Geoffs Genealogy Update 2 March 2012

Friday March 2nd, 2012 | Geoff

I spent most of my free time during February working on the photo album that my mother had started in the late 1980s. My father passed this to me a few years ago and I was delighted to become the custodian of this family heirloom, which contains some beautiful photos of my parents and their parents, siblings and extended family, as well as some photographs of me and my siblings, and our families.

I  know a few people who are fortunate enough to have extensive family archives – photos, documents, the odd family bible – you know the sort of thing – but in my experience most people are in a similar situation to me. So far as I know my family’s archive consists of only a few documents and the photos that are in this album, most of which are from mum’s side.

This being the case, you may imagine how delighted I was to receive this treasure into my keeping. There is a problem, however.

In sticking her photographs into the album my dear mother committed a cardinal sin. Instead of using photo corners she stuck the photos to the pages with glue – loads of it!

Now, I’m no expert on photographs and their care, but I do know that using glue to stick photos into an album is a taboo. Not only does it potentially cause degradation in the photographs, but it also makes it at best difficult, and at worst impossible to remove the photographs. So there we are, I’d got my hands on some lovely photos, but was aware that at some stage, for the sake of posterity, I probably needed to find a way of preserving the collection without damaging the pictures.

One solution was to photograph the pages, so that we had a photograph of each photograph, if you follow me. My younger brother has a good camera, and he and and I spent some time on this when he visited us a few years ago. In fact, we spent half of Christmas Day on the problem, and ended up with a photograph of each page. We put these away, promising ourselves that we would sort these out someday, separate and title the images, and give a copy of the file to interested members of our family. But we never got around to doing this.

Finally, a couple of months ago, I decided that it was time to do something about this. Aware that the album contains the only existing copy of some of these photographs, I decided to make a digital copy and make that available to other members of the family. Then, if anybody wants a copy of one of the photos they should easily be able to obtain one.

When I looked at our file of photographs and started to separate the images I immediately started to encounter problems. Some images were good quality, others were not. Inevitably, many of the images were distorted, due to the difficulty of positioning the album and camera in the best position for photography. After a few weeks of trying my best to work with what we had, I decided to scrap these images and start again, from scratch.

The obvious solution, in normal circumstances, would have been to take the photographs out of the album and scan them on my scanner, but I discounted this option, as I did not want to damage the photographs. I therefore started to re-photograph the pages.

Unfortunately, although I have a digital camera, it is not a very high spec camera, and this obviously had an effect on the quality of the images I was able to get. This, plus, variations in lighting and the positioning of the page also contributed to the quality of the images I was able to achieve. I worked on these for some weeks, separating the individual pictures, adjusting them with image handling software, re-sizing where beneficial, re-photographing them when not happy with the results etc. I did the best I could, but I am no expert and was not really happy with the results as my gift to posterity.

There was only one thing for it. I decided to try to remove as many of the photographs from the album as I could, and scan them. Obviously, I was very concerned to avoid damage to the photographs in doing this, but to my surprise I found that I could remove quite a lot of them. Unfortunately there was some superficial damage to some of the photos on the reverse sides, and to some of the pages in the album, but this was not nearly as bad as I had feared. There were some photographs that I could not get out of the album, and these posed a problem. However, I to my surprise I found that if I took my scanner out of its usual cosy niche and experimented with various ways of laying the album pages on it, I could actually manage to scan these as well.

Not all the photographs were of the same quality, so I had to experiment with different scanner settings, but in the end I managed to get a reasonable image of all of them, and thus arrive at my digital copy of the album. This is now stored on my computer, although, of course, I have also taken a backup.

Having reached this stage I then realised that I have quite a few photographs in my possession that would make useful additions to the collection. Photos of my parents and grandparents that I took in my youth, photos of my family and my siblings. Not only that,  I had collected more photographs in the course of my family history research, and some of these could also usefully be added to the collection. I set about scanning all these, and ended up with a collection of about 500 images in total which, I’m sure, my brothers and sister can very likely expand still further when they check their albums. I will probably create an online album somewhere, so that members of my family can view these pictures.

Now that I have completed this task my next task is to get all these photographs stuck in the album. A big job, but I’ve started it already. I may not put all 500 pictures in there at the moment.

There is another problem, however. The people depicted in the photographs include some people whose identity is a mystery to me, and most of them are undated. It seems unlikely that I shall be able to resolve this, as I don’t think I have any people alive now who would be able to fill in these gaps. Also, I know that some of the photos were annotated on the back, but I can’t read the annotations because of all that glue!

I’ve rambled on about this at some length in order to indicate the type of problems that arise when photographs are glued into an album. I shall never do that myself, I promise! Also, I shall make an effort to annotate the backs of my photographs to identify the people portrayed, and date them. Getting that all up to date should account for the next few months of my spare time!

During the last month I had a really interesting exchange of messages with a fellow Geoff, who is a Lethbridge descendant and responded to my blog entry a couple of months ago with some really interesting intelligence. I’ll tell you about that next time.

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