Posted by Denise May Levenick on August 25, 2015 in Website

by Denise May Levenick, The Family Curator

Sometimes you don’t have a choice when it comes to finding your ancestor in old photographs. You are happy to take anything, even if it’s a tiny face in a crowd of college grads or a stern-faced soldier in the back row of long panorama. Group photos present unique challenges for the genealogist.

Snapshots are often poorly composed and people may be blurred or hidden behind others’ shoulders or heads. Amateur photographers may have had difficulty including everyone in the frame, leaving some folks cut off at the edges. Photos can also suffer from basic problems like back lighting, glare, or poor composition.

I found this 1964 snapshot in one of my grandparents’ old albums. The book had fallen apart and the some of the flip-style plastic photo pages were water damaged over the years. As I removed this picture from the album, I was intrigued by the handwritten caption along the border:

PHOTO: 314 Reunion; Denise Levenick Photo
June 1964, 314 Supply Train — Co. E 89 Div. Reunion, Hastings, Neb.

The poorly-framed color snapshot shows a group of eleven men standing in front of a leafy background. It’s a great shot of the trees. The men are cut off mid-thigh, but it doesn’t matter to me. There’s my grandfather Walter G. May, standing fourth from the left with his WWI buddies. But who are the other men? Handwritten captions in the photo album gave me a clue that Walter was stationed at Camp Funston for basic training.

Gathering Background Information

Using Google.com I searched for “314 supply train co. e 89 div” and found a list of likely candidates for the 1964 Reunion photo in a regimental history archived at the Missouri Digital Heritage website, “The Three hundred and fourteenth motor supply train in the world war: an account of the operations of the supply train of the 89th division from its organization until its demobilization, including maps and complete rosters and appendices.”

The public-domain book was available for download, and included the company roster for 89th Division Company “E.” There was my grandfather’s name, listed under Chauffeurs.

Crowdsourcing the Caption

You may have heard the advice to search your ancestor’s “F-A-Ns,” or Friends, Associates and Neighbors, an acronym coined by professional genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills, and it’s a good plan for advancing this identification project. I am guessing that my grandfather’s closest friends might have been have also been assigned as Chauffeurs, so I plan to search online trees on Ancesstry to find others researching those names and share my scanned reunion photo.

To clearly capture the detail in each face it’s a good idea to use a higher scan resolution of 1200-2400. This makes it possible to enlarge the individual faces without losing clarity. I also like to add an identification key directly on the photo using my computer or tablet photo editing program. This makes it easy for people to respond with names and more information.

I know that I’m more likely to get feedback to my photo if I make it easy to tag faces and contact me with information. My overall plan includes:

  1. Scanning at high resolution to get the best quality image, and saving as a JPG to same file size.
  2. Adding a meaningful filename, for example: 314supply-train-reunion_1964.jpg. I also like to embed my name and email address in the metadata.
  3. Adding a caption area that includes an identification key with numbers for each person. I might do this in a Word document or in a photo editing program.
  4. Including everything I know about the photo and the people pictured.
  5. Sharing the photo as “bait” to find others researching the men of the 89th Division, Company E.

You can see examples and a step-by-step tutorial for adding the captions and an Identification Key at The Family Curator, Hey Soldier, What’s Your Name?

Finding Photos of Grandpa’s War

While I wait for someone to see my photo and recognize an unidentified face, I searched for more information on Ancestry and partners Fold3 and Newspapers.com.

To learn more about the 314th Supply Train, I searched Fold3 for documents and photos.

fold3-browse

 

Using the Browse function, I selected WWI and scrolled down to select > WWI Panoramic Unit Photos (FREE). Searching through the alphabetical list, I located a wonderful panoramic image of Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas.

camp fustom

Browsing the image sets on Fold3 gave me a new appreciation for my grandfather’s wartime experience and some of the sights he may have witnessed. Although Walter’s Company is not included in Fold3’s images, you may find your WWI ancestor pictured with his own regiment. The large collection of company photographs reminded me to add a Fold3 Watch notice to be notified if photos of Company E are added in the future.

Grandpa in the News

Next, I turned to Newspapers.com and found several articles and an interesting map of World War I training camps that included Camp Funston in Kansas. News clippings list details about troop activities and movement.

A brief article in The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) on Tuesday, 9 October 1917 hints at the popular mood of the time: “To Cheer the Boys On the Way.” Walter G. May is one of seventeen Polk County men named to receive a share in the $170 gift from county residents and businesses.

Farewell Gift, Newspapers.com
Farewell Gift, Newspapers.com

 

In only a short time I had a better idea of Walter’s war service and many clues for future research about the regiment. The public domain images will be interesting illustrations in the photo book I’m creating as a gift for my dad. Captions, charts, maps, and a short narrative will help tell the story of Walter’s wartime experiences.

The Waiting Game

Anyone who has publicly shared a family tree as “cousin bait” knows that it may be months or even years before someone stumbles on your photo and responds with new information. I’m hoping that if I “nudge the line” occasionally with new blog posts or sharing, with a little luck and patience, I might yet identify the men of Company E who met again one June day in 1964.


 

About the author: Denise May Levenick is the author of How to Archive Family Photos: A Step-by-Step Guide to Organize and Share Your Photos Digitally and publisher of http://www.theFamilyCurator.com website.

Denise May Levenick

Denise May Levenick is the author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia & Genealogy Records, and the new book How to Archive Family Photos (coming Spring 2015). For more ideas on preserving your family treasures, visit Denise's website

6 Comments

  1. Tammy

    Wow. I’m very confuses 38th this don’t know why only child so is my daughter. All is dead. But threes held sister’s and an adopted son from 1975 nobody ever met. You truly are an over achiever (in a good way) glad I’ve been fortunate to have this as a red. Tool.

    Peace mariettatammy

  2. Deb

    This was a fun one as I live close to Hastings. It looks to me that they are standing in a park because of the manicured bushes in the back ground. There is a nice park close to Hastings Museum that looks a lot like this.
    Great picture, thanks for sharing.

  3. Hello Denise, thank you for this article, as I have just turned 50 and am an empty nester, from time to time I look back through old photos and reminisce.Some photos are old and of people I do not know but the notes written on the back are good clues and now with the internet we can be our own detectives partnering with Google.

    With face recognition maybe someone needs to start a face rec website with libraries you can search… I found this site but not all the links are working… https://facedetection.com

    Another place would be to post photos in Facebook with the caption Do you know anyone who trained in Camp Funston?

    One other resource I found is a government page that you already have but I thought I would include it. http://www.archives.gov/research/military/genealogy.html

    Thanks for the article!

  4. Rizwan Haider

    Wow. I’m very confuses 38th this don’t know why only child so is my daughter. All is dead. But threes held sister’s and an adopted son from 1975 nobody ever met. You truly are an over achiever (in a good way) glad I’ve been fortunate to have this as a red.

    http://www.salarypk.com/

  5. Mark Gallagher

    Dear Denise,
    I stumble across a lot of old 19th C photographs on Ebay, sometimes ones that identify their subjects. What is the best way to archive that photo data before it is lost? (And why the hell doesn’t Ancestry let users upload that kind of stuff to individuals on here unless you are related?)
    Mark

  6. Nancy Smith

    Having a really hard time getting military records for my father who served WW ii in Army. Have no pictures at all but know his rank, years served etc. Understand some records burned in a fire. Help!!

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