A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.
Like many historical societies and museums, we have a large number of photos in which some or all of the individuals are unidentified. We use a variety of techniques to address this problem, from archival research to crowd-sourcing; we also do our best, when accepting new donations, to ensure that we get the names and stories from the donors straight away.
Perhaps naturally, our focus in these endeavors has been on the Jewish community – but that doesn’t mean that only Jewish people are represented in our collections. Few communities live in a vacuum; we interact with other groups nearly every day, as friends, coworkers, and family, in shops and restaurants and on the street.
Unidentified photos are the bane of a collections manager’s existence. (One of them, anyway.) And yet it’s a perfectly understandable problem; many of us can’t remember the names of people in our own snapshots, let alone those of our parents and grandparents. (As a side note, here’s your reminder to clearly identify all your photos with full names, locations, and dates.) If the people donating the images don’t know who’s in them, what chance do we, the unaffiliated museum staff, have? Happily, there are often clues we can use to recover some names. And once we know the names, we should use them.
Now more than ever we need to do our best by the people – all the people – who can be found in our collections. True, their stories may not be our stories to tell; the goal isn’t to lay claim to them, but to make sure these images are accessible, remembered, and known… and that can start with a name. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but a vital one.
As always, if anyone can help us identify any people, locations, dates, or stories that accompany these images, please let us know!