Are you a mystery fan? I am. I love to watch detectives on the trail of clues, unraveling the past before my eyes.
Old family photos can offer the mystery-lovers among us a chance to become the detective. We’ve all got at least a few of those family photos that are interesting and probably important, but they feature people we simply can’t identify. It’s frustrating, but don’t throw the photos back into a box and bury them back in the garage. Here are some tools to help you discover your mysterious ancestors.
Kimberly Powell on About.com offers 5 Steps for Identifying People in Old Family Photographs. Her suggestions:
- Identify the Type of Photograph – Daguerreotypes were popular from 1839-1870, Cabinet Cards from 1866-1906, and no Polaroid photo could have been taken before 1948 (when the Polaroid camera was invented).
- Who Was the Photographer? – Check the front, back and frame or cover of the photo for the photographer’s name and possibly location. Local city directories, libraries, and historical or genealogical societies can help you track when the photographer was in business.
- Check Out the Scene or Setting – Clues to the time or location may appear when the family is posed in front of the family automobile or home. The Family Chronicles site on Dating Old Photographs suggests that it is often possible to establish the date by carefully comparing with other pictures of known date. For example, note details in the painted canvas background used for a studio shot. The drapes or woodwork in the scene may be clues to the photo’s date.
Visit Family Chronicles Dating Old Photographs to see how to date this photo.
- Focus on Clothing or Hairstyle – The Costume Detective website helps you to analyze costumes, fashion, hats, and jewelry to achieve a date within five years of the date the photo was taken. The Costumer’s Manifesto site offers numerous links for dating old family photographs, using fashion history and styles of photo-mounts. It promises, “These links are provided so you can teach yourself to do this for yourself.”
Visit The Costume Detective to see how to date this photo.
- Match Up the Clues with Your Knowledge of Family History – Once you’ve identified the time and place of the photo, use your knowledge of ancestors to begin trying to identify who is in the picture.
Click here to read Kimberly Powell’s 5 Steps for Identifying People in Old Family Photographs
Click here to visit Family Chronicle’s Dating Old Photographs
Click here to visit the Costume Detective
Click here visit the Costumer’s Manifesto