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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, May 16, 2011
Asking the Big Questions
Posted by Maureen

I sat with a friend today as she showed me her latest online family history discoveries. It was all very exciting.

She's worked on this particular genealogy problem for several years. All of a sudden, an unknown distant relative joined an online site and posted family information and lots of pictures. My friend was amazed to see photos of her great-grandparents and some of their children.

While it was thrilling to see all that new material that solved her brick walls, I couldn't help but look at the photos critically.

If you find yourself gasping over images of your long-lost relatives, try not to jump to conclusions and accept them at face value. Follow some basic tips for analyzing those images.
  • Remember those captions are not necessarily the truth. Misidentifications happen all the time. 

  • Look at the clues—clothing, photographer and any other evidence in the pictures to see if they add up.
     
  • Is the person the right age to be the named ancestor? 

  • Clothing clues, especially hats, sleeves and ties, are often fashion statements that tell you not just about your ancestor's fashion sense, but can place the image within a narrow time frame.

  • One of the photos depicts a man in a police uniform. This employment tip could help her unlock more family information. Her next step is to contact the appropriate department to try to obtain employment records.

  • Another photo shows a woman in a very expensive-looking fur hat and coat. Family lore claims this woman had financial means. To prove this, I suggested tracking down probate records to follow the money trail.
Each new picture is an opportunity to find fresh genealogical data. Evaluate the picture sense using the techniques presented each week in this column. It's too easy to accept visual material at face value rather than digging a bit deeper to tell the story behind the image.

I hope you'll be able to join me this week for my Photo Detective Live! event on May 18, or for one of my new tele-seminars through AskMaureenTaylor.com


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

  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • photo-research tips | preserving photos | props in photos
    Monday, May 16, 2011 3:05:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 1:41:17 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    I'm curious... would actually contacting a body such as a police department (or whatever department is relevant) produce results, as I would have thought that they'd be very guarded with their employees information?

    Monday, May 23, 2011 6:24:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    Many police departments have archives (or donate their material to town and city archives). It's definitely worth contacting them to see what happens to their older records. The Boston Police Department, for instance, has an incredible storehouse of material at 1555 Hyde Park Avenue, Hyde Park, MA 02136-2486.
    Comments are closed.