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Updating your photo collection

It’s almost holiday time and it’s getting colder out. Time to cut back on visits to cemeteries and libraries and think about the future.

As active as I am in the genealogy community, I fall behind on some basic genealogy duties. It’s time to update the photos in my collection, and specifically on my family tree charts.

Most of the time, I forget to get new pictures of people, and I think about it only when relatives call me up and ask me for a copy of the family tree. They usually want a copy because the 9-year-old grandson has a school family tree project. “I know you haven’t heard from me in five years, but my grandson has a family tree project for class. …” The funny part is that I didn’t know they had a 9-year-old grandson in the first place! Now that grandson wants a family tree so he can get an “A” in class.

Duty No. 1 is to call some of the distant relatives you don’t see very often and see what’s up. You have closer relatives that you see at all the family gatherings, but these are the folks you only run into at wakes and weddings. If you catch them now, you just might get a Christmas card with a photo inside! It doesn’t do any good to call them Christmas week. Too late.

Some of your more distant relatives may be on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. I have Facebook friends in Italy who I never get to see, and some relatives in different parts of the U.S. and Canada that I don’t get to see either. The good news is that you should be able to find photos of these people (and their grandchildren!) on their photo page.

The bad news is that the resolution of these photos is not always good. Facebook compresses the pictures to fit on the screen so you don’t always get the best quality. Also, many people use their cell phones to take pictures and upload them to Facebook. These are not always the best quality.

Remember that you need to zoom in on the face of the person when you put these photos in the family tree software. If the original photo is grainy or dark or low resolution, you will end up putting a picture of a relative in the family tree that will look like an ogre when printed! This probably won’t endear you with that relative!

Also, please don’t use the photo of that relative at the bar with that look on their face that tells us all that they had a “blast” that evening and a hangover the following morning! Not every photo is submitted by the person in question, and the person might have been tagged in someone else’s photo and perhaps they don’t want that photo to circulate any more than it already has!

If you don’t find any good pictures on Facebook, send a private message to the person and ask if they can post one picture that would be appropriate for use in a family tree chart, preferably from a wedding when everyone is dressed and groomed at their very best.

So you have taken care of the distant relatives. Now you need to get updated pics of the closer ones. Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to get some photos. People are dressed up a little more than at a standard summer birthday party. They’re all inside most of the time since it has gotten colder. You have more control over the light indoors than outside.

The trick is to NOT take pictures of all your relatives WHILE they are eating!! I know, I know. When AREN’T they eating?? Do the best you can. Maybe wait until they just get to the dinner table but before starting the meal. Use a good digital camera, not the cell phone. Tell them you need this photo for the family tree. Hopefully they choose NOT to put the two fingers in the air over his brother’s head!

So now you need to get the pictures into the family tree software. Each program is different and I won’t attempt to explain them all here. But you should really evaluate the picture you already have and compare to the one you just took. Make sure you’re making an improvement. (Unfortunately, having the “most recent” picture is not always important. If a relative has recently been ill, and doesn’t look very healthy, it’s better to keep an older picture of that person in the family tree.)

Back to the 9-year-old who wants an easy “A.” I never just hand over my work to the kid, who then turns it in and gets the “A.” That’s too easy and they didn’t do any of the work. I always talk to them and work with them on how to put a project together themselves. For one thing, you only have part of their family. They need to dig up their mother’s side and the other relatives not related to you. So I talk them through what to look for and how to find it. When they EARN that “A,” I send them a copy of the big chart as a reward!

If you have any questions, send me an e-mail 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.

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