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Family photo mysteries

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While we are safe at home during the coronavirus pandemic and looking for ways to pass the time, take this opportunity to pull out that box of family photos that you’ve been meaning to identify. Family photos are priceless glimpses into our past, but there are only priceless if we know their name.

Do you find yourself gazing at an old photo that you found when going through your parents’ or grandparents’ old photos and wonder who in the world is that? Most likely, we all have done that and we all probably still have those same unidentified photos just waiting for answers.

Thus, the research begins. A good place to start is any remaining relative that may recall any information about the photograph. Maybe you have cousins whose parents have shared information with them and possibly have copies of the same photograph.

We are able to connect more easily with our ancestors when there are notes that include names, dates, locations and their relationship to your family. It allows us to develop a sense of their personality or what life experiences they had. As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

You can identify the time period based on the style of clothing and hair. For example, men wore very full beards circa 1880 and waxed mustaches in the 1890s. In the 1840s, women used large combs and parted their hair in the center, pulled close to the head with long ringlets. Large top knots were all the rage for women at the end of the nineteenth century. Seldom does fashion stay the same for any length of time and each decade has a distinctive style.

Vehicles or some other conveyance may also help you date the photograph. Being able to identify buildings is also helpful. Maybe that building is no longer there and you have it captured in a photograph that would be important to historians. Maureen A. Taylor, the photo detective, has written several books that will help you find genealogy clues in old photos and solve family photo mysteries.

How can we better preserve our history for curious family members in the future? Label photographs with the names, dates, locations and relationships you’ve discovered. If you’re the keeper of the family photos, do this now so your knowledge is recorded and your children aren’t left wondering who that is in the photo next to Mom. If you’ve scanned your photos into a digital format, it’s just as important to include complete names and relationships on digital images.

If you are not diligent about doing this, your family may lose important family history. It’s also possible that your photographs will end up being donated to an historical society and without knowledge of your family’s history and unable to identify the people, your photographs would be of no value to a historian.

There are many creative ways to enjoy historical images by creating albums or story pages or you just may prefer to keep it simple by placing your photographs, organized into categories, into a box. It is important to use an acid free type photo album and acid free pens for labeling. Whatever method you choose, just remember to label. This will surely prevent someone’s frustration in the future.

Currently the Historical Society is closed, however we are still reading emails. Keep track of what’s happening via Facebook and we hope to see everyone soon. Stay safe.

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