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About Identifying Family Photographs

Do you have shoeboxes filled with unidentified family photographs? Do you wish there was a way to identify them, but don't know how? Let noted genealogist and photo historian Maureen A. Taylor do it for you!

FamilyTreeMagazine.com accepts photograph submissions for the exclusive online feature Identifying Family Photographs. Not every entry will be chosen, but if your submission is selected for identification, FamilyTreeMagazine.com will post the picture and Maureen's professional analysis on our site. This is a great opportunity to solve the mystery of a dusty old picture and uncover a potentially priceless piece of your family heritage.

How to Submit

Scan the picture in JPG format with a resolution of 300 dpi, and send it as an e-mail attachment to mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com. It is important to resize the image so that it fits on the screen. Include the text Family Tree Magazine in the subject line of your e-mail. Due to the large amount of spam and virus-laden e-mails I receive, I am not able to accept messages without the appropriate subject.

If you are not able to scan your photograph, you may mail a photographic copy (please do not send originals!) to Photo Detective column, Family Tree Magazine, 4700 E. Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236. Sorry, but we can't return photo submissions.

You can obtain photographic copies by asking a photo lab in your area to make a color print of the image. A color copy is necessary to fully identify the photograph. It is also possible to make these copies yourself using a Kodak Picture Maker system. Find the location nearest you by calling Kodak at (800) 939-1302 or through www.kodak.com.

To submit images for identification, please include the following:
  • A good-quality photographic copy or scan of the whole image. If there is writing or printing on the back, please send a photocopy or scan of it as well.
  • Make sure that you also include your name and contact information so that if your submission is chosen to be identified, Maureen may ask you more questions about your picture.
  • Any information you have about the image.
  • Your specific question about the picture.

Thanks to all who have already submitted photos to be considered. Maureen will contact you by e-mail if your submission is chosen for analysis. Selected photographs will appear at FamilyTreeMagazine.com.

Here are two examples of the kind of expert analysis Maureen will provide:

It may be possible with just a few steps to group unidentified family images by date based on costume. Just knowing a span of dates for an image may help you connect that face with a name in your family tree. It is the clues in the image that can place an image within a time frame.

For instance, when examining this photograph of a young woman, it is her hairstyle that provides the first clue. Women in the 1880's wore their hair tightly wrapped on the crown of their head with short curled bangs on the forehead. It is apparent that she selected her clothes very carefully paying attention to how she would appear in the photograph. Her dress is elegant. The fabric appears to be brocade. She wore little jewelry, choosing to have the buttons on the bodice of the dress, a small collar and a bar pin provide the detail. By adding all these clues together you discover that this woman was fashionably dressed for the middle to late 1880's.

How many of the images of children in your family album are misidentified? Do you find it difficult to tell the difference between the boys and girls? Children of both sexes dressed alike during infancy and early childhood. Subtle costume differences such as the height of the shoes worn by toddlers can help you decide whether the portrait you are holding is of a male or female ancestor. In this image of a toddler, it is again the hair that assists with identification. Very simply, male children usually wore their hair parted on the side, while girls had a center part.

Maureen A. Taylor, owner of Taylor & Strong, combines her background in history, genealogy, photography and library science to assist individuals and institutions with research and project management. She is the author of several genealogical books and articles, including Preserving Your Family Photographs, Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs, 2nd edition and Scrapbooking Your Family History.

Her current book, Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs, 2nd edition, shows you how to cherish old photographs and what clues they provide on your ancestors' lives. You'll learn to identify people in photographs, tell stories of the identified photos using clues in the images, and create worksheets for each image to expand your knowledge about your ancestors.

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