On Friday 4th Feb 2011 I was able to indulge in talking about 2 of my passions – old family photographs and information management! I presented a short 10 minute talk to the Taunton 4N networking group entitled ‘Flash, Bang Wallop, What a picture!’
I explained what information you could find within an old Victorian photograph in terms of:
- info about the subject – their age, gender, height etc
- info from the fashion & hairstyles worn
- info from the setting of the studio and subject’s pose
- info from the setting of the photograph - the shape & design of the mount
- info taken from looking at the photographer’s details
All of these can help you date a photograph and by dating it help to eliminate or shortlist candidates as its subject, if it hasn’t been labelled.
I also explained how good information management allows these artefacts to be properly labelled and the information passed down to subsequent generations. A common ‘mistake’ is for people (understandably) to label photographs with the relationship to themselves. However, in the norm, people have at least 2 grandmas, 4 great-grandfathers etc and for different generations or branches of the family this information becomes increasingly meaningless over time. One of our family albums has been labelled by my grandmother and my uncle at different times. In the future when descendants can no longer recognise whose handwriting is whose, these labels will only be of limited value.
So when labelling a photo whether on the back (in pencil!) or labelling the electronic version of it, ensure you include (if known!) the full name of the subject and the date & place of the photo. For women, I suggest labelling them with their married name and then maiden name – so ‘Marian NIXON nee BARBER’ if the photo is taken after she got married and as ‘Marian BARBER later NIXON’ for photos of her as a child or before marriage.
As always, it’s about thinking about the audience or user of the information both now AND in the future. So much information is lost when photos aren’t labelled or are only labelled in part. Once it’s gone….it’s gone and only detailed research and a dose of luck may help retrieve it….!