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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - February/March 2005
The Importance of Identifying and Preserving Family Photographs for Genealogists

Photographs often provide genealogists with a goldmine of information in their research.  They can also provide a window of opportunity to view your ancestors as real people in real settings.  Once you locate old photographs, you should note as much information as possible about who or what appears in the photograph.  careful attention should be paid to facial and family characteristics, clothing styles, jewelry, uniforms (military, school, or work related), and any other miscellaneous background information that you observe.  Sometimes, the name of the photographer, and the date and place where the photograph was taken were noted on the back of the picture.

Bring your photographs to relatives, neighbors, or family members who are old enough to have remembered the people, places, events, or objects that appear in the pictures.  They may be able to provide information about the circumstances surrounding the photograph.  Even if the older generations who had first hand knowledge have passed on, the surviving children may be able to furnish important details or clues on where to look for more detailed records, both primary and secondary, to facilitate additional research.  You might even find portraits of your ancestors, or places where they lived and worked, in public, academic, historical, or genealogical libraries or museums.  If they were prominent early settlers of a given area, you may find sketches, photographs, and personal files in these same repositories.

Photographs should be organized in high quality, acid-free photo pages folders, or boxes.  Archival quality materials are readily available at office supply stores, professional photography supply stores, handicraft stores, and many bookstores.  Keep photographs away from light and in temperature controlled environments.  Remove family photographs from magnetic self-adhesive photo pages.  The image may stick to the adhesive, especially if the album was ever exposed to a very hot storage place. They will also cause fading over time.  There is no truth to the claim that magnetic self adhesive photo pages will provide long lasting protection.

Bryan L. Mulcahy
Reference Librarian
Fort Myers-Lee County Library
2050 Central Avenue
Fort Myers, FL  33901-3917
Tel: (239)- 479-4651
Fax: (239)- 479-4634

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