Friday, September 27, 2013

Beyond The Label: Adding Info To Digital Images

Anyone who has scanned photos into their computer or downloaded documents has certainly come across the problem of trying to best label that image. However, there is only so much information even a creative person can cram into an image name. For many files the problem is manageable (e.g. Hartman-KoppWedding), but for some, like a reunion photo, including all of the names in the photo label is simply not feasible.

This problem has been nagging at me for some time, but I have finally found a solution. Without adding text on top of the image or using cryptic labels I can now include all (or at least a lot) of pertinent information to an image. Now I can include:
  1. The names of everyone in a photo (or my best guess).
  2. Detailed source/provenance information (Aunt Jane Smith's album, eBay, etc.).
  3. Approximate time period.
Beyond photos of people you could label:
  1. Photos of family homes (with address, years of residence, etc.).
  2. Photos of family heirlooms (what is it, who owned it and who has it now).
  3. Documents (was it downloaded from Family Search, Ancestry, etc.).
  4. Maps (what township did your relative live in).
These are just a few suggestions, but I'm sure as I continue labeling I'll think of some other uses.

I use IrfanView as my image viewer (free at their website, but it is worth looking through your preferred viewer to see if you can find a way to add labels. In IrfanView, open a photo (in jpg format, it doesn't seem to work with tif images) and click on the “Image” heading at the top of the screen. Select “Information” at the top of the drop-down menu. A new window will open.

Click on the “IPTC Info” button at the bottom left of the screen. Another window will open with several blank fields.

The largest field, “Caption,” is where I add the description. I also include my name in the “Caption Writer” field. When you have finished be sure to click on the “Write” button at the bottom of this screen and then “OK” on the bottom of the original window. The next time you click on “Information” you'll see an asterisk on the IPTC button to let you know there is information there.

One nice thing about adding information in IPTC form is that it is a kind of metadata, meaning that it is permanently attached to the image. This is a good way to include a description of the photo as well as your own information, especially if you send it to someone else (it should still be accessible in other image viewers). I tested this in Picasa. When I double-clicked an image the caption I added in IrfanView was visible underneath it. I was also able to add a tag to a tif file in Picasa (View → Tags), but I don't know if it is visible in other photo software.

I think adding information to images is a great tool for genealogists. We can add quite a bit of information to photos without it becoming lost and without having to use cryptic titles.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Milking eBay For Family Artifacts

I recently described how I have twice found photos of family on eBay in the past three years or so (See If You Aren't Searching For Family On eBay You Should Be).  Individual photos are not the only items you should be looking for. Among other things that might mention your ancestor are:

Yearbooks (high school and college): If a photo alone isn't enough to get you to purchase a yearbook, you may find other tidbits that can help shape your understanding of your ancestor. Were they a member of the chess club or volleyball team? Perhaps there is a quote by your ancestor or they were listed as “most likely to. . .” If you're not sure if your relative was in a particular yearbook you can always contact the seller and ask. They may be willing to check if it means they'll make a sale. Before you purchase a Kalamazoo area yearbook be sure to check the Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL) website for online yearbook images. This page lists the yearbooks that the KPL possesses.  If there is an asterisk by a particular yearbook it means that photos from that book are indexed in the Local Information Database.  You should also visit Kalamazoo County Genealogical Records and look for your surnames in the "Schools" category to see if there is a photo or other mention there.  Keep in mind that not all photos or names throughout these yearbooks are indexed and that for the early ones (at least 1939 and earlier) only photos of seniors are included.  If anyone in your family attended Western Michigan University you'll be happy to know that you can find digitized yearbooks through 1975 here, thanks to the WMU Archives.

Business items (ads, letterhead, photos, postcards if it was on a main drag in town): If your family owned one business you may find some ephemera that has survived. Wouldn't it be fun to have an ad from the family store framed and on the wall?

Community/church cookbooks: These often have the name of the recipe submitter. You might be able to find an old family recipe that you could bring to your next family gathering. To hear more about using family recipes to learn about your female ancestors and possibly get hints to their ethnicity I encourage you to listen to the Genealogy Gems podcast episode 137 in which Lisa interviews Gena Philibert Ortega about this topic. 

Old maps: You might also consider purchasing an old map of your ancestral town so you can mark where your ancestors and other relatives lived (see Mapping thePast). You can then see at a glance how far they lived from other relatives or from their places of work.

Diaries/Letters: While it is rarer that you'll find these sorts of items, if you do it could be a gold mine of information. I recently searched the book category at eBay and came across a diary and a labeled baby book with photos, both from the 1930s.

If you haven't searched for family on eBay don't be intimidated. Start with something small like searching through the photos in a particular area. Once you've looked through the backlog, keeping up is easier if you sort the results by “newly listed” and select the category you're interested in (photos, books, etc). This way you won't have to wade through items you've already viewed.

However, if you're attempting to find artifacts in a large city this strategy may not be feasible. If you're looking for the needle in the proverbial haystack eBay alerts may be a better option. Choose Advanced to the right of the search button at the top of the screen. Type in your search terms, select a category (such as collectibles) if you wish and click the box to “Save this search to My eBay.” You will receive an email when your search yields results. You can always view your saved searches in My eBay and see when new items are found that match a particular search.

You never know what you might find. Happy hunting!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Genealogy Techniques Help Authenticate Van Gogh Painting

You may have heard that a painting by Vincent Van Gogh was recently authenticated. What you may not know is that some of the tools used to identify Sunset at Montmajour as a Van Gogh work were those used by genealogists.

From the Van Gogh Museum website [1]

Over the weekend I listened with fascination to a brief (about seven minutes) interview with Teio Meedendorp, one of the Van Gogh Museum researchers who worked over the past two years to examine the painting and its history. You can listen to the interview at Studio 360. While naturally, an investigation of the painting itself (pigments, style, canvas, etc.) was an integral part of the process, techniques close to a genealogist's heart also played an important role. [2] A detailed account of the authentication process won't be released until the October edition of The Burlington Magazine is published. [1] However, a few of the ways Sunset at Montmajour was identified were shared by Meedendorp on air.

Old Letters:
In a letter written in the summer of 1888 by Vincent to his brother, Theo, Van Gogh stated that he planned to send him this painting. [1,2]

Estate Records:
After Vincent Van Gogh died in 1890 (two years after painting Sunset at Montmajour) an inventory of his paintings was drawn up. In the present day there was no known painting that corresponded with #180 on the inventory. The number written on the back of Sunset at Montmajour? 180. [2]

Old Newspapers:
To provide further evidence, the research team looked at old newspapers. In one clipping, a critic described a painting he saw at an exhibition in Amsterdam in 1892 that matched Sunset at Montmajour. A second showing in 1901 again included the piece, and was apparently mentioned in the newspaper. [2]

Although Meedendorp didn't elaborate during the interview, he stated that one could practically trace this painting from the current owners “back to the easel.” [2]

I guess the moral of the story is to keep plugging away at your genealogy because, apparently, these are transferable skills.

1. Van Gogh Museum, News, Van Gogh Museum discovers new painting by Vincent van Gogh: Sunset at Montmajour, Van Gogh Museum ( : accessed 16 Sep 2013), published 9 Sep 2013.

2. Studio 360, Interview (Kurt Anderson interview with Teio Meedendorp 13 Sep 2013), A Van Gogh Is Born, Studio 360 ( : accessed 16 Sep 2013), Air date 15 Sep 2013.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

If You Aren't Searching For Family On eBay You Should Be!

I kid you not. . . the first time I did a search for “Kalamazoo” on eBay I found a photo of my grandmother's sister (who was killed on Christmas by her ex-boyfriend). Talk about serendipity! Naturally, I bought it because I only had a newspaper clipping of this photo. Needless to say, after that beginning, I now make a habit of checking out the “collectables” for Kalamazoo.

I haven't scored anything like that since then, but only a few days ago I say another photo of one of “my” people. A photograph was listed with the name “Huntley.” Huh, I thought, I have some Huntleys in my tree. Fortunately, the back of the photograph listed the first name, Doris. It turns out that Doris Huntley is the granddaughter of my gg-grandmother's sister.

Here is the photo I found on eBay. On the back is written “Doris Huntley 18 months old.”

Doris, the only child of Harry Huntley and Lula Etta Rose was born in 1898, but after 1920 I lost track of her.

Armed with a new photo I decided to reexamine the photos in what my mother and I believe was my gg-grandmother's photo album (passed down to my grandmother). I came across the following photograph (unidentified, unfortunately).

The infant in the photo struck me as similar to Doris. If this is the same child then it would probably indicate that the adults in the photograph are Doris' parents. Like the labeled photo of Doris, this was also taken in Kalamazoo, albeit by a different photographer. The time period of the photo from my album was probably taken no earlier than the mid-1890s. The large sleeves on the woman's dress were very fashionable at the time and if I recall correctly, peaked about 1895. Harry and Lula married in December 1896 so if this is them the dress may date from their wedding.

Unless more labeled photos appear I'll never know if the photo from my album is an early photo of Doris with her parents, but that's my working hypothesis. In the meantime, I'll just keep checking eBay for Kalamazoo photographs and hope I get lucky again. This makes two wins in about three years so, considering the odds, I'd say that's pretty good. You might get lucky too.

To see what else you might be missing out on and to read about how I look for family items see Milking eBay For Family Artifacts.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How Many Baths Given At School?

When I was in Kalamazoo a while back my mom and I made a trip to the Kalamazoo Public Library. After crossing some things off my list I took a few minutes to look around the stacks to see what caught my eye. I noticed the official proceedings of the Board of Education for the city and township of Kalamazoo. I was curious what sorts of things would be recorded so I began flipping through the book for 1926. A lot of what I saw consisted of financial expenditures, but I did come across two reports that I found quite interesting.

The annual reports of the school dental hygienist and the school nurse gave me pause.

Here are some items from the yearly report provided by Mildred McBride, dental hygienist.

Schools examined: 10
Number of children having teeth examined: 5390
Number of children having teeth cleaned: 1690
Reported use of a tooth brush: daily 2096, occasionally 2189, not used 1105
State of teeth: clean 1756, fair 2076, dirty 1487, foul 71
Number of teeth filled: 4483
Cavity in baby teeth: 9404
Number of baby teeth extracted: 7022
Cavity in adult teeth: 7314
Number of adult teeth extracted: 128
Number of children needing no dental work: 643

I found it interesting that some children actually had their teeth examined at school. I certainly don't remember that when I was in elementary school. It's possible that by the time I was in school there was better dental hygiene so schools no longer had need of dental services. Alternatively, the schools may have had to cut their budgets. I would guess it was the latter.

The Supervising Nurse, Anna Farthing (R.N.), submitted the following information in her yearly report.

Number of school inspections by school nurses: 30,233
Number of school visits: 1090
Home inspections: 160
Home visits: 1437
Number of cultures taken to lab: 19
Number of eye tests: 958
Number of hygiene classes: 137
Number of children excluded on account of contagion: 319
Number of cribside operations: 58
Number of toxin anti-toxin treatments: 173
Total number of bad tonsils removed: 331
Total number of baths given: 146
Number of inspections for contagious disease: 10,004
Number of heart cases taken to physicians: 2

That some children actually received baths at school also surprised me. It begs the question of how dirty a child had to be before a school bath was performed. While this book provided an interesting snapshot into the Kalamazoo schools in 1926, I'm curious to know how these statistics changed over time. The next time I visit the KPL I'd like to see how far back these records extend so I can compare the services over time.

Board of Education of the City and Township of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Special Meeting. Official Preceedings. 2 June 1926. (Publication information was not found within the volume) 24-25.