Friday, June 27, 2008

Save those pictures!

Lately all the news about floods and earthquakes and fires (today's smoky air brings it home) has made me think more seriously about protecting family treasures. We all know it is vital to back up our computer records regularly (don’t we?), and I manage to back up my genealogical text files onto a CD and store it away from the house, perhaps not as often as I should, but at least I do it!

There is more to consider, however. I have many scanned photos, but far more than have not been scanned. These originals reside in albums, envelopes, boxes, and under glass. They are truly treasures, records of our family from the 19th century forward.

One of the earliest in my possession is a portrait of my great grandmother, Nancy Jane Sherwood Hammond Howard. I can date it to sometime before 1864, because that is when she died.Then there is the enlarged snapshot of my mother, Thelma Louise Tanner, and her two sisters, one of them in a pram, taken around 1911. And I love the sepia photograph of my father, Howard Hamilton Cain, looking young and dauntless in his WWI soldier’s uniform.

I was moved to make plans not just to scan but also to copy all these images to a CD when I realized they would really be lost for good if disaster struck. And disasters don’t just happen to other people. But it seemed such a huge, formless task I had to take some time to think about it.

The first step was to locate as many of the pictures as I could lay hands on. There are archival albums with many of the ancestral portraits, and loosely organized binders for some more recent shots. But there are still boxes of pictures in the closet and some framed portraits which had never been copied. (Undoubtedly, others will come to light later on.)

The next step was to single out irreplaceable originals, the ones descendants would most likely want to keep. That was easy -- the pictures already in the albums, plus a few in frames. So I decided to start there, and evolved a reasonably systematic procedure (every scanner and every computer photo management program is different, so it takes a while).

Of course, as with any family history project, it is hard to stay on the straight and narrow. Behind a dime store frame which apparently had not been opened up since its purchase, I found the picture of one "Cora Sue Collins," a little girl in a white suit and tie, with the imprint of her signature. This was intriguing, so I had to stop and do a bit of sleuthing. Turns out she was a child star in the 1930s. Her career is discussed on the Internet Movie Database.

Another item I wanted to copy was the small etching of a family dwelling in the Mojave Desert, dated 1939 and signed by "Henry Williams Smith." I knew nothing of him and it was way too late to ask relatives. Furthermore, earlier searches for this set of everyday names had been quite discouraging.This time, however, I persevered, and was able to determine that a physician by that name, who was best known for writing science history, was also an artist. He lived in Southern California in the 1930s, and must have been a guest of my aunts at some point.

The project, with all its fascinating byways, continues as time allows. More later.

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