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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, July 27, 2015
5 Clues to Solve an Old-Photo Mystery
Posted by Maureen



Every old mystery photo is full of clues if you know where to look. Let's break this one down into five steps:

1. Consider the provenance.
Phyllis Reakes' first cousin gave her this photograph. Phyllis knows the man sitting on the far right is her great-grandfather, born in 1839. That chain of ownership of this photo helps confirm the man's identity.

2. Look at the faces.



I love looking at these two faces. It appears to be a father and son, who share everything from the shape of their noses to the tilt of their heads when they pose for a picture. 

3. Add up the genealogical clues.
Which son is it? Phyllis told me that her great-grandfather had several wives and children. I'd date this photo to the early part of the 20th century based on the women's dresses, circa 1900-1910. A tentative time frame for the image helps determine which son is depicted and allows for possible identities for the rest of the individuals. The woman seated next to the son to our left could be his wife or his father's.

It's important not to jump to quick conclusions about this picture. Depending on when great-grandfather was married for the last time and the age of his wife, those children could be his. Each identity has to be proven.

4. Study the clothing details.
The three young women in the back row wear interesting accessories.



Two have decorated their dresses with ribbons. This could just be a simple way of accessorizing their outfits, without other significance. The woman in the middle wears a long beaded chain around her neck. This was generally worn with either a watch or a pair of pince nez glasses. Either could be tucked into a waistline pocket.

5. Study the location.
Phyllis believes this image was taken in Keiv, Volh, Russia. The studio name isn't on this image, but by reaching out through social media, she might be able to locate other pictures taken in the same area.  It's worth the search to see what turns up.  Photographs have a way of bringing families together. Each of the individuals in the picture likely had descendants. As families grow, these connections are lost. This image might re-connect them.


Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1900-1910 photos | eyeglasses | Immigrant Photos | men
    Monday, July 27, 2015 8:41:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, January 19, 2014
    Figuring Out Who's Family in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Do you own one of those photos that nags you with unanswered questions?  Karen Perry does. 

    Perry unidentified1.jpg

    Unlike the rest of the photos in her collection, this lovely family group is completely unidentified. She's asked relatives, but no one knows who they are.

    Mom and Dad are in the center surrounded by their children. Two sons flank their parents with the other son stands center back.  Of course there could be in-laws in the photo, too. 

    Karen wrote that her "close-in" relatives lived in Ohio. More distant relatives lived in Virginia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The problem with photo collections is that they're often a combination of family, friends and neighbors. These individuals might not be direct relatives.

    She thinks the older man looks very familiar and thought he might be one of her famous relatives. They have links to two presidential families, the Harrisons and the McKinleys. She's looked online for pictures of the famous folk, but didn't see any obvious connections.

    Thankfully, Karen supplied full contact information with her submission so I'm calling her this week to see if there are any other clues in the family photo collection that would help with this identification. <smile>

    Right now, I can estimate when the image was taken based on their attire. The round eyeglasses of the man on the left, the loose-fitting dresses of the women and those short hairstyles pinpoint this to circa 1920. 

    perry2.jpg

    Here's a fun Flickr page for you with images of people wearing eyeglasses. Click an image for more information about the photo and the glasses.

    I'm hopeful that Karen will have some other details to share.  Once I've spoken with her I'll share some additional tips on how to share this photo.


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1920s photos | group photos | men | women | eyeglasses
    Sunday, January 19, 2014 3:21:44 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]