black and white photo of family of 4. White text on tan background reading My Favorite Resources for Dating Old Photographs
Old Family Photos

My Favorite 10 Resources for Dating Old Photographs

Dating old photographs can be difficult at times. Explore resources for dating cabinet cards, daguerreotypes and other old family photos.

When I started researching my family’s history, an interesting thing happened. Relatives started cleaning out their closets and sending me the old family photographs! I received literal boxes of family photographs.

Some arrived by email.

Some photos arrived by snail mail.

Some even arrived in pieces!

I welcomed them all, and did the genealogy happy dance each time I “met” a new ancestor. 💃

How I Learned To Date Old Family Photographs

The challenge began when I realized a number of photographs were not labeled, and I had no idea who the individuals were. I had to learn how to analyze those old family photos.

The first step was to learn how to date those photographs. I had to determine how when a photograph was taken in order to be able to narrow down the possibilities of who the individuals were. 

Dating old photographs is a topic many of you are interested in based on the emails I receive.  It is one of the most common questions I receive about photographs. 

I realized very quickly I knew nothing about old photographs.  I did not know the  different types of antique photographs or the different time periods each type was popular.

Before I could start analyzing my ancestors’ photographs, I had to learn about antique photographs themselves.  I set about researching antique photos and learning which ones were taken in what time period.

I’m sharing my favorite go-to photo resources with you below. I’m sure you will find these as helpful as I do.

Top 10 Resources to Help Date Your Old Photographs

#1– The Gallery section is fantastic for helping you identify your ancestors by the fashions they wore over time. The Case Studies section is a fantastic way to follow along on the analysis of antique photographs. I’ve learned a lot reading these!

#2 Library of Congress: Photos, Prints, and Drawings Collection When analyzing your old family photos, having other photographs from that time period to compare yours to is helpful. The Library of Congress is a good place to find period photographs to compare fashions and hairstyles.

black and white carte de visite with seated woman and standing man in 1860's military uniform. Woman in hoop skirt

#3 The Photo Detective – Maureen Taylor (AKA The Photo Detective) is an author, podcaster, and speaker on all things photo related!  Get a regular dose of inspiration and knowledge as you listen to The Photo Detective podcast.  Explore her books such as Hairstyles 1840-1900 and Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900 . If you need a little bit more help, consider the Identifying Family Photographs e-course (9 lessons!).

#4 Researching Old Photo Studios to Identify 19th Century Photographs   – This blog post by Ancestral Findings gives helpful hints for dating your old family photographs.

#5 Pictures of the Civil War on the National Archives (NARA) site  – Do you have photographs of your ancestors from the Civil War era? Learn more about those on the NARA website.

#6 Daguerreotype Flickr Group – Find almost 2,000 daguerreotypes to study and use for comparisons. The group also includes a discussion board to ask your questions.

🖼Need to identify who is actually in those old family photos? Check out my e-book Identifying Your Ancestor In That Photograph  – Strategies to Analyze & Determine Who Is In Your Family Photographs.

#7 – Over 32,000 vintage photographs to search by surname and location. I love checking this site periodically for updates. Search for your ancestor’s photos by surname or location.  Also, search photos by topics. You might find your ancestor here.  With the volume of vintage photos on the site, you can compare fashions and hairstyles on known dated photographs.

Black and white photo of young women in white dress from the 1920's

#8 Gentleman’s Emporium – I struggle with men’s fashions in those old photographs.  This is a good site for learning about men’s fashions through the decades and using fashion to date photographs.

#9 – Need help dating your female ancestors’ fashions? Fashion Era is a good site for learning about women’s fashions through the decades.

#10 Pinterest – While not the first place I go when I’m analyzing a photograph, do not overlook Pinterest’s strong search engine function. Many pins and boards on specific fashion eras can be found on Pinterest.  Simply enter your search terms and find your results. (Example: Search for “fashion 1860’s” for Civil War era fashions.)

Now It’s Your Turn!

Get out your old family photographs.  Get to work learning what type of photo you have and dating them. Then you are on your way to identifying those unknown individuals.

Interested in Learning More About Old Family Photographs? Enjoy these articles, too!

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