I love to go to auctions. They are exciting and you get to find treasures at a fraction of the retail cost. Most of the items I've purchased have been pre-loved but are in wonderful shape and are useful. The saddest thing I see on a regular basis are very old family photos. It hurts me to see boxes of beautiful old family portraits and memorabilia sitting on a table with no one interested (why would they be?) and going for next to nothing. Most are snapped up for the frames or because people collect photos of certain places or eras. They are not really interested in the people in the photo unless it's an unusual shot. Those people were someone. They were babies, children, husbands, wives, grandparents. They were loved and mourned and lived lives that were interesting. How sad that after all those years they are discarded because someone did not take the time to do the most important thing.
Point one: They didn't record their names and the date on the back of the photos.
To most people, this photo would mean nothing. To the family though, it speaks volumes. This happens to be a photo of two brothers. When they were younger, they came to Canada. One brother left to go to the United States where he settled with his wife and had a family , while the other stayed in Canada and did the same. This is before the internet, email, even long distance phone calling. They would maybe have written to each other occasionally. This photo is of a reunion of the two. Luckily, I know the story and have recorded it for future generations who will have no idea who these two men were, how they are connected and what they mean to them.
If you have a chance and you have old photos, write whatever you know about the people in them on the back of them. If you don't know who the people are, the next thing you need to do is find an elderly member of your family and ask them. For the digital era and online photo albums, you need to name your photos with distinguishing info or keep a separate journal.
This takes me to point two. Get to know you older family members. They are fountains of information. They will most likely know who the people are and tell you all kinds of amazing stories about them. The trick is to get to them before they forget or worse still, pass on.
This is the back of a hand coloured photo that was taken in 1878. Someone took the time to name the person in the photo. It says "Grandpa Moffatt (John Henry Cornelius Boysdale Hender Moffatt) and then there is an amazing note from whoever took the photo to the person who hand coloured it with instructions about what colour the child's hair was, his eyes and his outfit. It is an absolute priceless photo and was only discovered during a family reunion. Thankfully someone 100 years ago decided to record the name of this child. If they hadn't, I doubt very much that it would be in existence today.
Point three: If you have the chance to, keep a journal of your family history. Family stories, family legends, people's details, questions you'd like answered and basically everything you know about your family and where they came from. As a genealogist, it sometimes amazes me when I encounter people who don't know anything past their own parents. They sometimes don't even know their grandparents names. If you ever want to have your family history done, you need to have at least a basic knowledge of 3 generations back from yourself (which would be your grandparents). Where they were born, when and their names. It's much easier to find information about them if we have at least this information to begin with. Were they born in the US, Canada, England etc. What city did they live in ? Were they born there? What year were they born or married?