Friday, May 9, 2008

May 9 - Friday From The Collectors


WHY DIGITAL PHOTO RESTORATION IS IMPORTANT


I've been into the visual arts since 1969 when I was the first one at my university to lug around the then new Ampex reel-to-reel video portapak. Oh, I wish I had those tapes; each one was an avant-garde masterpiece, or so I vaguely recall. I wish I kept copies of all the tapes I subsequently produced in a career of television, industrial, education and freelance video work. But I wasn't thinking about archiving and preservation in those good old analog days.

In 1977, I was one of millions who watched Alex Haley's television series 'Roots'. That same year my father, William Emmett Geder, died. In his possessions was a deteriorating photo album of tin types, postcards and photographs of.... my Ancestors. He had hidden this album, I imagine, from Mom, Pearle Hancock Geder, who was very quick to throw away things that, in her opinion were not of value, during spring cleaning. I became seriously interested in genealogy and with these mostly unlabeled images I set out on the journey.

I have to tell you that I really didn't ask my folks about our ancestry while they were alive. I recall, for an elementary school project, that I asked Mom where she was born. She said Williston, South Carolina - and that was it. Now, with both parents and all grandparents gone, learning about my ancestors was going to be a very formidable task.

For this conversation, I want to focus on this album of pictures because it has led me into a new passion in genealogy and, more recently, a career in photo restoration. To begin, some of the postcards had the names of the photographers and locations of the studios where the pictures were taken. I would do a census search and group folks according to locations, ages and gender with what I found.


I discovered that the Geders were in Towanda, Bradford County, Pennsylvania and Waverly, Tioga County, New York after the Civil War before coming to Binghamton, Broome County, New York - where I was born. I contacted and subsequently visited the Bradford County Historical Society. They were able to provide me with some documents that substantiated the census records and also give me some additional photos. Happy dance; I'm in genealogical heaven.


These photos of Bessie and Emma Geder in Towanda circa 1895 were provided by the BCHS.

When you don't have any oral history to go on, like me, you rely on any information you can get. You then take measures to insure that your descendants have sufficient information to ascertain their lineage. If you have images of their ancestors, great! What if those images are not in the best of conditions and you have many relatives - and descendants - who want to see and have a picture. Are you going to pass around that tin-type? I don't think so. You can make zerox copies of that scratched, faded, damaged photo - running the risk of further damaging that one-of-a-kind image of your ancestor. How long do you think that zerox is going to last? You can do better by using today's digital technology. However, you need to take certain precautions.

Thanks to Photoshop, scanners and digital cameras, you can now do repair work on your precious images. However, this takes commitment, patience and skill.



Here you see me using white lint free gloves to handle an obviously damaged tin-type. Oils from your skin and repeated handling can further damage your photographs. You've been warned.

Now, siblings Arthur, Fred, Emmett (my grandfather) and Isabelle have another chance at being viewed by their descendants. I can make digital disks and inkjet photo copies to distribute.

You want to secure and archive the originals. If you keep them, you want to make note of these family heirlooms in you last will and testament! Alternatively, that one-of-a-kind precious photo can be offered to a museum or historical society provided that they will take care of it before it deteriorates into oblivion. If you don't want to give the originals to an archival house or find a good home for them on Ebay, then put them in a fire-proof box in your home or a safe deposit bin at your bank.

Digital restoration is important because your family legacy and by extension the national and world history lies in the balance. You may think that's hyperbole, but if you consider that the images in your shoebox may contain clues to status, relative health, and community relationships, then you can get a feel for what it will mean to the self-esteem for those that come after you.



I was told by my elementary and high school teachers that I was inferior; negro should never be capitalized because it does not describe a country from which people come from; and that my legacy springs from slavery and abject poverty and governmental dependency. Not true! The proof is in the pictures. That is why digital restoration - for me and all cultures - is important. It is a tool, in the absence of oral history or in the presense of dishonestly written history, that can help set the record straight!

Case in point. I didn't know that my 2nd great grandfather, John Stevenson, was a soldier (I like to call him a freedom fighter) in the Civil War. I wished that my father had told me about him. I wished that I had asked. But here's a picture of Dad sitting on his lap!

I didn't know the identity of this man (it could have been my great grandfather) until Angelo Scarlotta, a Civil War collector, and the PBS program 'History Detectives' came along in 2007. A post Civil War veterans' portrait and some forensic photography gave me his name and an important chapter in my family's history.




If I knew this when I was in grade school….

I have a 10 year old 1st cousin-twice removed in Rochester, New York who beamed with pride to her class about her 4th great grandfather she saw on TV. That's good enough for me.

So, what is my recipe?
  • Consult a professional on restoring your precious photographs

  • Select the pictures that have the most historical significance

  • Make High Quality digital copies

  • Choose repositories wisely

  • Distribute digital copies among responsible family members

  • Discuss the images with family members - learn and tell the stories
Enough..., look in those shoeboxes of images that hold information to your heritage. Find your past, find your voice, find your self. It's there. I believe in this. I believe in the power of the image. People are trying to tell us something in those faded pictures. They may have thought that taking a photo was a novelty - 'look at me' - or they may have thought - 'This is my chance to show my descendants that I existed'. Often, it was their only shot. Let them live on.

I can't bring back those old videotapes, but I can make sure that the shoeboxes and albums of pictures of my ancestors will be around for many years to come.

Sources:

Photographs

Imprints. Photograph 2008. Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

Besse Geder. Photograph ca 1895. Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

Emma Geder. Photograph ca 1895. Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

George Geder. Photograph 2008. Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

Geder Family. Photograph (Tin-type). Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

Geder Family. Photograph (Restoration) 2008. Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

Unidentified Geder Female. Photograph (Tin-type). Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

Unidentified Geder Female. Photograph (Restoration) 2008. Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

John R. Jeter. Photograph (Tin-type). Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

John R. Jeter. Photograph (Restoration) 2008. Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

Stevenson Family. Photograph. Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

GAR Photograph. Photograph. Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

GAR Inset - Stevenson. Photograph 2008. Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.

Stevenson Family Inset. Photograph 2008. Digital image. Privately held by George Geder [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], New Mexico, United States. 2008.


Article and Photographs
Copyright © George Geder



9 Comments:

Blogger Moultrie Creek said...

Happy dance - what a perfect way to express the joy of discovery! I'm doing a happy dance after reading this delicious story.

May 9, 2008 at 2:49 AM  
Blogger Terry Thornton said...

GEORGE, Thanks for the sound advice and for sharing your family. And for showing us through your words and pictures that you follow your own advice when working with family photo collections: "Find your past, find your voice, find your self. It's there."

Well said.

And MAVEN, thanks for presenting this excellent column.

Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi

May 9, 2008 at 6:20 AM  
Blogger Miriam said...

Wonderful post, as usual, George! As family historians, we have a somber task and responsibility of preserving our heritage for our descendants. Thank you for the tips.

May 9, 2008 at 7:08 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

George:

Thank you so much for a beautifully written and well-crafted article.

This is a wonderful addition to Friday From The Collectors and a service to all family historians and collectors.

fM

May 9, 2008 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger George Geder said...

Moultrie, Terry, Miriam, fM;

Thank you all for those kind words!
Gosh, I'm blushing big time! When you open up your heart and mind, good people walk in.

fM, here's a thumbs-up review of your site from a dear colleague of mine (and the genealogy community!) Lisa B. Lee:
http://www.afrigeneas.com/forum/index.cgi?noframes;read=75493

Again, thank you all!

Peace,
"Guided by the Ancestors"

May 9, 2008 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this article - absolutely wonderful! Thank you so much!

May 9, 2008 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger Pink Granite said...

Thank you George and Shades Of The Departed for such an informative and inspiring post!
;o)
- Lee

May 9, 2008 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger Sherry - Family Tree Writer said...

Thank you George and Footnote Maven for a wonderful article! I have three (archival) boxes of photos on my mom's pool table right now, and we're going through them to ID the people in them. It is great fun, but also very important to get this done. There are so many stories wih each one. I now know what the horse my mom bit looked like, (Yes, she bit the horse), what her little sister who died young looked like, and now believe my once dark-haired mom started out life as a blonde!

Thank you for reminding me to hurry, hurry, hurry to get this done...

November 10, 2009 at 12:16 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

2008??? I'm glad I found this even if it is over 3 years ago. And it is right on time for me. After seeing trees falling into houses all over my atlanta neighborhoos, no storm, they just fall over - I decided I needed to scan the wonderful collection of family photos I have and share them with interested family members. This will spread the knowledge and put the photos in more then on location. Reading your piece makes me realize how lucky I am to have so much oral history! Thank you George.

May 27, 2011 at 1:42 PM  

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