Colorized Old Photos Offer Rare Glimpses of Your Ancestors’ World

By Maureen A. Taylor

Recently a collection of colorized historical images of immigrants at Ellis Island went viral. It’s a pretty snazzy group of pictures. And these images are historically accurate: The historians behind this project researched actual colors in use at the time. You can see the photos here.

Somehow, the color makes the people seem more real. The black-and-white images seem to create a visual distance between us and them. It’s wonderful to have an idea of how our immigrant ancestors dressed and the colors they wore.

Did you know that the Library of Congress has a collection that shows our immigrant ancestors’ hometowns? Every one of the images in that collection is in color. They’re called “photochrom prints”.

Produced between 1890 and 1910 by Photoglob and the Detroit Publishing Co., they feature scenes popular with travelers—more than 6,000 photochrom prints of Europe and the Middle East, and 500 of the United States. Most are 6.5×9 inches.

I’m in love with the collection. Not only can you time travel to foreign lands, but you can view images of people wearing their native costumes. Get ready … hours will go by before you think to look up from your screen!

The newly reorganized Library of Congress user interface makes it easy to look at collection overviews, view specific collections organized by country or read articles on the topic.

Let me know what you found out about ancestral homelands by viewing this collection.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now
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