Who Cares About Your Family Photos?

Who cares about your family photos besides you? You’ve got hundreds of them, maybe even thousands.

Even your family may barely register interest in photos you find completely fascinating.

But you’ve lived with these photos for months and years and you know they have value. You just know they do. You just don’t know where to start.

The photos probably do have historic value.

Depending on what is in your family photo archive. they may have tremendous value to historic and scientific archives or museums.

In my case, I worked on scanning and documenting my grandfather’s archive for months.

About a year into scanning the photos it occurred to me maybe there existed some organizations that might find these photos valuable.

No formal thought process drove me to this conclusion.

It popped into my head more as a result of viewing the totality of his lifetime hobby. Almost 5,000 photos and slides documenting Climax Mining Company and life in Colorado must, must, must have value.

His lifetime hobby merited more than scanning and archiving in Dropbox, sharing them once and forgetting about them.

First I had to identify the stuff in the photos.

Without knowing what I was looking at I had no idea which organizations might find them valuable. So they hunt began.

My relatives offered the first line of attack. 

Sometimes they knew what I asking about.

In the case of the Harvard High Altitude Observatory where my grandfather worked in the late 1940s, my father knew immediately what was in the image.

Googling the internet I found the High Altitude Observatory of National Center for Atmospheric research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado.

A quick email to the organization resulted in a donation request related to the High Altitude Observatory in Climax, Colorado.

How awesome!

A scientific organization found merit in my grandfather’s work, too.

The common stuff has value, too.

Scientific sites like the high-altitude observatory seem like a no-brainer, right? Of course, some organization would find merit in them.

But what about the everyday stuff?

My grandfather lived an ordinary life. He loved to ski and hike and took hundreds of photos documenting both.

I inquired about one ski area with an aunt. She concluded she didn’t know but she offered me a link to the Colorado Snow Sports Museum in Vail. And here’s the thing. She didn’t offer the link directly.

Instead she told me she searched the website for lost ski areas and found nothing that jogged her memory.

Nevertheless, bingo!

I hit the jackpot. I had a museum to contact. I am working on the details of a donation to the museum.

I’m able to work quickly with the museum archivist because I use SmugMug for my photo storage.

Tagging photos makes everything easier

Initially I stored all the scans of the photos in Dropbox. Dropbox is great for storage but horrible for viewing. It has no good tagging feature.

I had been using SmugMug for my own photography, though I didn’t use the tagging feature. With so few photos I didn’t find it useful.

But with almost 5000 photos and slides the tagging feature in SmugMug is like a cavewoman discovering fire.

Tagging creates photo groupings and photo patterns.

Tagging photos allows me to see photos as a group, which is great for showing them to family members and friends.

Tagging also helped me to see patterns in the photos that Dropbox simply couldn’t do. My grandfather snapped photos in the order he took them, not with any mind to a pattern.

Patterns suggest Google search terms.

Out of the patterns I found search terms I thought might prove useful.

I searched the internet using as many different search terms as I could think of.

If none of them panned out, I gave it a rest. Then I went back again, sometimes using the same search terms.

It doesn’t always work out so smoothly. My grandfather took dozens of photos of Mount Arkansas, which is near the closed mining town of Climax. 

The photos showcase this beautiful mountain in all seasons and all types of light. But which archive might want these photos? 

Once you know a pattern, keep reviewing photos.

W R Allen, Jon Allen and Fabyan Watrous in front of High-Altitude Observatory, Climax, Colorado
W R Allen, Jon Allen and Fabyan Watrous in front of High-Altitude Observatory, Climax, Colorado

The more you work with the photos, the more connections you’ll make.

For example, I stared at this photo for more than two years. Where is this taken, I wondered.

The topography looked nothing like Idaho Springs, Colorado, which is where my grandparents and father lived immediately following World War II.

I tagged it as “Climax” because that seemed to be the location of the photo, although the area where the photo was taken didn’t resemble my grandparent’s house in Climax.

Reviewing photos last week for the Colorado Ski Museum, it hit me.

The structure in the back is the High Altitude Observatory and the tiny house next to it. My dad and grandparents lived in that house before they moved to the house I knew in Climax.

Don’t give up! Keep trying those search terms. You will eventually find an archive or two that wants your family photos.

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