Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Labeling Photographs and Detective Work

A long time ago, I had been looking through some old photographs. Mentioned to my mother that she should label the photographs so we would know who the people in them were. Ma's logic: Oh, we know who they are. That's great, but it doesn't help the rest of us when the Elders are gone.

Do yourself a favor. Sit with your Elders and if photographs aren't labeled, use a pencil to write names (full names, not just Uncle Joe!), dates if known (you can guessitmate), location (if known), and a story that goes with the photo (if known). Use pencil and label the back of the photograph as suggested in this article from Ancestry.com Four Easy Ways to Label Family Photos

The couple in the photograph are my parents. I have to guess at the date and location. My parents were married in 1943. That was also the year Dad enlisted in the Army (Air Corps). His enlistment papers are dated March 1943. He's not in uniform and March is pretty cold here in Massachusetts. So the photograph must have been taken earlier. Another clue. Dad is wearing a pair of white, flannel trousers. He had to have a pair of white, flannel trousers for his high school graduation in 1938. My mother told me after much cajoling from Dad's mother, his father, a tailor, made the trousers for him so he wouldn't stick out from the other boys.

Let's narrow the date even further. My parents grew up in the same neighborhood. They knew each other as kids, went to the same junior high school. Didn't go to the same high school. Ma wouldn't have been allowed to date until she was 18 years old in 1936. 1936 would be too early.

Ma told me she and Dad "met" at the Center, a boys and girls club. Dad had met a mentor, Charlie Arnold, who became very important in his life. When Dad turned 21 in 1940, Charlie threw him a birthday party to celebrate the fact Dad had become of age and could legally drink. Ma said the cake had been decorated with a drunken hobo leaning against a lamp post. Ma had been invited to the birthday party.

Dad's trousers look pretty, brand-spanking, new. So, I'm guessing this is a picture taken when they were dating and peg the date between 1939 and 1940.

Now to figure out where the photograph was taken. They both lived in East Boston in triple decker, cold water flats. They are on the roof of one of the houses. Lubec Street (Ma's house) or Frankfort Street (Dad's house). I'll have to take a look at other photographs to see if I can guess which one.

Another story. Dad's wearing a pair of saddle shoes. They were brown and white. He told me he loved those shoes.

What season of the year was the photograph taken? Ma is wearing spectator shoes. White shoes with navy toe caps. (No wonder when I bought a pair of spectator shoes she was thrilled.) These were classic Spring/Summer shoes. Fashion dictated white shoes were never worn after Labor Day (first Monday of September). Ma is not wearing a coat, jacket, or sweater. So late Spring (early Spring in New England is still cold and raw) or early Summer.

So, when you gather with your family, bring out the old photographs. Ask your Elders the who, what, when, where, why and label the pictures. Write down their stories. If your Elders are gone, do this with your own family photographs so your children won't have to become detectives.


  1. Aren't they handsome? And what fun detective work.
    Labeling pictures: great idea!

  2. couldn't agree more; my grandmother and I SAID we were going to do this, now my mom and I are asking these same questions ~~~~~~ ♥♥♥

    1. When I had the chance to ask the questions, I really wasn't all that interested in genealogy. Now that I'm a lot older and have the interest, those that could answer questions are all gone.

  3. ink...dood...pee ezz....glad yur bak ta par buddy ~~~~ ♥♥♥

  4. Great post. As much as mt father liked to label his photos there are others I have no clue about. More's the pity. Wonderful picture of your parents!

    1. Yeah, they made a cute couple. In the album, this photo was entitled Sweethearts