Monday, November 5, 2012

Lesson 5: What's In a Photo?

What's In a Photo

Photos are a very good tool in developing your generational tree. But, if a photo is not properly identified, and left blank, you may never be able to put a name to a face.

We never knew Grandpa Jesse Smith, for he died when my father was young. Any pictures of him had been passed down to the other siblings of my father, so not only did we not know him, we didn't even know what he looked like. It is very distressing to us. We would like to know if we look like him and what kind of man he was. What did he like to do? Yes, you can get this information from looking at a picture.

You might wonder how a picture could tell you about someone. You have to know how to read the picture. I will give you an example. Here is a picture of my mother's family. See what you can tell from this picture.

"The Washing Machine" circa 1938
This picture was taken circa 1938. My mother is the little girl in the picture. Next to my mother is my Aunt Joycie, my cousin Gerri (sitting on washer), my grandmother, Susie, and my grandfather, Noah.

This picture was taken as the Great Depression was coming to an end. You can that this family was a family of meager means. They worked hard for what they had, and after they saved the money to get their washing machine, they had their picture taken with it.

Mom was 5 years old in this picture thus making my cousin Gerri 1 1/2 to 2 years old. My Aunt Joycie is Gerri's mother. How old do you think she is? In that day and age teens looked aged in their young ages. I think it had to do with them being put in an adult situation at such an early age. Hard work, raising a family and being a spouse, can add years to your apperance. Aunt Joyce married at age thirteen. Gerri was born approximately one year later. Since Gerri was about 2 years of age here, this would make Aunt Joycie 16 years of age. Then there is my grandmother and grandfather. We lovingly refered to them as "Ma and Pa." Ma was born in 1999, thus this makes her 34. Pa was born in 1892, which makes Pa 41.

Is this all the information we can get from this picture? No. If we 'read' the picture, we will find out much. Lets see what we can 'read.'  It looked very dry and hot. The ground shows this with the blanket of dust on the ground. Ma is holding a fan, so this backs up this information. therefore, this picture was taken in the summer time. Don't let the long sleaves fool you. They were meek in appearance and kept their arms covered.

You can see their pride as they have their picture taken with their first machine operated Maytag washer. If you notice the gas tank at the bottom of the machine, you will see this is a wringer washer that is gas operated. Since it is gas operated, it shows that they most probably did not have electric at that time. Mom confirmed this fact to be true when she was alive.

In the background you will see a pail hanging on the porch. They used it to carry water, so they had no running water in their home. They would hang a bucket of water up on the porch with a laddle. This way they could wet their lips when they were thirsty, and soothe a dry throat.

Ma actually took in laundry and it was what helped them make their living, so this machine was a tool of her then trade. Scrimping and saving there money made it possible for them to buy this machine. They never borrowed money back then, it was always cash transactions.

What should I do with my pictures for future generations? 
After printing your pictures, always put names and dates on the picture. Put the person's age on the picture as well. Later on in life, names fade and you may not remember who the person was. Also, when you are gone, your family will be able to identify who the picture is of. I would put a little note on the back of the picture too. Where was it taken? What were you doing that day? What was a special memory of that day? If there are more than one person in the picture, what is your relationship to them? Where did you live then? There is all kind of information you could put on the picture. The most important part though, is the names, dates, and places. Remember, the more information, the more help it will help your ancestor in finding out information on who you were.

If you are going to use your pictures for a scrap book, I would always make copies and use those for your book. You can put your information in your book, but I would still put the information on the back of the picture. This way, the information is always with the picture, and you have less of a chance of seperating the information from the photo.

With information on the picture, it could lead you to where to look for more information. Within the picture there might be a sign showing where the picture was taken. There might be a calander in the background showing the actual date. A license plate on a car might reveal what the date is as well as the state they are in. This gives you information on where they might have lived so you can look there for information.

In conclusion of this lesson, we find that photographs are a great tools in preserving our family heritage. Not only can it lead you in the right direction to your past, but it can also puts faces to your ancestors. Don't over look this important avenue in learning who you are.