Last week, my aunt and uncle had me over for dinner and to look through photo albums. My dad’s oldest brother knows my passion for family stories and protecting photos. By the end of the evening, I convinced him to let me take several of his photo albums with me to digitize and organize.
Knowing the basic details about each picture was so easy for me. My aunt and uncle, and my grandma before them, penciled in information on the back of almost every picture. From the neighborhood kids to extended family from the other side of the state, almost every person was identified. The year the photo was taken (or at least kids’ ages) was noted on the back. Sometimes there were other clues as well, like occasion or location.
While I often talk about adding tags to digital photos to capture this kind of detail, I was reminded when giving a presentation recently that we should do the same with print photos. If you don’t have a place for notes in a photo album or you’re not making a scrapbook page, it is okay to write directly on the back of the photo. The important thing to remember is not to use a ballpoint pen (indents the picture) or marker (bleeds through or onto the photo below).
Photo-safe pencils are available in art stores, craft stores, and online. They are often marked for use on wood, glass, photos, and other mediums. The lead is softer than a No. 2 pencil which makes it safer to use on a print photo. These pencils shouldn’t cost more than a couple of dollars and are the best option for marking the backs of photos.
My favorite part of having organized photos (and other people’s photos merged into my collection) is finding similar photos taken at different times. Because both sets of photos were marked so well, I know that the photo of my cousins on the amusement park ride was taken three years before the photo of me in the exact same car. No guesswork was involved to pair our families’ similar vacation day memories.
Whether you’re doing it to digital photos or print ones, make sure you attach the who, what, when, and where facts to each photo. Anyone who comes across your pictures in the future will appreciate having the basic details.