Immigrant Images
2/1/2002
Dig out your old photographs of ancestors in foreign lands and their new homes — they might unlock answers about your family's immigrant origins.
Photographs of immigrant ancestors can tell you more than just what they looked like (“so that's where Aunt Edna got her nose!”) — they often contain evidence of an ancestor's origins and migratory paths. Because immigrant images show unfamiliar scenes and include words in another language, they are often ignored or misunderstood. It's time to rediscover them, because a single photograph can unlock your family history.

Even if you don't have any images in your home collection, try to find photographs when you do your research. Discovering your family roots in the old country helps you reconnect with relatives and possibly new material and additional photographs. One researcher I know found long-lost cousins in the town her family came from, along with new sources for genealogical data, all because of a single photographic postcard.

Researching photographs, particularly those with foreign connections, is challenging and takes time, but pays off. For instance, if your family came from a non-English-speaking country, you'll need to translate any written or printed data on the image. Be observant. Often the date is in the little details in the picture. Find out as much as you can about the oral history of the image in your possession. You can also use the tips outlined in “Picture Puzzles” in the August 2000 Family Tree Magazine (highlights are online at <www.familytreemagazine.com/articles/aug00/photo.html>.)