Thursday, September 2, 2010

About Those Family Photos

If you are reading this blog, you probably have some interest in family history. You may even be the person in the family, like me, who is responsible for generations of photographs. 

Here is what you should do right away: First, get your old photos out of the basement, attic, or garage, and into some kind of acid-free storage in a dry, cool place. My sister and I put a lot of my mother's old photos into new acid-free boxes and I thought they were safe for generations.  However, someone at the historical archive where I volunteer pointed out that the photos themselves are acidic and need to be separated by acid-free paper. An inexpensive solution, suggested by the archive staff, is to use cut-up printer paper (just check the packaging to be sure that it is acid-free) and put it in between the photos. For more information about storage, see the article from Family Tree Magazine, Preserve Family Photographs

Next, get out a soft-lead pencil and carefully label every single picture that you know about--who, when, where, and anything else you might know. See Safely Marking Your Photos from the same magazine, for the best tools for marking. 

Gosh, I sound bossy this morning, but when you see the following precious and unidentified photos from our families, you will understand the need for labeling.  

The first two are from a beautiful little doeskin-bound album of photos that were taken "back home" in New Brunswick by my mother. They are presumably friends and Crabtree relatives. We wish we knew. 

Relative? Friend?

Great Auntie? Neighbor? On the home farm, or ?

The next batch are real heartbreakers. They come from Beez's (okay, his real name is Bill) family on the German side, and we would love to know more about them. Fortunately, the first one contains enough hints that I was able to determine that this uniform was worn by members of the German Imperial Navy before and during World War I, that the cap was that of an NCO in the I. Werft Division, and that "sailors of the Werft Divisions were used to guard naval bases and as marine infantry on board ships." (Information from Imperial German Naval Uniforms, part of the amazing German Colonial Uniforms website). 

A grandfather, perhaps? A great-uncle? Look at that incredible bag he is holding!

This is the back of the German sailor's photo. Note that the marking in pencil has lasted, so far, for almost a hundred years! From the information here, we learn that the photo was taken in Dortmund, Germany. We still don't know the identity of the sailor, though.

She's lovely! Who is she? How sad that someone went to all the trouble of getting a professional photographer to take the picture, and then failed to tell us the name of the lady.

Even though this boy is unidentified, this photo makes me smile. I have a series of photos of little blond boys with sticky-outy ears from Bill's family, all taken around the time the boys of each generation were 7 or 8: Grandfather, father, son, and grandson. You would swear that they were all the same little boy, and this photo, although the boy is a little older, would fit right into the series.


  1. What a project! I've been mounting a similar project with my digitalized photos... thousands of them. Labeling and preserving, attaching searchable names. It's so time consuming, but completely worth it. Even these family photos on this blog get re-saved to my drives and backed up. For the future generations of Tech-Savvy family!

  2. Buck, he only has a couple of phrases. He mostly studies Latin and French.

    Ben, we are also working on transferring some old VCR tapes and home movies to digital. There will be a post on that project, for sure.

  3. Old photos: so intriguing, and you're so right: label them while you can!

  4. Great advice, and viewing all the unidentifieds was still fun! The little girl in the top photo is just too cute. Why are the chubby little legs so cute on her, and my chubby little legs...well, let's just say that the effect isn't the same!!

  5. Duffy...I was pawing thru this box of fotos from dad & am sure there are a couple of my great grandmother Blakely ...the American Indian. Can't wait to seebif the scanner I got @ a yard sale works! It's a flatbed so hopefully can get some uploaded for u although ur blog Is Crabbe (aka Crabtree) & Zarges families. If I get a desktop perhaps I can start my own offshoot of urs & include Blakely peeps.

  6. Sharon and Deb, it's good for me to look over all this great advice. I wonder when I'll start following it?

    Cheryl, your great grandmother was an American Indian? I'd love to see the photo and will gladly post it. It all fits in to the extended family tree. I would love to see you start a family history blog, too.


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