Posted: 14 Apr 2016 | Author: Sue Adams | Filed under: Genealogy issues, Photo analysis, Photo dating, Photo software, Sue's family research | Tags: digital image, EXIF, GPS location, holiday photos, IPTC Photo metadata, New Zealand, privacy, WorldCat |
This photo of my brother, Stephen, was emailed to me by his partner, Joan. Digital photographs contain a wealth of information, so genealogists need to adapt analysis techniques to make to most of them.
First, what is in the picture? Just like we don’t know who the people were in old photos, future generations won’t know who is in pictures being created now unless we annotate them. Identifying when and where the picture was taken are steps to identifying who might be depicted in it and why it was taken. This photo has clues in it.
The Lonely Planet Guide suggests a holiday trip and a possible location of New Zealand’s south island. Checking WorldCat identifies the book as the 4th edition, published in September 2014. The next edition is due for publication in October 2016.
The nearly empty wine glass and coffee suggests dinner has just been eaten. It is still daylight however. The garden in the background looks green so might suggest summertime. During the southern summer in Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand’s south island, sunset times vary between 21:11 on the summer solstice (22 December) and 19:41 on the autumn equinox (20 March).
Clothing, especially fashionable women’s clothes, can be quite an accurate dating clue. The polo style shirt Stephen is wearing has been around for decades, so doesn’t help narrow down the date.
It is harder to find information about modern objects such as wine glasses, crockery and tableware than their antique counterparts. I think wine glasses have got bigger in the last decade or so, but can’t point to any helpful reference.
If I did not know the subject, I would assign an age range 40-60. The age range and the date range the photo was taken (2014-2016) would put the subject’s date of birth between 1954-1976.
So far, the approach I’ve taken has not diverged from analysis of traditional photos. There is still a good deal more information in this digital image file.
Inside the digital image file
The format, size, shape, mountings, and annotations on the back of traditional photographs hold information useful for dating and analysis. Likewise, digital images hold useful information in metadata that is embedded in or added to the file. Viewing the metadata is possible using operating system functions (Properties for Windows, Get Info for Mac), but I prefer the free specialist image file tool, IrfanView, which offers more options.
IrfanView interface. The info button opens the Image Properties window, with IPTC and EXIF buttons, the EXIF window with button that open mapping software.
Digital cameras capture and store data in the EXIF (Exchangeable image file) format automatically, including camera settings, date, and location information.
Even without a specific date, the model of the camera is itself a dating clue. This photo was taken with a smartphone, a Nexus 5X, first released in October 2015. It was taken on 11 February 2016 at 20:07:21. My after dinner, but before sunset, assessment checks out, assuming the phone date is using the right time zone. According to the other dates recorded in the file, it does not appear to have been altered. The value for ‘Software’ often records what was used to edit the file. In this case it appears to be the built-in phone app. After I added my own annotation, the file date was updated, but exif dates were preserved.
Clicking on the ‘Show in Google Maps’ button in Irfanview takes me to the GPS co-ordinates at Golf Course Road in Wanaka and plops a marker on the lawn outside a building with arched windows. On the street map image, dated 2009, I can make out the sign which says ‘Little Italy‘, which is at 76B Golf Course Road. There is also a marker for ‘Bistro Gentil‘ at 76A Golf Course Road. The tables and windows in photos on Bistro’s website are a good match to the photo. Stephen and Joan have confirmed that they dined at Bistro Gentil.
Location of Bistro Gentil and Street map image
Digital Annotation and Privacy
Although the exif data contains a time and place, there is more that I want to record in the digital image file. I want to include:
- a name tag to tell me who the subject is
- the text of Joan’s email, so I know where the photo came from and what she had to say about it
User added data is supported by IPTC Photo Metadata standard. I used the keyword field for a name tag, the Description (or Caption) field for the email contents. There are other fields available, but not all software implements them properly. These two fields are widely supported by image software and operating systems, making the tags and description searchable.
IPTC data fields in Windows file properties (centre) and IrfanView IPTC information
The description I have added contains private email addresses, which I do not want to share publically. Stephen and Joan are happy to share the photo and have given me permission, but aren’t likely to thank me if I release email addresses that could potentially be spammed. They aren’t concerned about the world knowing where they had dinner one evening during their holiday. Sometimes location is much more sensitive. Photos taken at your home with a GPS enabled phone could be more revealing than you would wish.
So, how best do I ensure that I share appropriately? Anything published on this blog could be shared on social media, quite likely by me. Facebook reputedly strips all exif data from photos to avoid privacy issues, but discards copyright data in the process. There doesn’t seems to be any easy method to remove selected exif data, and even if there was, how long would it take to edit each photo’s metadata?
Next time you receive a digital family photo, will you be looking at it more closely?
© Sue Adams 2016
Posted: 26 Aug 2015 | Author: Sue Adams | Filed under: Genealogy issues, Genealogy software and data | Tags: Abinger baptism, bishop's transcript, database, digital image, Item, microfiche, microfilm, parish register, Source example |
In recent posts, The Original in Context and How Many Copies?, I examined how an original item fits into the collection and how originals are copied into many different forms. Those transformations raise a critical question: What is an Item?
The archival standard, ISAD(G), defines an item as
“the smallest intellectually indivisible archival unit” where a unit of description is “A document or set of documents in any physical form, treated as an entity, as such, forming the basis of a single description”.
So, what does that mean and how can it be applied to genealogical sources? In the example of Alfred Munday’s baptism, the Abinger baptism register is described as an item. It is a single physical entity, a book. It has a particular and unique history in that it was created between July 1841 and May 1898 by the parish clergy filling in baptism details.
What happens to the item when copies are made?
A bundle of Bishop’s transcripts
Annual copies of parish registers were made for the bishop (Bishop’s Transcripts). In the Abinger example loose sheets of paper (or folios) of baptism, marriage and burial forms were filled in, and the diocese (or later custodian) filed these together by year. So, what is an item for these Bishop’s Transcripts? Although they share the same purpose of providing a copy for the bishop, the baptism, marriage and burial folios are copies of 3 separate registers. A logical argument can be made to consider the 2 baptism folios an item. I prefer to treat each folio as an item, as each is a separate and unique physical object.
Filmed records present different issues. Microfilms often contain more than one register and a register may be spread over more than one film. The Abinger 1841-1898 Baptism Register is split over 2 microfilms, numbers 991768 (1841-1876) and 994421 (1874-1898). Both of these microfilms also contain other registers from Abinger and other parishes. The Family History Library catalogue sometimes marks parishes as separate ‘items’, but does not appear to consistently identify original registers or even sequential runs of data. When the microfilm is of something which is itself a copy the relationship to the original may be obscured. The Abinger Bishop’s Transcripts are spread over 2 microfilms, with baptisms 1844-1850 on film 307739 and baptisms 1851-1857 on film 307740.
The distribution of images over microfiche present similar problems to microfilm, except that the number of images on a fiche is typically fewer than film. In the Abinger case, microfiche were produced from microfilms of the original registers. The fiche that contains Alfred Munday’s baptism includes baptisms from 1835 to 1865.
It is clear that a microfilm or a microfiche is a single physical object, but the contents may vary and may not be adequately documented. A pragmatic approach is to treat each microfilm or fiche as an item. That leaves the problem of describing the contents of each item.
So far I have considered physical copies with a pragmatic approach to defining what an item is. In short if you can pick it up and shake it and nothing falls off, it is an item. For artefacts that are in good condition, it holds true. Fragile artefacts (please don’t annoy archivists by shaking) may become detached, but if the parts have been kept together, it still makes sense to treat the whole as an item. When parts of a artefact are split up and distributed, as in the example discussed in Book Breaking and Digitisation, the parts have separate custodial histories, so should be treated as separate items with a lot of documentation.
What about digital objects? Two types of digital objects have been identified for the Abinger example: digital images and databases.
A digital image, typically a jpeg file, is easily identified as an item that can be viewed and downloaded. In the Abinger case, the digital images mostly depict microfilm frames, but some parts of the collection have been directly digitally photographed. The number of pages of a manuscript (e.g. original register or bishop’s transcript) depicted in a traditional photograph or digital image varies, with 1 or 2 pages being common. When 2 pages are depicted, it is usually an opening of a book, such as the Abinger baptism register. Both sides of a folio do not appear in the same image, because you can’t photograph both sides at once. The Abinger bishop’s transcripts were photographed with 1 side each of 2 folios shown in each image, which results in the last page of baptisms and the first page of marriages being on the same image. As Ancestry has re-arranged the images into separate sets for baptisms, marriages and burials, this image appears twice.
Digital image of Abinger Bishop’s transcript showing 2 folios
Identifying items in databases is the hardest of all. The main online genealogy data vendors categorise data into collections, such as Ancestry’s ‘Surrey, England, Baptisms, 1813-1912’ and ‘London, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906’ collections that contain the Abinger parish registers and bishop’s transcripts respectively. The distinction between collections is blurred by search facilities that permit broad searches on multiple collections. Each collection is a compilation of data from diverse sources, so the collection is not a good candidate for treatment as an item. The structure of online databases is not transparent. A database record, a single row in a database table, could be considered the smallest intellectual unit within a database. A parish register or bishop’s transcript entry may not actually equate to single row in one table, but entries returned by queries could be stored that way.
Each time a copy is made, a transformation occurs. Transformations change the characteristics of an item. The data contained within items is split, re-arranged and compiled in different combinations each time.
© Sue Adams 2015