Labeling Your Old Photographs

Family historians collect photographs – many of them very old and sometimes rather fragile. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are identified, some are not. However, they all need to be labeled in some way. Following are a few tips:

Identify all the people possible in the photo. If you know their full names, write them down. If you know their life span (such as 1803-1867), write that down. This helps to specifically ID a person. If you have a group photo, give the data for every person you can identify, not just your ancestor. If you only have partial information, write down what you know.

Identify where and when the photo was taken if possible. If the photo is taken in someone’s yard, identify whose yard – and whose house and/or barn may be in the background. If the photo was taken on a special occasion, and you can identify it, give that information. More is better than less.

Do not write on the front of a photo. Do not use a marker, or ball-point pen. They may leave smudges or indentations in the picture. Water soluble inks from felt-tip markers can bleed into the paper. Paper photos are most likely best labeled by using a soft-lead pencil. Graphite artist’s sketching pencils are ideal.

Paper prints today are often resin-coated. They may be very difficult, if not impossible to write on with a graphite pencil. Pens are made that write in black ink, while being archival, waterproof, fade resistant, permanent, and fast-drying. These can be obtained from archival supplies outlets, as well as scrap-booking stores.

Watch for my column next week on identifying and labeling your electronic photos, both online and off.

For resources on dating the old photos that you may have in your collection, see:

Dating Old Photographs -book on CD-ROM

More Dating Old Photographs – Soft-cover book


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