Public Archive Spotlight: The Unknown Faces Archive

Emily Sienkiewicz

January 17, 2024
January Spotlight: The Unknown Faces Archive

Not everyone has equal access to preserving their legacy

In our recent podcast episode with our Executive Director, Robert Friedman, we discussed how it has historically been challenging for people to ensure their legacy lives on. At Permanent, we believe that all people leave a legacy that deserves to be preserved, yet it is plain to see that this doesn’t always happen. When selecting this month’s spotlight archive, we came across the Unknown Faces Archive which operates out of the Cheney Historical Museum and is composed of images of “unknown people, families, and groups.” By making a public archive, they hope that visitors will be able to reconnect the people in the photos with their names and families so that their legacies live on with the remembrance they deserve. The overall goal of the archive is to breathe life into the photos of the forgotten and to give them a lasting legacy, even if that’s just as a part of the museum’s family.

Bust of woman in striking hat and glasses
Bust of woman in striking hat and glasses

Take steps to make sure your legacy isn’t lost to time

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to make sure a legacy isn’t lost to time. We’re big believers in the power of metadata, which is the informational backbone that organizes, describes, and contextualizes data, making it easily discoverable and comprehensible. The Unknown Faces Archive suggests adding metadata to your files so that you don’t end up with unknown faces of your own in the future. The director of the archive, Joan Mamanakis, advises people to “Write the names of the people on the photo or digital metadata of the image. You know who the people are today, but names are easily lost in time.” When it comes to preserving your stories, good and thorough metadata makes all the difference.

Don’t give up trying to piece together the stories of the past

As the Unknown Faces Archive shows, it’s never too late to capture the metadata needed to improve the long-term preservation of your files. By creating a public archive on our platform, they are able to reach people who might have the context needed to help reunite the photos with their names and histories. In fact, through sharing their collection with the public, they have been able to find the stories and names behind a few of those unknown faces. On this process Mamanakis said, “We have had success in connecting names to a few photos. People find the collection interesting and a little sad.” If you’d like to help reunite the photos with their histories, check out their archive and share it with your friends. Even if you don’t recognize any of the faces, you’re sure to come across an interesting photo from the past that’ll have your imagination running with a possible backstory. 

As always, we’d like to extend a special thank you to everyone at the Cheney Historical Museum for sharing this archive with our community.

Two unidentified young men dressed in cowboy costume posing with a "six-shooter" and Schlitz beer bottles.
Two unidentified young men dressed in cowboy costume posing with a “six-shooter” and Schlitz beer bottles

Have photos of your own that you need help identifying? Check out these resources: