Archive for the ‘family photos’ Category

Very Interesting Read about Understanding the Context of a Photo

I liked this article so much, I decided to post it to my blog!

Here is a great article by Brett and Kate McKay that stresses the importance of studying the context of a photo.  Specifically ownership and time period.  Without studying these variables, the photos in the article would present a much different “picture” than what was intended.


Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection

National Genealogical Society, Cincinnati, OH

If you happen to be in the Cincinnati area, the National Genealogical Society is having its annual Family History Conference at the Duke Energy Center.  There’s lots of great stuff going on.  I’ll be speaking on Photo Detecting 101 and Searching for Images of the War of 1812 Generation.  There are also tons of other speakers and demonstrations throughout the week.  Come visit my booth and say hi!  I’m also offering photo consultations at the conference rate if you have any photo mysteries you’d like solved.

Hope to see you there!


Holiday Gift for Someone Special

Now you can order a gift for a special someone. Send me a digital scan of a photo (at least 300 dpi, color) by clicking on the “Upload Photo” button on the right.  I’ll combine the photo and my consultation analysis in a acid free and lignin free mat board (may not be the color shown). The cost? Only $35.00. If you want this before the holidays, please order before December 15th.

CLICK HERE to order yours

Click on “Add to Cart” next to the Special Holiday Frame product and then “Checkout” to complete payment and I will process your order.

Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album–Discount Opportunity

If you see my ad in the Citizen’s Companion magazine (available in July) and can send me the number of the page on which it appears, email ( me. I’ll send you a coupon worth 25% off the usual cover price of Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album.

Irish Family Photos

It’s St. Patrick’s Day so let’s celebrate Irish family photos.  I write a regular column for Irish Roots Magazine called Photo Stories.   Do you have an Irish family photo and a story to share?  I’m always looking for images to feature.

AIC: Caring for Your Treasures

A photograph can be one of many processes in which light-sensitive media are employed to create a visible image. The prevalence of photographs allows us to forget that they are potentially fragile objects that can be easily damaged by careless handling, improper storage, and exposure to environmental influences such as light, humidity, and temperature.

In caring for a photographic collection, it is important to know that various components comprise the structure of a photograph. The interaction of these components, with each other and with their environment, has a lasting effect on the longevity of the image. Most photographs consist of a final image material, a binder layer, and a primary support. The final image material—commonly silver, platinum, organic dyes, or pigments—creates the image we see. The binder layer is a transparent substance such as albumen, collodion, or gelatin in which the final image layer is suspended. The binder and final image material are applied to a primary support, usually paper, glass, metal, or plastic. Although many photographs have this three-part structure, individual images may have additional components. For instance, color, coatings, original frames, and cases need to be considered as part of the photographic object.

Maintaining a Suitable Environment

Photographic materials benefit from a cool, dry, well-ventilated storage environment. High temperature and relative humidity increase deterioration and promote the growth of mold and mildew, which could mar surfaces and break down binder layers. Avoid storing photographs in the attic, the basement, or along the outside walls of a building where environmental conditions are more prone to extremes and fluctuations and where condensation may occur. In some storage situations, seasonal adjustments such as dehumidifiers or fans may be necessary to improve problematic environmental conditions.
The optimal storage conditions for most photographs are a temperature of 68°F and relative humidity in the range of 30–40 percent. Film-based negatives and contemporary color photographs benefit from storage in cooler environments of 30–40°F and 30–40 percent relative humidity.

Choosing Storage Enclosures

Keep photographic materials in enclosures that protect them from dust and light and provide physical support during use. Chemically stable plastic or paper enclosures free of sulfur, acids, and peroxides are recommended. Plastic sleeves should be constructed of uncoated polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene. They should not be frosted. Paper enclosures should have passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT), a test designed to determine the safety of an enclosure in contact with a silver photographic image. If PAT test results are not available, choose paper enclosures that are lignin-free, 100 percent rag or alpha-cellulose fibers, and have a white or off-white color. Film-based negatives, which can produce acidic gasses as they age, should be stored separately from other photographic materials. Store cased objects, such as daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, in their original cases or frames with the addition of custom-made, four-flap paper enclosures to reduce wear and tear on fragile cases. Place individually housed prints, negatives, and cased objects in acid-free, durable boxes that will afford further protection.
The storage of photographs in albums serves the dual purpose of organizing groups of images while protecting them from physical and environmental damage. Albums can be wonderful sources of historic and genealogical information. Preserve them intact when possible and store them in custom-fitted archival boxes. Magnetic or self-adhesive albums can damage photographs and should not be used.

Displaying Photographs

Photographs should be protected from extended exposure to intense light sources. Limit exhibition times, control light exposure, and monitor the condition of the photographs carefully. Prolonged or permanent display of photographs is not recommended. Use unbuffered ragboard mats, and frame photographs with archivally sound materials. Use ultraviolet-filtering plexiglass to help protect the photographs during light exposure. Reproduce vulnerable or unique images and display the duplicate image; in this way, the original photograph can be properly stored and preserved.

Housekeeping Guidelines

An overlooked area of collection maintenance is keeping the areas where photographs are handled or stored clean and pest-free. Paper fibers, albumen, and gelatin binders are just some of the components in photographic materials that provide an attractive food source for insects and rodents. It is vital that collection areas be free of debris that might encourage pests. Food and beverages should not be allowed. Apart from the potential for attracting pests, accidental spills can irreversibly damage most photographic objects.

Handling Procedures

Most damage to photographs results from poor handling. A well-organized and properly housed collection promotes respect for the photographs and appropriate care in handling. When images can be located quickly, there is less possibility of physical damage. Establish handling procedures and adhere to them whenever photographs are being used. View photographs in a clean, uncluttered area, and handle them with clean hands. Wear clean white cotton gloves to lessen the possibility of leaving fingerprints and soiling the materials; however, be aware that gloves may reduce the manual dexterity of the user. Support photographs carefully and hold them with both hands to avoid damage. Keep photographs covered when they are not being viewed immediately. If it is necessary to mark a photograph, write lightly with a soft lead pencil on the reverse of the image. Do not use ink pens.

Disaster Preparedness

Disaster preparedness begins by evaluating the storage location and the potential for damage in the event of a fire, flood, or other emergency. It is important to create a disaster preparedness plan that addresses the specific needs of the collection before a disaster occurs.
The location and manner in which photographs are housed can be the first line of defense. Identify photographic materials that are at higher risk of damage or loss. Remove all potentially damaging materials such as paper clips and poor-quality enclosures. Store negatives and prints in separate locations to increase the possibility of an image surviving a catastrophe. If a disaster occurs, protect the collection from damage by covering it with plastic sheeting and/or removing it from the affected area. If using plastic, make sure not to trap in moisture as this could lead to mold growth.  Evaluate the situation and document the damage that has occurred. Contact a conservator as soon as possible for assistance and advice on the recovery and repair of damaged materials.

Common Concerns and Solutions

The following problems are commonly encountered in photographic collections:
Broken, torn, or cracked photographs: If the primary support of a photograph sustains serious damage, place it carefully in a polyester sleeve with an archival board support. If the photograph has a flaking binder layer or friable surface components, such as the pastel coloring often seen on crayon enlargements, place it in a shallow box, not a polyester sleeve. Do not use pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes to repair torn photographs.
Soiled photographs or negatives: Do not clean photographs with erasers. Brush soiled  photographs carefully with a clean, soft brush. Proceed from the center of the photograph outward toward the edges. Do not attempt to clean photographs with water- or solvent-based cleaners, such as window cleaner or film cleaner. Improper cleaning of photographic materials can cause serious and often irreversible damage, such as permanent staining, abrasion, alteration, or loss of binder and image.
Photographs or negatives adhered to enclosures: High-humidity environments or direct exposure to liquids can cause photographs to adhere to frame glass or enclosure materials. This is a very difficult problem to resolve, and great care must be taken to reduce the possibility of further damage. If a photograph becomes attached to adjacent materials, consult a photographic materials conservator before attempting to remove the adhered materials.
Deteriorated negatives: Chemical instability is a major factor in the deterioration of early film-based materials. If film-based negatives are brittle, discolored, sticky, or appear wavy and full of air bubbles, separate the negatives from the rest of the collection and consult a photographic materials conservator.
Broken glass negatives or ambrotypes: Place broken glass carefully in archival paper enclosures. Use a separate, clearly marked enclosure for each piece to reduce the possibility of scratching or further damage. For long-term storage, construct a custom sink mat that holds the pieces of broken glass, separated by mat-board shims, in one enclosure.
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Lost Pictures: A Picture Mystery in Reverse

At a recent conference, David E. Rencher, Chief Genealogical Officer at approached me with an interesting dilemma. He has a business receipt for a family picture, but no photograph. It’s a picture mystery in reverse.

In the Abraham Rencher Papers at the Wilson Manuscript Library of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is a receipt from John Gihon’s Photographic Art Gallery at 1024 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. According to the receipt, Gihon’s client, Mr. W. C. Rencher asked to have 12 copies made of carte de visite and paid in advance. Rencher posed for the picture on July 27, 1865. David Rencher told me that William Conway Rencher is the son of Abraham Rencher, brother to Umstead Rencher who is David’s 2nd great-grandfather. With no picture in the family and no photograph in the Rencher papers, David began his search by researching the photographer.

Gihon ( 1839-1878) was a well-known Philadelphia photographer and a frequent contributor to the periodical, Philadelphia Photographer from 1867 to 1878. A bibliography of material about Gihon can be found in William S. Johnson’s Nineteenth-Century Photography: An Annotated Bibliography 1839-1879 (G.K. Hall, 1990). According to Linda A. Ries and Jay W. Ruby’s book, Directory of Pennsylvania Photographers 1839-1900 (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1999), Gihon was at 1024 Chesnut St. in the following years, 1859-61 and again from 1864-68. David has Gihon’s obituary from the Philadelphia Photographer (November 1878) and even an advertisement for his business. He even knows what Gihon’s building on Chesnut Street looked like. Drawings appeared in The History of Chesnut Street, Philadelphia by Casper Souder, Jr. (King & Baird, 1860). Unfortunately, he has not been successful in locating any large collections of images by Gihon. He’s still a man without a picture.

Despite all his efforts, David is unable to locate this missing picture of his ancestor. If there were 12 copies made, then it’s easy to assume that one of them remained in family hands. David is left with little choice but to continue his search for all family descendants of W. C. Rencher in the hopes that someone has the picture to go with the receipt. That would close the case!

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