Are family history clues hidden in your old family photos? Learn how to examine those photos for interesting details about your ancestors.
Genealogy Research,  Photographs

Finding Hidden Clues In Old Family Photos

Are you missing hidden clues in old family photos?

A photograph is worth a thousand words.

 At least, that’s how the saying goes.  I don’t know about a thousand words, but I do know there are stories in the pictures of our ancestors. Photographs often fill in the details of a person’s life that is not found in the records.

Are family history clues hidden in your old family photos? Learn how to examine those photos for interesting details about your ancestors. #genealogy #ancestors
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Carefully studying  and paying attention to the details in a photograph will often yield clues about the individual in the photograph.

Take the photograph below as an example.

Best friends Esther Richardson and Nannie Farson writing letters
Esther Richardson Talbott and Nannie Lee Farson

On the surface, I know this is a photograph of Esther Richardson Talbott (left) and her friend Nannie Lee Farson (right). Esther’s mother Hattie Elliott Richardson is in the center.  The two young women are enjoying time together writing letters while Hattie looks on.

Now look closer. Notice anything specific about Esther?

Details of women's hands
Close Up of the Hands

Esther (on the left) was left handed!  Who knew?  The family is fortunate to have many of Esther’s letters to her young beau (and eventually her husband) Boss Henry Talbott. Having read Esther’s handwriting in the past, I had not picked up that it was written by a lefty.  Usually a left handed writer has a distinctive quality about their penmanship, but Esther’s did not.

Now look closer at Nannie Lee’s hand (on the right). She is right handed and she wears a wedding band on her left ring finger.  This photograph can now be placed within a time frame. Nannie Lee Farson was married in March 1919. Esther passed away from influenza in January of 1923. This is a photograph of the women taken between March of 1919 and December 1922.  

Find hidden clues to your family history in old family photos.  Connect to your ancestors by learning about the details of their lives.

The trees in the background are bare. Esther is wearing a coat but Nannie is not. This indicates the time of year was late fall or perhaps early winter on a warmer day.

While learning an ancestor is left handed  is not a major genealogical find, it does give us an interesting detail about her. Esther died as a young mother and over the years any detail discovered about her has enriched the limited memories of her children. 

Learning to examine – really examine – our ancestors’ photographs helps us learn the details of their lives.

4 Steps To Finding Hidden Clues In Old Family Photos

Candid photos are great for finding fun details about a family or individual. We find them at their more relaxed moments.

1.Scan the photo and use a photo editing software such as Vivid-Pix to sharpen details if needed. [Find my Vivid-Pix tutorial here.]

candid photo of family reunion with many people

2. Look closely at at who is in the photograph. Is there one person you are particularly interested in? Who are they talking to or sitting with? What is their posture conveying? What are they wearing? Do you notice a particular piece of jewelry? What is the person doing in the photograph? Are they working? Playing?

Ammie Howard

Here is the woman in charge!  Notice her posture. Ammie is standing back  surveying the scene making sure everything is as it should be.

3. Why was the photograph taken? Is a special event such as a family reunion taking place? 

Are family history clues hidden in your old family photos? Learn how to examine those photos for interesting details about your ancestors.

The above photograph was taken in the 1940’s at a family reunion. Look closely at the food on the table. Zooming in on the food, I discovered my family liked traditional southern foods of fried chicken, white sandwich bread, pickles and cakes….lots of cakes. [Maybe that’s where I got my sweet tooth from!]

4. Look at the background. Are there buildings in the background? Was the photo taken on a porch?  Can the building or structure be identified? Is it a family home? What type of house or structure is it? Was it well kept or in need of repair? 

Close up of Howard house

Answers to these questions can indicate a family’s socioeconomic status. 

Pull out your ancestors’ photos, get a good light and magnifying glass (like this one), and see what you can discover in the details of your photographs.

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