Old Family Photos on Postcards

By Maureen A. Taylor

Frieda Tata submitted this lovely photo of two women and a girl for some advice. She knows the young woman on the right is her grandmother Mae Davis (born 1888 in Brownwood, Mo.).

This is a photo postcard.


One of the most common questions about family photos is, “My ancestor had their photograph taken and it’s a postcard. What does that mean?”

I love real-photo postcards (RPPC) because there are several ways to date them.

  • Real photo postcards debuted about 1900. That immediately gives you a beginning time frame for the image.
  • While the photo here was taken in a studio, it is possible your ancestor took their postcard photo themselves. Kodak’s No. 3A camera, introduced in 1903, let amateur photographers take images and have them printed on postcard stock.
  • Flip the card over. Does it have a divided back for the address and correspondence, or is there just space for the address? This little detail can further refine the time frame. On March 1, 1907, federal legislation finally let postcard senders write messages on the back of the cards they sent.
  • Take a good look at the stamp box. The designs of those boxes can help date your image as well. They identify the paper manufacturer. For instance, AZO is a popular manufacturer. Compare your designs to those described on the Playle website.
  • If the postcard was mailed, look at the stamp design and the postmark for a specific date.

Mae’s birth year suggests that this photo was taken circa 1908. I’d love an image of the back to see what clues it holds.

Last week I wrote about women in World War I and featured photos of Dora Rodriques. Thank you to Wendy Schnur for telling me more about the Holland-born actress who supposedly walked across the United States to promote recruitment.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books 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
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album