I am sure, that the same genealogists who would be appalled if someone changed their ancestors name, date associated with the ancestor or some other fact are completely unaware of the issues involved in uploading incomplete, misleading and otherwise altered images. I will begin to illustrate this point with a series of photos from an online photographic database associated with the genealogy program. I am not identifying the program because I find exactly the same photos in different online programs. All of the following photographs are of the same individual and taken from the same database program.
|Photo No. 1|
|Photo No. 2|
|Photo No. 3|
|Photo No. 4|
|Photo No. 5|
Despite any underlying issues, at some point in time, likely before these images were available to be uploaded onto the Internet, someone decided to crop the image identified as number five to include only a headshot of George Jarvis.
Looking at photograph number five, there is certainly a great deal more information conveyed by this photograph than any of the others. By cropping out George's wife, Ann Prior Jarvis, and by eliminating the background, much of the original information is lost. Lost information includes includes the association between George Jarvis and his wife and the possibility of determining the exact location of the photograph from the house in the background.
What is certain is that the person who first cropped the photograph had access to the original. It is also entirely possible that the person who did this thought absolutely nothing was wrong with the process and in fact felt that creating a headshot was desirable. It is unlikely that the individual gave a second thought to the entire process but from a historical point of view, much of the information in the original photograph would have been lost had the original photograph not survived. Perhaps cropping the photo is justified by keeping both photographs. On the other hand, had a copy of the photograph labeled as number five not been preserved, there would be no way to tell that the other photographs have been altered.
The problem of preserving the venue and as much of the circumstances of the photo is possible are clearly and illustrated by photo number four. Although, the alteration of the photo seems to be minimal and even though the association of George Jarvis and his wife are preserved, the possibility of identifying the location of the photograph from the background has been destroyed.
In the context of genealogical research, the most complete and most on altered photograph should always be used as an attachment to the genealogical record. If the original photograph is unavailable and the researcher desires to use a copy, then the fact that the image is a copy should be clearly noted along with the source where the copy was obtained. This is particularly true when researchers copy photographs from printed books such as surname books relating the history of a family. As much is possible, any original photograph should be preserved as exactly as possible in its original state. If the photograph is scanned the scan should be as faithful to the original as possible. If the researcher deems it necessary to alter the original photograph, then the original photograph should always be kept and made available. Merely because the tools exist to easily make such changes, the existence of the tools do not create an open mandate to make such changes.