Old Photos in Print: A Collection of Tips

By Maureen A. Taylor

One of the first tips for finding images (photographs, engravings, and paintings) of your ancestors is to start at home and branch out from there. Those images could be hiding in plain sight on everything from passports to licenses.

You’re probably wondering when you can expect to find pictures of relatives on those records. For instance, a common question is, “when were pictures first included in school yearbooks?”

Use this handy guide to when various types of family history documents began to include pictures.

Newspapers and Books
Long before pictures appeared in print, editors hired artists to turn photographs into engravings. You can find examples in early family histories and local histories. Civil War newspapers and magazines featured engravings of famous folks and battlefield scenes many based on photographs.

Photomechanical engravings that looked more like the original photographs appeared in 1880, and actual photos appeared in papers around 1919.

In the mid-19th century, class books at Ivy League colleges contained actual images, carte des visite and cabinet cards. It wasn’t until around 1919 that mass-produced yearbooks with photographs were common. Check school archives and local historical societies for copies.

Immigration Paperwork
If your great-grandparents liked to travel outside the country, it’s possible to find their pictures in a passport created after about 1918. For more information on passports see the National Archives website.

If your immigrant ancestor applied for citizenship and received it after July 1, 1929, his or her naturalization papers will include a photo.

Drivers’ Licenses
New York city issued the first paper drivers licenses to chauffeurs in 1910. You can view these licenses in “The Evolution of the New York Driver’s License.”

There’s more information on how to locate other ancestral picture sources in Searching for Family History Photos How to Get Them Now!

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