Don't Toss Old Photos
Time to Identify Your Photos
Problem: A Box of Photos With No Names or Dates
You think you'll always remember the people in the photograph and the event. Unfortunately, once 30 or 40 years goes by, the memory may not be as clear, or—worst-case-scenario—you might die. If no one knows who the people in the photo are, it becomes fairly meaningless.
All too often, the descendants just toss out those pictures that are unlabeled. That's really sad to see family history dumped in the trash. Don't let that happen in your family. Label your own photos.
Now, if these are inherited photos and not labeled, you have a bit of work ahead. Whatever you do, don't toss those photos.
Oh No! There Are No Names in This Album
Look for Related Photos to Compare
Vintage photos were a special occasion activity such as during a visit. Usually, only one person owned a camera so they were taking the picture and weren't in it.
There were 12 pictures on a roll of film. Sort through your photos for similar people and the same clothes and maybe the same scenery and buildings. If you are lucky, one of the photos will be labeled or at least give you more clues for the time, place, and possibly people.
A genealogy blogger said, "It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the picture looks like.
More Ideas for Identifying Photos
If you inherited a batch of photos from a relative but have no idea who the people in the pictures are, here's what you can do:
- Check with aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. See if they recognize anyone.
- Ask everybody, including neighbors or members of the church that your relatives belonged to.
- Post some on Facebook and tag any relatives who are on there.
- If they are very old, check to see if your genealogy library or local historical society has family photos. Look for your grandparent, aunts, and uncles to compare with what you have.
- Check on the genealogy sites like Ancestry for photos others have shared of their ancestors/their siblings/children, etc. that match your name. I'll look for people who are sharing the most photos and adding information and then send them a message looking to see if they can help me.
Check the Photo on Tineye.
Add the Tineye app to your computer and check photos with it. The search turns up other matching photos online. This helps you identify yours.
I'm Glad My Ancestors Saved These Photos
A Friend Says She Is Dumping Her Family Photos
It appalled me to hear a friend say casually that she was going to toss the unnamed photos she inherited. I turned to a photo identification group that I joined on Facebook and asked them for advice.
A photo expert suggested these steps:
I hope that she has contacted everyone in her family to see if they are interested in owning them. I was able to identify many family photos when I connected with a cousin who had photos with the same people in them.
I found copies of some of the other photos on Ancestry and was able to identify them from there.
Contact the genealogical and historical societies in your area and see if they may be interested. Your friend should be able to give some surnames that may be connected to the photos.
Please talk her out of dumping them.
Are Your Photos Labeled?
Don't Leave the Next Generation With This Problem
For any photos that you print out, take some time to write the names and dates on the back. Make sure you put the names and dates on the digital images, too.
Additional information is a bonus, but at least get the basics. I'm sorting my mother's photo collection, which includes some that she inherited. She was pretty good about writing the names on them, but some just say "Ren" or "Harriet's son." I know Ren is my grandfather, Lorenzo Martin, but if I don't write that out, will the next generation know that?
The other name, Harriet, doesn't ring a bell, so I need to scan that photo and see if my cousins on Facebook can help me identify it. It would have helped if she had put Harriet's son, Joe. With a number of Harriets on the family tree, now I have to guess which is the right one.
Get the Photos Labeled
What You Need for Labeling Photos
This is an example. You are looking for archival quality, non-bleeding, fade-proof, acid-free pen. Buy one online or in the scrapbooking section of a craft store or Walmart.
I've used this one and some other brands. Even with non-bleeding, be sure the ink is dry before stacking the newly labeled photos or placing them in a box with other photos.
Label them on the back, not on the face of the photo itself.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Virginia Allain