Thursday, March 19, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: Repatriating Old Photographs

**Gena's Note: Today's Women's History Month blog post is courtesy of Gary W. Clark from We often focus on finding our own family history, this reminds us of ways we can help others connect with their long-lost female ancestors. 

Gary W. Clark. Used with permission

Collections of family photos invariably include unidentified images that can be frustrating to the process of publishing a robust and accurate family history. We are faced with the dilemma of whether the photograph is even a family member.

Another similar challenge involves finding photographs buried along with known family pictures that are identified with a name, but you have no idea who the person is. Perhaps it is a surname you do not recognize. Was this someone important to the family? Maybe it is an in-law or some distant cousin, multiple times removed.

If the name is not  familiar to you, it may be worthwhile to conduct a first level search on that name; consult, FamilySearch, a general Google search, and a newspaper search if you have access to one of those services. I do this for two reasons. One, I may find out that they are someone important to my family history or two, I may repatriate the photography to someone in that family. What a neat feeling  knowing you might have supplied a completely unknown image to a family missing that piece of their personal history puzzle.

Recently, while sorting through some old pictures for a new book on 20th century photographs, I ran across one of my favorite photos from about 1896; I have owned the picture for quite a few years.  It was a striking woman about twenty years old, with a name I assumed was hers on the back: Jemima Pfahler. What a great name to search for, at least it is not Johnson or Clark which make up the majority of my ancestors; this would be too easy. Well, it was. listed over a dozen family trees with her name. So, now what should I do? Whether it was fair or not, I looked at each tree and noted if the owner was recently online, how detail and diligent was their work, and how closely related Jemima was to the tree owner.

 Gary W. Clark. Used with permission.

My plan was to contact them, offer a high quality digital copy of the image along with what I knew about it. And, if there was high interest, probably send them the original. This photo was one I actually bought years ago on eBay as part of research on an earlier book.

I sent a message through explaining the offer. A nice reply to my email provided a direct email address and interest in the image. This person had done a lot of research on Jemima and actually had another picture of her, her marriage license, and death certificate posted on their online family tree. So I felt this is someone who would appreciate a copy of this image.

This all contributed to a good feeling about sharing family history information, even if it was not my history. I try this frequently, and it is not always so successful. I've met people who repatriate old photos as a hobby, it can be rewarding and many websites like DeadFred and Ancient Faces provide a venue to post such pictures.

If you are lucky, you may find that picture in your collection broadens the history of you family also. That long-lost cousin.

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