Most genealogists tend to have pretty strong feelings, especially when it comes to genealogy and their ancestors! One topic that brings up a lot of emotions is photographs of our ancestors. Some people have them and others don't. Some people are willing to share them and others won't.
I have to admit that I have done a complete flip in how I feel about owning and sharing ancestral photos.
When I started out in genealogy many years ago I didn't have a whole lot of ancestral photos. My mom had a portait of my great grandparesnts, Jesse Forest Silver and Margaret Jane George. But I never saw much on my paternal side except for my grandparents. My great grandparents remained faceless to me.
When I did find photos I had a tendency to covet them and secret them away. I made it a policy that I wouldn't share family photos online in my blog posts or social media. Part of how I felt was that I wanted to protect my ancestors from unethical commercial entities. Those groups that would steal photos online and then sell them as stock photography to be used as advertisements. I couldn't think of a worse thing happening to my ancestors.
But I also wasn't keen on sharing with distant cousins either. I kept thinking that I was going to write and publish a family history and I would save the photos for the book.
At some point things started to change. I started a website for my Edwards ancestors. I was touched at how distant cousins from far flung branches were willing to share photos for inclusion on the website. The next big change came after my Dad's brother died. During the process of downsizing, my aunt decided to pass on to us the boxes of family photos they had stored in their basement. I was visiting my Dad one weekend and he said "I have something to show you." He started pulling out photo after photo of his ancestors. I saw my great greandparents Seeber Edwards and Sarah Estella Gurney for the first time. I was dumbfounded. For the very first time I was looking at their faces. They were suddenly real people with real features and family resemblances.
More recently I have hit a milestone birthday. That has changed my perception of everything. Instead of wanting to keep everything to myself or to worry about that book that may never get published, I am suddently more concerned with making sure that everyone I am related to has access to our family history and all of our family photos. The way I see it now, our family history, memories and photos have a better chance of surviving, particularly in the digital age, if they are widely shared.
Another thing happened as well. I was on a large database site looking at family trees for my maternal line when I came across a tree that had a photo of our original immigrant ancestor who came over from the Czech Republic. I had never seen a photo of this ancestor before and never imagined that one had even existed. If this 3rd cousin of mine had not publicly shared the photo I would never have seen my ancestor. I am so grateful that he did.
It was a very special moment to see the face of my immigrant ancestor. It got me thinking that everyone who is a descendant of this person might feel the same way when seeing the photo. Everyone should have the same opportunity to get to know their ancestors. And it was at this point that I decided that photos of our ancestors need to be shared.
There are perhaps some guidelines we can follow when sharing that will make things easier. When sharing online in public trees, blog posts or social media perhaps use a low resolution (such as 72dpi) so that photo thieves won't be able to make good quality copies. Even though I post lower resolution copies online, I like to make it known to distant cousins that I am willing to give them higher resolution copies. When sharing directly with close family, either via Dropbox or thumbdrive, I always provide the high resolution copy.
If someone has shared a family photo with you, it's always best to get permission before share it again yourself, particularly online. And always be sure to credit the person who owns the photo.
Beyond that I don't have too many rules.
How do you feel about sharing photos of your ancestors? Any guidelines that you find helpful? Let me know in the comments.
Marian Pierre-Louis is a genealogy professional who specializes in educational outreach through webinars, internet broadcasts and video. Her areas of expertise include house history research, southern New England research and solving brick walls. Marian is the Online Education Producer for Legacy Family Tree Webinars where she produces online genealogy education classes. Once a month you'll find her as the evening host of Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.