A Photo by Any Other Name

By on 22 February, 2016 in Carole King, Historic Midtown with 0 Comments

We’re working on a really neat archival project at Landmarks Foundation. With help from the National Archives through the Alabama State Historical Records Advisory Board, we received a grant to inventory, identify, and catalog assorted historical materials in our collection — photographs, documents, maps, drawings, publications. These historic records housed at Landmarks Foundation include the research that has gone into the restoration and preservation of 50 structures from the 19th century that have been authentically restored here at Old Alabama Town. These records, maintained since the 1960s, include family histories and architectural research, all needed to place the building restorations in context with Montgomery’s history. Montgomery’s long time historian, Mary Ann Neeley, accumulated much of the research and is consulting on this project.

For example, the photos below were left at Landmarks in a plastic bag by an unidentified person who found them in a box of trash on the street and luckily rescued them. There are no identifications or descriptions. Maybe you can help us to solve their mysteries.

Properly caring for the diverse kinds of records also poses a problem for us, as we are not trained as archivists. The good thing is that we are all aware of the significance of this information, have cared for the records to the best of our ability and understand the importance of the cataloging and preserving all of this information to make it eventually available for public use.

The short term goal of the project is to develop a clear understanding of how many informational items Landmarks has on site and to assemble them all in one central secure location to catalog and store properly. The long term goal is to have these informational items available both in the physical archives as well as electronically.

When we received the grant, we enlisted Ms. Elizabeth Wells, long time director of the Samford University Archives, to assist. She provided some initial onsite training and gave us some direction into the best practices to inventory these documents, records, maps, blueprints and special publications. The staff and volunteers interested in participating in the project understand the importance of this organizational effort, but need further training. With the grant, we have also been able to purchase a dedicated computer that can scan our images and other documents to assist in this cataloging process.

Why did we decide we really needed to do this? Landmarks has been the repository of assorted photographic collections, both commercial and private. The images span decades and many have been used in publications. But there are so many more images that could be used for historical research as well. We also have a large quantity of items that are unidentifiable. It’s sad that these images and documents sometimes find themselves homeless and separated from their “stories” — who they belonged to, who is in the picture, what was the occasion, where is the place, etc. Volunteers are trying to identify people, places and activities on many of our mystery images. This grant gives us the opportunity to hopefully reunite these images with their stories.

We have some recommendations so that your family photos won’t wind up homeless and story-less. With these suggestions we are concentrating on your hard photographic copies … digital images are for another blog post!

  • Store your photographs and artifacts in archival folders and boxes. If you use photograph albums, you will want to be sure that the albums do not use self-sticking pages.
  • Photographs, slides and videotapes should be stored away from sunlight, in a temperature that is comfortable for you. Avoid fluctuations of heat and cold, maintaining a comfortable 60-70 degrees F (40-50% relative humidity)
  • Descriptions of images and artifacts should be documented on archival paper, in a permanent ink or typeface that will not bleed onto the folder, box or album.
  • Add this permanent descriptive information for each photograph and document. Include family name, family members, detailed location and inclusive dates for each box or album of collected photos and mementos.
  • Share these images and their stories with your family and pass your treasured images on to a family member who will appreciate and preserve them to pass on also.

Remember, you are not just documenting for yourself, but for future generations of your family and other people you will never know, but who will someday know you. Be descriptive and don’t assume that people will “know who you mean.” Include letters, postcards and pages from journals that tell the stories that the images illustrate. Memories will come alive for others when they can walk in your shoes and enjoy your experiences through your eyes. Create links between the photographs that illustrate your stories and the letters, journal entries or text that tell the stories. This information is also invaluable for providing information for future historians, researchers, and your own family members who may be searching for their roots and will connect with you over space and time when someday they find your photographs and mementos online.

These websites can provide valuable advice on caring for family photographs and papers:

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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