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Let’s play tag!

In my last column, I advocated that you need to tag the people in your photos, so you can find all photos of a particular person, place, or event easily. So I have spent the better part of the past month tagging photos in my collection.

My photo collection contains everything I have taken with digital camera and cell phone camera, plus scans of my parents’ entire collection, including color slides dating back to 1952, polaroids, photos stuck in albums, loose boxes of prints, and some negatives from the late 1940s. Then there are the older photos found in various collections of my relatives, close and distant, which were scanned for the genealogy work I have done for the past 23 years.

So I have a lot of work still to do!

I have learned a great deal more about tagging that I need to show you. Even if you have one-tenth the number of photos I have, it will make the project worthwhile and useful when it’s all done.

First problem: tags only exist on JPG files. There is no “tag” included on bitmap (BMP) or other image formats. There are no tags on movie files either. (MPG, MOV, AVI etc.) A lot of my earliest scans were BMP because the quality was much better than JPG at that time. But you can’t tag a BMP file or a TIF file. The tag is stored physically in the JPG file format. So what do I do with all those BMP files? I found a program called IrFanView. You can find it at www.irfanview.com. It is a simple graphics file viewer. It is not meant to replace PhotoShop by any means, but you can use it to batch-convert all your BMP and TIF to JPG and retain the quality. If you want to save the original BMP and TIF, go ahead. But you need a JPG version in order to tag it.

Second problem: How to tag people whose names have changed. Well my grandfather changed both his first and last name to “Americanize” it. And most of the women in the family have changed their names once, when they married (and some have changed back). So to simplify this situation, I tag everyone with their birth name. Thus, all women are tagged under their maiden names. I know they were married for 50 years when this photo was taken, but I tag them with maiden names anyway. That way, when I’m looking for Orsolina “Adeline” Santoliquido Palumbo Lagioia Petrosino (yes she was married and widowed three times!), I only have to search for one name.

This leads to the third problem: Do I tag people with their nickname? We have people in our family, and maybe you do too, who have been known by their nickname for so long that we forget what their real name was! It is still better to use their real birth name when tagging, because these photos may go to someone else who is less familiar with the nickname. Or the person may get sick of the nickname! My uncle was called “Tiny” when he was a kid, but he’s 6 feet 4 now and when he says he doesn’t want to be called “Tiny” anymore, I have to take him at his word!

But Uncle Tiny was called that because he has the same name as his father. Once his father died, he could be called Tony again without confusion. But if you tag photos with Tony the dad, Tony the son, or better yet, six different Tony’s who are all cousins and have the same surname, tagging could get difficult. So I tag each one using their birth year. Anthony Jannota 1914 and Anthony Jannota 1948. You don’t need to tag birth years for the people who don’t have a duplicate relative. If baby Anthony Janotta is born in 2013, tag him with the year and leave the older one alone.

The way I have been tagging is to use Windows Explorer. Get into the folder with JPG files I want to tag. I set up the view to be “Extra Large Icons” so I can see the photo. Then I click on one photo to select it. At the bottom of the screen, a series of fields show up regarding that file. One of them is the date. You can type in the date the picture was taken. You don’t need to do this if it is a recent digital picture, because the date is already part of the file. But if the picture was taken originally at Christmas 1966, you can type 12/25/1966 in this date field. Below that is the area for the tags. In my last column, I mentioned that you can have an “infinite” number of tags on one file. I don’t have any pictures with an infinite number of people (!) but I do have several with 30 or more and I was able to tag them all. I always tag in the order they appear in the photo, top to bottom row, left to right. If there is someone I do not know, I tag “?unknown” so I can search later for all photos with “?unknown”. Then I can show these to my parents, or other relatives, to see if they can help identify them.

Tagging locations is a little more difficult for older pictures. You need to go through the entire set of pictures to find one taken outside the house, or inside the house near an artifact everyone remembers, like the lamp with the clock in the middle, or Auntie’s couch with the plastic cover. I know, all our Aunties have plastic covers on the couch.

To try to get the dates right, you might need to get out the original photo albums so you have the pictures in date order. (Hopefully they are organized that way!) Also, use the babies and toddlers in the pictures to get the year a little closer. David McCullough, the author of Truman and John Adams, suggests to always have a car in the background of your pictures, so you can tell how old they are. However, mine would all be dated 1995 based on that logic! Anyway, older cars are a little easier to tell what year they are and that can end a debate about whether this is a 1946 or 1948 picture.

I hope you have questions on this topic because it will help everyone come up with a system and stick to it. If you start by tagging people with their married names and then change to maiden names, you will have trouble finding people and the whole project will be a waste of time. So pick a method and stick with it.

Write to Dan at italianroots@comcast.net and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line.

About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.