Don’t Lose This When Organizing Your Family History in Photos

by Barrett

When was this picture of my grandmother taken? Good question. I’m not really sure. You shouldn’t let this partial answer cross over to future generations when it comes to your family’s history…

When was this picture of my grandmother taken? Good question. I’m not really sure. You shouldn’t let this partial answer cross over to future generations when it comes to your family’s history…

I never knew my paternal grandmother. And my father barely remembers her, because she passed away when he was just a young child. We’ve only got a few photos of her, but even with this limited view, it’s clear to me what a vibrant, beautiful and interesting woman she was…My paternal grandmother
And that’s all I’ve got… a few photos from the 1930’s and some stories from my father that others told him as he grew up. I’d like to know so much more about her, but sadly… her life is mostly lost to me.

My Grandmother’s Story through the Lens of One Undated Photo
I look at my grandmother’s pictures and try to use every detail to generate more of her story. They’re still in remarkably good condition, having been stored in a shoebox in the back of my father’s closet for decades. Unfortunately, these pictures aren’t dated, and there’s nothing written on the back. That’s a huge gap.

As I’ve digitized the photos and archived these priceless moments into my family photo collection on my iMac, I’ve had to ballpark their creation dates.

My grandmother and father
This is only one of two pictures I’ve got of my grandmother with my father. It actually reveals a few clues as to when it was taken. You can guess that my dad is about two years old here… so that tells me this is approximately May 1935. (That car in the back would also help with dating if baby dad weren’t there…)

Based on this one picture, I’ve tried to figure out the dates from the other pictures of my grandmother based on whether she looks younger or older…

The Problem of Exporting Photos Out of Aperture
You can imagine how frustrating this has all been for me… which is why I’m particularly interested in maintaining accurate dates in my larger digitized family photo collection.

That’s supposed to be a no brainer as that kind of metadata is baked into every digital photo you snap. But as you may have been following, I’ve been struggling to move the timeline of my old photo library in Apple’s Aperture over to Adobe’s Lightroom. Sure, I’ve figured out how to move all of my favorite edited ‘versions’ over. But when I tried exporting a couple of these versions, the dates on the exported files shifted from the creation date of the original photo to the export date.
(That’s understandable, since the new file’s creation date should obviously be the moment of the test export.)

But that’s no good.

The prospect of losing all of the dates on thousands of photos was a significant dilemma as I considered my photo transfer project. The passage of time is a key part of any family’s history. And I didn’t want to lose that. Having to eyeball my pics to figure out the date was not an option.
(Grandmother taught me that…)

Sure, I could place these photos in correctly dated folders, but future OS and software upgrades might one day corrupt the organization, and I’d be left with thousands of rescued photos representing the past hundred years… dated January 2016.

How to Save the Creation Dates when Transferring to Lightroom
There’s got to be a way to bring your edited photo versions from Aperture into Lightroom 6 and retain the original dates.

And in fact there is…

Are you ready?

So the answer is…
You don’t have to do anything.

Believe it or not, the creation-date metadata is actually ‘secretly’ retained in the exported photo version from Aperture…

  • No, Apple’s “Preview” app can’t read that metadata in the photo.
  • And yes, the file itself has a different date, which “Preview” displays. And that’s where I got stuck.
  • But when you open the photo file in Lightroom, the origin date is still there!

(Don’t I feel silly…)

But seriously, I found no documentation out there by Apple, Adobe or anyone else to explain this simple but somewhat hidden fact.

How did I figure it out?
I finally decided to ignore my incorrect assumptions and simply complete the test photo import, hoping I might somehow get closer to figuring out a solution.
(And I certainly did!)

Prepare Your Pics for Time Travel
The good news is the timeline of my family history in digital pictures is safe.
(For now)

But whenever I print out a photo at home on my Epson printer, I still make a point to quickly write the date on the back. My grandmother’s photos illustrate what a critical detail that is, as my current collection of physical pics will likely travel through a future timeline spanning many years.

In the back of my mind, I know if these pictures happen to survive more than the next couple of generations, someone may one day be in my shoes… trying to sleuth out a captured moment in time.

You may scoff at the value of an ancient physical photo surviving into the twenty second century. One can only imagine what photo management and archiving will look like in the distant computerized future.

On the other hand, if moving between photo management apps continues to be so challenging over and over again into future decades, it’s not hard to imagine how lots of digital photos may not survive the cold march of OS upgrades.

Throwing a printed family photo with a date on the back into a shoe box, hiding it in a closet and then forgetting about it for a hundred years isn’t the worst idea when it comes to a back-up photo-archiving plan.

It worked for my grandmother…