Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photos

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Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs -- Boundless GenealogyHow much do you know about the photographs in your family history collection? How much do you want future generations to know? You might be surprised to realize how much context you can discover for each photo in your stash. Follow the step-by-step template to craft a citation for the photos in your possession so that all the details will be preserved for the future generations of your family.

 Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs

Why Craft a Citation?

Have you inherited photographs related to your family history? Have you come across photographs in that collection that are not labeled? Don’t you wish you could ask a family member (probably long now deceased) what they know about the people and circumstances of the photo? Well, we want to leave our extended and future family members with as much information about our family history photograph collection as possible. That starts by writing down everything we know about each photo (and we may know more than we think). Then that information is organized into a citation that we include with the photo every time we share it.

How to Craft a Citation

A well-crafted citation will contain all the details we can wring out of the photo, even if it came unlabeled. For instance, with an unlabeled photo, we can still record the size of the photo, what type of photo it is (tintype, postcard, photocopy, photograph of a photograph, etc.), the approximate time period the photo was taken, and the person whom we inherited the photo from. Even these limited details can give some context for the identity of those in the photo. Others in your extended family, or distant cousins who find the photo online may be able to help fill in the missing details.

Follow this template to craft citations for the photos in your collection:

[Subject of photo or label], [place taken or “of” place], [date taken or circa time period]. [Additional details]. [Type of] photo, [width] x [height] inches. From the photo collection of [full name] ([birth year-death year]). In the possession of [name], [location], [year].

Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs -- Boundless Genealogy

Step-by-step breakdown for each part of the citation:

Subject of photo or label: Was the photo labeled? If so, by all means, include the label as the first piece of information in your citation. If not, do you know the names of those in the photo? Even if you only know some of the individuals in the photo, include that in this section, indicating each person’s position in the photo for reference. Perhaps you know more about the identity of the people in the photo than the original label stated. Make this part of the citation as complete as you can.

Place taken or “of” place (i.e. of Denton, Texas): Where was the photo taken? You may or may not know the exact place. If not, do you know where the individuals in the photo were from or lived during the time period of this photo? Including this “of” place, or the place where the person was from, gives more context about the specific person in the photo.

Date taken or “circa” time period: When was the photo taken? If you do not know the exact date, can you estimate based on clues in the photo? For example, if you know the youngest child in the photo was born in 1906, and the child appears as an infant in arms in the photo, you can estimate the photo was taken in 1906-1907. The clothing styles or props used in the photo may also help identify the time period. Once you have your estimate, add the word “circa” (meaning about or around) in front of the year range.

Additional details: These may include the photo studio the photo was taken at, other information from the labeling, or anything else that is pertinent to the identity of the subject.

Type of photo: Is the photo a specific type of photo such as a daguerrotype, ambrotype, tintype, or cartes de visite? Do you hold the original in your collection? Is it a photocopy or photograph of the original? This detail matters, especially when sharing the photo in a digital format where it becomes harder to tell which version of a photo you are looking at.

Width x Height in inches (or centimeters): This is an important, but often overlooked detail of a good photo citation. Is the original photo 1 inch x 2 inches, or 15 x 20 inches? It makes a difference in how many pixels it will convert to in a digital format. When extended family members know the original was only 2 x 3 inches, they can better understand that it may never print well in a 11 x 14 size. The size of earlier photographs can also help pinpoint the time period in which it was taken, as photo sizes came in and out of vogue.

From the photo collection of [full name] ([birth year-death year]): The provenance (or origin) of the photograph again adds specific context to your photo. Knowing which branch of the family the photo came from narrows down the persons who might be in the photo. Include the full name and birth and death dates of the person from whom you inherited the photo collection that included this photo.

In the possession of [name], [location], [year]: Now that we have identified all the context we can from the photo itself, we need to identify where the photo is held now. This detail helps continue the provenance of the photo, or chain of custody, as well as allowing others interested in the photo to contact you as the steward of the photo. You may be as general or specific on this detail as you feel comfortable with in the public arena. I personally feel comfortable identifying my name and state of residence.

Craft a Citation Along with Me

Now that we have gone over the parts of a good citation,  let’s craft a citation together to see how this works.

Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs -- Boundless Genealogy

The above image came labeled on the front with “Aunt Laurie Bell Wilson & husband & family”. That was it. So, to craft a complete citation, I did a little digging. I knew the photo came from my husband’s grandmother, Juaneitha Wilson Wiltbank. Looking at the family tree, I confirmed that Laura Bell Wilson was Juaneitha’s aunt, the sister of her father, George Washington Wilson. Through various genealogy documents, I identified Laura’s husband as Thomas Jefferson Bingham, and her first three children as Thomas Leslie, Claude E., and Gladice Bingham (born 1912). Laura Bell gave birth to twins Berdie and Barnie in 1915. Based on the lack of the twins in the photo, and the young, but not infant, age of Gladice, I estimated this photo to have been taken in 1913-1914. The couple lived in several counties in Texas, so a general “of Texas” would work for the citation. Measuring the size of the photo and the board it is mounted on was just a matter of pulling out a ruler. The original photo is in my possession. Now that I had done a little checking into the details from the simple label on the photo, using the context of the collection that the photo was from, I had a lot of information for the citation.

The final citation for this image is as follows:

Laura Bell Wilson Bingham, husband Thomas Jefferson Bingham and family, of Texas, circa 1913-1914. Children from oldest to youngest: Thomas Leslie Bingham, Claude E Bingham, Gladice Bingham. Original photograph, 5 7/8 x 7 7/8 inches board mount (1/8 inch thick); photo 3 3/4 x 5 1/2 inches. From the photo collection of Juaneitha Wilson Wiltbank (1924-2003). In the possession of Melissa Finlay, Utah, 2016.

Now, which would you rather have preserved with this photo? The simple “Aunt Laurie Bell Wilson & husband & family”, or all the context we rounded up for the full citation? I would rather have all the context preserved. We automatically lose some of the context of any photo for every generation that passes from the time the photograph was taken. Let’s preserve what we can!

Examples of Photograph Citations

Here are more examples of photo citations crafted during my photo archiving project.

 Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs -- Boundless Genealogy

Bertha Ruschek Wetzler Barton (about 1850-1941), of Missouri, circa late 1860s. Original photo, 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches (photo only) on 1/20 inch thick paperboard mount (9×8 inches total). From the photo collection of Billee Barton Corn (1918-2010). In the possession of Melissa Finlay, Utah, 2016.

Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs -- Boundless Genealogy

Wanda Lou “Sissy” Berry (left) and Juaneitha Wilson (right) in Marine “whites”, of Texas, circa 1945. Original photo 3 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches. From the photo collection of Juaneitha Wilson Wiltbank (1924-2003). In the possession of Melissa Finlay, Utah, 2016.

 Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs -- Boundless Genealogy

Wilson, Juaneitha, Earl, Ross, of Denton, Texas, 1927 or 1928. Original photo, 4 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches. From the photo collection of Juaneitha Wilson Wiltbank (1924-2003). In the possession of Melissa Finlay, Utah, 2016.

Sharing Your Photos and Citations

Whether you share your family history photos publicly or privately, include this citation with them everywhere! This step is as easy as copying and pasting your carefully crafted citation after you upload the image. Here are several places to share or store your photographs, and the way the citation is shared in each place:

Photo Inventory Document

Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs -- Boundless Genealogy


 Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs -- Boundless Genealogy

Google Photos

 Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs -- Boundless Genealogy


 Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs -- Boundless Genealogy


 Craft a Citation for Your Family History Photographs -- Boundless Genealogy

Best wishes to you in crafting citations for your family history photographs. May future generations come to know and love their heritage through these well-labeled family treasures!

Cordial Genealogy Wishes,


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  1. This was terrific! Thank you for making a simple but completely informative template. You made something that sometimes seems so intimidating seem so easy to do. Now, if only there were a citation fairy to scan and cite those boxes of photos staring at me right now:)

    • Andrea, thank you for taking the time to let me know that the template is helpful for you. That means a lot. I am waiting for my citation fairy to show up too! In the meantime, I am working through a handful of photos a week… “eating the elephant” one bite at a time. Good luck with your boxes of photos!

  2. Curse you Melissa and your photo citation! Not knowing a good way to record information about photos was my biggest excuse for letting all those photos rest peacefully and anonymously in their boxes – Now I can’t use that anymore! šŸ˜‰
    Thank you – this is a great template and I do appreciate it.

    • Haha! Susan, your comment gave me a good laugh! You are welcome, I think, for the template. May your anonymous photos make their way out of their boxes soon. šŸ™‚

  3. I had not thought about this before! Thank you so much for all the helpful ideas! The diagram is nice. I love Bertha Barton’s photo.

    • Thanks, Nicole. Bertha’s photo has a special place on my ancestor wall. She is also my mystery brick wall ancestor. I just know I will determine her origins someday.

  4. I have just read this article and it is timely for me as I am trying to organize my digital picture collection into a program. Next I will be tackling my physical collection. Thank you so much for this as it will help as I was pondering citing my photos. It is so nice to have this type of assistance.

    • Dennis, I am so glad you found the article helpful. It sounds like you are undertaking a worthwhile project. Best wishes for smooth progress.

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