Most genealogists will eventually inherit photos. People in your family know you’re the family genealogist. When the time comes to pass photos on to someone else, either due to the death of someone in the family or because an elderly relative is downsizing, you are the most likely person to get them. Some may be in albums, but quite often you will get loose photos kept in boxes and other unlikely methods of storage. Only rarely will these photos be labeled. It is up to you to label them and get them organized so future generations can enjoy them.
If you are lucky, you will recognize most of the people in the photos, so getting the names correct shouldn’t be too difficult for you. If you don’t know who someone is in a photo, wait until you’ve gone through all of the photos and set the ones aside where there are people you don’t recognize. Take these photos to an older relative who is likely to be able to identify these people. If no one can identify someone in a photo, you will have to list them as “unknown friend” or “unknown relative” on the photo.
When it comes to actually labeling the photos, including the names of everyone in each photo is the most important part. If you decide to write on your photos you should always write with an archival-safe pen, so as not to damage the front of the photo, and do your labeling on the backs of the photos. Write at least the first and last names of everyone. All women who are married should have their maiden names included along with their married names. If there is room on the photo, you can include middle names. For women, label the photos according to the status of the woman when the photo was taken. If she was still a child and unmarried, label her with her maiden name only. If she married more than once, label her with her maiden name and her married name at the time the photo was taken.
If you know the approximate date the photo was taken, include this under the names. Use the exact date if you know it. If you only know an approximate date, use “circa” before the date you think the photo was taken.
These are the most important things to include when labeling photos. If there is room, and it is significant to the photo, include the place the photo was taken, and the occasion on which it was taken, such as a special family or personal event for the person or people in the photo. You want to include as much information on each photo as you can for future generations. Just think how much you would have appreciated it if all those old photos you’ve collected came to you labeled this way. Give that gift to future genealogists in your family. It will also be nice for reference when you look at the photos with other family members, your children, siblings, or grandchildren. A properly labeled photo is a genealogical treasure. Make as many of them as you can, not only for yourself, but for others.
Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)