Photo Detective: Looking Back

Photo Detective: Looking Back

It's hard to believe the first Identifying Family Photographs appeared online Feb. 8, 2000—almost six years ago! Even after all this time I still love receiving your photos so much I open emails like they're wrapped Christmas presents. Thanks to you, I've been living my dream of studying family...

It’s hard to believe the first Identifying Family Photographs appeared online Feb. 8, 2000—almost six years ago! Even after all this time I still love receiving your photos so much I open emails like they’re wrapped Christmas presents. Thanks to you, I’ve been living my dream of studying family photographs. It’s been an interesting journey.

I’ve made new friends while chatting via email or on the phone about their photographs. Some have kept me informed about address changes; and a few have even sent me pictures of the latest additions to their family trees. Thank you for sharing your pictures and your lives.

Each column usually focuses on one person’s photo mystery; however, today I’d like to reflect on some of my favorite pictures featured in this space over the years. Each one holds a lesson for working with family photos.

My very first column, Frame of Reference, discussed a simple portrait of a young couple. It’s one of my favorites because it showed me the power of the Internet. At least five people familiar with the picture later wrote me. After several years of research, owner Jackie Hufschmid figured out who’s in the picture (see my Photo Detective column in the April 2004 Family Tree Magazine) but she’s still taken aback by the response to it.

What a surprise to receive a submission from the other side of the world! Dafanie Goldsmith submitted a haunting picture of a woman in mourning for A New Zealand Mystery. This woman’s expression of grief and her well-kept appearance make me wonder about her life after this portrait.

When Joe Sanchez submitted two postmortem photographs, I thought twice about including them in an online column—but the story was so intriguing I couldn’t resist. The images in Dead Men Tell No Tales opened new avenues of research for Sanchez, demonstrating our ancestors really can help us from the great beyond.

Some requests for identification help are more than linking a name with a face—they’re about making family connections. In Tracing Adopted Roots, Pat Daniell asked for help proving a photograph was her grandfather’s long-lost mother.

Not all images submitted to this column are unidentified. The problem for Ella Emma Gust, who sent photos for Beyond Names and Dates, was that no one in her family knew anything about the man depicted. I offered advice on how to learn more about the people in family pictures.

Michael Boyce is researching his family and posting his findings online. His ancestral portrait of a mysterious family member appeared in Tall Tales and True Stories. After you read about the hard-working subject in the photo, go to Boyce’s Web site for a glimpse at his well-organized online archive.

Rescuing the Past features photos Steven Barcomb resued from the trash in front of his wife’s old family home. Could the content family shown be Barcomb’s in-laws?

Glenn Andes found this intriguing group picture and wondered who was in it. Turns out it wasn’t a family portrait, but a class photo. See how I figured out this mystery in School Days.

As I watched the news about Hurricane Katrina this past summer, I wondered about Gulf Coast residents and the photographs they’ve sent me. How are those people doing? One Louisiana woman’s photo appeared in A Piece of Louisiana History.

Thousands of people upload pictures to looking to reunite the photographs with their rightful owners. A colleague sent me an “orphan photo” with the same goal. The Little Prince is still waiting to be claimed.

Barb Groth knew a lot about her grandmother’s family portrait, shown in A Matter of Interpretation, but she wanted to learn more details to write about it in her scrapbook. Any photo is a story if you research all its clues.

In Help Identify This Photo, I asked for help identifying Paul Murphy’s photo of a young girl holding a magazine. We’re still looking for help finding the right copy of the magazine. Anyone want to help? You could win a copy of my book, Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs (Family Tree Books, $24.99).

If you’d like to have one of your photo mysteries featured in this column, read the submission guidelines and send me your picture. I’d love to see it.