Photos: A Public Service Announcement [OT]

I can’t repeat this enough:

Every important photograph you own needs to have relevant information written on the back: date and names of subjects at the very least.

Digital photos can have the information embedded in the file.

You think you’ll always remember. You won’t. And even if you do, future generations will have no idea why you thought this photo was worth passing down.

(Talking to you, Grandma)


  1. I concur with both CIDUBill and Powers; *I* would’ve liked to have known who the people in 100s of photos I’ve been given were; OTOH, no one will care after me.

    I do, however, have over 20 photo albums of our own, starting with Hubby and his daughter in 1980, all notated with names, dates and locations. Unfortunately, no one will want those, either, so it was an exercise in futility. But it was fun to do in the early days of word processing and data listing, etc. Remember – dot matrix printers, paper with pinholes on the sides, etc.

  2. “Every important photograph you own needs to have relevant information written on the back:”

    This is a good idea, BUT that means every picture has to be handled. I suggest a computer listing, putting page numbers on the album pages (I’m assuming these photos are in albums) with corresponding information (page 3, pic 1, pic 2, etc) for ease of use. As I use ‘magnetic’ pages, it’s not easy to constantly look at the back of photos, so I have a printout of the information, kept in the front of each album.

  3. Many (many) years ago, I scanned quite a few of the ‘old’ pictures I had, dropped them into my word processing program, put some lines alongside them and mailed them to my Mother, who then wrote information about each picture. I included this information (in her handwriting, which, now that she has died, I love to see) by each photo, which is why I use magnetic pages; I can make collages, rather than static pages of photos in a row.

  4. A very high proportion of the photos that I have taken are of tomatoes or tomato plants. Some of other plants or insects.

  5. My mother passed less than a year ago, which meant getting her house ready to sell. In the process of getting it cleaned out, we found tons of old items, including a schoolbook from the 1800’s and a note from my great grandmother. It’s amazing the documentation that was taken by our ancestors.

  6. Almost makes me wish I hadn’t forgotten to have kids so at least I’d have someone to whom to pass along 170 years’ worth of photos.

  7. [“A very high proportion of the photos that I have taken are of tomatoes or tomato plants. Some of other plants or insects”]

    But what are their names?


    It’s great fun to wander through eBay’s listings of vintage slides and snapshots. We’ll never know the significance of the majority of these nifty old images, but they’re fun to look at.

    What will become of “vintage” digital images? Sad to say I think old snapshots and slides might get thrown out and digital images will just never escape their storage media.
    What then?

  8. It was very painful, but when I cleared out my parents’ house in 2014, I had to throw out a closet full of slide trays – 140 slides in each tray – at least 40 trays, maybe more. I gave the projector and screen away, but I doubt they’ll ever be used.

    I never asked, but I think Hubby threw out all our trays of slides when he emptied our WI house and moved to FL.

  9. A few years ago, I uncovered a ton of old family photos (coincidentally) three days after my aunt, the last of her generation on that side of my family, passed away. Which means there are people, who at the time were considered important enough to be included in family photos, who are now lost forever.

  10. When my uncle died, he left behind hundreds of slides, covering several decades. My brother had them digitalized, believing he’d done the hard part. My job has been to date them.

    One of the simpler identifications might run “Okay, so Sharon wore her hair long between 1968 and 1972, and Jon had a beard between 1970 and 1974, and they seem to be dressed for a major family event, so what was going on between 1970 and 1972, and how can I further narrow it down beyond that?”

    It… a long-term project.

  11. I could have had them digitized, I s’pose, but didn’t think of it (due to other bad news rec’d whilst clearing my parent’s house, I wasn’t thinking straight), and I doubt that YUMA, AZ would’ve had any place with those services.

    An issue with dating photos for me is that I live in USA; all my relatives live in various places in Europe. I left when I was six, so I don’t even know them, let alone relatives who’ve died years and years and years ago.

    The second issue with dating photos is: why bother? No one is going to want these, so who cares?

    As a side note: I went thru a photo album I’d made for my Mother and found that my dad had gone thru it to identify and date all the . . . cars & trucks. I guess we know where HIS priorities lay.

  12. I feel your pain, Bill; I’m going through the exact same process now. I was able to start the process when my mother was alive, but here energy and interest was limited. What’s complicating matters is duplicate photos Mom and my sisters kept. I’ll digitize a swear I’ve seen before, but plowing through all the folders on m computer to find a duplicate image is a very time-commingling process.

  13. At my mother’s house attacking another batch of photos as we speak.

    Fortunately she’s available to answer questions. “Who’s this old lady?”

    “That’s my grandmother.”

    “We have a photo of YOUR grandmother?”

    I had no idea such a thing existed. My kids’ great-great-grandmother.

  14. My sister and I once spent a pleasant afternoon going through grandma’s piles of photos and trying to figure out who was who. We could tell, more or less, by the clothing what generation each photo showed, but trying to match an uncle who was retired before I was born with a pic of him as a baby presented a real challenge. In the end it mattered not at all, I doubt very much that anyone will ever look at them again.

  15. But what are their names?

    One of the “bugs” I needed to identify turned out to be a ladybug larva. I could make a big list of the various plants photographed and identified, but I don’t think it would be too interesting.

  16. Blinky: there’s tools you can get for that (that don’t involve uploading it all to instagram or the like) — I don’t know what offhand but it shouldn’t be that hard to track something down.

  17. This afternoon, I opened the little neighborhood freebie magazine we get once/month; first advert I see is for scanning slides into digitized form. Five years too late for me.

  18. Mark M – My mom, now 90, can no longer live alone. My sister put her into assisted living, intending it to be for 2 weeks after mom finished in the short term rehab at the same facility, she figured after 2 weeks in the assisted living mom would be glad to come and live with her. It backfired. Mom loved the assisted living facility (it is a Jewish non profit owned and run facility so there are very familiar decorations, food and such, and looks like a hotel as one walks around the halls.

    Well, none of us can really afford to pay for this mom so we have to sell the family home and unneeded/unwanted stuff – and as quickly as possible as mom has a reverse mortgage and every month more interest is accruing. My parents, baby sister (6 months old) and I moved into the house – which was is large – in 1960 so there is a LOT of stuff to get rid of. My sister (the former baby) and her children, helped by our later “baby” sister (now in her 50s) have done most of the work in the house. I have to pick up a box of my stuff that they found next week or so as the tag sale is at the end of the month. I had very little in the house and found 2 of the 5 items I wanted (and a couple of things – such as love letters from when we were in college that I did not remember) to take. I presume that my sister has the photos. Since she is the only one of us with children, it seems fitting that heirlooms, photos and such go to her for them. I presume that she has the photos. I can help her with any going back to around 1954 – or mom can. (Actually the process of going through the house was made easier by Hurricane Sandy – I would be going crazy figuring out which toys to keep, but everything in the basement had to be tossed out – luckily my electric trains – HO – and main Barbie dolls were already at our house. Oddly many of my toys which had to be tossed out were replacements bought from my allowance for those that had to be tossed out after Hurricane Donna.)

    One of the things we can’t find, which I really should think should be found and remain in the the family is a stapled binding 5X7 or so softcover book about our family “in the old country”. I listed it when my sister asked what I wanted of the stuff in the house in case they came across it.

  19. As to our photos here in our house – either they are of places we have been (when Kmart opened here, after decades of hearing about their photo service on commercials when traveling we took a roll of film to them – they lost it – they asked for descriptions of the people in it – “ummm, there are photos of a colonial horse race – men in funny old clothing on horses, photos of people in regular clothing sitting as judges in a old court – Robert was one of the judges- and photos of old buildings”. They sent us photos of someone’s dog – we never went back to them.

    Or they are photos of museum objects, items we have made – especially of ones we made to sell, photos of our Christmas decorations (online posts to friends), or photos of bears – stuffed, figurines, radio, cups, coal, glass, ornaments, toys etc. (Just took cell phone photos of 4 new figurines that we bought a stand in the Lancaster, PA area in a shop that is having a multi-year going out of business sale – just when I thought she had no more bears for me to buy…) The photos of the bears keeps the numbers of “twins” down as I can look in my cell phone before I buy.

  20. Bill – we have a painted portrait of one of my dad’s grandmothers – based on her face I presume his mother’s mother. For some reason 2 paintings of her were made – both identical except – well, we have the good one, she has teeth in our version, in the other one (that a set of my cousins on that side of the family had/has?) she either did not have her dentures in – or after seeing how she looked without teeth, she went out and had a set of dentures made. The other painting used to scare the heck out of me. My sister can have the painting also – we don’t have room for it and it will just go to her son and daughter anyway. I am guessing it dates to the 1930s or 40s and was expensive for the time.

    We do have home movie footage and photos of the generation before my parents. There is some movie footage of my dad’s mom taken on a Memorial Day weekend trip. My dad’s 2nd cousin on his mom’s side (the same Irving that I used for explaining what a 2nd cousin, etc are some time ago) who used to go with his children, wife and mother on a trip to a small hotel in the Catskills with his wife’s extended family for Memorial Day weekend. At some point when I was around 11 or 12 we started joining them – my parents, sister and me and a couple of years in – baby sister (which is how I estimated my age) and my dad’s mom (his dad having died) on the weekend.

    One year as we were all getting ready to leave at the end of the weekend my dad was shooting movies – with the usual comment – “don’t just stand there – it is a movie, MOVE.” My grandmother in the style of a 1920s silent movie stared waving goodbye with a scarf – overacting like crazy!

    When we went to the 1960s NYC World Fair for the Day, dad would bring a briefcase with cameras and film – 35 mm black and white film camera, ditto color film, movie camera, small camera.

    Oh, heck, I just remembered – in my old bedroom I found my old camera – a 1960s Kodak easy sort of camera.

  21. We have a video of a family wedding from about 1953. (My mother was a 5-year-old flower girl). It had been converted from film, so there is no recorded sound.

    A few years ago I sat down with my grandmother and we watched the entire wedding while I recorded her “Director’s commentary” about who everyone was and anything else she remembered about them or about the wedding. I have not done it yet but the plan is to overlay the audio track of her commentary over the video and share it with the extended family.

  22. Eight years ago, my (then) 92 year old grandmother and I surprised my mom and uncle by compiling her memoir. I was able to gain access to the photos in my mom’s possession without her knowledge. A lot of people I knew, but there were some that even she could not recall. I had plenty for the project. I begged my mother to help me identify people. She put it off and died last year. I have all these amazing photos of people and no idea who they are….

  23. Follow-up: just found another large envelope of old photos. I have a vague recollection of somebody giving it to me for safekeeping. God knows who, God knows when, and of course nothing’s labeled.

  24. My sister told me that she left a carton of my “stuff” that she knows I want in the small bathroom of our family home. Since mom cannot live there any longer and we need money to keep her in the assisted living facility style she has since become accustomed to, the house has been gone through and there will be a tag sale starting Friday. This was my last chance to pick up the box (and I had already gone through my old bedroom for stuff and found very little) as I have to work tomorrow.

    I expected a box the size of an office filing box – this was a box so big that I am surprised it fit the tiny bathroom. I went through it there – some thrown out, some given to the ladies running the sale, and much came home – however more of what came home did so, so that I could shred what I was tossing before I did so. I now have birthday cards sent to me for my second birthday!!

    There were no photos in the box and the two items I hoped would be found – a tablecloth I embroidered while in high school and could not find when we got married and a small book about my dad’s family in the old country.

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