Just Who Is In This Photo?

By | April 5, 2017

Do you have a collection of old family photographs? Have you ever looked at one and wondered just who is in this photo? You may have these photos either tucked away in drawers or you maybe more organized and have them in photo albums. If you are like me then you love getting them out from time to time and having a look at them. But you may not know who everyone is in your photos. Well then please read on as this post will help you with that question.

Who Is In This Photo?

As I have become more interested in my own genealogy I have inherited a lot of family heirlooms including old photographs. These have mostly been from my father. You may also be interested in your own family history and have acquired your own collection of photos. These could have been from your grandparents, aunts or uncles. Or if you’re lucky you may have received them from an old friend of the family.

But do you know who are in all of these photos?

If you are ‘fortunate‘ then someone may have written some details on the back of the photograph. These details could include who is in the photo, the date that it was taken and also what the occasion was.

I say ‘fortunate‘ because believe it or not the ink that has been used may actually have damaged the photo, (or may likely cause damage in the future). The writer may have even penetrated the front of the photo if they were particularly hard baring with pen. I know that I am like that.

If your old family photographs are in an album then there maybe some description added to the side of the photos.

But what if there are no clues? What do you do next? Do you just give up and forget about them? Of course not!

Pay your relatives a visit!

In this post I will cover four main tips that will help you to identify just who is in your family photos. But before you read on I would like to suggest to you that you first ask your relatives for help.

Ask Our Relatives For Help

If your family do know who is in these photos then they will be of great assistance. They will help save you the time and energy that you would otherwise have spent.

There may also be a message written on the back. Using this clue your relative maybe able to discern who is in the photo.

So please take the time and pay them a visit. You may also be surprised as to the stories, anecdotes and any information that they may tell to you.

Check out my Top 20 Family History Interview Questions post that will help you conduct a thorough interview and get the most from it.

The Four Tips To Help You Identify Your Ancestors

Being able to see the clues in your photographs is all part of the process to identifying your ancestors. You can use just one, a few or all of the following tips to help you with this task.

Clues to date an old photo

1. Do you recognize anyone else?

During this post’s introduction I explained that you maybe ‘fortunate‘ if someone has written on the back of the photograph. If a photograph has no details on the reverse you could first check to see if there is a similar photo with a description added to it.

If this fails then you could ask yourself the question whether you recognize anyone else in the photograph. So if the photograph has a few people in it then try to see if you do recognize any of them.

Comparing with other photos may also help you with this process. Different photos of the mystery individual may include ancestors that you do recognize. If you’re familiar with your family tree then you could work out who the person is. So have your tree to the side when figuring this out.

If you know the date of the photograph then this can also help you identify your relative. If you can tell how old the person and when the photo was taken then this will narrow down your search.

My How To Date An Old Photo post can help you identify photographs that were taken during the 19th Century.

2. Do you recognize a family heirloom?

If the photograph was taken at home then there maybe a number of family heirlooms in the background. Have a closer look at the photograph and see if you recognize any of them. Is there anything that particularly stands out?

You may actually have one of these heirlooms in your home and you may know the story behind them. Because of hearing family stories you may even know the person that the heirloom belonged to.

Your relatives may still have a number of these heirlooms in their home. So, as I have suggested before it would be worthwhile to pay them a visit. Take your old photo collection with you and see what you can find.

3. Do you recognize the location of the photograph?

The photograph may have been taken outside. This fact should also help you with your research. If you are familiar with your ancestors and where they lived you may actually recognize key features in the background of the photograph.

These could be old buildings, a hill in the background, a famous landmark or any other possible key feature. The landscape itself may also give you a clue as to the identity of the individual.

And as I keep suggesting, try asking your relatives for help!

Again the date of the photograph can also help you. If you know where your ancestors lived and know the time period then you can work out who is in the photo with these two clues.

4. Use the process of elimination!

You have now gone through the first three tips to help you identify who is in your old family photograph. The last tip that you can use is the process of elimination. By knowing your family tree well you can start to eliminate your ancestors.

There are other clues besides what I have already discussed that can help you along the way. The following clues will help you further to identify who is in your photo.

The clues that you can use:

  • The clothing,
  • The hairstyles,
  • Type of the photograph and also the studio that the photograph was taken in.

Both the clothing and the hairstyles in the photograph can help you to identify the date that it was taken. Also, the type of photograph can be of use to you in identifying the individual.

The name of the audio may also appear on the front or the back of the photograph. This clue can help you tell which ancestor went to the studio to have their photo taken. Although if you know that a few family groups lived near a studio you may then need to use other clues to help you.

A local historian may help you to identify where the studio was located. And also if numbers appear on the photo this can give you the date that it was taken.

Final Thoughts

Using your old family photographs for your genealogy research doesn’t need to be a headache for you. The tips that I have outlined above can help you greatly piece together your family tree. And ultimately put a name to those faces.

Once you have figured out who is who then you can add these pictures to your genealogy software program. Scanning your photos will be the next step for you to take in this process. My How To Scan My Photos? post will help you.

==> Check Out The Family Photo Detective <==


Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post helping you to answer the question, “Who is in this photo?”. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

14 thoughts on “Just Who Is In This Photo?

  1. stefan vogt

    Thanks for this very useful post. I have so many old family photos. Most of them I do know who is in them but there are a few that I a man not so sure of them.

    I don’t know whether my relatives could help, but will see what happens there. If not then I will use the other clues that you have mentioned.

    Very good advice mate. I will check out your links as well.

    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Stefan,

      Your relatives can be a great help when it comes to family history. I have always been amazed at the stories that my father keeps coming out with. This is escpecially true when we have thought that there are no more stories to be heard.

      Hope your family can help you with identifying who is in your photos. If not then look at the clues in them.

      All the best,

  2. Hans

    Good information. I love looking through old photos. I don’t have that many but my mother has several photo books and some are dated back over 60 years. Many times I’ll have to ask who is in the picture. Sometimes my mom can tell me but many times she doesn’t know either. I’ll try some of your ideas and see if I can identify these “mystery” people. Thanks!

    1. Owain Post author

      That’s a shame that she can’t tell who some of them are. You would be surprised though if your mother started to tell you about her family history. Who knows maybe be doing so a name may pop up and she could link it to one of the photographs.

      I have been quite surprised like this when my father has recited old family stories. Every time I think that I have heard them all and he comes out with a new one,

      All the best with using these tips.

  3. Krystle Zee

    This was an informative post. I enjoy looking at old family photos! A lot of them have been left with my aunts and uncles though, and they tell me who’s who whenever I look through them. It’s always fun to hear them reminisce about their own childhoods and talking about their own aunts and uncles!

    1. Owain Post author

      Tats great that you visit them and that they go through old family photos with you. Do they have them in an album with descriptions added?

      I got into genealogy because of the many interesting stories that my father would recite to me about my ancestors. I feel like you are in the same position. I bet your aunts and uncles could tell you many a story. Would be great if you could type them up like I did.

  4. Dira

    I thought it was not easy to find out about old photos. You are giving some great tips here. Talking to family members work if you have someone willing to do it. I remember my grandma use to tell me many stories. It was funny each photo in her album had a story. At that time I did not think to write it down or anything. I remember some of here stories but not every detail. After she passed away there were no other close family members that told the stories like she did.

    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Dira,

      When we are younger we don’t always think about writing down our family’s stories. I have only done this in the last few years. My father has got many stories and I realized that if I didn’t do it then they would get lost with time. I do remember the outline of them but not as much detail as him.

      We both kick ourselves though that we didn’t ask his mother for her stories while she was alive. My father does remember some but not all. Which is a shame. But we can only record what we know.

  5. Reggie

    Thank you for the posts. My family was not very good at taking pictures. My sister is the only one that is very good at capturing memories with a camera. I was curious to see what my nationality is. Just like you suggested, I visited family. I found out that all of my mother’s side is from Liverpool, England. I was born in the U.S., finding out my nationality is a goal of mine, I look forward to discovering.

    1. Owain Post author

      I don’t really have too many photos, but all of them from my father side we know who is in them. It’s just really nice for me to know each of them and also their story.

      I wish you all the best with discovering your English ancestry. My British Guide post will be of use to you.

  6. Sean Contreras

    Awesome. I just bookmarked your site. I’m really into genealogy and tracing back my roots, but am at a loss regarding the processes. I never even thought of looking at my family’s old photos as a place to start. After this read, I am definitely going to go through some old pictures. Thanks!

    1. Owain Post author

      That’s great Sean, I am glad that I have inspired you. You could look at my Ten Step Guide to start off your family history journey. All the best.

  7. Megan

    I love old photos and am always excited when another pile arrives at my home. A few months ago mum found a box of dad’s old photos and I found photos in there I never knew existed.

    I was so excited to finally have some photos of my grandma that weren’t grainy and to see my dad as a child. Unfortunately some of them I am still trying to identify and some I may never know the full story.

    I’ve asked dad but he has dementia so I cannot be sure of the accuracy of his memory. As dad is from Staffordshire and I haven’t been there since I was a very young child I cannot identify locations. What do you suggest I do to identify locations when I left so young?

    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Megan,

      The first thing that came to mind was maybe you could use Google street view. I personally love doing this. Not only going around places where I once lived, but also ‘visiting’ where my ancestors lived as well.

      See what you think. Maybe it can help jog your memory.


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