Monday, January 19, 2015

Collecting and Indentifying Family Photographs

I prepared a slide show for my father-in-law, Bill Harrington’s memorial service this weekend.  I searched for all of the photos that I could find that included Bill.  One of the techniques that I found helpful was to put the approximate date as the first four characters of the file name.  This put the electronic images in chronological order which helped me to sort through the photos and guess the dates on the ones that were not already dated.  Based on this experience, I recommend that you gather photos associated with certain events into a folder and also place copies in folders for persons in the photos.

When I examine collections of family photographs, I often find batches of pictures taken at the same event.   For example, when inspecting some photographs in my mother-in-Iaw’s albums, I found several pictures that were taken at a gathering prior to the memorial service for Truman Harrington in February 1978.  Truman was my wife’s paternal grandfather.  The pictures helped to refresh my memories of the event.  Our daughter was only eight months old and there was a picture of the three of us as we were getting out of the car when we first arrived. 

This picture was taken in February 1978 in Boron, California.  I am on the left, my wife Robin is holding our eight month old daughter, Nicole and Robin is talking with her mother, Irma Harrington.  We had gathered in Boron for the Memorial Service for my wife's grandfather, Truman Harrington.  Scan your old pictures now before the colors degrade any further.
There was also a picture of Truman’s three sons.  In birth order they were Harold, Bill and Cleve.  In ascending height order they were Bill, Harold and Cleve.  I never noticed that Bill was the shortest until I looked closely at this photo of the three brothers standing together.

Bill, Harold & Cleve Harrington in the backyard at Cleve's house in Boron, California, February 1978.  Bill and Cleve look very similar in pictures when they were teenagers.  Now I know that Cleve was the tallest one.

Since I was at this event, I had no difficulty in establishing the exact date.  However, when I am attempting to date an older family photo, the children are the first clue to the date.  If you can identify the children, then it is usually pretty easy to estimate their age and thereby date the photo.  These are some of my casual observations from recent experience but if you want advice from a real family photo expert then I recommend you consult with Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective.

Maureen is a frequent keynote speaker on photo identification, photograph preservation, and family history at meetings and conferences of historical and genealogical societies, and other organizations both nationally and internationally.  She is the author of several books and hundreds of articles and her television appearances include The View and The Today Show.  I highly recommend that you read her books and her column in Family Tree Magazine.  You also can get a free download of some of her best magazine columns at this link

Her website is  and she also writes a blog for the magazine at this link

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