5 Photos Genealogists Should be Taking Now
May 13, 2022
In her recent webinar, Gena Philibert-Ortega asked us if we remembered our grandmother's kitchen. Do we remember her rolling pin, dishes or the way the kitchen looked? That got me thinking about all the kitchens I have known and the relatives who filled them with warmth and good food. But as a photographer, I couldn't help but start thinking about photographs too. As part of our role as genealogists we should be proactively thinking about taking photos so that our descendants don't have to rely simply on their memories.
Here are five photos every genealogist should be taking now in order to pass down more than just memories:
1) In the kitchen
The kitchen is the heart of most homes. Great smells emanate from the kitchen as family recipes are being cooked. During holiday celebrations conversations are happening, people are bumping into each other, laughter is peeling out. Other times the kitchen is the center for hanging out. A visitor stops by unexpectedly and everyone gathers around the kitchen table for lemonade. Or family and friends relax there after a high school soccer game or theatre production.
When capturing your kitchen in a photo try to consider all the uses of your kitchen. Take photos of the cook(s) and what they are cooking. Show images of friends casually gathered around the table. Don't forget to include special items such as heirloom china or your mom's favorite bowl. I know my kids will remember me wearing an apron. I am always wearing an apron in the kitchen. While I might not want someone to photograph me in an apron it would be a really meaningful photo for my children to have. It would bring back lots of memories for them.
2) Don't forget your pets
Everyone seems to have lots of photos of their pets which they've shared on Facebook. But do you have photos of you and your other family members with your pet? Photos of interest to genealogists will also contain family members. Take a family photo with your pet when he first joins your family. Then be sure to continue taking more photos through the years. Both your family and your pet will change as time passes. You will all grow and start to look older. Also, how did you interact with your pet? Did you take your dog on hikes or summer vacations? Did you ride your horse on a particular trail? You want to be able to capture those moments so that you can show your descendants how much your pet meant to you.
3) Multigenerational photos
Perhaps the most important photo of all for genealogists is the multigenerational photo. Every time you get together as a family you should consciously take a photo of the youngest person in the family with the oldest person in the family. Those photos serve as the link between generations many years into the future. The youngest people in your family will be grateful they have photos with a relative they were only able to meet once or twice.
Also, how many generations of living family members do you currently have - three, four, maybe even five? Get a group photo showing the span of the generations as they are now.
Sometimes people like to take these photos based on gender - daughter, mother, grandmother, great grandmother. And the same photo for the men. Other options are to take a photo with all the men in the family and another of all the women in the family. A single photo showing the entire family is certainly good too but it gets more difficult to see everyone well. And not to mention it's nearly impossible to get a good photo of everyone the more people you have in the photo.
4) Gravestone photos with people in the photo
Genealogists love to go to cemeteries to locate and photograph the graves of their ancestors. But have you ever included yourself or your family in the photo? Gravestone photos are so much more meaningful when the people we love are in the photos. And it also serves to document for future generations that we have visited the graves of our ancestors. When my children were little I took them to cemeteries quite regularly. Some of my most precious photos are of my little boys next to an ancestor's gravestone. They may not remember the specific visit but they will always know that there were there once.
5) Photos of your passions
Back when I was in high school my local church was making a directory of all its members. They asked all the families to come dressed in the outfits that represented them the most. The father might be holding fishing gear, the mother in her running clothes, a son in his football uniform and a daughter with her camera gear. The photos were wonderful because they really gave a sense of who each person was. It would be fun to create a staged photo like that just for our own family keepsake or maybe even a holiday card.
If you don't feel like staging an event like that then you'll have to keep in the back of your mind to capture these moments as they happen. Photograph your kids during scouting events such as Brownies, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Head off to a sporting event and get a photo of your kids in uniform before or after the game. Take photos of family members marching in the local 4th of July parade. And don't forget that photo of your Dad in his favorite hat when he's off sailing.
By going to the effort of taking these photos now you'll provide a much richer way for your descendants to get to know you. What other types of photos would you include? What images do you want to pass down to your descendants? Let me know in the comments.
Marian Pierre-Louis is a house history and 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. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.
And don't forget the house, at least the outside. I cannot get my children to take/provide pictures of past homes now while one remembers where it was (smile). I do not have pictures of the homes that three of my five grandchildren first lived in.
I have enjoyed finding in the 1950 census the apartment numbers of places lived in NYC by my parents and my grandparents. I wish that I had taken pictures of those. One house of my maternal grandparents is now 10 apartments.
Posted by: Howland Davis | May 14, 2022 at 11:35 AM
When taking headstone photos I always have my son stand behind the husband's stone and my daughter stand behind the wive's stone. The both stand behind single stones for both spouses.
This way I will always know which stone is whose.
Posted by: Moe | May 16, 2022 at 08:52 AM
Good Housekeeping ran a series of a family that took a photo in front of their house every year. Another series of photos that would be memorable in later years is the family with their car. Showing the license plate would date the photo.
Posted by: Dale M Garvey Jr | May 16, 2022 at 08:54 AM
Take a picture of all the homes/ apartments you have lived in for future generations to see. I have been doing that. I was to late for a couple of places they had been torn down. One where my husband and I first lived after getting married.
Posted by: Mary M. Lyons Decker | May 16, 2022 at 09:25 AM
Take a picture of all the places you have lived. Before they are no longer there. I am doing that.
Posted by: Mary M. Lyons Decker | May 16, 2022 at 09:31 AM
I wish I had pictures of my grandparents at their work.
Posted by: Josh | May 16, 2022 at 10:07 AM
I’ve and am creating books for each member of the family showing their homes, vehicles, activities and family groupings at their. 40th, 65th and 70th birhdays.. It helps me to remember to keep on taking those photos.
Thanks for reinforcing.
Posted by: Kathy | May 16, 2022 at 10:51 AM
I've taken photographs of the steps making our traditional family foods for holidays, some years just a shot before going in the oven and after baking, and have some years detailing the entire process. My favorite photos are of my granddaughter and I making them together as I have photos of working with my son when he was young and also now as an adult and even my husband lending a hand. Multi-generational pics of baking or cooking together are the best!
And I also read about a family that took a photograph of all the cousins when they were little lined up by ages--and how they've made it a tradition to duplicate the photograph over the years. So priceless!
Posted by: Cindy Suda | May 16, 2022 at 11:14 AM
For those who are kicking themselves for not getting photos of homes before they're torn down, I have a workaround for some of you. Google Maps! Type in an address and search. When you get to the photo of where the house used to be, check the upper left corner of the photo itself. Under the small "Google" logo, there may be a tiny clock, and next to that, it says "street view" and the date. Click that clock, and it will show you a timeline with dates past photos were taken. The earliest ones were from 2007, so if there is a photo from that year, the building may still be up!
And for those who are inclined, I take screenshots of places my ancestors worked, went to school, went to church, any place of significance. It's a nice way to add relevant substance to your ancestors' lives.
Posted by: Roxanne Wolfe | May 16, 2022 at 12:40 PM
A photo is only as good as the information attached to it… date and label physical photos… and/or include that information with digital images as a file name or as digital labels. I have hundreds of photos of grandparents, great grandparents and older relatives, none are labeled and nobody is still alive that can identify who is who or even if the individuals are actually related. They say images are worth a thousand words, but without a Date and Label, all those words become worthless!
Posted by: Patrick Witz | May 16, 2022 at 01:36 PM
Take pictures of work and business trips. You also might want to take pictures of the older pictures you have just in case. I also take pictures of fishing buddies that I only see on the fishing boat. Be sure to document who's in the picture.
Posted by: David P. Blackburn | May 16, 2022 at 06:04 PM
I have been fortunate that most of the previous houses I have lived in have been listed on a generic realtor's web site. They include photos and floorplans that I can combine with my own to provide an evolving timeline. It's always interesting (for me) to see what changes others may have made along the way, if any.
I agree that multigeneration photos, especially single gender, always look great. When we took a group photo of the extended family a few years ago at my parents' 70th wedding anniversary it was a bit awkward to identify some people because not all were facing the camera. Smaller groups are definitely a better way, with the big group photo to tie it all together.
I note some good pointers in some of the comments relating to labelling and dating photos, something I haven't always done.
Posted by: Rene Borst | May 16, 2022 at 07:04 PM
Wonderful advice. I'm also working on photos of places I have worked. Sadly, many are now gone.
Posted by: Dee Clark | May 17, 2022 at 06:26 AM
Great article and suggestions. I agree with documenting photos - some of my very old photos say "this is the baby". When photos don't have information sometimes another family member - even a distantly related cousin! - may have the same photo (or another photo of the same people) that does have information. Hang on to old undocumented photos because eventually you may find answers and, in my case, meet your 3rd cousin once removed, solve a mystery together, and form a great friendship!
Also, a photo of people in front of a house may show the house number. I recently learned the location and date of a photo of my grandmother with her siblings and parents (all adults) from the house number and an online directory. It was her sister's house and she had moved there about 1949!
Posted by: Sheila Jeck | May 18, 2022 at 12:44 PM
I have been fortunate enough to have portraits and pictures going back to my great-grandparents (taken late 1800's) hung like a geneaologist tree. My then 8 and 6 year old granddaughteres wanted to know who all the people are. As I began to tell the stories, the 8 year old asked if any of this was written down. I explained it is oral history passed from generation to generation. Her reply was a lopsided grin as she clearly stated "Gram, I don't think you will live that long!"
I know have a small envelope on the back of each picture with details and memories.
Posted by: Teresa Jacbson | May 19, 2022 at 07:50 AM
My mother started the tradition of taking my photo on the first day of school every year. And I continued that tradition with my children and grandchild. On the first day of school, children are usually dressed in New clothes, have haircuts, and look happy. So it's a perfect day to take photos. BTW When my mother started this tradition, the photo was taken in our front yard, because in the late 1940's, very few people could afford flash equipment. So, taking the photo in the front yard will also document where you lived. I still have a quiet chuckle when I think of the first day of school for my son in 1975. He was the epitome of fashion in his turtle neck t-shirt and plaid, flared pants.....😁
Posted by: Carolyn Peters | May 19, 2022 at 10:34 AM
The article was very well presented and I have taken numerous pictures of the types you speak of. I made up a book about each of my parents and used some of those pictures to add to the stories. The books were well received by my siblings and grandchildren.
I enjoyed reading the comments written by the readers of your article. Thank you all.
Posted by: Willene Gillies | May 19, 2022 at 02:38 PM
Wonderful article on picture taking. I also read the comment that someone had put an envelope on the back of the picture with info. This is all good. However, PLEASE make backups of your photos and store them off-site! My youngest brother-in-law had all the photos of my husband's family. I had borrowed them and scanned all of them. A few months later his house was totally demolished in a tornado. The tornado was on the ground for 127 miles - yes, 127 miles! None of the photos were ever recovered. Had I not scanned them, no one would have copies. They aren't the original, but at least all the siblings have a flash drive or CD with photos.
My brother and I also share lots of copies of photos. Therefore, we always have a safe back-up.
Posted by: Brenda Dixon | May 19, 2022 at 05:50 PM
Wonderful suggestions! My mother-in-law never threw anything away, and would always write on the back of photos the name and date. After she died, we found boxes and boxes of photos, receipts, newspaper articles, deeds, you name it…how wonderful for me to be able to match a name with a face. Thank you, Evelyn! I framed many of these photographs and placed them around a family tree my daughter had made for me. I made a map of the photos, and then compiled a page of information for each person represented in a reference “book.” Now anyone can go right to that person and read about them—and I don’t have to memorize all that info!
Posted by: Sue Schwoerer | May 20, 2022 at 06:19 AM
The House! Don't forget to take pictures of the houses, including the changes in them overtime. Chimneys get removed, shutters, siding, and additions get put on as the family grows and/or becomes more prosperous. Take pics of barns and landscapes too because they change as well.
Posted by: Karen Prytula | May 20, 2022 at 06:58 AM
Even military group photos. We have an old photo of my dad who enlisted in the Army January 1950, just after his 18th birthday, just before the Korean War. The photo is a group of young men in their Army fatigues and the only one we know in that photo is our father. We found this photo after my father's passing in 2004.
Most of the military records for the Korean War were lost to a fire in the building where they were kept.
Posted by: Bobbie Poston | May 20, 2022 at 08:01 AM
All great ideas, but think the pictures of the cars should be stressed. When a teen drives his/her first car they will remember, but what about that second, third, etc., car? They should all be recorded as who knows when the electric car will be everywhere?
Posted by: Carole Weber | June 20, 2022 at 11:08 AM