Episode 73: What I Learned by Digitally Organizing My Photographs

Working on the MasterClass on Digital Photo Organizing with MemoryWeb has taught me a few things.  It’s reinforced my love for using a digital photo organizer because it makes it so easy to find the exact image I’m looking for when it’s needed.  But it also helped me see my research deficits. 

In the process of “cataloging” all my images I found some long lost images.  The steps in the process made me realize what I have and what I’m missing in the way of family history information for some of the images.  

The goal of my research for a long time was to focus on discovering my paternal grandmother’s family history from her back. Unfortunately, that means that I didn’t collect all the details for more recent generations.  It’s easy to think of the past and not the present. Now, all that research on her family did result in me becoming a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. But as I tagged photos of her siblings I wondered about them?  AND why I didn’t have photos of all of them. 

It was the rediscovery of images of her sisters and my grandmother’s obituary with the names of her pallbearers that woke me up.  Visualize me hitting my hand on my forehead here. I realized that some of her sibling’s descendants might still be living. Since I live in the area that’s home to many of them I’ve been working at lightning speed trying to find those folks.  Hope I’m not too late. 

It’s the organizer that made me see the holes in the story. 

In MemoryWeb, the approach was pictures and metadata first.  However, I discovered that it’s a lot easier to add people first in this genealogy friendly program.  

When you create a person using the people tab,  you fill out their profile with names–maiden and nicknames too, but also their life dates.  It also acts as a quick check to see what you have and what you don’t. Oh boy…there was a lot of missing information.  So here’s a reminder…don’t forget your living relatives. 

When you’re ready to tag a person in an image their information is already there so you don’t have to add a new person’s name. 

Then think of a way to differentiate between relatives with the same name.  Let me tell you a few things about French Canadian families…my grandfather was Joseph Eugene, but everyone called him Gene UNTIL his son Eugene Joseph was born. Then they started calling him Joseph. To tell them apart, nicknames weren’t going to work, so I added b. and their birth year to the field with the surname.  Since French Canadian women are usually born with Marie as their first name, a different middle name, and OMGoodness, a commonly used nickname I used the same rule for the women. 

Next, it’s good practice to create an album in the program for each of those people. It makes it a lot easier to share those digital albums with relatives. Since you can have as many albums as you want it doesn’t matter if you digitally flag an image in several albums. 

For each image, estimate when you think it was taken. If you’ve added a birth year for a person tagged, MemoryWeb will tell you how old the person was at the time of the image.  It’s a visual timeline and a double check to make sure both the identification and the time period fits. For instance, a picture that shows an elderly person that you’ve tagged with a name might not depict the right person if MW says they’d be 30 at the time of the picture. 

My research log has grown since I started critically looking at my images and tagging them.  Bet yours will too. 

For instance, My Aunt’s husband is represented by a single photo likely taken around the time they were dating. They divorced.  But no one seems to know what happened to him after that. Now I have to find out. It’s a genealogical rabbit hole. 

Their baby died of whooping cough in infancy…could there be a picture of him in the collection ? There might be an image of him hanging on a living room wall, or as my grandmother called it…her parlor.  The answer is perhaps. My next solo episode will be “Who’s that baby?”  

I love looking at all your photos because honestly, I don’t have many images from before 1930 for either my father or mother’s family.  They just weren’t picture people. 

So here’s what I’m doing (and you can too).  I’m making a list by picture number. 

On the chart will be the picture number, the name of the person, and a checklist of what I need to find out about either the picture clues or the person supposedly depicted. 

I’m actively looking for the descendants of my grandmother’s siblings.  No, they don’t appear to be any on my DNA matches. Few of her sisters had children, but her brothers did. 

I’m combing genealogy sites looking for them.  You know how it goes. You have to find marriage records for women to follow their lines. Usually, in genealogy searches we go from the present backward, but in this case, it’s starting with census and moving forward in time. A colleague used to call this reverse genealogy. 

In my collection is an image of my great grandfather, Harry. He was a man of mystery for many years. The photo is in pieces and glued to a shoebox lid.  On a cousin’s Ancestry page is the same picture whole, only it’s attributed to the wrong person. Did you know that you can add comments to images you discover on Ancestry profiles?  You can. So I did.   

Of course, reaching out through Ancestry (or other genealogy sites) isn’t a sure way of connecting with lost cousins but it’s a chance.  First look to see when the person was on their Ancestry page last. If it was yesterday then maybe they are active researchers. If it was last year or before, then it’s hard to know if they’ll be interested in hearing from you.  In each message, I state my name and how I’m related to them. I also offer bait in the way of new photos and new information that I’m willing to share. 

Wish me luck!  If you want to be the first to find out when the next LIVE Digital Photo Organizing Class will be held, add your name to the mailing list. The link is in the show notes. 

Want to try MemoryWeb for yourself? You can  go to www.memoryweb.me/pd30.  You’ll save 30% on the subscription and be able to try it. 

Mystery Photo of the Month: The Glassmire Brothers are looking for Family. Read more here.

Related Episodes:

Episode 67: Solving Photo Mysteries


About Maureen Taylor:

Maureen is a frequent keynote speaker on photo identification, photograph preservation, and family history at historical and genealogical societies, museums, conferences, libraries, and other organizations across the U.S., London and Canada.  She’s the author of several books and hundreds of articles and her television appearances include The View and The Today Show (where she researched and presented a complete family tree for host Meredith Vieira).  She’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Better Homes and Gardens, The Boston Globe, Martha Stewart Living, Germany’s top newspaper Der Spiegel, American Spirit, and The New York Times. Maureen was recently a spokesperson and photograph expert for MyHeritage.com, an internationally known family history website and also writes guidebooks, scholarly articles and online columns for such media as Smithsonian.com. Learn more at Maureentaylor.com

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