This is my grandmother and her sisters.” To him, each picture told a story and warmed his heart. To me, they were just images of people dressed in ancient fashion. I noticed the pictures were randomly placed on the torn pages of a photo album with a broken spine. There were no labels or captions, just pictures. It reminded me of the photo books Dad brought back from England after the war. Black pages with pasted pictures of nameless people.
After he passed away, I wished I had been wiser in getting him to label the pictures and tell me the stories about each picture. I desperately wanted to know who they were and why they were so important, but that opportunity was gone. I couldn’t even ask my mother; she is legally blind and, even if I could describe the photo in perfect detail, she could not tell me. She was not there, and those memories were not hers to tell. Tragically, a part of history died with my father.
I think of the hundreds of hours I have spent taking pictures and methodically saving them to Google Drive. I have files of old photos I scanned into my computer to digitize and preserve them for future generations. Beautifully preserved pictures of people dressed in ancient fashion. Guess what? No names. No captions. Just pictures.
It would have been smart to type the name on each photo as I saved it, but I just numbered the photo or left the computer to do the job as I saved it to the drive. If I don’t change my tactics, when I am gone and someone is smart enough to crack my Fort Knox password, they will notice thousands of nameless photos of people dressed in ancient fashion. No names. No captions. Just pictures. All of my years of meticulous labor will end up in a virtual trash can and, with a nonchalant click, will disappear forever.
I often learn too late how to do something the easy way. I must do it the hard way first. I look back and say, “If you had done it this way …” All I can do now is start over. Perhaps my mistakes and my new plan to rectify the situation will help someone else avoid my digital pitfalls.
First, I need to make a password document that tells how to access the computer and all the files I have stored there. There are ways you can store your passwords on the computer, but I prefer not to trust the computer to remember for me. I want passwords in black and white in a safe place. It would be good to have a password list with your last request and will and testament documents. Since we don’t know when we will be called to the great beyond, we need to have clear instructions in a safe but accessible place.
The next step is collating files of pictures. If you have multiple pictures of one person, a brother or a sister and their children, put those pictures in one file and label it with the full name of the person. I have put pictures in files, but I have not put full names on the file. Assume a stranger is looking at the files for the first time. This will prevent the thought of “everyone knows who this is.” Just like the black-and-white photos in my dad’s album; he knew them, but his family members did not.
After collating the files of individuals and families, label each picture in the file. If the picture only has one individual, name it and number it as one, two, three, etc. If the photo has more than one person in the photo, take time to label each person. This takes a while, but it will be worth it. Of course, when you take the picture is the best time to label it, not 10 years down the road when you must ask, “Now is that Billy or James? They look so much alike.”
When the collating and labeling is finished, it is time to put the photos under categories of events and tell about the memories. Of course, not all pictures will fit into categories, and not all events are important or worth remembering. A picture of a landscape or a snowstorm might be beautiful, but if it doesn’t have an event attached to it, it is virtually meaningless except as eye candy. Make a special file for those.
There is a danger in relying on machines or technology to preserve our heritage. If we cannot physically pick up a photo or a book, our memories are smoke in the wind. We may live in a technology-literate world, but who is to say we will always live there? We can hope we will, but who knows? We need to prepare to live in a “real” world along with the virtual cyber world we are advancing in. Our memories are only safe if we can access them without the use of technology. If your memories are stored only on the computer, try turning off the electricity for a day or two and see what you have left of your treasured memories.
With that said, it is important to print the photos. This can be done various ways. You can take your digital files to your local Walmart and print individual pictures and put them in photo albums and then you can label each picture again. Oops. That is the hard way. There are many companies that make photo books and print them for you. Make sure if you go that route, you have the option to put captions and label the pictures. Photo books without labels are worthless to the next generation.
You can make your own photo book by digitally cutting and pasting your pictures into a Word document. You can label the pictures and write a paragraph or a page about the event. That is much more meaningful to the future grandchild or great-grandchild. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a picture with a hundred words can be priceless. When you have finished writing about the picture, you can print each page, put it in plastic document cover and put it in a three-ring binder. Another option is to take your Word document to a printer and have them print and bind it for you.
What do you do with all those photos that are stacked in boxes, gathering cobwebs in the attic? If you can identify the people in the photo, for goodness’ sake, write the names on the back of the photo.
For a long time, I took my pictures to the computer and scanned them to digitize them, but lately I use my smartphone to take pictures of the pictures. It works marvelously. Of course, you must remove the picture from the glass frames or plastic photo album covers to get a good shot, but it works very well. Your smartphone usually has an edit button where you can crop out the unwanted portion of the picture. When you put the picture in a Word document, you can size and crop it there as well.
There is something to be said about being selective. You don’t want every picture of Uncle Joe and Aunt Martha. You want the best ones and the ones most representative of their characters. Consider the reason you are choosing the picture. Will it help tell a story? Will it be of interest to someone in the future? Is the picture clear enough to see the features of the person? Why do you want to include the picture? Answers to these questions will help you be discerning and economical in your choices.
I can see I have a project on my hands. I will have to give up my TV time in favor of my ancestors and my family. My motto is, “Good, better, best; never let it rest.” I have been resting too long. Time to open those files and get busy.
Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.