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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, 30 July 2017
Too Few Photo Clues: What to Do
Posted by Maureen



This image comes from my mailbag.  If you don't have a scanner you can still submit images for analysis. Follow the instructions here. Barbara Rivers sent me a black and white print of her mystery photo. 

Barbara's aunt found this picture in her belongings.  There were no names on the back. No one else in the family is able to help with the ID either.  As the family genealogist, it's left to Barbara.

Let's start with a date to establish a time frame.


Those sleeves make it easy.  The woman in the back has the most fashionable puff at the shoulder. Her fashion dates the picture to circa 1897.

Armed with a tentative date, Barbara can start to work on the problem. She thinks it might depict the Findlay Family of Iowa. I'm hoping she has a specific town.

The closest census to the date of this image is the one taken in 1900. Using the advanced search feature on Ancestry.com you can look for people without knowing their names.

I'd start by entering Findlay and Iowa (with a specific town). In this group portrait there are three boys, two sisters and their parents.  Of course it's possible that there are husbands/wives in this picture, but for now assume that they are all related.

It's a big family, but it's also possible that not all of the children are depicted. 

I'd use the advanced search to see if Barbara can find familiar Findlay names in the 1900 census, then I'd look for them in the 1880 census.  Match up the families to see if there is overlap with her family history.  

She might find the right family on the first try or have to work her way through several searches.

It's a start. Solving those completely unidentified family photos is challenging but it can happen.


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


  • 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | group photos
    Sunday, 30 July 2017 16:54:27 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Sunday, 23 July 2017
    Readers Respond: Mistaken Identity in Old Photos
    Posted by Diane

    Thank you for all your responses to last week's column on Mistaken Identity. There are a lot of sharp-eyed family photo detectives out there.

    I asked you to compare these two men and give me your opinion. You did!



    You were right. They are NOT the same man. Here's why
    • One has brown eyes and the other blue. Sometimes photographers colored in blue eyes to make them appear darker but that is not the case in this pair of images.

    • They have similar hairlines, leading some folks to think they might be the same. This short-cropped look was very popular in the 1880s.

    • Both men were photographed in the 1880s, they just wear different clothing styles. In each decade, there was a variety of available clothing options. The man on the left is dressed more formally and in more expensive options.

    Yes, both men have those ears that stick out, but the fact that their ears look alike is coincidence.

    It's easy to see how photo IDs can be challenging. Thank you for participating.


    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


  • 1880s photos | facial resemblances | men
    Sunday, 23 July 2017 16:33:59 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Monday, 17 July 2017
    Mistaken Identity in Old Photos: A Facial Recognition Challenge
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week a woman at one of my lectures raised her hand, pointed at an old photo on the screen, and said "the man in that photo is my great-grandfather!" 

    You can imagine the oohs and ahhs of the other attendees.  What a coincidence! Stranger things have happened, but to be safe, I asked her to email me a picture of her ancestor.

    I wanted the photo reunion to be real, but when I received her emailed photo, it was clear that the two men weren't the same. It was a case of mistaken identity because the men had the same facial shape, mustache and even hairline.

    Facial identification isn't easy. Not everyone can read faces, and even technology can get it wrong. You can take a fun (not diagnostic) test at Faceblind.org to see how good you are at recognizing people.

    Several factors interfere with our ability to compare faces:
    • The angle of the portraits (profile versus face forward)
    • Glasses
    • Hair changes
    • Facial hair
    • Makeup
    • Shadows

    So I thought let's have a little fun with these two pictures. Do you think these men are the same person? Why or why not?



    Click Comments below to reply. Ready ... set .... go!



    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

  • SaveSaveSave
    1880s photos | facial resemblances | men
    Monday, 17 July 2017 15:06:28 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [28]
    # Sunday, 09 July 2017
    Amelia Earhart Found? Clues in an Old Photo May Solve 80-Year-Old Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    For more than 80 years the world has wondered what happened to pilot Amelia Earhart. On an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared over the South Pacific.

    "Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence," a History Channel documentary that aired last night, suggests an answer to that question. Les Kinney, a retired Treasury Department official, found this photo in the National Archives that may show Earhart and Noonan as captives of the Japanese in the Marshall Islands. 


    This video clip from the "Today" show shows a little of how it was analyzed:



    A man thought to be Noonan stands on the left and the woman thought to be Earhart sits on a dock, back facing the camera, with the side of her face visible. Photo analyst Kent Gibson used software to compare known images of Noonan and Earhart with the people in the picture, and concluded it's "very likely" this depicts the duo. 

    The image also shows a Japanese ship towing an object whose shape and calculated measurements mean it could have been Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10E.

    All mystery photo investigations rely on more than the evidence in the picture.  It takes painstaking historical research.



    Amelia Earhart in 1928 (Library of Congress).

    Kinney has researched Earhart for more than a dozen years. This photo is just part of the puzzle. In the lead-up to World War II, the Japanese had banned Americans from the Marshall Islands. The two Caucasians in the photo are out of place. (The documentary suggests international tensions are the reason evidence of Earhart's capture was covered up.)

    Historical accounts from residents of the Marshall Islands at the time indicate they saw the Japanese tow away a plane. In 1987, the Republic of the Marshall Islands even issued a series of postage stamps depicting their stories of Earhart's landing and capture.  

    The documentary presents additional evidence, such as metal parts that could be from a Lockheed Electra discovered where the plane is said to have been dragged from the beach Earhart landed on to a waiting Japanese barge.

    The evidence is pretty convincing. I'd also like to know what's in the Japanese archives. There are a lot of theories about Earhart—this might just be another one or it could solve the mystery.

    So the coolest part of the video above is when Gibson compares their faces, right?

    You're thinking. Wait! I want to do that with my photos.  Guess what?  You can. Faceoff, Visual Face Recognition is software on the market that allows you to overlay one face on another. It costs $29.95. 

    Bear in mind:

    • The two faces you're comparing must be the same view (straight on, profile, etc.)

    • Glasses, shadows and even hair on the face can confuse the viewer

    • It's up to you to determine if you have two images of the same person, but make sure you've done your homework about where the person lived and whether it's possible the photos might show the same person before you jump to a conclusion. 
    Learn more about Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence and watch clips here.

    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

  • SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave
    1930s photos | Military photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, 09 July 2017 19:47:50 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Sunday, 02 July 2017
    Get the Story Behind Your Fourth of July Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen


    Takoma Park, Md., 1922. Library of Congress.

    Symbolism abounds in family photos taken on the Fourth of July. These three young men posed as the iconic drummers and fife player commonly seen on the Fourth of July as the trio from the song Yankee Doodle Dandy.

    A search of newspapers on GenealogyBank.com turned up the story of the parade in which the boys participated. In 1922, the children of the Petworth section of Takoma Park, Md., made floats and marched on the morning of the Fourth. 

    Independence Day celebrations varied from community to community and from region to region, many traditionally including parades, picnics and fireworks. My hometown of Providence, RI, once liked to start the festivities with cannon fire at dawn.

    Other towns held chariot races, foot races, baseball games and other sporting events. Town-wide picnics were common, too.

    Look for Fourth of July clues in your family pictures:
    • Try to spot the symbols mentioned above, especially children in colonial costume like this Yankee Doodle Dandy trio.

    • For those not in costume, study clothing clues to pinpoint a time frame for the photos. You can use past Photo Detective Blog posts about historical fashion trends as a resource. You can use the search box in the lower left margin of the blog, or click the category links for your decade of interest.

    • Search or browse the town's newspapers covering Independence Day celebrations. You might be able to match up scenes in your pictures with events in your ancestor's community.

    Happy Fourth of July!


    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

  • Save
    1920s photos | 4th of July | patriotic
    Sunday, 02 July 2017 15:10:39 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [7]