Genealogy Tip O’ Today: Sleuthing Old Photographs
“Don’t be a quitter!” I don’t remember how many times I heard this advice as a youngster from some member of my family. Now, decades later it is coming in very handy as I have found myself having to do some serious sleuthing of old family photographs. And I reiterate this same advice to you: Don’t quit! Keep trying!
Let me explain.
When I was just beginning my Czech genealogy work on one of my very earliest visits to a newly ‘found’ cousin I was given a photograph. You can see it below. Just click on it to get a larger image.
The cousin said to me “This is a great family shot! We counted 96 people in it. There is only one trouble. We have no idea who anyone is.” I marveled at the photograph. It seems the clan gathered to celebrate or recognize the older couple in the middle of the group. I was so taken with the shot I asked if I could still have it and promised to work on identifying anyone in it. I even nicknamed it ‘The Old 96er’ as I am a big fan of the movie The Great Outdoors.
It was over two years later when I made contact, quite by accident with a new, distant Czech genealogy related cousin. She was just beginning her work, but was deeply immersed in conversations with her elderly mother and an aunt about our shared family history. In her second email she enclosed a photo. I didn’t think much about it at the time and I am embarrassed to say almost two months later something struck me like a bolt out of the blue. What triggered it I cannot say, but I sought out that photo again and marveled at how I could have missed it. The face I was looking at was the 7th fellow from the left in the second from the top row of ‘The Old 96er’. From that one face I now have been able to identify nearly 70% of the family members in this wonderful photo – and continue to work on the remaining friendly faces.
Then just recently another cousin (again on my Czech/Bohemian side) of mine sent a wonderful envelope full of old family photographs. A full 75% of them were noted with names, locations, and dates. I loved them all, but the remaining few were the ones grabbing my attention. No names, no places, no dates. Just faces looking at me. Some of the faces looked vaguely familiar. Most looked as foreign to me as total strangers. But the fact they were in the ‘family photo album’ made me think they may well be family. And if I did not recognize them, what a find that would be when I did.
One of the photos I wrote about in my post “Double Check Those Wedding Photos”. I am early in my work trying to find who the attendants are in this photo.
I started by created a few hypotheses on who were likely suspects. A brother of the groom? A sister of the bride? A Naval buddy? Perhaps a cousin? Maybe a best friend?
Next I began to test each of these hypotheses by sending a copy of the photo to the closest living relative in each case and asking for their input, thoughts, suggestions, etc. Who knows? Maybe someone will say ‘Hey, that is so-and-so.’ If not I’ll keep on trying to develop new theories to test.
Another of the photos sent to me you can see below:
Faded, no markings of any kind. Just three women. I found this one interesting in that the facial expression on each woman seems remarkably different. Almost like what I used to get from our children when I would insist on a photo and make them take time out to please their dad.
Again I began with creating a few theories to test. My first theory is that the woman in the center is actually my maternal grandmother. If so could these be her sisters or sisters-in-law? If it is not my grandmother, could the center lady be one of her sisters? Again leading me to some other options in who they might be. Thanks to the wonders of digital scans and email, off copies went with my theories attached to family members far and wide seeking their input, thoughts, and reactions. A few had to go into snailmail, but off they went too.
I began these efforts by telling myself these each were long shots and this was a long-term project. But hey, sometimes delayed gratification is the best kind!
And now I have to run…time to start my ‘attack’ on this mystery too.
So never give up and never give in on your mystery photos and certainly never throw any of them away.
Onward To Our Past®