Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Step 3 -- Research Your Photos

My journey into genealogy began with photos. Everywhere in my grandparents' home were little bunches of photos. They were stuffed into drawers and envelopes and shoe boxes and photo albums. Behind framed photos were other photos. Some photos were labeled, while most were not.

My sister-in-law and I sat with my grandmother one day and, using a photo capturing device, videotaped a series of photos with grandma narrating as she watched them on the TV. We barely made a dent in the stack. On other visits, I played show and tell, writing names on the photos that grandma could identify. I slowly began to recognize the faces. I was very fortunate to have about 8 years of visits. Not everyone is blessed in that way. Nonetheless, there are still dozens of photos for which I still have no names.

Let me tell you about some research successes.

Find A Family, Find A Cousin

On the back of this gentleman's photo is written simply: J W Kerr, Franklin, Penna. I suspected that he was related to my great-great-grandmother, Nerinda Margaret Kerr Crispen Tookey. The uniform identified him as a probable veteran of the Civil War.
I started by looking for Franklin, PA, finding a town named Franklin in Venango County, as well as some other possible places, which I was able to eliminate. The Venango County pages at USGenWeb are a wonderful resource and there I found a list of soldiers who had served the Union from the Venango County area. Included in the list was a Johnston W Kerr. I rejoiced that his name was not James, Joseph, or John! I was unable to find him in a pre-war census, however. So I gambled by ordering his Civil War service file. It revealed his birth as being in Clarion County, PA. By examining the 1850 census, I found Johnston Kerr, age 14, and Narinda Kerr, age 8, with other family members, in the household of William Kerr of Toby Township, Clarion County, PA.

The photo of Johnston Kerr has been featured on my genealogy website for years. His great-great-granddaughter, Laurel, found me through my website and now the original photo is in her possession. Laurel's knowledge of the Kerr family is extensive and, working together over the past 10 years, we've learned even more about the family. Laurel has also shared with me photos of her extended family, including her parents and grandparents and I've met several of her family members. From a single photo, I gained a fourth cousin and her extended family, as well as a dedicated research collaborator and a wealth of family knowledge.

Find A Cousin, Identify Known People

Here's a cabinet card from Kansas. This photo had nothing written on it when I received it from my grandmother, nor did she know any names. Her knowledge of her ancestry did lead me to believe that the photo was from her allied Lake-Maddox families. After working through census records,  I suspected the women were 4 of the 6 Lake sisters, but had no idea which ones. My great-grandmother's youngest brother also did not know. Another gentleman had submitted Lake family information to the Mormon Church files, but I was unable to locate him at the time I found that information. Months later I found his contact information on Ancestry, but learned he had passed away 6 months earlier. I had to set aside this wonderful photo with the expectation that it might never be identified.
When I decided to make my 19-day genealogy road trip in 2002, I invited Lorna, the wife of my mother's second cousin. Lorna and I traveled together from my home in the Phoenix area to hers in the Chicago area, focusing most of our research on the Lake-Maddox families. I showed Lorna's husband my collection of unidentified photos and asked him if he recognized any of these people. When he saw this particular photo he jumped up and ran for his own heritage photo collection. He pulled out the same photo, but his copy was labeled!

He also shared with me several other photos which were not in my collection. Among them was a photo of [Joseph] Allen Maddox, my great-great-grandfather, whose photo I had never before seen.

By researching the photo's location and the allied family structure, I was able to focus on the Lake family, increasing the chances that the photo could be identified. Someday I hope to also identify the mate to the photo. This cabinet card with 3 men is from the same studio in Kansas. My guess is it contains at least two Maddox men, with a brother or brother-in-law.

Some Photo Research Tips
  • The first step in any genealogical research is to always start with what you know. Label the photos you have and can identify.
  • Discuss mystery photos with living relatives. If they don't live near you, scan the photos and send them copies by e-mail or snail mail. Or share photos with them on Facebook or via your favorite photo-sharing website.
  • Do your best to identify a location and time frame. Look for unusual clues. I have an undated photo taken in Lincoln Park, Chicago, with a camel. Via the web I learned the year that Lincoln Park first acquired a camel.
  • Find identification advice online and in books from experts such as Maureen Taylor, who specializes in identifying heritage photos.
  • Research the census to determine family structures. For example, the Maddox girls were too young to be the 4 Kansas women and they had no Maddox aunts. Therefore, it was most likely to be 4 of the Lake sisters, including the mother of the Maddox girls.
  • As you work back through the generations, look for other researchers that are working on the same families. As you connect, you will have new relatives with which to share photos.
  • Besides your own ancestors, find the census records for their brothers and sisters and their families. That mystery photo may not be your ancestor, but rather, the family of a sibling or cousin.
Embrace the Mystery

If all else fails, you can always scrapbook a mystery photo as just that or use your scanned copies for collage or period images. You wouldn't be alone in finding creative uses for your unknowns. A friend created this digital page for me with one of my favorite mystery photos. Thanks, Annette!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Newspapers: A Nuisance No Longer

The high acid content of most newspaper clippings is hazardous when used in close proximity to heritage photos. Newsprint also discolors, turns brittle and crumbles. Fortunately there is a simple solution to protect photos and use intact newspaper clippings on scrapbook pages. Since you have a flatbed scanner for your precious old photos, you can also scan newspaper clippings and other paper memorabilia.

I keep a supply of matte photo paper for copying and printing clippings. It's heavier than ordinary printer paper, but not glossy. A white or ivory, smooth, acid-free cardstock would work as well. Once a clipping is copied or scanned, I throw away the original. Just like a photo, the scanned clipping can be resized, recolored, repaired and reused.

Sometimes a collection of clippings is worth keeping. For example, a cousin has a small journal full of newspaper clippings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The journal belonged to her ancestor, who was a writer. The clippings include reviews of his books, as well as newspaper columns that he wrote. For that collection, the paper should be treated to neutralize the acid. I'm no expert at this process, so will instead recommend searching the internet for ideas on ways to do that.

On this sample layout, the clipping is a digital version that was resized to fit the page before it was printed.

Club Scrap Paisley paper kit

Consider scanning or copying your paper memorabilia -- it is one method to preserve and share those items that might otherwise cause damage to your scrapbook pages and heritage photos.

Monday, April 9, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy, Week 14, State and National Societies

The National Genealogical Society annual conference is my favorite opportunity to grow my knowledge and skills. I  frequently advocate for it with friends and relatives and I'm going to get on the soapbox again for a few minutes.

When the NGS conference comes to your area, I challenge you to commit at least one day to check it out. You can visit the vendors in the exhibition hall for free. Pay one day of registration and attend several presentations by certified speakers and authors.  I've attended the full conference 3 times, most recently in Raleigh in 2009, with my cousin Laurel as my roommate. I also attended just one day when it was held a few hours away, but my work schedule didn't allow me time for the full 4 days. I always come away with a bag of goodies and lots of new ideas.

What's happening this May in Cincinnati that excites me?
  • Extended hours at the Cincinnati Historical Society Library
  • Youth Kamp to involve our young relatives
  • Ask an Expert, a free 20-minute consultation with a certified professional
  • Free scanning by
  • Photo Detecting 101 with Maureen Taylor
  • Researching Your War of 1812 Ancestor with the kilt-wearing Craig Roberts Scott
  • Genealogy-on-the Go with the iPad with Lisa Louise Cooke
  • Genealogical Research and Writing: Are You a Saint, Sinner, or Bumfuzzled Soul? with Elizabeth Shown Mills
  • Navigating the NARA Branches with Julie Miller
  • So You've Found Your German Town of Origin: Now What? with Teresa Steinkamp McMillin
  • Ohio: The Great Land Experiment with Jana Sloan Broglin
  • Utilizing Social Networks for Genealogy Research with Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers
  • German Marriage Laws and Customs with Warren Bitner
  • Internet Privacy and Security for Genealogists with Jordan Jones
  • How to Be a Bad Genealogist with William B Saxbe, Jr. promises a few laughs
  • Common Sense for Genealogists with Kay Haviland Freilich
  • Convert Your Family History Book to an e-Book with Marlis Glaser Humphrey
  • The 1940 Census with Constance Potter
  • Personal Digital Archiving: An Overview, with Mark Steven Middleton
  • Over 100 vendors will be in the exhibition hall with software, books, maps and keepsakes
  • Recordings of some sessions will be made available for purchase

I counted as many as 10 tracks in a day and as many as 6 sessions. Some sessions are longer than others, so I'll guess at 30-50 different sessions to choose from during each of the 4 days. That's a smorgasbord of over 100 different choices.

The tracks include local knowledge about Ohio and surrounding states, photos,  records, methodology, technology, writing, professional skills and ethnic research such as German and African-American. I've recently consulted with friends about their German research and hope to soon have some of my own to do. The focus on Ohio and Germany tempts me, but it's just not possible to attend this year.

The 2013 conference city will be announced by the end of this year's conference. I'm looking forward to finding out if it will fit in my plans.