July 22, 2017

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.)

We recommend: Learn more about finding clues in old photos with the book Family Photo Detective by Maureen Taylor. (Get 10% off when you use this link and the coupon code GEMS17 through December 31, 2017.)

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!

Was This My Ancestor’s Neighborhood? Using Google Earth for Genealogy

Google Earth Jones St neighborhood

Jones Street, Olyphant, PA, 1910. Image courtesy of Michael Grayson.

When Lisa blogged recently about Google Earth’s 10th birthday, it reminded me of something on my family history “to do” list. A few years ago I found a postcard of what I thought was an ancestor’s neighborhood. Could Google Earth confirm it?

Lisa uses Google Earth’s powerful 3D renderings of the world’s streets to identify where old pictures were taken. I knew from deeds, a plat map, and addresses on censuses and draft registrations that the O’Hotnicky lived on a certain block of Jones St. (now named Grant St.), around the corner from and behind Holy Ghost church.

This postcard of “Jones Street, Olyphant” looks like its viewpoint is from the end of the block behind the church. This would mean the tall tree shown here was shading–and blocking our view of–the O’Hotnicky home.

Olyphant view Google EarthI opened Google Earth and flew to “117 Grant St, Olyphant, PA.” The initial view, hovering from above, was promising. The camera icon shows where I thought the photo was taken. The left arrow points to the former line of trees, in front of the ancestral address. The right arrow points to the church tower behind.

Unfortunately, when I enter Street View at that exact spot, the new church on the corner and a tall apartment building block the view that would have been seen a century ago. There is no Street View available on Grant Street itself so I couldn’t move up the street toward the church. So I moved into Street View along the side street (parallel to the bottom of the photo).

In the opening between two buildings, Google Earth gave me a glimpse of the church tower. I compared the postcard view with Google Earth’s photo. The church towers look so similar: a simple cross on top, pointed copper roof, arched tower and the building roof line. Even more striking to me is the white frame house. Was this the same white house shown in the postcard view?Olyphant detail view Google Earth

These two visuals taken together–the church tower profile and the position of the white house–seem consistent with my theory of where the photo was taken. Which means that yes, indeed, this 1910 postcard shows the trees in front of an ancestor’s home as they appeared 105 years ago.

Google Earth can fly you to an ancestor’s neighborhood–and whatever clues its current landscape gives you into the landscape of the past. Click here to watch Lisa’s free video about using Google Earth for genealogy!

 

Google Earth for Genealogy: How to Identify Old Photos’ Locations

google searchDo you have old pictures but aren’t sure where they were taken? Sometimes Google Earth has the answer. Check out this question from podcast listener Dennis:

Q: “I am scanning slides from my only trip to my ancestor’s home in rural Germany and don’t recall the names or locations of a few people. The clue hear is ‘slides’. They were taken in 1986! I have a question regarding something I thought I heard on one of your podcasts regarding identifying a building via a picture that is uploaded to a web site. Can you give me some help with this?”

A: Yes! On my website, I offer a FREE video in which I demonstrate how to identify a building in an old photo using Google Earth. You can watch the free video by going to www.GenealogyGems.com, hover your mouse over VIDEO, and click on Google Earth for Genealogy in the drop down menu.

Another option is to use the free Google app on your smart phone or tablet. Open the app, tap in the search box, tap the Camera icon, and take a photo of the photo you have that contains the building you want to identify. (This works best with more well known locations.) It’s a long shot, but you never know – Google just may be able to identify it.

Google Earth for Genealogy BundleGood luck, Dennis–and all the rest of you out there who are puzzling over how to identify old photos’ locations.

Find more tips on using Google Earth for Genealogy in my popular Google Earth for Genealogy 2-Disk Bundle. The free video is just the beginning of what you can do with Google Earth!