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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Collecting Pictures of Your Ancestors
Posted by Maureen

Genealogists are famous for collecting relatives, but what about acquiring images of those folks? Is it really possible to find previously unknown photos of family members from the advent of photography in 1839? The answer is that it depends.

Family circumstances, their comfort level with photography and the availability of photographers all determine if your ancestors sat for pictures in photo studios or not.

By the time the amateur photographer era with Kodak’s “You Push the Button, We Do the Rest” slogan came along in the 1880s, many families were interested in having pictures taken. But it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that snapshots really took off. Years of traveling around the country looking at family photos has taught me that most families had access to a camera by the early 20th century. There was suddenly an explosion of images. I’ve seen the proof.

This doesn’t mean that your family only took snapshots and didn’t sit for cabinet cards, tintypes, ambrotypes, or daguerreotypes. Frankly, the inheritance of images is a little sketchy. Sometimes images go to the oldest, sometimes the youngest and occasionally no one wants those unidentified images. At each junction of your family tree are opportunities for photo collections to be split amongst living relatives.

So who got what in yuor family? To figure that out you need a plan. It’s a lot like a research plan for information, only this time you’re hunting for pictures.

Mark Your Family Tree

If you own images of various folks on your family tree, mark that information by highlighting or if you’re using family tree software attach those images to the person’s information. This helps you see where the gaps are.

Contact Relatives

This means locating all living relatives to see if they have any photographs. If you have a gap for a particular branch of the family, this could mean that either they didn’t take pictures or someone else inherited them. Read my article on tracing your family forward for tips on researching family lines from 1839 to the present.

Post Your Search

A colleague once used a message board to see if anyone had data on a branch of her family. The person who responded said they didn’t, BUT they had a photo album. Hurrah! My friend asked to copy all the images in it. She didn’t have the material she sought, but she did find a few dozen images all taken in the 1860s.

Look Online

I have bad research luck. My family just doesn’t want to be found. At least that’s what I’ve decided. Imagine my surprise when I decided to type a name into Ancestry.com and click on a family tree. Turns out a very distant cousin created an Ancestry family tree and on it he’d posted images. They were pictures of my great-grandparents that even my mother had never seen. I did the genealogical happy dance that day!

Online searching includes using image search engines like Google.com and reunion sites such as DeadFred.

Library Bound

Let's not forget the treasure troves of images held in local history collections in historical societies, archives and public libraries. Search their online digital collections first then contact the organization and find out how to hire someone to ferret out images in their collections.

There are lots of opportunities to find pictures. Your family tree is a map and a compass combined. If you've been successful in your hunt for pictures send me an e-mail. I love to hear good news!


photo-research tips
Tuesday, August 25, 2009 9:42:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
Monday, September 07, 2009 11:34:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
An excellent topic and post, Ms. Taylor. A couple of thoughts perhaps you've covered elsewhere: One, be sure whoever owns the images identifies them before they pass away. We are so indebted to Grandmother scrawling IDs on the backs and margins in a ballpoint. Second, if you want them, they're easy to get because nobody else does. They don't know what to do with them and don't want to be responsible for them, but they want them to go to somebody who will. And third, they are invaluable as a gift in a digital frame. In her last year my mother watched the 100 or so changing images I had given her more than her television. It was her constant reassurance of who she had been.
Arthur Dirks
Friday, September 11, 2009 5:01:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
thank you, Mr. Dirks... Now I have a way to persuade my children and grandchildren to get me one or more digital frames, and load them !
Sandra C. Tye
Comments are closed.