To preserve your family heritage, start with photos

Perry Sprawls
Special to Black Mountain News

Finding, identifying, selecting, and adding legends before digitizing old family photographs is a critical factor in preserving your family heritage.

In this, the second of six specific activities in the development and preservation of records and representations of our individual family heritage that will live on and be passed on to future generations, we examine the importance of photographs. 

Last month the suggested activity was to get the family, especially the different generations, talking and sharing stories. The logical continuation of that is to get families together to look at and preserve selected family pictures.           

Images, especially photographs, are the most comprehensive representations of individuals and families and can be the major elements for the preservation of family heritages. They are records of not only physical appearance but many other things including family relationships, events and activities, living conditions, interests, and transitions throughout life. 

Taking pictures has been a family activity for years, especially during special events like holidays, birthdays, school, leisure activities and at family gatherings.  Most families have been well photographed over several generations. 

Our activity for now in the preservation of our family heritage is not to make more photographs, but to find, identify, organize and preserve existing photographs as a permanent family record. This includes searching for family photos, getting together to remember and identify individuals, producing legends with names and settings, and digitizing for preservation, sharing, and publication. Our specific goal is to select and prepare a few pictures for each individual or family group that will become permanent records of a family heritage.  

Many families have collections of family pictures, perhaps in organized albums, but often random collections in furniture drawers or boxes under the bed. That is where we need to begin. 

Get family members together to find and look through the old family pictures, especially of the past generations. It will be typical to find old photographs with either no identification or something written on the back.

Here is a critical step. It is those of us older generations within a family that can recognize and identify many in the photos and provide stories about them. If that is not captured and added to the photos now it will one day be lost forever. A family picture without a label or legend identifying individuals and providing dates is of no value for preserving our history and heritage.

The next step is to digitize the selected photographs along with their legends. This is where the younger generations contribute with their computers and smartphones. More details and directions can be found at 

For Black Mountain area families The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center in Black Mountain may be a source to help you digitize your family photographs.

The museum's permanent collection contains thousands of vintage photographs from the Swannanoa Valley donated by residents. The museum will borrow your original photograph, digitize it and return the original to you along with a digitized version.

By doing this you will give the Museum permission to use your family photograph for educational purposes in exhibits or publications. To find out more about donating your photographs (original or digitized) to the museum call 669-9566 or email