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A Genealogist In The Archives

Monday, October 10, 2016

"31 Days of Tips from The Archive Lady"

DAY #10

Finding Photographs in an Archive


Finding a photograph of our ancestor can be a genealogical accomplishment and a reason to do the "Genealogy Happy Dance". Many genealogists, like myself, are still looking for their ancestor's photograph. Did you know that many archives have photograph collections? This fact may not be known by most genealogists because photograph collections are not in plain site and available in the research room. Photograph collections are usually housed in a records vault or in a back room in cold storage stacks.

Stewart County, TN. Archives Back Room Stacks

Photographs are donated to archives on a regular basis. Recently, the local newspaper in Houston County, Tennessee donated their entire collection of old photographs to the Houston County Archives. All photographs are now taken digitally and never printed. These boxes of photographs included people, buildings, local events and many other subjects. The Houston County Archives is now processing these photographs, inventorying them and will eventually digitize them to be shared online. 

Donated Photo Albums, Houston County, TN. Archives

Photographs of individuals, groups, couples and children are a big part of most photograph collections. Also, photographs of local buildings, houses and business can be part of the collection. There could also be school group photos, church Sunday school classes and the local Garden Club available in archived photograph collections.

Whenever visiting an archive, always ask about their Photograph Collection. The archivist may first give you an index to look through. If you see something of interest, tell the archivist or make a written request that those particular photographs be pulled and brought to you.

When the archivist brings the photographs, do not be surprised if you are asked to wear gloves to handle them. The oils and dirt on hands can damage photographs if handled without gloves. Even though the photographs maybe contained in archival sleeves, gloves may still be required. 

Tools of the Archivist, Including Gloves, Houston County, TN. Archives

Ask about the "Unidentified Photographs" in the collection. Almost all archives have unidentified photographs just waiting for someone to identify them. This group is usually the largest section of the photograph collection. If you know what your ancestor's looked like, please take time to search through the unidentified photographs to see if you can find identify any of the photographs. 

Unidentified Group Photo, Houston County, TN. Archives

It is always so sad when I receive a donation of photographs and most of them are unidentified. I look at the faces in those photographs and I know those people belong to someone who is doing genealogy research. I just wish I could reunite them.

The next time you are visiting an archive, talking with the archivist on the phone or emailing them, ask about their photograph collections. You might be pleasantly surprised!



Photographs Can be Found in Scrapbooks Too!!

Check Out My Legacy Family Tree Webinar:

"Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine"

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