Wealthy subjects had many fashionable ensembles to choose from, whereas ordinary working-class ancestors usually donned their best outfit, kept for church on Sundays and special occasions.Everyone wished to create a good impression in the treasured photographs that would later be shown to family and friends and might be displayed in an album, or hung on the wall.There are clues to your family history in old photographs.Discovering previously unknown family photos from generations ago is like uncovering genealogical gold.Some things that can help you in identifying the time period in which a photo was taken include: Clothing and hairstyles are big clues as to time period, since fashions changed over time, just as they do today.
In this series, Jayne Shrimpton, internationally recognised dress historian, portrait specialist, photo detective and regular contributor to Family Tree, Your Family History and Family History Monthly magazines, dates and analyses different types of photographs and helps you to add context to your old family pictures.
If the photograph is on a post card mount, then it won’t date before 1902. Many CDVs include the name of the photography studio.
Understanding the history to cartes de visite (CDV) and cabinet cards will also help you narrow down a timeframe. Although usually long gone, you may be able to find them listed in directories. For the 19th century, sleeves can be quite a good starting point.
Boxes of old photographs can sometimes come down the family with no indication of who the sitters are.
With a date, you can narrow the field of possible suspects and even, sometimes put a name to a face as it stares back at you from the past: Look at the format.