The Importance of Being Meticulous

In this blog post are scans from Ruth Johns Anderson’s personal photo album. They are currently being cataloged into our database and perfectly illustrate how taking the time to label your photographs now can make a difference in years to come.
The most frustrating thing for me is when am faced with a photograph with no indication of those four important things: who, what, when and where. It’s usually a wonderful photograph, in-focus with an interesting subject, stacked right in the middle of a bunch of other photographs that have been overly labeled. More interesting than trying to figure out the provenance of the picture is why someone took the time to label all the others and not this one. Where did it come from and why is it here?

Here at the museum, we often run into this problem – a photo that isn’t labeled or is mislabeled. Between all of us, and sometimes the help of members, we are able to identify people fairly easily. But there are those pictures we can’t identify – and we may never be able to.

The most important factor in labeling a picture is just putting a name down. First and last names if you know them. Any other information will be well appreciated. I determined everyone in a personal family album because I knew the original owner of the album and could therefore figure out who she meant by “Aunt and Uncle” and “Cousin.” And don’t forget to label yourself! These photos will not always be in your possession.

Try and take the time now to fill in the other “W”s: What is going on in the picture? When was it taken? Where is the place in the picture? I can assure you this information will be well appreciated in the future.

Digital photos pose a bit more of a conundrum – it’s not as easy as taking a Sharpie to the back of the picture. Thankfully, there are easy options:

1. Windows actually has a built in system for labeling your photos. Your digital camera should automatically embed the date taken into the picture but once you have uploaded your photos onto your computer you can then begin to add details. In Windows 7 it’s as easy as single-clicking on the picture – this will bring up a bar in the bottom of your window where you can then begin to add details such as “Date taken”, “Title”, “Tags”, and even “Rating”. The information you enter then becomes embedded into your picture file.

In previous versions of Windows it’s as easy as right-clicking on the picture and selecting “Properties.” In there you’ll find fields to enter in information.

2. Windows also provides Windows Media Center as a program to organize and detail your photos. There are also programs available for download on the internet. Here is a site that provides some options with a summary of each:

I am not an Apple user but I imagine there are similar options available.

3. There are many photo sharing sites available online. I feel like this is a fine option for now – but I’m not sure how far in the future these programs will be available. But at least it’s another way to store your photos.

Honestly, I feel a little shaky on the stability of digital photos. I’m not a doomsday type of person at all, but I wonder what would happen if all the technology we currently use just went away. If you’re as anxious as I am about this, your best option (although most time consuming) would be to have all the pictures you couldn’t bear to lose professionally printed. Then you could easily label the back of those and keep them safe.

The other side of that is to digitize your heirloom photographs. In the case of a non-doomsday scenario, your best bet is to have a CD of digital copies of all your photographs (old and new) and to keep them in a waterproof, fireproof safe in your home.
I would go so far as to recommend you do all of the above for photographs that you really care about. This way you ensure that your photos will remain safe. Just make sure they’re labeled!
If you’d like more information on this topic as well as how to properly care for your family heirlooms, Issaquah History Museums will be offering a program on “Preserving Family Photos and Heirlooms” on Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 11am. The program is FREE to the general public. Please visit and click on the link at the top of the page for more information.