not clear date is known, a period will do (1943/45), based on the apparent ages of people, especially children.

Locate the event - where it was taken, and why, e.g. Jane Smithís house in Watten, March 1970, showing Uncle Jack (Brown) on his visit from Canada.

Speak NOW to elderly relatives about their photo albums, to ensure the pictures are identified. Once old folk die, their knowledge of who is pictured is often lost. Donít leave it to someone else to do - they might not!

If you use a modern computer program for your family history, most now allow photos to be scanned in, so hunt for pictures of each of your relatives, preferably a close-up shot. If relatives donít want to part with a picture you would like, local photographic firms can copy an old print quite cheaply. Newer computers with a scanner, suitable software and printer can also produce a good quality copy. Even if you canít deal with this yourself, there are lots of people who can.

Examine local newspapers for adverts by photographers and computer firms.

Now, you are still left with the problem of identification. Once your elderly relatives have looked at the pictures and identified as many as possible, you will be left with a number of vague descriptions: "Uncle's John's wife", or "Jeannie's school pal - they were inseparable until the family moved away". These are clues which you will have to hunt down by speaking to other people, or looking for extra information in other pics, e.g. a school class group with names, where you can identify the school pal; or other pics in which Uncle John's wife appears and may be described differently "John's girl, Gracie", or find Uncle John's marriage or death certificate to get the name of his wife.

You can spend lots of time on this photo search.  My wife and I got all the old photos inherited from our parents and spread them out on the floor, trying to compare unidentified people in different groups. The same process can be used to date photos, as people and their clothes will be obviously older in one pic than another, and if you know one date, you can mark the other as before or after that date.

Have fun identifying the pictures. It is a game for all the family - even young kids with their sharp eyesight can help out with a street or shop name in the background of a photo.