Today’s blog discusses the adventure of family history research and how photographs can add so much to your family tree. Both Janet and I enjoy researching our family history, and it’s always a special treat when we discover a photograph of an ancestor we know of by name, but otherwise know little about.
Janet and I each have done pretty well filling out our family trees. Websites like Ancestry.com provide lots of tools to help you find the names of people in our family tree, as well as other researchers who may have part of your family tree in common with theirs. This is one way we discover old photos of ancestors. We have found that our Ancestry.com membership dollars have been well spent.
Of course, there may be vintage photos closer than you realize. If your parents or grandparents are still alive, it’s worth paying a visit and asking them to dig out old photo albums. It’s fun to go through those albums together, and have your parents or grandparents tell stories about what they remember from the time when the photos were taken. It’s also a good opportunity to jot down notes or even make an audio recording to preserve some of those details. Here are some tips from Family Tree Magazine for asking questions and interviewing your relatives.
It was back in the mid 1990s when my grandmother was still alive that she told me she she wished she had asked her parents more questions about their families. That’s when the genealogy bug first bit me, as I decided to try to help my grandma piece together parts of her family tree. The photo at the top of this blog is one that she had tucked away in a box in a closet. I’ll use it as an example of how some digital restoration can preserve family history in a rich and meaningful way.
Here’s the full photo, as first presented to me:
On the left you see my great grandmother. She is standing with her first husband and their three children in front of the home where my grandmother lived all of her life, where my father was raised, and where my uncle still lives. We estimate that this photo dates from about 1910, about seven years before my grandmother was born. My research discovered that my grandmother was introduced to this family by working for them as “domestic help”. Later, she married one of the sons of that family, Henry. Henry died in 1913, just a few years after this photo was probably taken. It was around 1915 or 1916 that my great grandmother met my great grandfather.
The photo above is revealing. Behind the house to the left one can see the shape of a old-fashioned pump. As a kid in the 1960s, I remember that pump still there, and how delicious the cold well water tasted on a hot summer day.
Behind the well further in the background you can just make out part of a small shed. This is what we called the “lower garage” when I was a kid. It was a dark, rickety old thing when we used to play in there. I imagine it was the stable for the horse that is shown in the main picture.
The little worn walking path you see is essentially intact to this day. It’s a trivial little feature of the photo, yet it’s part of what connects me to the past. Knowing I walked up and down that little path as my great grandmother did long ago helps bring this photo to life for me.
So, what to do with an old photo like this? It obviously has yellowed over time, and there’s only one original. Restoring the physical image would be challenging, risky, and expensive. One thing that I take a lot of joy in is freshening up these old photos digitally. I use Photoshop, but there are several excellent software tools available, and some are free (click here to read about some of the free ones.) It’s amazing what just a little cleanup can do. In this case, I would take out the yellow, and either convert completely to black and white, or at least desaturate the yellow to a softer tone. Here are two examples to consider.
Lastly, I’d crop and resize to fit standard printing conventions. In the case below, I cropped to a standard 8×10 format. This removes some of the unnecessary clutter from the edges. Now the photo is ready to be printed, framed, and displayed.
I think you will find joy in researching and preserving antique photos that tell your family story. If you’d like help, we would like to hear from you. Contact us here, and feel free to look at our range of digital photo restoration services.