Got Pictures?

Picture This!

CollageItEver since the first photograph was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce,  people have been fascinated with photos.  In this digital age, there are millions of pictures taken with, of all things, a camera phone.  So now there are photos languishing in a perpetual state of digital pixelation without a prayer of being seen by future generations.  What to do, what to do!  And what of the hundreds of thousands of photos produced since 1826 that are sitting in boxes in attics, basements, or garages that are fading into obscurity because no one wants the task of sorting them.

Ah, yes, a picture paints a thousand words they say, but what if you have a thousand photographs that do not say any words at all.    Have you been left a box full of pictures and have no clue as to who the people and places in the pictures are, who took the pictures or when they were taken?  So what do you do with them…throw them out, give them away, sell them, or give them to your offspring, hoping they will be inspired to do what you are not inspired to do? (yeah…that always works)  What you need is just a little direction.

First, let’s talk about what you absolutely should keep.  Keep all the vintage pictures.  You know, the ones that look like they were taken in the 1800 and early 1900’s such as this wedding photo.IMG_0044

Even if you do not recognize the people or places in the photos, there is a very good possibility that you will discover their identity as you research your family history.  By the way, I have no idea who is in this photo, where it was taken, or by what studio. Anybody know who these people are?

This leads to my second point.  Crowd sourcing.  Huh?  Well, basically crowdsourcing is defined by Merriam-Webster (Merriam-Webster) “as the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community…”  Which is what I just did. (get it…wink, wink)

Next, keep all the pictures of people that you absolutely do recognize,Ernest - Version 2
no matter when the picture was taken.  People you can identify in one picture may help you identify people in other pictures that you have.  In other words, keep pictures of people.  Even if I didn’t know this guy (but I do), I would keep the picture.  It is not great quality, but it’s just too good to toss, don’t you think?!

What about scenery…you know the ones with mountains and trees that looks like it could be anywhere, or famous landmarks you can find on any postcard in any gas station. The only criteria I use to keep such scenery pictures is if it helps to tell or confirm a family story.  For instance, there was a significant flood in Cheyenne, Wyoming when my parents lived there.  I might keep it if I were doing a timeline, album, or book that has a story about my parents living in Wyoming.  However, if the photos are of poor quality or bad exposure.    There are also pictures of family farms, houses, or work places which are keepers because of their story enhancing or historic value.  You also could consider giving duplicates of significant photos, such as family portrait pictures, to other family members.  Several of my cousins have been very generous with their photos and I love them for that.  However, most duplicates can be tossed after the originals are digitized, saved, and backed up.

Once you decide what you want to keep, the dilemma becomes what to do with them.  Garage, basement or attic?  Just kidding!   It wasn’t such a huge problem in the past because most people kept only a few pictures which were usually of family members or close friends.  This is how my aunt, now passed away, displayed her photographs.sc04c74e52  One of the great things about living in the 21st century, is the variety of ways available to deal with your array of pictures.  At the very least, you can put them in any kind of album as long as the album is made of inert polypropylene instead of non-archival PVC plastics.  You might even be able to find these albums in your local drugstore.  For information on preserving your photos, check out this link to learn more.

Should you display your pictures and how should you display them to preserve their quality?  One of the most important facts to take into account is the sun factor.  In other words, display your pictures, whether a photograph or an actual painting, away from sunlight!  In times past, heavy curtains would block the light from windows.  Men wore hats and women wore hats with veils to keep the sun at bay.  Now we know that sunlight can reek havoc, not only on people, but on our precious paintings and photographs. That said, do you need to live in a bat-like cave in order to safely display your photos?  No…but you can find a wall without direct sunlight, use uv safe glass in your frames, and display copies of your irreplaceable photographs.

Displaying your numerous pictures can be overwhelming.  One of the more creative ideas I’ve seen is to take a standing picture frame room divider and adapt each opening to insert a digital picture frame into the openings.  You will have several pictures changing within each digital frame.  Unlike a traditional frame that might have only one photo or a collage of photos, you will have several frames all in one place with pictures changing every few minutes.  You could actually have hundreds of pictures to view throughout the day!


So take that first step by sorting your pictures into keep and toss.  You might even ask a sibling or other family member to help you.  Remember, when you work together with others, the process goes faster and is more fun (think of the memories shared).  But if you’d rather do it yourself, start with the older pictures. which are usually the keepers.  Toss or distribute duplicates.  Last, pick and choose pictures that not only speak to you, but will speak to your descendants.  Speaking of descendants, be sure to label the pictures you want them to know about and don’t be shy about telling them to pass down the family picture treasure trove as heirlooms.


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Marlene

    Great ideas Anita. I have boodles of very old “keepers” including tintypes. I bought a scanner & am slowly scanning all of them whether I know who they are or not. They are being posted by a cousin on Ancestry indicating the family names with whom they may be associated or the identity if it’s known. The result is that some unidentified pics have been named by others with the same pic & identified ones have assisted others who don’t have names on theirs. Photos I don’t wish to retain have been sent to associated families & others are being donated to historical societies in the area where the photos were produced. This is a massive project, I like your idea of tossing ones that are not great & being a little more selective, I’ve learned that can be very helpful. One thing I might add is that I have numerous photos of “Religious” priests and nuns that I have mainly identified by contacting various Religious Orders on-line. They have great archives and provide very detailed information. Old photographs tell many stories, it’s remarkable to look generations back & see a remarkable resemblance to one of your family members. Oh those genes!

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