Friday, August 3, 2012

Say Cheese! The Art of Photography

Karen Utter Jennings

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of family photographs is how lucky I am to own wonderful and varied collection. I am thankful for what I have found over the years that I’ve been searching. Many families are not quite as fortunate. Sometimes photographs are lost in a house fire or other disasters. Occasionally people are not interested in old photograph collections they inherited, so they are tossed out with the trash!

I’m surprised to learn that sometimes people keep the pictures thrown in a box and stored in the garage or attic. Year after year, the old photos are susceptible to extreme heat, cold, bugs, rot and dirt. The elements will eventually destroy those photos that are records of history!

Photographs are one of the most valuable genealogical tools we can find. Family pictures contain a vast amount of history and detail of social significance. They offer many clues about ancestors’ lives, which add to the information we obtain through paper records, stories, and certificates.
A family photograph collection is a direct link to family history. The photos and images will provide insight into your ancestors and the life they led.

This photo shows Gladys Opal Utter with her doll. Gladys was born in 1906; this photo was taken when she was 8 years old.  

Did you know that photography has been around for 172 years? It began about 1839 to 1840 when William Henry Fox Talbert announced to the Royal Society of London, England, that he had perfected a paper photographic process.

Did you know that working on old photographs in your collection means that you must play the part of detective? You need to research every clue in the picture and follow the lead to uncover information that is usually hidden in the elements of the picture. You must learn how to search for clues to the answers you want to get from your old photographs.

Do you know what orphaned photographs and heirlooms are? They are photographs and items that got lost from the family of origin. They are belongings that were once very dear to someone. We find orphaned photos and heirlooms in antique stores, flea markets, garage sales, or left in a box in the closet, garage or attic of a home when someone dies or moves. They are in those boxes of “junk” we buy at an auction. Or, in my case, they are precious items that were sold at auction after a particularly nasty grandfather stole my inheritance from me the day of my great-grandmother’s funeral.

The photo above was taken before 1914; it is the log cabin of my great, great--grandparents and my great-grandfather, located in McDonald County, Missouri.

Some of the topics I’m going to write about for future posts are a brief history of photography, the different types of photographs and picture postcards, separating and organizing your photograph collection, dating and identifying clues in photos, and caring for those old photographs. Did you know you can make a photograph timeline with the photos you have and then you can write your family history using the information from those photographs?

Even if you don’t have an interest in genealogy and you don’t own old photographs of kinfolk, you probably do have modern photographs of your family, your children, and your pets. These, photographs need to be cared for just as much as the old ones. And, there are some fun ways to use your modern photos and help take care of them at the same time…through scrapbooking. I’ll be talking more about scrapping and the above topics in future posts.

To document my resources for this photograph series, I will use these some of my genealogy books: UNCOVERING YOUR ANCESTRY THROUGH FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHS by Maureen A. Taylor, TRACING YOUR FAMILY HISTORY by Lise Hull, and THE EVERYTHING GUIDE TO ONLINE GENEALOGY by Kimberly Powell.

I will also use internet resources and my personal copies of FAMILY TREE MAGAZINE. Finally, I will use my own family photograph collection to talk about where I got the photos, how I got them, and what I have learned through researching my collection.
My next post will focus on the boom of photography going in to the history of photographs and how the Kodak Company made their own history. I’m glad they did! Through their equipment, I’m collecting a great family history through photographs.

A fun fact: In 400 B.C., the Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti recorded the creation of an inverted image formed by light rays passing through a pinhole into a dark room.