Dating old photographs family history

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Identifying photographs incorrectly not only leads to serious errors in compiling our visual family tree, but can also obscure what the pictures are actually telling us – visual pointers to what may be fascinating truths about our past., we have a special three-part series of photo dating articles explaining all about the different photos that crop up in the family picture collection.

Starting with the first luxury studio portraits of the 1840s and ending with casual snapshots of the 1950s, each issue covers a few decades and explains the main features to look out for, including identifying the photographic format, dating the card mount, investigating the photography studio and dating the pictorial details, especially the fashion clues.

If not, repeat with the next candidate household in 1900.

Barbara may need to work through several candidates or look at other family lines and places.

Barbara Rivers sent me this black-and-white mystery photo.

To submit your own mystery photos for free analysis, follow these instructions.

I’d start with the surname Findlay and the town in Iowa as a place of residence, then look for families of parents, three boys and two sisters.

Of course, it’s possible that not all of this family’s children are in the picture and/or that some of these people are spouses, so Barbara can broaden her search to households that are close but don’t exactly match.

Sometimes we already know for certain, or have a good idea, which ancestors are pictured in these historic images, but since many photographs were not firmly identified at the time, there may well be some whose subjects are completely unrecognisable to us today.Always judge by the younger women in the photograph if possible.Older women are much more likely to be conservative and still be wearing a favourite dress from ten years ago! This can be difficult as there were whole decades of the 19th century when women had a centre parting but when a new fashion comes in with hairstyle it is quicker for people to update than clothing. Of course, it is worth looking at everything that the men in the photograph are wearing but how you tied your cravat or the shape of your collar was something that was cheaper and easier to update than a whole suit, so more likely to reflect the date of the photograph. Dating military photographs can often lead to relatively precise results and this is when people with expert knowledge really come into their own.Visit our store to purchase individual copies of Also useful is our regular Q&A Advice Section, in which we cover two readers’ photograph queries each issue, explaining how to date them and what occasion they might represent.This unidentified old family photo comes from my mailbag.

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