“A Picture-Perfect Ancestry”


As the calendar starts to flip over to the summer months, when families will turn their focus to outdoor activities.   Their gardens will be dug, their plants potted, and they are gathering old photographs to share during family reunions. They say a “picture can be worth a thousand words,” which can be very accurate with social media today.

As genealogists, we are taught many skills and thought processes. We learn how to build a tree and interpret the different emerging relationships. We also are taught about DNA and how the very use can trim branches and rearrange some limbs. Many of these have stood for more than a century.  One of the more exciting and fun tools we also learned is interpreting many relationships in old photographs. With the help of good family trees, we can help families date the time of the photo, who may be in the image, and how the generations fit.

Here is a picture from my family’s past that we will analyze.

Looking over the photograph, you can tell by the color and texture and if you held it in your hand, you would know that it is old.  It has a white border around it that was more popular back in the 20s forward.  It shows some significant wear and tear that could be fixed and updated.  At first look, you can also see that it appears to be outside, in the back of a home, on a warm day, with 3 adults and one child.  You can also see that no studio mark would give a clue if it was professionally done or shot by a family member.

Digging more into the photograph, you can see the older woman and a younger man in the picture.  He is dressed as a soldier, and his uniform resembles the ones the US soldiers wore in the 30s to 40s.  The two ladies are dressed in line with the same period. There are many ways to identify the style of clothing that the women wore. Many styles may last for years, but you can place them in the early, middle, or late century with a good family tree. You can view types in magazines, movies, catalogs, and other related materials.

Once the photograph can be dated, it is time to see who may be in it.  This one does not have writing on the back, but I have many that do and that identify everyone in the picture.  The man was my father.  He served in WW!! And lived for many years in Maine.  The photograph is of my oldest sister, whom he knew for a few months before he shipped off to serve in the Pacific.

The woman next to him is his mother, my grandmother.  We have many photographs of her, and she is easy to detect.  If you review the face carefully, you can see her hair is not as grey as the sitting woman, and she has less defined wrinkles.  This makes her younger than the sitting woman.  Her dress is more in fashion for the mid-20th century.

The last woman is her mother, my great-grandmother.  She is the family’s matriarch and appears much older than the others.  Her dress seems to have aged more when revealed in the original photograph, where she has greyed more in her hair than the others.  She and my sister are also centered and the focal points of this photograph. Therefore, it is easy to see that this photograph is of 4 generations.

The final write-up that a genealogist would conclude is that this is an early or mid-summer photograph as the location is in Maine. The date was 1943 before the man was shipped off to war. This photo contains a four-generation family.  The names would be added to the final write-up before being presented as the conclusion.   

In this photograph, the determination is relatively easy to identify who the people are and how they relate.  Many have pictures of the family with many more children and adults.  That may take some time, but with a good tree, you can start to identify even your distant relatives.

Please feel free to contact me about how this methodology all comes together.  To learn how I can help as a Genealogist with more than just helping you to dig “outside the box” and find your story. Feel free to contact me at my site, SouthernShoresGenealogy.com, or email me at SouthernShoresGenealogy@gmail.com.  “We are the Ancestors of tomorrow, so we must ensure that we pass on our stories today. “