Monday, May 9, 2016
Archiving Genealogically Important Photos
Photographs are a window into the past, but they are also one more thing to catalog and preserve. As evidenced by the number of people who come to the Brigham Young University Family History Library with stacks of photos to scan, there is a major movement from paper and slides to digital. How do we go about organizing all these digital images? There is no one answer and for me, the ultimate solution is still an elusive dream.
Ideally I would want a program that would allow me to digitize all my photos on both sides and let me designate that a second scan was the reverse of the first scan and keep the two together. I would like this even though very few of my paper photos come with identifying notes on the back. Likewise, I would like a program that would scan my slides, but at the same time have the ability to scan the outer paper slide holder when there is information written on the paper edge. Presently each digitized image in every scanning program I am aware of scans every image as a separate and distinct file so front and back can easily get separated. The solution is simple but not entirely satisfactory, that is to merge the two scans into a single PDF file using a utility program such as Adobe Acrobat Pro.
I would also like to have a much, much greater capability to attach embedded metadata to each of my photos. Right now all of my scans and photos have sizable metadata embedded but you would need to have Adobe Lightroom or a similar program to see the metadata. None of the programs online that I am aware of can find or manipulate my photos using the embedded metadata. It is also possible that by uploading a copy of the photo, I am losing all of the metadata anyway. For example the screenshot above from the FamilySearch.org Memories program has thousands of my uploaded files. In every case, I have to add metadata in the way of titles and tagging and other information to make the files discoverable. That essentially means adding the same information I could add before uploading the files twice.
From time to time I get asked questions about sorting, cataloging and identifying large numbers of images. My answer is always the same, let the computer do what it does and don't try to do the work for the computer. Sorting photos or any other digitized image into some sort of file organization on your computer is a futile effort to duplicate a paper filing system that does not work well. Color coding and all other related types of organization for paper files are a complete waste of time for digitized images. All of the genealogists who use computers already have all the tools they need to organize their images. We all have access to genealogical database programs that support attaching media files to multiple people. Whether you use an online program such as the FamilySearch.org Family Tree or Ancestry.com family tree or a MyHeritage.com family tree or some other program, you can attach the photos and in some cases, tag the people in the digitized documents to their individual descriptions in the family tree programs.
For example here is a scan of one of my archived photos on the FamilySearch.org Family Tree with a descriptive title and the tagging of the people in the photo. Unfortunately, there is no way to show all the tags at once, you have to hover over the photo or the list of names of the tagged people to see each tagging circle at a time.
As each of these individuals are tagged, a copy of this image is attached to their own personal Detail Page in their own Memories section. This is a good start at solving the organization problem, but even if I upload a batch of photos, I still have to tag and attach each photo individually. You could use some of the third party programs that work with the FamilySearch.org Memories program, but in every case I have found so far, the programs expect you to duplicate the work you have already done on FamilySearch.org.
Essentially you can put all your digitized images in one huge folder or in separate folders (if that makes you feel more organized) and then attach them to the individuals you have in your database and they are essentially organized. You use you database program (i.e. the Family Tree or whatever) to find the individual photos. Voila! you are organized.
Guess what? The paper organizers are not happy with this arrangement. They still want multiple folders and color coding and such. They think the results are messy. But all of these quasi-physical organizational system over look the fact that computer programs can show multiple web-like connections at the same time, a feature that is missing from all physical systems.
So I am moving as many photos as I can to the FamilySearch.org Family Tree because the program is free to all users, allows tagging and attaching photos, documents, audio files and stories and FamilySearch is committed to preserving everything on their website for free in the future. I love some of the other programs, but they do not yet support the free function for all users.