What Does the Future Hold For Your Family Photographs?

What Does the Future Hold For Your Family Photographs?

I saw a very sad sight yesterday. I attended an collectibles show and saw a collection of daguerreotypes for sale. The mournful moment came when I realized that every single one of these images was identified. As you probably know, daguerreotypes date from 1839 to the early 1860s. The majority...

I saw a very sad sight yesterday. I attended an collectibles show and saw a collection of daguerreotypes for sale. The mournful moment came when I realized that every single one of these images was identified.

As you probably know, daguerreotypes date from 1839 to the early 1860s. The majority of these images were from the 1850s. I really didn’t want to leave them on the table, but at close to $1,000, the cost was too high for my budget.

As a genealogist, you’re aware that skills honed researching family back in time also can be used to track family forward. It’s part of the whole orphan photo movement to reunite folks with their “lost” family pictures.

I purchased a couple of identified cabinet cards at the show and will try to reconnect them with relatives. I’ll post my progress on this blog.

It broke my heart to see all those images sitting in that box. I see it all the time and it never gets any easier. The big question is: What’s going to happen to your photos? Have you identified someone in your family to take care of your archive?

Before your pictures end up in a dumpster or split up at an antique show, start thinking about their future. Then write it down. Make sure your executor has a copy of the document so the collection you’ve cared for doesn’t become someone’s instant ancestors.

In the words of one dealer: “I keep what I can sell and throw away the rest.” This was in response to my request for matrimonial images. Yup! They weren’t worth saving.

If you’ve reconnected a photo with a long-lost relative, please add your story to the Comments section. Each one of those reunion tales is heartwarming. Can’t wait to hear from you!

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  1. I have instructed my husband to give my photos and research to our local genealogy library if no family members step forward. I would like to know how others track the provenance of the photos in their collection. It seems important to be able to include that information with the collection. Any ideas?

  2. A couple of years ago my mother’s neighbor died (in Louisiana). His wife cleaned out the house and moved to another state. She told Mama she could have anything she wanted out of the pile of left over stuff and the rest would be picked up for trash. When we went over to look over what was there, I found a small photo album with many tintypes. Only one had any identity on it. Most were from photography studios in Iowa and Illinois. I tried posting on various geneaology lists and finally found someone in Arizona who said the pictures looked like some she had of her family. I just knew I couldn’t let those pictures be trashed.

  3. I have a lot of old negatives with image sizes of 2 &#188; x 2 &#188; and 3 &#188; x 2 &#188; (not slides and not 35mm). Overall sizes are approximately 2 &#189; x 2 &#189; and 3 &#189; x 2 &#189;. I would like to scan them, but am having trouble finding a scanner with a transparence unit with negative holders that will accommodate these size negatives. Do you have any suggestions??

  4. I &quot;inherited&quot; a bunch of photos from an older woman who attended my church as she didn’t have room for them when she moved into a nursing home. She told me to just &quot;toss them&quot; as no one wanted them. I kept them until I was able to locate some of her cousins; they took what they wanted and gave me some information on some of the other photos that weren’t labeled. Because she had been a school teacher, she also had student photos, which our local historical society were happy to receive to include in their country school collection. The rest of the photos were deposited with the local geneology society where they were filed with the woman’s last name and her mother’s maiden name. They will be given to any family member who wishes to have them, or retained with the rest of the society’s collection of information and photos.

    My personal collection will go to a cousin and her sons, all who have an interest in family information. I feel very fortunate that I have someone who will treasure them as much as I. Those that they don’t want will be donated to the local genealogy and historical societies.

  5. Provenance is the chain of ownership of an object or picture. Do you know who owned the images before you and who owned them before that back to the date the picture was taken? That’s great information, but few people actually know the entire history of ownership of one item.

    If you’ve decided to donate your material to a historical society, just make sure that you’ve checked with the organization beforehand. You should contact the organization and ask about their gift policy and if they have a gift agreement for donors.

  6. Not only should we make provision for the preservation of photos we should be concerned with the disposition of other personal documents.

    We went to an auction last week; we knew the deceased and he had thousands of dollars worth of antiques, etc. Guess what? His marriage certificate had been thrown in the junk pile!!

  7. I work for an auctioneering company and I can’t tell you how many photo’s we come across. I wish I could take them all and at least scan them before they are sold. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to do that before the auction. Most all of them are sold at the auction and then resold at antique malls or booths. I was able to rescue a yearbook and get it online before an auction, but that doesn’t happen very often. I wish I could figure out a way to get it all online.

  8. I inherited thousands of photographs of both family members and neighbors. I scanned all the family and some of the non-family members. I did post some of the scanned items with at least first and last names on genealogy surname message boards. I found a couple takers for the original items. Fortunately, most photographs were labeled but those unlabeled photos that my mom couldn’t identify were either auctioned or tossed depending on their generic interest level. Many people out there including me look at online auction sites for local photographers from the 1800’s to see if they recognize anyone.

    I encourage everyone to scan photos and share carefully labeled and organized photos in digital form. Then, the originals can be stored in a nice dark dry closet with a minimal amount of handling. I’ve even passed on some of the original photographs and documents on to cousins who are more closely related to the subjects of the photos or documents.