How To Use Photographs To Trace Your Family Tree

How To Use Photographs To Trace Your Family Tree

If you can get hold of old family photographs you can benefit from a wealth of information on your family's history, providing you know how to decode them. Learn exactly how to use photographs to trace your family tree.

Step 1: How the photo was taken

The first clue is the format, i.e. how the photographs were taken. Many formats were only used for a decade or so, making dating easy. "Daguerreotypes" were sold from 1841 to around 1855, "cased collusion positives" retailed from the 1850s until the 1880s. The "ferrotype" became popular in Britain from the early 1870s. 'Daguerreotypes' have an effect of light reflection on them and they are highly collectable. The 'Ferrotype' process was a lot faster than the Daguerreotype. Which allowed for more candid shots and allowed subjects to move outside the photographer's studio. The postcard format did not appear until the early 20th century. These are photographs styles we know and love now.

Step 2: Where the photo was taken

Study the photograph carefully to see if you can work out the location. If you're not sure, send the photo to a family member to see if they can shed any light on the location. If the background has a landmark in it, you can check libraries or on-line to try and match it. Check where your family come from this might help to narrow your search. Also, check to see if the photograph was taken in a studio in which case the name of studio should be on the print.

Step 3: When the photo was taken

Take a good look at the people in the image. Look at what they are wearing, how they are posing, how their hair is styled, if they are wearing hats or even if any of them are wearing uniforms. Then look at the background. Are there any cars, people or buildings that can be identified? Perhaps the image records a particular event like a christening, marriage or anniversary. Look at the back of the photo, it may have been dated or even have some written detail on the back. All of these things can lead you to dating the photograph and gleaning valuable information for your family search.