Monday, July 28, 2008

Dealing With Thousands of Photographs, etc.--Step 1

We decided as a first step to "sample" one of the boxes. There we found hundreds of photos, a number of documents, vital records (including some for living family members!), and a lot of ephemera. Here's a partial inventory of stuff in that first box:

  1. Photographs, amounting to several hundred.
  2. Two family tree (descendancy) charts, filled out to the sixth generation (how cool is that?!).
  3. Several funeral programs.
  4. School records.
  5. About a hundred newspaper articles dating from the 1930's to the 1970's.
  6. Three Greyhound bus tickets from 1954.
  7. Military records for several individuals.
  8. Three life insurance policies taken out on infants in the 1940's and 1950's.
  9. Two family address directories produced for family reunions in the 1970's.
  10. Several high school diplomas from the 1930's.
As I said, that's only some of the stuff. Photos clearly are the dominant matter there. But here's the deal with the photos in this box: they include portraits from the late 1800's through about the 1940's; Kodak snapshots from the 1940's through the 1970's; and Polaroids from the 1970's and '80's. The portrait type pictures are great--like some we've posted here before. Most, however, are in need of serious rehabilitation. The Kodak snapshots have held up surprisingly well. They are all black & white, and generally show a sense of composition on the part of the photographers. The Polaroids are in better physical shape than one might expect, but frankly, they are just not as nice in most respects as the others. Many of them are contained in small plastic albums from which they are difficult to remove. Some of the pockets contain as many as five pictures. They may not be keepers.

A major problem with the photographs is identification of subject, date, and place. As for the older unidentified pictures, there are few living people who can credibly identify the individuals in them. Isn't amazing how we fail to label our photos?!

One of the things that struck me was a photocopy (and a bad one, too) of two portraits probably taken in the early 1900's. Somebody, I hope, has the originals, but who?

I think the next thing to do is go through all the boxes and segregate the photos, the documents, and the ephemera into separate temporary storage. This will take some discipline to do efficiently, because of the "Hey-look-at-this!" factor.

I've also begun a list of family members likely able to identify the photographs. We did identify a few today, though that was not our main purpose. By the way, I think it useful when labelling these to include a line that says: "ID'd by (name), (relationship), on (date)."


NevadaGenealogist said...

What a great start. With some unidentified lose photos I received, I had some luck grouping them by size then checking the backs and edges for the processing marks/and or photo numbers etc. By having bits of info on one photo in the group it helped to id several others. Hopefully you have interested family to help with the process? I am certain many of us will learn a great deal as you sort and process these treasures. Best of luck. Judy

Anonymous said...


Good post and what a challenge! You seem to have a good plan in place.

Let me know if you need help in the 'rehabilitation' of those photos.

"Guided by the Ancestors"

Evelyn Yvonne Theriault said...

Thomas MacEntee recommended your blog to me and I've really enjoyed reading your posts.
I too have a fair amount of photographs and ephemera and I'm looking forward to writing about it but it seems like an enormous task!
One interesting piece I've found is a photograph of my mother and father that was taken in a rather glamorous Montreal nightclub in the mid 1950s. I "googled" it and found it was actually part of Montreal's golden hey-day.
I like the way you're doing research around your papers and when I finish my own I'll let you know.
Evelyn in Montreal