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Treasuring Family Photos   8 comments

Where are your family photos?

A few years ago, I found that my family’s older photos were in big plastic crates stored at my Mother’s house.  Mom was the family pack rat … she’d been given photos by people for decades.  Most of the photos were just loose; many were unlabeled.  They were all  irreplaceable.  And should tragedy strike her home, those photos would just be gone.

A label of “Mother” means nothing if you don’t know who wrote the label. In this case, my mother knew who labeled the photo: this is a photo of my Great Grandmother Cora Baugher Shull.

That was unacceptable!

I then learned something:  my 20 years of experience in handling advertising graphics had prepared me for the preservation of my family’s photographic heritage.  I truly had no idea that my knowledge of graphic files and what was then called desktop publishing was unique in my family, and absolutely essential to save and share the photographs that my Mother had lovingly collected over the years.

Here’s a published resource for how to preserve your family’s photos using archive-quality techniques.

Until I went through my mother’s photos, I had never seen this jaunty photo of my Grandfather, Wilbur Mowry.

Today, there are more challenges than just preserving photographic prints made 75 years ago.  Keeping, cataloging and just plain saving the flood of digital photographs we accumulate today is very difficult.  Our first digital camera was a Sony that took pictures on a 3.5” floppy disk … we almost retired our last computer with a 3.5” drive before I transferred all of those pictures onto a hard drive.

Many of today’s photos are taken with a smartphone and then uploaded to Facebook or Pinterest.  That’s great for sharing with family and friends … but almost useless for keeping those images.

Social media sites can use your images as they see fit – sometimes including  placing your pictures in advertisements without your specific approval!  The most popular sites all have published Terms on their sites that “clearly” outline their policies in legalese.  Prominent will be their policy that they can change their Terms at any time, without notice, without compensation.  So, they can DELETE your images at their pleasure.

They will always edit your pictures, compressing them with a unique algorithm that restricts their file size (and thus, quality) to a degree that they determine.  Don’t use Facebook to save your photos!

If you keep your photographs on your phone … what happens when you drop your phone?  Are all of your pictures … just gone?  What if your phone gets stolen?  Any back-up copies of your favorite pix?

This blackmail-worthy photo from 2004 was almost lost when it was left on old, outdated media: a 3.5″ floppy.

Digital photos must be labeled and organized … and then backed up … on your computer and external hard drives.  There’s no other way.

So, you’ve saved your photos.  Now what do you do with them?

In 2007, I began what has become a 5-year project to collect and preserve photographs, and then publish them in scrapbooks for four families:  those of my Father (Mowry), Mother (Shull), Father-in-law (Chucalo) and Mother-in-Law (Hepler).  I have visited many of my cousin’s homes to scan their favorite photographs and add them to my ever-expanding library.

The Mowry book was complete in 2007, and the Shull book followed soon after in 2008.  I was greatly assisted by my Mother, who had a huge number of photos … and had the genealogy nailed.

More research, and more long distance family visits were required for the other two books, and the Chucalo book was complete in 2011.  The Hepler book is now perhaps 80% complete; my goal is to complete it this year.

Each person that received one of the books was amazed by the pictures of their family – and themselves – that they had never seen.  By combining the pictures in each of the cousin’s homes, we created a unique collection that was much more complete than any owned by the individuals.  When those pictures were combined with pictures of their ancestors that they had never even known to exist, a true treasure was created.

I offered free copies of all digital photo and family tree files to anyone who would send me a portable hard drive on which to send them their data.

Please note that there are many ways to do these books … this is the way I did them beginning in 2007!  Today, you should certainly consider using services like Shutterfly or Adorama Pictures to print bound books.  There are no wrong answers here:  if you like your collection and how you share it, then that is a great thing.

Today, I have digital copies of all of the photos backed up in 3 locations.  That library currently has over 11,000 files and 183 gigabytes of data.  In addition, my personal photography library has over 32,000 files and 300+ gigabytes of data.  An emergency in my home or the death of my computer will not result in the loss of my files.  I backup using Norton 360 (which I know computer geeks hate, but it’s easy for this consumer).  I’m loving my automatic, online backup service through Carbonite.

Your family photos are treasures.  Treat them as such: cherish them, display them, share them.

This 1911 Chicago photo is of the wedding party for Simon Krstich (AKA Simon Chucalovich) and Mary Gavelda, my wife’s Grandparents. The original framed photo was kept in the closet of their eldest daughter in 2011 … her daughter didn’t even know she had the photo!

Posted August 1, 2012 by henrymowry in Genealogy, Photography

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