We all know those envelopes of old photographs tucked away in the back corner of a drawer, the envelope your mother gave you. The albums filled with now unfamiliar faces. Were they relatives or family friends? Neighbours? Now, too late to ask anyone who they were. If only we had asked So-and-so to identify them when they were still alive, asked them to write some names on the back of those tiny black and white “snaps”. Of course at the time everybody knew the man smoking the pipe was Uncle Tim, who was married to Dad’s sister Beth. There was no need to write captions under photographs or scribble names on the back of photographs. Years pass, decades, a lifetime, and all that information disappears. The scenario is all too familiar to anyone doing genealogical research. In years to come the problem will be compounded by the fact that most photographs only exist in a digital format.
Many of those photographs get thrown away, or donated to museums and archives. At the Drakenstein Heemkring we have hundreds of discarded unidentified photographs. Over the years we have worked tirelessly to trace and identify thousands of portrait photographs, but almost as many remain unidentified. And will remain so … if only someone had taken up a pen or pencil and scribbled a name or two on the back of the picture.
So next time you come across a photograph, please give it a caption, name the buildings in the background, add a date, provide the street name, the name of the town, and above all add the names of the individuals.