Savvy Tips to Help Identify Old Photos

A local genealogist used these strategies to help identify old photos taken on holiday in England by an Australian family. Read more about her savvy tips below and view the free video on using Google image search by Lisa Louise Cooke.

Sandra Stocks can’t resist solving genealogical mysteries–her own, or someone else’s. So when she saw an  article in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner of West Yorkshire titled, “Can you solve the mystery of these old photographs?” she had to answer.

The photos in the article belonged to an Australian family. They included a series of images taken in the 1930s while the party was on holiday along the Great British coast. A partly-legible name and address on a picture postcard in the group provided a clue.

A few of the article’s readers responded with assistance. One of these readers was Sandra, who volunteers with the Kirkheaton Family History Group. Her answer was featured in a follow-up article (“Mystery SOLVED!”). We reached out to Sandra ourselves, to see if she would share the research strategies she used to identify these old photos. Very generously, she did!

Sandra Stocks, left, with Ann from Canada. Their grandfathers were cousins; they met via Ancestry.com and Ann visited England. They met up at The Croppers Arms pub, where a mutual ancestor was a 19th-century landlord. Photo courtesy of Sandra Stocks.

How-to Identify Old Photos in 4 Easy Steps

Genealogy Gems Premium website members can listen to her full answer in the Genealogy Gems Premium Episode 143. In the meantime, here’s a helpful summary for everyone:

1. Look closely at the photo for any identifying names or words. Sandra begins by saying, “Although the name on the postcard looked like Mr. J. Stogley, when I looked on the newspaper’s website there were other photographs, one which showed the name P. Hogley, Druggist, above a shop window.” (Don’t see anything? Skip to step 4, below.)

2. Use any names or places you identify to consult historical records for that place and time. Sandra continues, “I then searched on Ancestry.co.uk for Joseph Hogley, which, being an unusual name, was easy to find…In the 1911 English census he was living with his wife at the address on the postcard, so I knew I had the right chap. I then searched for him in [an] earlier census and found his family, and his brother Percy Hogley, a druggist, the writer of the postcard.”

3. Follow up in other historical records to identify additional relatives–and possible subjects in the photos. Sandra most often consults birth, marriage, and death records on Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast.co.uk. “Not everybody wants to pay for a subscription,” she acknowledges, so she also recommends FreeBMD.org.uk “which allows you to search births, marriages, and deaths in England and Wales. A quick search of births for Hogley between 1850 and 1932 would have given me the births of Joseph and Percy Hogley in Huddersfield in 1875 and 1877, respectively. I used FreeBMD to discover that Joseph and his wife had a son, Bernard Thomas Hogley, in 1913 and Bernard married in 1945.”

4. If the photos have no identifying names or places, go straight to those who might recognize them: the locals. Lastly, Sandra shares, “There is a great family history forum where I could have posted a photograph and within a very short time somebody would have told me an approximate year when the picture was taken. The website is RootsChat.com and they also have pages for each English and Welsh county where local people are more than happy to help with genealogy queries.”

More on How-to Identify Old Photos

Unidentified old photos exist in nearly everyone’s family history holdings. Pull those old photos out and discover what else you can discern using these additional tips in Lisa Louise Cooke’s free video titled “How to Google Image Search to Identify Old Photos Using a Smartphone & Tablet.” By learning how to match the images you have to other images on the web, you may find some great new clues for your genealogy! This trick works great for distinct or well-known images, such as a location, or perhaps an important person in your family tree. Give it a try!

Found in an Archive: 10 Unexpected Discoveries

What we expect to be found in an archive is documents, photos, memorabilia and other paper-based items. But the Archive Lady Melissa Barker’s list of “most unusual discoveries” reminds us to expect the unexpected in archival collections! Read about her top ten unique and exciting archive discoveries.

found in an archive

10 Unexpected Items I’ve Found in an Archive

Working in an archive everyday like I do in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives, you can come across some of the most interesting items! Here is a list of my top 10 discoveries.

1. Looney Money

This is money that was dispensed by a local business to their employees for wages. This money usually had the store or business name on it and the money could only be spent in the store or business.

All images in this post courtesy of Melissa Barker and Houston County, TN Archives, except as noted.

2. Straight Razor

While working on circuit court case packets, I ran across one for William Hughes who was charged with going armed with a straight razor in 1952. The actual straight razor was in the packet and just as sharp as it was back in 1952.

3. Fudge Pie Recipe (with a Voting Roster?!)

While processing a collection of voting and election records, I found a 1952 local city ballot that had a handwritten fudge pie recipe written on the back. I actually made the pie and it was wonderful!

4. Lock of Hair

While processing a manuscript collection of various types of records, I found a lock of hair tied with a blue ribbon that was in perfect condition. The lock of hair was in a harmonica box and addressed to a gentleman and had been sent through the mail. So far we have not been able to determine whose lock of hair it is.

5. A 100-Year Old Vacuum Cleaner

Recently a man walked into the archives and donated a 100 year old vacuum cleaner. This vacuum cleaner is motorless and looks just like the Bissell vacuum cleaners you can buy today. The crazy thing is, it still works!

6. Snake Photo

Recently a patron donated an old photo album that had belonged to her Grandmother who had owned the local hotel back in the 1920s. The photo album included a photo of a lady holding a very, very large snake. There is a name of “Mille Viola” on the photo and it was taken at Kern Bros. Photographs in New York.

7. Moonshine

In the archives, we have come across a couple of examples of the moonshine trade. In our court records, there are numerous court cases about moonshiners. We also have several photographs of bottles of moonshine and stills. Seems it was very popular to take photographs of what the police had collected.

8. Grand Ole Opry

In one of the wonderful scrapbooks that we have at the Houston County, TN. Archives, there is an original 1943 Grand Ole Opry Ticket.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

9. Railroad Memorabilia

The railroad once went through many communities and areas including Houston County, TN. We have many items to help us remember the railroad, like railroad spikes, lanterns, and tools used to work on the railroad.

10. Dioramas

By Tracyleanne (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Click to view.

We have three dioramas in the archives, one depicting an old church, one depicting a dogtrot house and one depicting a schoolhouse. They are a very popular attraction for our patrons.

Melissa doesn’t have images of her dioramas–and every diorama is different–but here’s an example of a diorama of a wastewater treatment plant. (People create dioramas of diverse places, don’t they?)

What Have You Found in An Archive?

What treasures or unusual have you discovered in an archival collection? Tell us in the comments below!

Sacramento Handout

Click here to download the DNA handout   Listen to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast with Lisa Louise Cooke Are you listening to The Genealogy Gems Podcast yet? This free audio show helps you make the most of your family history research time by providing quick and...

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