Devon Noel Lee
The Most Important Thing To Do In Genealogy This Year
I am a family history fanatic.
I’m obsessed with decluttering and downsizing.
Both fields of interest revealed the number one task family historians need to do but aren’t.
It’s not adding new names to the tree.
It’s not ensuring you have a citation for every fact.
It’s not organizing and downsizing your genealogy files.
It’s so simple that many families fail to do it and will kick themselves when it’s too late.
What is this simple, crucial task?
Identifying and Labeling Photos
If you’ve sorted through the possessions of someone who has to downsize their loved one's home after a death, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.
Flipping through my grandmother’s photo album after she died, the oldest surviving member of her generation, I felt a tug in my heart.
Would anyone be able to help me piece together the mystery men and women in her photo collection?
Perhaps my mother would remember the names of the unidentified people and places.
Sadly, my mother died 11 months after my grandmother.
Not only did I miss the opportunity to ask about their photo collections, but I also had the make the hardest decision any genealogist has to make.
I had to decide what I could afford to send from my mom’s home in Houston to my home in Iowa with a VERY limited budget.
Guess what didn’t make that journey and found its way into the garbage?
Don't Wait Until It’s Too Late
The unlabeled pictures problem is as old as photography. People have been failing to label photos since the mid-1800s. If it weren’t true, there wouldn’t be unnamed persons from orphaned photo albums on a website like DeadFred.com.
This year, stop overlooking this critical family history task because it’s simple.
Before researching another genealogy brick wall or evaluating a new research hint, ensure you have identified all the photos in your family archive. Then, if yours is complete, seek out the collections of your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
I kick myself for not being more aggressive in gaining access to my father’s first cousin's photo collection. The photos she promised to share with me when up in a house fire the week she planned to mail them to me. I let five months pass from when she told me about the photos to the house fire.
I wish I had a time machine to turn back time.
Give Your Photos Their Stories
Who are the children in this photo of Robert Victor Zumstein and his wife Clementine? What year was the photo taken?
Whose house was it taken in?
Flipping through my grandmother’s photo album after she, the oldest surviving member of her generation, died I felt a tug in my heart. Would anyone be able to help me piece together the mystery men and women in her photo collection? Perhaps my mother would remember the names of the unidentified people and places.
Sadly, mother died as well and the unlabeled photos problem hit a heart-wrenching dead end. The opportunity to ask about her mother’s photo collection and her own was gone. No one was left alive to tell me anything.
DON’T WAIT until it’s too late to label those photos.
Labeling photos is not a new skill. It’s so easy, anyone who knows how to write can do it. You don’t need a particular app, a computer, or special training. The unlabeled pictures problem is as old as photography. People have been failing to label photos since the mid-1800s. If it weren’t true, there wouldn’t be unnamed persons from orphaned photo albums on a website like DeadFred.com.
This year, stop overlooking this critical family history because it’s simple. Dare to be
different. Dare to be the one whom many will sing your praises long after you’re gone. Be a labeler!!!
Dig out every family photo album you own. Dig in Aunt Ethel’s attic. Go to Uncle Larry’s barn. Visit the crazy Grandma with ten cats (but take plenty of allergy medicine if you need to).
Flip through the albums and loose photos and tag the photos that are missing facts such as:
What’s not shown?
Once you have marked your unlabeled photos, search your memory or query those of your relatives to discover the stories behind the photos. When you have the information, use an archival quality pen to label the back of your printed photos.
If your photos are all digital, do the same with them. This time, you’ll need a photo program that tags your images. Digitally mark the photos with the pertinent information.
Better yet, create a digital photo album with CAPTIONS!!!! That way you have a nice family treasure as well as labeled photos.
↪️ Are you new to genealogy? Grab your copy of our REE Beginner Guides:
If every person, whether an experienced genealogist or just starting out, took the time to sift through their picture collections, then we would have a richer collective photo narrative.
Don’t let the photos you, or your relative once owned become an orphaned photo in an estate sale or antique shop. We can’t recover the meaning of a picture when the person knowing the answers can no longer communicate with us.
For more preservation and genealogy tips, check out the following: