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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
Other Posts of Interest:
- Restoring Old Family Photos – A Vivid-Pix Tutorial
- Best Practices for Storing Heirloom Photographs
- Top 10 Resources for Dating Old Photographs