Dating family photographs

Dating Old Family Photographs: Part 1

The above photograph dates to c. Like most old family photos that have been passed down the generations, it is not dated or identified.

Many photographic historians can date the card mount with some accuracy but it is only the visual image that will determine a close, reliable circa date. Pictorial clues, ranging from studio settings to dress details, require an understanding of aesthetics, changing visual styles and the dynamics of fashion. This composition provides a clear view of the contrived drawing-room interior and again this example represents the s, key features the architectural plinth, patterned floor and draped curtain to one side.

Thursday, 12 December We received a Christmas card from the Llewellyn-Bowen family this week, Laurence, his wife and two daughters dressed up in a s jazz style. It made me think of our feature on postcards in our Christmas issue written by photo dating expert Jayne Shrimpton that included a Christmas postcard from her collection. This card, sent from the Sudan in , features a photograph of a soldier inserted into a festive mount. We associate postcards now with holiday scenes, but in the first half of the 20th century they were also commonly used as mounts for personal photographs. We find some of the most common queries from readers are to do with photo dating.

Boxes of old photographs can sometimes come down the family with no indication of who the sitters are. With a date, you can narrow the field of possible suspects and even, sometimes put a name to a face as it stares back at you from the past:.

Understanding the history to cartes de visite CDV and cabinet cards will also help you narrow down a timeframe. There are plenty of websites that can guide you. Just as with format, sizes for prints changed over time.

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From the office: 10 tips for dating old photographs | Who Do You Think You Are Magazine

Again, look online to find guides on sizes of photographic prints. Many CDVs include the name of the photography studio.


Although usually long gone, you may be able to find them listed in directories. There are also websites that collect details of photographers. For the 19th century, sleeves can be quite a good starting point.

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Again, look online for different sleeve shapes through the ages and try to find ones that match those in the photograph. For the 20th century, dress length can be quite revealing.

How to Date Old Photographs by the Costume

Always judge by the younger women in the photograph if possible. Older women are much more likely to be conservative and still be wearing a favourite dress from ten years ago!

1800 - 1900 photos of my family

This can be difficult as there were whole decades of the 19th century when women had a centre parting but when a new fashion comes in with hairstyle it is quicker for people to update than clothing. Of course, it is worth looking at everything that the men in the photograph are wearing but how you tied your cravat or the shape of your collar was something that was cheaper and easier to update than a whole suit, so more likely to reflect the date of the photograph.