How To Date Old Family Photographs: Basic Techniques Of Dating Pictures
Great-Grandma's family collection of antique pictures can be a treasure trove for you, the genealogy researcher, especially if you can establish when an antique picture was taken.
Dating a photograph can help you identify the subject(s) (in early photography the subjects were referred to as sitters) and can provide additional information as you piece together your family tree.
There are some basic techniques to begin the process of dating an antique picture:
What is the print made of? Is the image printed on metal, glass, card stock, or paper? Daguerreotype (early tintypes) and ambrotypes (printed on glass) were often mounted in double wooden frames that opened like a book. These were the most common types of early photographs and date back to around 1839. By 1870, almost all antique pictures were printed on heavy paper or card stock. The heavier stock was much more common in early photographs; by the 1930s even studio portraits were printed on thin paper.
Is the antique picture printed in black and white or color? Some images were being hand-tinted as early as the 1850s. Although color still photography was introduced in 1906, it was an expensive process that only professionals could afford to use. Color antique pictures did not become common for home use until the late 1950's and early 1960's.
How are the people in the photograph posed? Very early antique pictures showed people in rigid poses and usually without smiles, partly because exposure times could be as long as twenty seconds. Many portrait photographers even used braces to help sitters stay in position during the process. Candid pictures and then snapshots became more common in the 1920s.
How are the sitters dressed? The straight tunic dresses and bobbed hair of the 1920's are easy to distinguish from the cinched waists and luxuriant chignons of the late 1890's.
What other objects are visible in the antique picture? A Model T car is absolute proof that the picture was not taken before 1908. Furniture, toys, brands names, logos - all these things can provide clues, and thus, invaluable assistance in identifying previously unidentified photographs.
Additional information on dating family antique pictures is available from this list of links.
Tracing a family resemblance through the generations with antique pictures can give you a warm sense of connection to your family's past.
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