March was Women’s History Month and I was reminded of how much I love women’s history. From seeing others posting about the women of the past who inspired them, honoring trailblazers, pioneers, and rebels, to doing my own posts, researching, writing about, and revisiting past work I’ve done on women in history, I am feeling so inspired and motivated to continue to research and write about these stories that interest me and are so important to tell.
Like Black History Month, Women’s History Month deserves to go on all year, everyday, for women’s history, black history, and other minority history to be more fully incorporated into the story of American history because these stories are American history. They are all part of what brought us to today.
I still have so many ideas, as well as several partial draft posts already queuing up, about women’s history. Therefore, I will be continuing to celebrate Women’s History Month well into April and likely beyond.
In case you missed any of my Women’s History Month content, I’ve rounded it all up below. Check it out and let me know what you think!
Also, I’ve highlighted a few other interesting women, such as Violeta Chamorro, the first female head of state in the Americas, Myra Pollack Sadker, a researcher on gender inequity in schools, & Selena, the Queen of Tejano music, in shorter posts on my social media profiles. Check me out on Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook for more content and little bites of history on the daily. I’ve also started playing #TuesdayTrivia with women’s history each week in my Instagram Stories.
New Year’s Resolutions–some love the opportunity to start fresh, set goals, and try new things in the new year. Others despise them because they feel resolutions never work. However, I think the key to success is having support and accountability.
This year, I have a few personal resolutions. I want to read more & watch less t.v. I also want to manage my time better and eat healthier. My resolutions fall into the most common resolutions that people set each year (health, time management, and reading more are all very common).
Other resolutions that are shared by many include: Getting Organized, Learning a New Skill or Hobby, and Spending More Time with Family & Friends. These 3 resolutions can be accomplished through studying family history and, even better, I can help. Having help and support while you strive to meet new goals can make you so much more successful.
Getting Organized – I can help you tackle those organizational projects that seem particularly overwhelming such as family photos, documents, and heirlooms. Many of us each year clean out closets, and reorganize our possessions, but it can be trickier to figure out what to do with historical objects and fragile family photos. I can help you to organize, keep and preserve these precious items or help you to decide if and where you could donate some items to local museums, archives, or libraries if you so choose. I can also help you to research items, digitize them, and share them with your family members.
Learning a New Skill or Hobby – While I offer full services to do your genealogy for you, I also offer a more hands-on option for those who want to study their family history themselves, but just need some help, direction, and support. I can help you get started, pointing you in the right direction for resources, tips, and ongoing support as you go. I can teach you how to make use of different tools to help you to be successful in your family history journey. If you’ve always wanted to dive into your family history, but you just weren’t sure where to start, I can help!
Spending More Time with Family – One way to spend meaningful time with family is to listen to their stories. And when loved ones are no longer with us, to be able to have and listen to those stories still is a comfort. I can help you to properly record and preserve your loved ones voices and stories or undertake a complete family oral history project with multiple interviews, recordings, and transcripts to document your family’s past–a project that the whole family can take on and enjoy together.
Now that you have sorted your collection, done your research to decide where each item should go, and assessed the size and condition of your collection, you are ready to decide how you want to store it. Album, scrapbook, or box? This depends on your specific goals for your collection and the features of your collection include size and condition.
Have a relatively small collection in good condition and want to whip it out whenever you have company and show off your photos and the stories behind them? A scrapbook may be the ticket. More effort is needed up front to create a visually appealing scrapbook, and care needs to be taken to use archival materials, but this is a viable option if you are feeling creative. This is also a good option if you have photos and related documents that you want to keep together for context. I will be scrapbooking my wedding photos and have made scrapbooks in the past for special occasions and vacations.
Photo albums are likewise easily accessible and easy to share with visitors. A little tricky if you have many photos of various sizes though. And not ideal if you have a large collection and not a lot of shelf space as they can get bulky. Photo albums with caption spaces are great for recording all those details you learned in your research.
Photo album from Gaylord Archival.
Box album- the best of both worlds. From Gaylord Archival.
Archival boxes are usually best in terms of preservation since they are completely enclosed and will most be most efficient in terms of space if you have a large collection. Boxes are best for fragile photos that can’t stand up to the page turning involved in albums. Photo boxes comes in a variety of sizes.
When ordering your supplies, pay attention to dimensions, materials (remember to look for acid and lignin free), and capacity. You may also want to invest in some archival quality pens, or pencils, acid-free tissue paper, folders, envelopes, or archival sleeves, depending on the storage solution you decide on. Part of the services I offer includes helping you make these supply decisions based on the specifics of your collection.
Now is also when you may want to decide if you want to digitize your collection before you file it all away. It’s a good time to scan, label, and save your digital files before you find a more permanent home for the physical copies.
In today’s age, I recommend digitizing your photos for many reasons: accessibility, sharing, and preservation being the top. Digitizing your photos means you can access them at any time without physically needing to pull them out–this makes it quick and easy to locate particular images and also connects to preservation. The less the physical copy is handled and exposed to light, dirt, oils in your fingers, etc. the longer it will last.
Finally, the biggest advantage of digitization is the ability to share your family photos with your family and friends even across physical distances. I plan to digitize my family collection to be able to share with my parents and siblings as we are spread across three different states.
Like the physical files though, to digitize you need to consider storage. Depending on the size of your collection, you could need much more digital space than you should probably be putting on your hard drive (it would slow your computer down quite a bit), or then you could fit on a standard flash drive. I would recommend an external hard drive and/or a cloud-based application. My husband and I have an Amazon Prime account which includes unlimited photo storage so I will be making use of that feature in addition to saving the images on an external hard drive. Having two copies helps ensure you don’t lose your files! Other cost efficient cloud options include Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, and Flickr. These options are make sharing much easier. And sharing is caring. 🙂
Stay tuned for next steps including the digitization process, file naming and labeling!
So you’ve started trying to sort through your family photos, but may have been overwhelmed by the sheer number you have, or how many you weren’t sure about either the date, the people pictured, or the location. Deep breath. This may be when you decide to stop and hire professional help. *ahem–me* Or if you want to dig a little deeper for your inner Monica Geller, here is how to proceed.
I began sorting by decade, knowing that everything would not be in perfect order right away, which is totally fine. Now that everything is roughly sorted, I am going through each decade’s pile with a more discerning eye to the order with the aim to get everything in chronological order, at least to the right year. If many photos are undated, it will be nearly impossible to have the photos in month/date order as even the people who lived through the events in the photos may not be able to remember which happened first or exactly what month and day.
So if your photos are undated, how do you go about deciding which order they should be in? The first step if possible is to ask the subjects of the photos, the person who was likely behind the camera, or other close relatives who may recognize the subjects, places, or time periods.
Even Monica could use a little help from her relatives…
What some of my research looks like–texts to my mom.
But what if no one remembers? There are other ways to figure out approximate dates. Obvious first options–check the front and back of the photo for the dates that were printed on the photo. Keep in mind that those dates are when the photos were printed, not taken. Depending on how quickly you or your relatives took their film to be developed will determine how close those printed dates are to the taken dates.
Also common are handwritten dates and other info on the backs of the photos. If there is identifying information on some photos, you can then use context clues for similar looking photos–photos of family members where they look the same age, photos taken in the same house, etc.
Handwritten date on back of photo.
Date printed along border on front of image.
Handwritten date and other information on back of photo.
It is also helpful to pay attention to hairstyles, styles of dress, and background details including signs, places, home decor, etc. to get an idea of time period. (Hopefully your family wasn’t behind the times too much.)
The size of your prints can also be a general clue to age. For example, standard 4×6 wasn’t the standard until the 1990s. Smaller prints were more popular in the 1970s and 80s. And even smaller prints (like teeny tiny) were common in the 1940s. And finally, if in doubt, using estimations is fine.
Now, what do you do with the information you gather from relatives and your research about specific images? For now, I would recommend making notes on a separate piece of paper. Writing on the photos themselves is not recommended for two reasons, physical preservation of the photo, and preservation of the context of the photo. If you add your own notes to the back of a photo that already has writing on it, or worse, you write a note that turns out not to be correct, later viewers of the image may not be sure what was written originally and what was added later.
The information is better added later in a caption in a photo album (with an archival quality pen or pencil) and in the digital record’s metadata, which we will discuss more in depth later.
As you go forth and gather information from relatives also consider recording more formal oral history interviews with them. There is nothing like preserving a relative’s voice and their stories. More on oral histories later or contact me to see how I can help.
Stay tuned for next steps–deciding on storage, both physical and digital, and labeling.
So you want to get your family photos and other archives in order but you aren’t sure where to start. Dig deep and harness your inner Monica Geller! Yes, that Monica Geller, from the 90’s hit sitcom Friends.
Step 1: Start.
Easier said than done, but to get started you have to dive in. But in an orderly fashion.
Start with a dedicated clean, dry space for your project. You don’t want to start and stop this project, having to regather everything every other day, so I don’t recommend using your bed, dining room table (unless you never eat there, which I totally get), or coffee table.
My space for now and my relatively small family project is a desk in our office/my husband’s man cave, which has been cleared of said husband’s stuff. (read: junk.)
With clean, dry hands, start going through your collection. If already in older albums(i.e. albums in need of replacing), great! Leave them in for now. See if your collection is already organized in some way, by date, event, or some other way.
This initial stage is to get a sense for how many items you have, what they are, and what you would like to do with them. And by all means, enjoy the trip down memory lane. That’s what it’s all about.
In the case of loose photos, especially if they have gotten out of order, just start sorting by whatever parameters make sense to you, but I generally suggest date.
I took my collection of loose photographs and initially began sorting by decade. I will refine it as closely as possible by year later.
This initial sorting has given me an idea of how many photos there are, what time frame is included, and how much research I might have to do in order to figure out dates, names, etc. It also brought my attention to the fact that some of the images are bent, torn, or sticky–some have tape or glue residue on the back. (Monica would not approve.)
But this is a start and you now have an idea of what you need to do in order to sort better (in my case, some phone calls and FaceTiming my mom are going to be necessary), some problem areas that will need to be addressed (sticky backs), and an idea of how large your project is–something that comes into play when deciding what supplies you will need to store your collection in.
Feeling your inner Monica yet? Or still feeling overwhelmed? I am a Monica and happy to help with your family archiving project. Contact me and let’s talk!
I currently work as the archivist for a private company. In that position I get to manage a collection, do research for reference requests, manage loans, etc. However, I do not get to do research beyond the company really so I miss researching about more varied historical topics. For that reason I have begun doing consulting work for museums.
My first client has been the Tobacco Farm Life Museum where I used to work. I plan social media content for the Museum, especially Throwback Thursday posts and I started a new series for the Museum’s 35th anniversary this year called #farmingFriday. This series draws on the Museum’s Honors and Memorials program, content that already existed online on the museum’s website. Each week someone who was either involved in the Museum or the community is profiled.
Throwback Thursday posts include historical pictures of farming or rural life and I research how that particular activity fit into farm life and what importance it had in the lives of farmers or community members. Posts are themed to the time of year and to what is currently happening in the farming world. For example a recent post was about topping and suckering tobacco which is going on now in modern farming as well.
Theses posts have increased engagement on social media and in person. The museum’s director reports hearing positive comments and feedback from community members, board members, and others. Social media comments are usually people remembering their own experience working on a farm. Followers offer up stories, memories, and commentary on life on the farm in their time.
The Museum primarily used Facebook in the past but I have now expanded to include Instagram as well which opens the Museum up to another audience.
My role as consultant also includes research and general support. The Museum held its 35th anniversary event recently and invited all previous board members and employees. I was able to attend and help with set up and clean up and enjoy hearing the people who were involved in the Museum’s founding discuss the ups and downs of getting a local history museum off the ground. The local community was devoted to telling it’s own history.
I’ll be continuing to assist with managing the social media while also brainstorming other ideas for the Museum’s future, researching grants, and other tasks; however, I’m also open to consulting on similar types of projects with other institutions. Please let me know if you or your organization have a project that could use an outside public historian’s input.