A cardboard folder had additional images behind the two on display. Always remove images from frames or folders and check to see what else is there!
Five hidden prints
This cardboard picture folder had seen better days. I often scan photos while in their folders, then I remove the prints for a second scan with no folder present. I enjoy having a record of the old cardboard folder frames.
When I removed the 1960s pictures of my sisters from the frame, to my surprise, I found five additional images. The frame did not look like it could hold so many photos.
The lower right image is my mother, probably in high school. The lower left image is her younger brother. The middle image on the right read, “To Aunt Esther,” on the rear (probably cousin Sam) – so now I know this frame came from my grandparents’ home. I’ll keep that in mind as I consider who the other two individuals might be – relatives, I expect.
As we were reviewing and consolidating items from my father’s apartment after his death, I was removing 8×10 prints from old frames (some of which were broken and at risk of damaging the prints). I was working fast and talking to my two sisters while doing this. A day or so later, sister Sandi discovered that I missed an 8×10 picture of sister Sue. It would have been thrown away!
My mother displayed recent photos in 8×10 frames, and her way of storing older photos was to keep them in the frame, behind the photo on display. Sometimes cardboard and other paper got mixed in with these collections. I obviously wasn’t careful enough while going through this material. My advice – slow down and look at both sides of everything you touch.
I rely on clothing to help date photographs relative to each other. Sometimes this reliance is helpful, other times it sends me down the wrong path. I usually find my way back, but only after considering additional features of the images.
Formal family portrait
My focus on dresses began with a family portrait. There are many variations from that day (different poses & backgrounds, mother & father only, daughters only). Each time I discovered another of the ten images from this series, I eagerly turned it over, hoping for definitive labeling on the rear.
Finally, I happened upon a single 3×4 image that my mother took the time to label.
Unfortunately, I later came across two others from the series where she had written “73-74” on the rear. Since Mom was very specific with the June 1976 labeling, I am going to discount the “73-74” labels. (Was it 1973, or 1974? Or neither? Obviously she wasn’t sure when she recorded the information). The 1976 documentation is much more specific and thus reliable.
Two dresses repeat
It appears that two of us in the family portrait were wearing the same dresses in 1974 pictures. I know from the development date on the back that this photo dates to 1974, although my sisters and I are unable to determine the event. My oldest sister is wearing the same pink dress and scarf as in the family portrait, taken two years later.
This 1974 Christmas image shows me wearing the same dress I wore in the 1976 family portrait. I remember the pink ribbon around my waist. I find it hard to believe that I hadn’t outgrown this dress 18 months later; I do have a vague recollection of it being a tight fit for the family portrait.
I find it surprising that two of us wore the same dresses for events in both 1974 and 1976. I kept trying to make all of these photos fit into the same year because of the dresses. I finally realized that the images were from two different time periods, two years apart.
Dating a childhood portrait
I wore the same floral dress with a pink ribbon in this formal portrait, which was not dated by my mother. Comparing it to the holiday photos from 1974, I believe my age in this portrait is more reflective of 1974 than 1976.
Significant events in 1974
As noted above, my sisters and I don’t know what event prompted these particular photos. I am puzzled, because everyone seems to be dressed up except for me (the short one). I have a timeline of significant events in my family; I refer to it when I encounter images like these with no obvious story.
There were two significant events in June 1974 that might explain these photographs. My oldest sister (pink dress) graduated from college, and my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. We expect that the adults in the family were going out to dinner to celebrate one or both events, while the youngest member of the family (age 3.5 years) probably stayed home (or maybe I just wouldn’t wear a dress).
25th anniversary portraits
My parents are wearing the same outfits in these formal portraits. Although not dated, we surmise they were also taken in 1974.
It’s not the same day as the family snapshots above – my mother’s necklace is different, as are my father’s tie, pipe, and shirt. These portraits were probably taken to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, as there are no accompanying pictures that include the three daughters.
The long quilted dress
I don’t have fond memories of this dress; the bottom half was quilted and itchy. It was long and too warm. Although I remember the dress, I went round in circles trying to figure out what birthday these pictures are from. Some of the candles on the cake are partially obscured, so I cannot count them (a technique I used successfully for other images). The development date of January 1978 on one would imply my 7th birthday in December 1977.
However, a previous review of these images led me to believe it was my 6th birthday. I finally realized that my hair is different – in the image below, I have bangs. In the image with the birthday cake, I don’t.
I evidently wore this dress for two birthdays: 1976 and 1977. I was trying to force these photos into a single occasion, but they actually represent two different birthdays.
The red jumpsuit
One other clothing detail helped me solidify dates for these pictures. In the photo below, my sister is folding a red jumpsuit as I move on to the next gift.
I wore that same red jumpsuit in my kindergarten class portrait, dated 1976-77. I don’t know if the portrait was taken before the end of the calendar year or the next year.
The most likely explanation is that I received the jumpsuit as a gift in December 1976 and then wore it for my kindergarten portrait in winter or spring 1977. I see two other jumpsuits in the class photo (girl in brown and gold, second row; girl in blue, far right, first row). Mine was a red knit with colorful trim. I think it also had a hood.
Stripes correct errors
I have written previously about incorrect labeling of family photos. Be prepared to question everything in writing! Below is another formal portrait from my childhood. My father labeled it on the front in his block capitals, and my mother labeled it on the rear. Both claim that I am three years old in this portrait. Looking at this photo in relation to all of the others from the 1970s, I am clearly older.
Here’s a reliable image of me at age 3, with my grandparents’ dog (whose name we don’t remember).
I was able to date the formal portrait by comparing it to a single image in which I appear from December 1976. Although faded, I am certain that this dress is the same as the formal portrait; the stripes on the arms and bodice are the same. Now I know the portrait dates to 1976, not 1973!
As one attempts to date photographs, clothing is only one factor to consider. I’ve noticed that my grandmother wore the same attire at holiday events repeatedly over the years. Based on my review of the photos in this post, so did sisters, mothers, and fathers. Even for children who may quickly outgrow things, clothing isn’t a reliable method for dating photographs. Important events called for our best attire, and quality clothing was worn by everyone in my family for various occasions over multiple years.
Comparing different types of photos – formal portraits, family snapshots, and class photos – can help determine whether documented dates are accurate and solidify dates you have already deduced. Assess all images in your family collection, regardless of format (e.g., videos and slides may offer insight beyond prints).
Although the events that prompted particular photographs may never be known for certain, referring to a list of key family events and dates may help narrow down the potential occasions for a select photograph.
Dating photographs and identifying the events in them is a continuous process with my family’s collection of images. Photos have been removed from albums, reorganized into new albums, or left loose. Some pictures have writing on the rear, but many don’t. Most don’t have a development date stamp on the front, either. I find myself assessing images multiple times, learning to observe hairstyles, clothing, and the number of candles on a birthday cake. My powers of observation are growing stronger.
The original assessment
I’ve written previously on the mistakes I’ve found with my mother’s dating of photographs (descriptions and dates on the rear). Such mistakes were made even when the writing of the dates occurred close to the time the pictures were taken. Of course, errors also occurred when we attempted to date pictures decades later.
When I originally reviewed the series of photos in this post with my mother (~30 years ago), she guessed they were from 1973 or 1974. So, that is what I wrote on the rear of each one of them at that time. I have now determined we were off by a year or two.
Reviewing never stops
As I digitize our family photos years later, I am learning to look within each image for clues. I know not to trust the assessments from three decades ago – useful information, but not always accurate. I realized that the key to dating these particular images was the number of candles on the birthday cake in one of the pictures. There are two candles, so it must have been my second birthday. Now I know this group of photos dates to 1972, not 1973 or 1974.
I loved the Peg Set in the lower right of this photo. It had a lot of small pieces, so I expect it wouldn’t be recommended for a two-year-old in today’s world. I remember it wasn’t large – about the dimensions of a legal-size piece of paper. It was colorful, easy to play with, and easy to disassemble. There were boats, vehicles, trees, blocks for buildings, and round pieces that I always thought of as globes for light poles.
I reached out to my older sisters to ask them what they remembered about this toy. I wondered if it had belonged to them first, eventually being handed down to me. Perhaps it was something our mother picked up for me at a garage sale. They remembered the toy, but not anything else.
A week or so later, while digitizing these birthday pictures, I noticed the Playskool Landscape Peg Set box in these images. The box looked too big for the toy I remembered, but an online search indicated that, sure enough, it was the box for the toy that I recall so fondly. Comparing the series of photos yielded an answer to my question – the Peg Set was a gift for my second birthday.
I wonder who was brave enough to give a two-year-old Play-Doh and Finger Paint (photo on right)?
The big box is a mystery
None of these photos indicate what was in the large box, wrapped in brown paper and decorated by hand with stickers. For now, that remains an unknown.
Comparing photo formats
There are six images from my second birthday (all shown above), three with rounded corners and three with white borders. I deduce that two different cameras were used for the occasion. I can tell it is the same event because of my clothing, and the gifts. My mother’s clothing actually changed at some point during the day (white blouse and black skirt became a green sweater and plaid pants).
We do have three other photos with white borders that are not birthday related. All six of the border photos are unlike any others in our collection, so I think it is safe to assume (for now) that all six are from the same timeframe. Comparing photo formats (or development formats) can help determine (or at least narrow down) what time period photos are from. I feel fairly certain that these three photos are also from late 1972 or early 1973.
As I scan images for my family’s digital collection, I file the prints in a box, loosely organized by decade. I have repeatedly gone to the box when I come across an image that reminds me of something I scanned previously. As you work on digitizing, make it easy to refer back to the original hard copies of what you have already scanned. By comparing images in the ways described above, you can deduce a lot more than would be possible by assessing each image independently. Evaluating groups of images (even if the subject matter is unrelated, the image format may not be) may help you piece together a story. I love the detective work!
When digitizing my family’s memorabilia, I have elected to use the TIFF file format for all photographs. I am using the multi-TIFF format for documents like brochures, wedding certificates, and baby books. Sometimes the scanner freezes before I am finished scanning an item, which means I have to save my multi-TIFF file before it is complete. Rather than scan everything again, I have discovered I can finish the scanning, save a second multi-TIFF file, and then use the Preview app on my iMac to combine the two multi-TIFF files.
Both of my scanners, an Epson V600 and a Canon MX922, supposedly enable me to scan documents as multi-TIFF files. But, I run into various problems, including error messages before I have finished scanning the entire document and scanning as multi-TIFF but the output files end up being separate TIFF files (instead of a single multi-TIFF file). I know multi-TIFF files are not common (I have had multiple folks tell me they have never heard of such files), but they are lossless. As I archive family memorabilia, I want my archive files to be lossless, knowing I can always create a copy in other file formats for various purposes. So, I am attempting to proceed with multi-TIFF files for select memorabilia. I didn’t find much help regarding manipulation of multi-TIFF files. I’m documenting my experience in case it helps others.
Multi-TIFF problems with the Epson V600 and Epson Scan 2
I made the following selections in Epson Scan 2:
I hit Preview, set my marquee (the dotted lines around the baby book cover), and then hit Scan. After the scan pass, the Add Page window appears:
Add seemed to be the obvious choice here, since I had only scanned one page and I had 18 more to go. But wait! Do not select Add before placing page 2 of the document – when one selects Add from this window, the scanner proceeds to scan. Unfortunately, this means you cannot set the marquee for any subsequent images. That’s a problem, because I don’t place my images in the upper right corner (where the scanner has an arrow directing placement). If you place an item into this corner, some of the item is cut off during the scan. So, I always place my items on the scanner bed, about 1/2” distant from any scanner edges. But that means I always need to adjust the marquee a bit, because I never place subsequent items in exactly the same position as the first item.
I tried selecting Edit instead:
This was marginally better. Remember after your first scan, you won’t have a preview option for any subsequent pages in your document. But, you can view each page from this window, and if you don’t like the results (crooked, partially cut off), you can delete a particular page, reset the document as best as possible (remember, no preview available), and continue in this manner until you get acceptable results for each and every page. If that sounds tedious, it is! And, the results still weren’t as good as I desired for archival purposes (I wanted to be able to adjust a marquee before each and every scan).
I decided this was a good time to switch scanners.
Multi-TIFF problems with the Canon MX922 and Image Capture
I made the following selections in Image Capture:
Placing the document and then selecting the Overview button allowed me to draw the marquee appropriately. The scanning took longer with this device and software, but I plugged along. At least, until I received an error message. The Scan button disappeared, so the only option was to close the application and save whatever pages I had scanned into a single file. This has happened to me multiple times when scanning with this device and Image Capture – before I finished with a long (10 or more pages) document, the scanner and/or Image Capture stopped working.
I elected to save the multi-TIFF file (with the first 11 pages of the baby book) and do some research.
Combining two multi-TIFF files using Preview on a Mac
I had 11 pages scanned, with 8 more to go. I started scanning again, with page 12, and finished. At this point I had two multi-TIFF files that I wanted to combine into a single multi-TIFF file. I thought that I found some assistance online, but none of the links I reviewed helped me to resolve my issue. Here’s what I figured out:
Select both multi-TIFF files in Finder.
Right click and open in Preview (mine opened in two different windows).
Select one of the files as the “base” file, and drag pages from the second file into the base file.
Save the base file once all pages have been added from the second file (the pages will still be present in the second file, they are being duplicated in the base file).
Once you have all pages in the base file, Preview’s Contact Sheet view makes it easy to arrange the pages as you wish:
This workflow only worked for me if the files were both multi-TIFF files. I tried this workflow with a series of TIFF files (each with one image). If selected in Finder at one time, when opened in Preview, they appeared as shown below:
I was unable to save a single multi-TIFF file from this window.
When I opened two TIFF files (each with a single image) in separate windows, I was unable to combine them (dragging didn’t work) to build a multi-TIFF file.
I don’t have a solution for building a multi-TIFF file from a series of single TIFF files, but I did figure out how to combine two multi-TIFF files; I assume this process would work for more than two multi-TIFF files.
What if you want to undo your multi-TIFF file? That’s easy, and there are plenty of articles on how to do so. To create multiple TIFF files from a multi-TIFF file, just drag each page from the multi-TIFF to the Desktop using Preview.
For archival purposes, I am saving the multi-TIFF files to my hard drive (which has multiple backups). For sharing with family, I separate the multi-TIFF files into single TIFF files and upload them to Lightroom. I am not aware of any photo managing software that handles multi-TIFF files. Once the individual images are loaded into Lightroom, I elect to stack them.
Consider the rear of your images as you are digitizing. Perhaps you want to preserve the handwriting of a deceased loved one, or your own childhood handwriting. Maybe whatever was written there made you chuckle. You might want a record of the stamped photographer information or numbering from the development process. Obviously, names and dates recorded on the rear can help you to organize your scanned images. A note of caution: based on my own experience, the information on the rear isn’t always correct; don’t get so deep into digitization mode that you fail to identify inconsistencies. And what’s up with my use of the term “rear” instead of “back?”
I miss their handwriting
My mother and father passed away in 2017 and 2018, respectively. I did a so-so job of keeping cards and notes in their handwriting. If I had known my mother would be diagnosed with Alzheimers in my early 30s, I would have kept more! As her disease progressed, I did commit to preserving more items my father wrote to me. When I find their handwriting on family photos that I am digitizing, I feel an urge to preserve it.
Infrequently, the writing appears on the front. I am not sure why my father chose green marking pen and the front of this photograph instead of the rear. I could crop this out, or use a brushing tool to paint over it, but I plan to keep it just as I found it.
Susy & Kenn
My eldest sister is 18 years older than me. She left home in 1974, and she was married in 1975. We don’t know the exact year of this photo, but she believes it was shortly after her marriage, so mid-1970s. The family archive has several copies of this photo: 8 x 10”, 3.5 x 4.75”, and two wallet-size images. On the back of one wallet image, someone wrote, “Susy & Kenn.” It’s a child’s writing, so I am pretty sure it is mine. This brought a grin to my face when I saw it, for several reasons. I don’t remember calling her Susy. I also think the spelling is interesting – I would have expected Suzie or Susie. I also imagine the excitement of a newly-married couple having a photo taken together: paying for copies in various sizes, wanting to share with family, and carefully monitoring the expense. Even a wallet image would have been precious. This was the 1970s, remember. Six-year-old me was probably pretty excited to receive this wallet photo.
A young mother, one year behind
I have only scanned about 30 images, but I have already encountered two errors on the part of my mother. This image of Susan says 17 months old, with a date of November 1952. But Sue was born in 1952, mid-year. This is clearly November 1953, not 1952.
For this series of formal portraits, most had both Sue’s age and the year on the rear. One was completely blank; fortunately, my sister’s changing appearance over the years makes it clear where that particular photo belongs. Another had only the age on the back (6), but then I noticed that the copyright stamp included a year with an “8” at the end. It read, “19 8” – but I know it was the 1950s, so 1958. That would be the correct year for age 6. One photo had a year and date, but they didn’t agree. The age was 5, but the year was 1956 (age 5 would have been 1957). By comparing the photos across the years, I was able to deduce that the age was correct, and the year was wrong. Plus, my mother had the year wrong on that other photo (above), so she probably made the same mistake here. I am not judging my mother for getting the years wrong on two photos of her young daughter. Time was probably moving very fast!
Storing the rear image
I wanted to scan front and rear as multi-TIFF images, which my Epson scanner will do. A multi-TIFF file has both images (front and rear) in a single TIFF file (just as you can have multiple pages in a PDF file). However, I was only able to create multi-TIFF files successfully in the scanner’s Document mode; in Photo mode, the output was two separate TIFF files, not a single TIFF file. Document mode is not acceptable to me for scanning photographs (the quality is insufficient), so I settled on scanning the front and rear as single TIFF files. Below is an example of my file naming convention.
If I had used the term “back,” those images would have sorted before the corresponding “front” images (“b” comes before “f”).
Stacking images in Lr
I am using Lightroom (Lr) for managing my photos, and there is an ability to stack images. Using this feature, I can associate the front and rear images in Lightroom and only display the front.
Simply click on the number in the upper right corner to display whatever is stacked:
Stacking is also useful when you have digitized a variety of related images. These formal portraits and proofs from my sister’s senior year of high school are also stacked in Lightroom.
I do not have an overwhelming number of photos with information on the rear. Certainly, scanning the rear of photographs makes for a longer digitization process. I intend to be selective. I am not scanning the rear just because something appears there. I consider whether the content has meaning to me or to others in my family and scan accordingly.
A bit of detective work is always involved in photo organizing, and not just for old photos. Even with digital devices, timestamps aren’t always correct; you may need to determine photo order and rename files accordingly. A detailed travel itinerary won’t necessarily help you identify key sites such as the Gloriette, Neptune Fountain or Roman Ruin (all at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria). Photos taken on the same day may be from entirely different countries or cities; pay close attention to the timestamps to recreate a day’s journey.
A previous post addressed allocating space in a photo book. This post builds on the earlier one and includes scanning trip memorabilia to personalize a book, an explanation of the detective work mentioned above, and a few frustrations encountered along the way.
Organizing photos from three devices
The photos to be used in an Eastern Europe photo book for my sister’s 2018 trip came from three different devices: a digital camera and two iPhones. I could tell that the camera photos had incorrect timestamps (some showed times of 4:00 a.m.), and I was not sure by how many hours I should adjust them. I elected to compare photos of the exact same location (e.g., a waterfall at Krka National Park) across devices. I was able to determine that the timestamp for each camera file was off by about six hours.
In addition to the time adjustment necessary for camera images, I noticed that the first few camera photos actually had timestamps for the year 2017 (the wrong year often indicates there was a battery issue with the camera). With the exception of the 2017 timestamps, the dates for the camera photos were reliable, but the time-of-day portion of the timestamp always had to be adjusted as I worked to integrate the camera photos with the iPhone photos.
To locate the timestamp for each image on an iMac, I viewed each photo in Preview. Under Tools, I selected Show Inspector and the Exif tab to view the Date Time Digitized and Date Time Original. A previous post discusses Photo date fields (origination, creation, modification) and why the dates that appear in Finder are not the ones you want to rely on for photo organizing.
Converting HEIC to JPG
Some of the images were in HEIC format, others were JPG. My sister and I had agreed the photo book would be designed using Shutterfly, so all of the images had to be converted to JPG (Shutterfly does not accept other file formats). Fortunately, I had done batch conversions for a family wedding in late 2019, so I applied my saved Quick Action to convert all of the HEIC images.
My sister had wisely saved a small number of memorabilia items to be scanned and included in the photo book as appropriate. Readers familiar with Shutterfly will know about Stickers and Backgrounds, which are particular to each photo book Style. Scanning memorabilia is a way to personalize photo book pages with unique backgrounds and stickers; some examples follow.
Scanned memorabilia becomes a “personalized sticker”
This page includes Shutterfly Stickers and a “personalized sticker.” See below for information on the street map as a background.
Scanned maps as page backgrounds and images
The scanned street map of Vienna, Austria (above) served as a page background, as did a map that includes the Island of Šolta (below).
Incorporating hotel key cards
The key card image of this hotel turned out to be the only picture the group had of it (no one had remembered to take a photo).
Postcards: “Personalized sticker” and Shutterfly Sticker
Fortunately, the design of the scanned postcard was a good match for the Shutterfly book style that my sister selected.
Memorabilia I was unable to use
Not every memorabilia item scanned well. One hotel had a maroon business card with gold lettering. I previewed the scanned image, realized it wasn’t appealing, and didn’t even bother to scan it.
I wish it was possible to upload PNG files to Shutterfly – a way to truly create our own stickers. I was happy with the scanned version of this round paper coaster from a hotel, which Preview allowed me to crop as a circle and save as a PNG file. But, I could not upload it to Shutterfly (remember, only JPG files can be uploaded). A picture of the same item with 90-degree corners was not useful. I ended up not including the coaster in the book.
Itinerary provides guidance
A group of five individuals traveled to Eastern Europe; the trip was coordinated for them by an Ohio-based travel company. A seven-page itinerary (not pictured) was provided for my reference; it was invaluable in determining what section of the trip the various memorabilia items aligned with. The abbreviated version of the itinerary that appears in the photo book (below) shows that for multiple locations, there were day trips to nearby sites.
By comparing photo timestamps to the itinerary, I was able to determine that photos taken on the same date were actually from three different locations (the GPS tab can also assist, if populated with data):
There were only a few photos from Medjugorje, so instead of devoting an entire photo book page to this location, I used Ribbon Embellishments in Shutterfly to create a different background within a page for two pictures. The Medjugorje photos were taken on the same day as other images on this photo book page, but at a different time.
Allocation of pages in the book
To allocate pages within the photo book, I used the same method described in an previous post. One difference this time around was that I did not select the front and back cover photos in advance. I was not on the trip, so I decided the best approach was to “live” it and create the entire book first; I expected this would enable me to identify which photos best captured the trip as experienced by the travelers. For this particular book, that approach worked well (the feature photo for this post was the book’s front cover photo).
This Excel spreadsheet captures my approach to determining how many pages to devote to each segment of the trip.
Shutterfly does offer foreign characters (e.g., umlaut) in some instances. I followed these instructions on how to insert them. Inserting an umlaut on the Schönbrunn Palace page was not a problem, but I was unable to insert a caron for either Šolta or Šibenik (I received the error, “Invalid characters removed”). I tried changing the font within the photo book style, but that did not prevent the error. I got a bit creative on one page and placed the olive from an olive branch Shutterfly Sticker above the S to mimic the caron.
I had an unexpected benefit from working on this photo book: an introduction to Viennese coffee. It was referenced on the trip itinerary, and I wanted to give it a try. I made ours with Nespresso Lungo pods (no particular flavor), fresh whipped cream (whipped it myself), and Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate syrup. It has become our standard late-morning treat while staying at home for COVID-19 social distancing.
Shutterfly photo book style: Vintage Travel. Size: 12 x 12.
Photo credits: Susan D. DiGiacomo and Eugene F. Pushic
It’s been almost five months since my father passed away in November 2018. Much of the paperwork and immediate action items are behind us. This month, we acknowledged what would have been his 93rd birthday. Coincidentally, I had recently turned my attention to his World War II memorabilia, which we set aside as we tackled more pressing matters in the months immediately following his death. There are three daughters, and I volunteered to research what the various badges, ribbons, lapel pins, etc. represented. The day before his birthday, I mailed my findings to my two sisters.
We agreed it would be difficult deciding what to do with these items without actually understanding the significance of each one. That’s where photographs and a three-page itinerary of his travels in WWII came to our assistance. When did he earn each of these items? For what reason? How were they worn? Of course, online research was also a big help. Our father was in the U.S. Army, and I learned about insignia for infantry divisions and regiments, the Third United States Army, overseas service (“Hershey”) bars, Chevrons, and items worn on the home front.
As I reviewed our father’s documentation, “My United States Army Career,” I calculated his age when he went through basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, at the end of 1944: he was 18 1/2. By the time he was 20 1/2, he was home. I remember him saying his basic training was accelerated due to the Battle of the Bulge, which occurred as his training was wrapping up. I know his parents visited him at Fort McClellan (they would have traveled from Ohio), but his itinerary also indicates he was home (due to a delay) for about five days in January 1945, before sailing for Scotland. I am certain the images below were taken during one of those two timeframes. From these formal pictures, I know which lapel pins were issued to him before he departed for Europe. I know that he had already earned the Sharpshooter Qualification Badge on his left breast (the clasps read: Sharpshooter, Rifle, Carbine). The shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI) on his left shoulder (red, yellow, blue) is for the Replacement and School Command.
Our father was made Private First Class (PFC) in April 1945. In fall 1945, he was assigned to a Quartermaster truck company in Germany. He made Corporal in January 1946. I can’t make out his enlisted rank insignia in these photos, but it looks to me like he is still a PFC (a single Chevron on his arm). He has also acquired some medal ribbons, on his left breast. Two of his ribbons were the World War II Victory Medal and the Army of Occupation Medal. Our father’s itinerary noted the end of the war in Germany (May 9) and in the Pacific (September 2); since these photos include the medal ribbons, they were probably taken in the second half of 1945.
When someone saw the below image of my father, he expected it was a basic training (“boot camp”) photograph. After conducting my memorabilia research and comparing this image with other Army photos, I now know he was homeward bound. He is wearing his Combat Infantry Badge on his left breast, which his itinerary states was earned in April 1945. But, he is also wearing Sergeant insignia on his right shoulder (earned February 1946). I believe his Ozark insignia (102nd Infantry Division, assigned March 1945) is barely visible on his right shoulder, above the Sergeant Chevrons.
The most helpful photo in understanding how memorabilia were worn is this image with three individuals (my father in the center). My father has the “A” insignia of the Third United States Army on his left shoulder (assigned July 1945), above his Sergeant insignia (three Chevrons). His left wrist has two overseas (“Hershey”) bars; he ultimately earned three of them. His lapel pins read “Up Front,” the distinctive unit insignia for the 405th Infantry Regiment to which he was assigned in March 1945. The medal ribbons are more clear in this image, but without color, it is still hard to determine exactly which ribbons these are (he ultimately earned three). The gentlemen on his right and left both have 26th Infantry Regiment insignia (“Blue Spaders”) on their caps (my father was transferred to that regiment in May 1946). His itinerary notes he headed home at the end of June, 1946.
I was also touched by two different kinds of pins, worn on the home front during WWII. I expect these were worn by his parents. The one on the left is a Son in Service-Infantry lapel pin; the number of stars indicated how many sons were in service. My father was an only child. I remember commenting to my parents, “It must have been difficult for Dad’s parents to see him go off to war.” They immediately responded, “Everyone was sacrificing, that’s just the way it was.” Mutual sacrifice was accepted by all and expected by all. The pin on the right has a single Chevron symbol under USA, so I expect his parents acquired it sometime after he was made Private First Class in April 1945.
There are still some questions that the photographs and the itinerary don’t answer (left to right, below): When did he receive his Good Conduct Award? When did he earn the Marksman Qualification Badge (with five clasps)? Was he ever affiliated with the 406th Infantry Regiment (he had one of the lapel pins)? What happened to the SSI for the Replacement and School Command (referenced earlier)?
I am at peace with not knowing the answers to all of these questions. The documentation he left behind paints a mostly complete picture, so I am content. I am grateful for this glimpse into his distant past – the young man he was before marriage and fatherhood. After returning home in 1946, he attended college, where he met our mother (they married in 1949); he always said that the G.I. Bill was critical to his education. He never would have considered college due to the cost; the G.I. Bill made college feasible for him and many others.
I have scanned and photographed each of the memorabilia items; the photos from this timeframe are partially digitized. I am envisioning a photo book that pulls together his itinerary, images of the memorabilia, and the photos from that time period. Perhaps the story can finally be recorded, with some degree of completeness, in one location.
If you have a family story with bits and pieces in various locations and formats, pause and consider all of the materials available to you as you work to understand the context of memorabilia and photos – different kinds of items may work together to complete much of the puzzle.
For our family, the three-page itinerary of his U.S. Army career, typed by our father in the 1940s, was in a three-ring notebook of unrelated material. It was part of the story, but separate from everything else. The pictures were in a photo album; unfortunately, they were glued in place, so any helpful information on the back is no longer accessible to us (there are some cryptic notes in the album). The medals, badges, lapel pins, etc. had been framed years ago in a shadow box but had no identifying information. Online research was key for these items, as well as photos where he was wearing at least some of them. If the itinerary told us when an item was earned or when he was reassigned, then we knew that a photo with an associated item must have been taken after the date from the itinerary. Slowly, a story of two formative years in this young man’s life has emerged. Yes, there are a few unknowns, but the story is sufficiently complete for my satisfaction. I’m just going to treasure it.
The transfer of 21 Hi8 tapes to a digital format took 28 hours; splitting the resulting files into 452 edited movies required months of detail work. Is it worth it? I believe so, since the end result is the way we store and consume videos today: we don’t have a series of unrelated events in a single file that is one or two hours long; rather, we have a number of separate video files that we can view individually or combine in a creative way if we choose. Fortunately, the way we consume video in the second decade of the twenty-first century provides us with much more control than was afforded us in decades past. It is simply more practical to share clips from old tapes than it is to share a digital file of the entire tape.
In a previous post, I discussed the benefits of breaking videos that are hours long into individual clips. I still believe that a first step should be to capture the videos in their entirety, if your only copies are on tape. Tape degrades over time, so preserving your memories in a digital format is something you should tackle immediately. The upper end of the life span for tape is 20 years. Some of the tapes I recently worked with were older than that (1990 – 2011), and they were in fine shape, but yours may not be. Don’t tempt fate if the only copy you have is still on tape.
Transferring using Vidbox
I discovered the Vidbox device a few years ago. I have used it with a VCR and with two different camcorders, with S-Video, RCA cables, and camera-specific cables. I did experience problems with a continuous feed when using the S-Video, which I solved by avoiding all USB hubs and power strips and disconnecting unnecessary devices. Power was not an issue when using just camera-specific or RCA cables.
There are demonstrations of Vidbox available, and all were positive; I can add my experience to that list. I have now transferred over 30 tapes with the device. It connects to your computer via USB and then to either a VCR or a camcorder using the appropriate cables. The instructions on screen are clear, and if you encounter issues (as I did with the S-Video), then Vidbox support is available by phone.
Another option is to have the tapes transferred by a local camera shop, a photo organizer, or a national company. If you use one of these approaches, be clear regarding what file format will be delivered to you, whether you will be able to edit the files, and what media will be used (USB, EHD, DVD, etc.) for delivery.
The client did not know how much footage was on the 21 tapes. As shown in the chart below, eight tapes had about two hours of material, nine had about one hour, and the remainder had a half hour or less. The total number of hours for all tapes was just under 28.
Creating and editing clips
I used iMovie 10.1.9 to separate hours-long video into separate clips. Consider a hypothetical one-hour tape that includes Christmas, an indoor birthday, and swimming at an outdoor pool. I begin by selecting all of the Christmas footage and copying it into the iMovie project pane. Then I watch the footage and observe breaks in the filming. I separate the footage and add transitions for each of these breaks (Cross Dissolve is my favorite transition). The Christmas movie might end up having four different clips (opening presents, cooking in the kitchen, eating dessert, playing with toys), with transitions between them. The indoor birthday movie might have ten different clips. The outdoor pool movie might have just a single clip.
Auto color balance
A number of the clips benefitted from auto color balance, which was part of my base rate. Examples of video that improved after auto color balance included: indoor basketball games (above), some outdoor swim pool shots, and events in the kitchen. Generally speaking, outdoor shots with grass did not improve with auto color balance (e.g., soccer games, Easter egg hunts). I found that whether auto color balance would improve a clip or not depended on the direction of the light source relative to the camera, use of a camera light while filming, and the source of light being natural or artificial.
Auto color balance improved this footage from a preschool pumpkin-carving video; the yellow tint was removed.
It also improved this footage of father and child at an outdoor swim pool by removing the unnatural shade of blue.
This footage from a neighborhood Halloween parade did not benefit from auto color balance, since it was filmed outside.
I always apply auto color balance to the individual clips within a project. As the videographer was shooting and possibly changing position, the light may have shifted. While one clip benefits from adjustment, a different clip may actually look worse. Although it can be tedious to apply to each clip and view the impact, I highly recommend it; one size does not fit all.
Manual color correction options (versus auto) are available in iMovie, but that level of adjustment was not within the scope of this particular project.
Determining dates of clips
If cases and/or tapes are dated
For this collection of 21 tapes, some cases were dated with years and a brief description of contents (eight cases were not labeled at all):
Beginning 10/7/93 End Myrtle B. 1994
The tapes themselves were not labeled, so I had to be aware that if a tape had been placed into the wrong case, then the case label might not be appropriate for the tape inside of it. I made a note of each case label as I began to work on that particular tape, as it was my first indication of what might be on the associated tape.
If the video itself is dated
The case labels were a starting point. Dates recorded using the camcorder proved to be very reliable, when they were available. The camcorder manual explained how to view the date while playing the tape (it could be toggled on and off). While capturing the footage using Vidbox, I made sure to toggle the date and timestamp off. While editing the clips, I would replay the tape in the camcorder, toggle the date and timestamp on, and use it to date the clips. The camcorder date and timestamp were not always available, even on a single tape (i.e., it would be available for some footage but not for all footage). I utilized it whenever I could.
If neither of the above are available or reliable
There is always a bit of detective work associated with dating of tapes and clips. The client provided me with some key dates (anniversary, birthdays, baptism, etc.) If you cannot determine the date for a particular event, continue working with other material that follows on the same tape. If you ultimately determine the date of events before and after an event in question, the two known dates can at least sandwich the unknown one. In many cases, I ended up labeling with seasons if months could not be determined. There is a caveat to this approach, however. In a few instances, I could tell that an event was out of order on the tape. Perhaps something was accidentally recorded over (someone grabbed the wrong tape), or perhaps the intent was to record over something that was no longer needed. You cannot always rely on the order of items on the tapes themselves. Consider the age of individuals in the footage and the season to help you determine if something is out of order or not.
Information can also be gathered from the video and/or audio. This does require taking time to watch and listen to the recording so that you can identify any clues. Below are a few examples of dating clips using clues within the audio and video:
July 4, 1990: reference to July 4 (Independence Day) in the audio, and I was confident of the year.
Sunday, September 2, 1990: audio reference to Sunday night; this clip followed Labor Day weekend clips (known from audio). I was confident that the year was 1990, so I could determine the dates of Labor Day weekend that year.
October 20,1990; Notre Dame score was 29 to 20 (on audio); they played Miami on that date with that score. This date also matches the newspaper headline in the video – Oakland As and Cincinnati Reds in World Series (those dates were October 16-20, 1990).
Friday, April 1, 1994: I was confident of the year, and there was mention of it being Good Friday on the audio.
January 7, 1996: date was available from local newspaper coverage of a blizzard on this date; it was revisited by the newspaper 20 years later in 2016.
Most of the examples above were audio clues (except for the newspaper headline). An example of a video clue was this brochure from a piano recital (a bit hard to read: June 4, 2000).
Both children in the family participated in springboard diving during the summer months. I was unfamiliar with this sport and the associated terminology, which made dividing the clips and naming the movies challenging. I didn’t know how many dives were performed at a particular meet, whether the kids alternated or not, and what “DD” meant (announced as each diver stepped onto the board).
I learned to use background imagery to help determine if diving clips had been filmed on the same day or not. The umbrellas at the tables, where the dives were positioned relative to other structures (buildings), and the attire of spectators and coaches all helped me to determine if what I was viewing was a different dive meet than prior footage.
The site USAdiver.com had a table that helped me decipher the terminology used when the divers were announced. Each dive had a number (101), a letter (A, B, C), a description (back dive straight), and a degree of difficulty (DD = 1.7). Having access to this information enabled me to label the movies with more accuracy and to add appropriate titles.
I used an iMac for this project, so Vidbox Video Conversion for Mac provided me with .MOV files. After creating and editing the clips in iMovie, I researched export options. I ultimately chose Quality: ProRes. The higher the quality and resolution, the larger the file size. There is debate as to whether ProRes is “overkill” for video shot in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the goal here was to enable preservation of these videos/clips for the long term (i.e., decades). There is general agreement that ProRes is a format that is likely to enable future editing (the larger file size means there is a lot of data retained) and easier migration to new file formats when the time arises. Since ProRes files are large, individual movies can always be further compressed if smaller files are needed in specific circumstances.
Vimeo’s blog post was helpful as I considered archival needs, and this Video Compression Guide points out that further compression is always possible if you retain a higher quality master version.
Don’t forget the Memory Stick
This particular camcorder had a Sony Memory Stick. It was similar to an SD card, but longer. I set it aside while I focused on the tapes. Fortunately, I made a note to remember to check it before wrapping up the project. I truly did not expect to find any material on it.
The camcorder manual, which the client still had, provided information on how to view the Memory Stick contents using the camcorder. About 20 images were templates of some sort, but then still images began to appear. There were ultimately 33 of them. I wasn’t sure if the client would want to save these images or not, or what quality they would be (the manual specified they were JPG, but not what resolution). I knew she had invested in a good camera and had used it at the same events where the camcorder was present. I wondered if these still images might already be reflected in her print or digital photo collection. I used my iPhone to film the images as they played on the camcorder. I shared the resulting video with the client, and she confirmed that she wanted to retain the still images.
I found out the Sony Memory Stick was proprietary technology. Sony customer service was helpful and directed me to Best Buy for a device that could read a Memory Stick. There were a couple of devices with widely varying price points. The less expensive one was out of stock, but I found a comparable device elsewhere. The client was agreeable to spending the $24 needed for the device to access the Memory Stick, so those 33 images were copied to a CD and an EHD for her use.
I give credit to the parents, the videographers in this family. They still had the camcorder, cords, and manual. The tapes were in good condition, with some labeling. Often, audio had been used to record the relevance of the event being filmed. There was not a lot of wasted tape between events filmed. Occasionally, the camera had been left running, capturing grass, the lens cap, or a counter – but there was only a handful of situations like that. Overall, the video was easy to work with and decipher.
I shared a selected number of movies with the client via Vimeo as I progressed through the project, so I received some early reactions to the work product. I am anxious to hear from the family as to which events surprised and moved them the most, upon viewing all of them for the first time in a decade or more.
“I love these!!! Thank you SO much! I am so grateful that we are preserving these diving memories. The middle school birthday party is HILARIOUS…and slightly painful to watch, haha. I was, in fact, a teenager once.…”
~Maria M. in Richmond, VA (July 17, 2017)
“I was able to view the videos and was delighted with them. Thanks so much for doing such outstanding work!”
Rebecca M. in Richmond, VA (May 1, 2018)
ALL IMAGES ARE USED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE CLIENT.
My mother passed away almost one year ago, on November 13, 2017.She lived with Alzheimer’s disease for about 15 years.I am the only sibling who lives out of town, nine hours away.I was grateful when my two sisters and father were agreeable to me contributing to her memorial service and reception by preparing a slideshow and several photo collages of her life.As a photo organizer, this participation enabled me to utilize that passion.The items I prepared were easily transported by car when we made the journey north for her service and reception.
A client with aging parents is working to catalog and store family photographic memories while her mother and father are still able to remember details about various images.When she showed me the family albums of her parents, the memories of my own family’s brown and blue albums from the same time period came rushing back.