Discovery Your Family History

Using Old Photographs To Identify Ancestors

In spite of all the technological gadgets that are available for us today, we have no time machines. However, we can have a look back in the past with photographs of our ancestors. In the future, later generations will see us in the same light as we see our own ancestors. Old pictures show the faces of those people we wish we knew more about. The goal of viewing these old pictures, is to study the facial features and the person’s overall posture, then move on to the next picture. However, the ideal goal of a genealogist who is doing an LDS family search is to understand the people in our old pictures and learn their stories. In this article, I will show you how to study your old pictures to learn more about the people whose faces you now see in them.

Be Sure Of Their Identity

The first step to studying and analysing your old photographs is to be absolutely certain that the person in one photo is the same person in the next. For instance, you may see a person as a child in one photo, then one of the same people in his or her early twenties. Later on, you may find a picture where the person is in his or her forties, or fifties. It is important to realize that people’s facial features and posture change over time, so you must be absolutely positive that you are seeing who you think you are in your old pictures. Try to identify any personal features that don’t change with time, such as scars, moles and other features that are unique to a person’s appearance. One characteristic to study is a person’s ears. When studying several photos, the way you can tell if you are looking at the same person is to see whether the person’s earlobes connect to the head at the same angle as those in another photo.

There have been countless books written that describe how to identify individuals depicted in old photographs. One thing that will help you in your LDS family search is to date your old photos as accurately as possible. If your photos date back further than 1910, then you can visit photo tree’s web site, which will help you determine the age of your picture. On this site you can compare your pictures against thousands of other pictures in over fifty categories. This is just one of many web sites that can help you determine the dates of your old pictures. Now that you have determined when the photos were taken, this may help you deduce the year the individual was born, and try to place them with other ancestors who were born during this same time period. There is a more advanced technique, which is explained in great detail by Dr Colleen Fitzpatrick in her book titled Forensic Genealogy. According to Dr Fitzpatrick, you can determine the date your pictures were taken, by using other objects in the pictures, such as building features, products or other objects can give you more clues about the pictures themselves.

Identifying personal features 

Another interesting point in your LDS family search, is trying to determine the personal characteristics of a person or the people in a photograph. For example, one challenge, that may prove fascinating once you can figure it out, is how tall the person in the photo might have been. Making a general estimate of a person’s height, may help determine whether you are looking at the same person in several photos and it could also give you information about your family history in general. Although this can be challenging, there are ways in which this can be done to your satisfaction. One way to determine a person’s height in a full length photo, where the person is standing, is to use another object in the picture that is of a particular size, such as a jacket, and use this object as the standard length. You can also use a person’s eyes to measure his or her height. The distance between narrow set eyes is smaller than that of average set eyes, and those that are set further apart. It is better to get the measurement between the eyes in a snap shot where the person is facing forward, because if you try to measure a person’s eyes in an angular shot where the head is turned, the distance between the eyes is smaller than normal.

Using Facial Measurements in Old Photographs

Another such measurement you can try is measuring a person’s arm span, if the person in the picture has his or her arms spread as wide as he or she can, you can take this measurement, which is close to the person’s height. If you have a torso shot with the person’s arms spread wide, and a standard length object, such as a jacket or shirt, it is possible to gauge how tall the person may have been. However, the measurements are not accurate, so you will have a rough estimate at best. When you are able to use all of these clues to determine all you can about an individual, you can begin to learn more of his or her story.

Another such method of determining a person’s height or stature is by measuring other relevant objects. For instance, if someone is standing near a wall, you can use that wall as a standard for measuring. When you measure items in pictures to determine a person’s height, these items are best measured using millimetres. To convert your measurements into inches, use a bit of mathematics to help you. For example, 25 Millimetres is equal to 1 inch. If you are viewing a picture over the Internet, or on your computer, this picture may be shrunk to fit the screen. This is especially true for pictures on older web sites. If you want to measure a person’s height in a photo, the original picture or a copy of the snap shot is the best source to use. Now that we have discussed several ways to determine a person’s height from a picture, here is another way to tell more about a person from a photograph.

The location of a photograph can tell a lot about a way that a person’s home once appeared, especially if you have an outdoor photo. If you are wondering whether the old home of one of your ancestors still stands today, your old photos can help you answer this query. If you have important information, from census and vital records, such as the address where your ancestor lived, you can search for the address on Google maps, and compare the image on the map to the one in your outdoor photo to determine if your ancestor’s house and/or neighbourhood still exist.

Old photos can give a visual glimpse into our ancestor’s lives, that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to in any other way. These are a few tips to help you in your LDS family search.

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