Legacy Images and Annotations: How To Ruin a Genealogical Teaching Moment.


The image below is one I came across in my research and several things immediately popped out — aside from the fact that some of the Colvins in it are part of the family line I am studying. First: who’s who? If you follow the arrow trail I’ve added which corresponds to the annotations given, you’ll see it zigzags across the image incoherently, inviting easy mis-identification of the subjects. That’s what thoughtless annotations on legacy images do.

A more organized approach is to divide a bunched group into “rows” (as best you can) and identify the subjects left to right in each row starting either with the back or front row. This image can be divided into three rows. (See second image).  Two: how are the subjects related to each other? Where are the annotations for that?  Three:  where is Oddville Pike — the location of the setting?  Forth: Who’s homestead?  This is a family gathering, but at who’s home we don’t know.

I happen to know the answer to two of those four questions because I happen to know how some of the individuals are related to one another.  But this is an image from a genealogy database, presumably placed there to help other researchers in their work. Unfortunately, it does little to establish familial relations or answer questions about specific familial locations in the early 19th century.  In my next post, I’ll feature an improved version of the image which I hope will  illustrate the difference between an image meant to aid research and one that does not.

Douglas and Colvin families 1891 annotation trajectory

The image below illustrates the concept of rows and how to visualize them to improve annotation quality so a family history image is helpful to other researchers.

Update here.

Douglas and Colvin families 1891 demo I

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About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional credentials can be found in the CV / Services tab.
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