Backstage Pass: Digitizing Photos

by Megan Jones

I’ve been at the historical society in various jobs for the last two years.  It has been a great experience, as I am getting my Master’s in Library and Information Science with an emphasis on archives and record management.  Currently I’m working as a paid intern in the archives through a grant awarded to NCHS through the Community Projects and Napa County Special Projects Fund, a program of the Napa County Board of Supervisors.  My project is digitizing and updating database records for the photos in the collection.  As I go along scanning and uploading the images, I am also creating records for images that have never been digitized, and double checking the records that do exist and adding any information that I think will help people with their research.  Eventually, this means anyone will be able to look at all the photos in our collection online, and when someone wants a copy of a photo it will already be scanned and saved.

I started digitizing the photographs from the library’s People Collection.  These photos are organized by last name, generally by letter, but some families have their own file.  I started this project in September, and I am still working on the B’s!  I enjoy working with the people photographs because I often see multiple images of the same person at different times in their lives.  For example, while digitizing the Adams family folder, I was able to learn so much about their lives just from seeing the 7 photographs in the file.  There is a portrait of Dottie Adams, née Brown, when she was a toddler in 1883.  And in this same folder there is a photo from about twenty years later of Dottie with her husband Ira Clay Adams (also known as Bert) and their own toddler, Carlton.  There are several photographs of them with members of the Bryant family, who I assume were good friends or neighbors.  Dottie’s mother, Rebecca, née Owsley, appears in 4 of the 7 photographs, and she is almost always referred to as “Grandma Brown.”

We have a manuscript in our collection about the Owsley family.  “Grandma Brown” was born Mary Ann Rebecca Owsley, the second of eight children.  She was born in Missouri in 1841, and her family started crossing the plains when she was four years old.  And at that point she had at least two younger siblings–her poor mother.  The family lived in Calistoga and Napa, although Rebecca’s mother died in 1855.  Rebecca’s husband, and Dottie’s father, was Thomas Carlton Brown from Indiana, and they married when she was 21 years old.  This manuscript also states that Dottie’s son was actually named Ira Carlton, after both his father and maternal grandfather.  Rebecca had five children, the first four were all born in the 1860s, but Dottie Helene Brown was not born until 1880.  Looking at all of these little facts begins to give an image of who they were and how they lived.