The Most Important Thing To Do In Genealogy This Year

 

Why is it that we overlook or ignore easy tasks? Is it because those easy tasks are too readily forgotten, despite how important they are?

It’s easy to scan through your email inbox and quickly delete the unwanted material. Right? It seems simple enough and is a time-saving decluttering tip repeatedly shared in social media. But, how often do you, or I, follow the advice? Yeah, for more people, not often enough.

I’m not a decluttering expert, but I do know what the number one task in family history is and it’s not adding new names to the tree. In fact, it is so simple that people often fail to do it. Then they kick themselves when it’s too late. What is this simple, crucial task?

Labeling Photos

Ha! You thought it might be something earth-shattering. But honestly, you don’t know just how important labeling photos is until after someone dies.

Robert Victor and Clementine Zumstein Family
Who are the children in this photo of Robert Victor Zumsten and his wife Clementine? What year was the photo taken? Whose house was it taken in?

Flipping through my grandmother’s photo album after she, the oldest surviving member of her generation, died I felt a tug in my heart. Would anyone be able to help me piece together the mystery men and women in her photo collection? Perhaps my mother would remember the names of the unidentified people and places.

Sadly, mother died as well and the unlabeled photos problem hit a heart-wrenching dead end. The opportunity to ask about her mother’s photo collection and her own was gone. No one was left alive to tell me anything.

DON’T WAIT until it’s too late to label those photos.

Labeling photos is not a new skill. It’s so easy, anyone who knows how to write can do it. You don’t need a particular app, a computer, or special training. The unlabeled pictures problem is as old as photography. People have been failing to label photos since the mid-1800s. If it weren’t true, there wouldn’t be unnamed persons from orphaned photo albums on a website like DeadFred.com.

This year, stop overlooking this critical family history because it’s simple. Dare to be different. Dare to be the one whom many will sing your praises long after you’re gone. Be a labeler!!!

Dig out every family photo album you own. Dig in Aunt Ethel’s attic. Go to Uncle Larry’s barn. Visit the crazy Grandma with ten cats (but take plenty of allergy medicine if you need to).

Flip through the albums and loose photos and tag the photos that are missing facts such as:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • What’s not shown?

Once you have marked your unlabeled photos, search your memory or query those of your relatives to discover the stories behind the photos. When you have the information, use an archival quality pen to label the back of your printed photos.

If your photos are all digital, do the same with them. This time, you’ll need a photo program that tags your images. Digitally mark the photos with the pertinent information. Better yet, create a digital photo album with CAPTIONS!!!! That way you have a nice family treasure as well as labeled photos.

If every person, whether an experienced genealogist or just starting out, took the time to sift through their picture collections, then we would have a richer collective photo narrative. Don’t let the photos you, or your relative once owned become an orphaned photo in an estate sale or antique shop. We can’t recover the meaning of a picture when the person knowing the answers can no longer communicate with us.

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

4 thoughts on “The Most Important Thing To Do In Genealogy This Year

  1. Not only do they not tell us to do it, but they don't tell us how to do it. What is the best way for you to label your photos?

  2. Marian, I couldn't agree more. However, few genealogy books or other lecturers teach this fundamental principle. They always talk about completing group sheets and pedigree charts. It's heart breaking to read and listen to. Glad we're united on this principle.

  3. Yes yes yes! This is so important. I always tell my audiences that if they do nothing else with genealogy, they should start to label their photos right away. Little by little, do one or two at a time, and pretty soon, everyone will be identified. Then go back and add additional details.

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