08 January 2013

Photos From Heaven

Don't get me wrong, I love access to data.

I just like to know where on earth it comes from. I'm not one to get all aglow over information when there's no apparent way to judge the reliability of that information.

 Ancestry.com released a new database recently "Family Photo Collection, c. 1850-2000."

Here is a screen shot of one result from that collection made on 8 January 2013.

In the "more about the database section," it states that: "This database is a collection of customer-submitted ancestral and relative photos." That seems a little bit vague to me.

There is no submitter information on this photo.

This database must be a work in progress, must not contain some photos in the online trees, or both. There are individuals that I know have pictures submitted in publicly available online trees whose pictures do not appear in this database. How complete the database is at this point is not my concern.

What concerns me is that I really have no idea where this picture came from--other than Ancestry.com. How do I know it is who the database purports it to be? Who submitted it? Where did they obtain it?

All of those are questions the genealogist should be asking. Of course the reliability of the identity of any photograph is based upon the perceived knowledge of the informant. Grandma Neill may tell me that the picture she has is of her Grandpa Trautvetter and, unless someone else can corroborate that, I only have Grandma's word on which to base my photo identification. The difference in that case is that at least in my sources I can identify my Grandma Neill as the informant. I don't have the option of identifying the informant on some of these photographs.

What About Pictures in Grandma's Bible? Those aren't always identified either.

That's true. But at least if I find the pictures in Grandma's old Bible, at least I have some iota of hope that they are related to her family in some way shape or form. I have no idea where images that "pop up" in an online collection actually came from at all. They maybe accurately identified or they may not. I can at least indicate that I located a picture in Grandma's old Bible.

I can't say that about unsourced pictures on a website. Saying "I got it off the internet" and don't know who submitted it is about the vaguest source citation one can make.

I'm not anti-Ancestry.com , I'm just pro-documentation.

Update: 9:34 AM CST-8 January 2013

John Newmark (who blogs at http://blog.transylvaniandutch.com), reminded me that Ancestry.com already has a database called "Public Member Photos & Scanned Documents" at http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1093&enc=1. 
That description states:

"This database contains photos submitted to Ancestry family trees by users who have indicated that their tree can be viewed by all Ancestry members. These photos can change over time as users edit, remove, or otherwise modify the data in their trees. You can contact the owner of the tree to get more information."
For these photos, one can see at least the tree to which it was originally submitted.