Identifying old family photographs does not have to be impossible! Tips to identify your ancestors and discover your family history in old family photos.
Genealogy research, old family photos and mystery individuals in those photos seem to go hand in hand!
(But they don’t have to!)
The old family photographs I share in this post arrived in a box originally marked “Richardson”. Unfortunately, none of the photographs are labeled. (I’m sure your ancestors labeled all of their photographs, right?!)
I do strongly suspect the men are from my Richardson family of Pittsylvania County, VA. There is a certain family “look” I have come to recognize in known Richardson family photos.
However, there is the distinct possibility some of these men and women were just friends of the family or were some of my Elliott ancestors. Just because the photos were in the Richardson box does not a guarantee all of these people were Richardsons. Don’t trust you ancestor or relative’s organizational skills! After all, these photographs were stored in a trunk for approximately 80 years – 50 of those years in a southern Virginia barn!
So, how about you?
Do you have unknown photographs in your closet? Still wondering how to even start identifying the people in those family photographs?
These tips should get you started.
4 Tips for Identifying Old Family Photos
There are a number of ways to start identifying unidentified family photographs. While the process is not quick, it can be very rewarding!
Initially, when starting out, I was a bit overwhelmed with the process of identifying photographs. My best tip for beginners is to start with just one photograph. Often we have several or even many photos to identify and the project just feels overwhelming. So, start with just one photograph.
Tip #1 – Ask your family members.
I realize this is an obvious tip, but you would be surprised by the number of people who have not done this.
Do not just ask your close family members. Seek out more distant relatives.
Seek out collateral relatives. Share your photograph(s) with them and ask them to forward the photograph(s) to other family members they know. At times you may find yourself needing to do descendant research to find other living relatives to connect with. It is worth the time and effort.
The more eyes you have on your unidentified family photographs the better!
The photograph below is a good example of this concept. This couple’s photograph sat for years in my unknown collection. I was consulting a Richardson researcher about a different photograph when my break came. He glimpsed this photograph and identified the couple as his grandparents Matthew and Edna (Richardson) Yeaman. This Richardson researcher was from Alaska and is my third cousin twice removed.
Remember: No relative is too far in distance or location on the family tree not to potentially have information on your photographs.
The photograph below was emailed to multiple family members. Many were distant cousins only known to me through collateral genealogy research and my hope is one of them will be able to identify this gentleman or lead me to someone else who might. Just as you would network in the business world, network in the genealogy world.
Tip #2 – Share Your Unidentified Photographs on Social Media
Share your unidentified photographs in pertinent Facebook groups such as genealogical societies, or Facebook pages dedicated to specific county genealogy and/or history groups. Does your extended family have their own Facebook group? (You can start one!) Share your photographs there.
Examples of Facebook groups for my Richardson photographs include Pittsylvania County Genealogy, Virginia Genealogy, North Carolina Genealogy, U.S South Genealogy Research Community, and Halifax County, VA Genealogy and History.
If you have a number of photographs you want to share, set up an album in Google Photos or on Flickr. You can share a link to the photo album in online groups without having to individually upload each photo. See an example of this in Using Flickr to Identify Your Ancestors.
Tip #3 – Websites Dedicated to Unidentified Photographs
DeadFred.com and Ancestors Lost and Found are popular sites to share and search for ancestors’ photographs. Bonus: Both are free to use. Upload your own unidentified photographs for help in identifying or you can search what others have posted.
Search by surname, location or by the photographer’s name. You just might find ancestors’ photographs you recognize.
Be sure and check back on orphan photo sites periodically for updates.
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Tip #4 – Perform a Google Image Search.
Upload your unidentified photograph into Google’s Image search and see if the photograph appears anywhere else on the web.
Perhaps the photograph is identified on someone else’s genealogy website/blog. Someone else could be searching as well!
Identifying old unknown family photographs takes time. With a bit of effort and admittedly a bit of luck sometimes, too, you can put a name to an ancestor’s face.
Do you have an unknown photograph you are struggling to identify?
Work through these 4 tips above. Share your findings in the comments below!
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You might be also be interested in:
- Top 10 Resources for Dating Old Photographs
- Case Study: 5 Tips to Identify A Family Photograph
- Tuesday’s Tip – How to Label a Photograph
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