Who do we think they were!

October 25, 20182:21 pmLeave a Comment

When my friend (and partner in genealogical crime) Jill and I go out to family history events and fairs, we take with us two rather lovely old photograph albums. Now, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about these; they are NOT part of our archive. They were rescued by one of our regular visitors who found them in a skip and didn’t know what to do with them. Since they were nothing to do with Surrey, we didn’t know who they belonged to or who any of them were, they were given to me to use as part of our display.

Every time I look at the photos in these albums I’m struck by just how sad it is that we don’t know who any of them are. I live in hope that one day someone will be glancing through them and shriek with delight at finding their great-uncle Albert or great-aunt Nellie but it hasn’t happened yet.

Photographs can be a wonderful addition to our family history – as long as we know who they are! Jane Shrimpton and Robert Pols have written several very useful books for helping us see clues to help date and possibly identify photographs but it is still a bit of a lottery.

Recently we received a gift or a rather lovely framed watercolour. For conservation reasons (and storage) we rarely keep documents in frames so our conservator carefully removed it prior to re-packing. Attached to the back, as a method of supporting the painting, was the photograph shown here. After contacting the depositor and establishing that there was no discernible connection, we were at a loss to know what to do with it. There is no annotation to say who the people are, no indication of where it was taken (the photographer was based in Lucknow so we presume somewhere on the Indian sub-continent) or even when it was taken, although the fashions suggest the early 1920s.

I could put even money on the fact that we all have anonymous photographs among our family papers. I certainly do – and it is well worth exploring some of the options suggested by the experts listed above. Both have written extensively for family history magazines, many of which can be searched here at the History Centre.

So what about our modern photographs? Are we as guilty as our ancestors about labelling and dating them? Surely we have less excuse now with digital photographs as it is so easy to rename and sort them on our computers. But do we do this?

Also, are we careful about backup up our files of digital photographs? A couple of years ago, my computer was infected with malware and I was distraught that I might have lost all my photograph collection. As it happens, an expert was able to recover them all but it was a scary time and now all my photographs (and my family tree) are backed up on discs, separate hard drive, DVDs and the Cloud! Please don’t let this happen to you, as it is now so easy to back everything up and just think how awful it would be to lose all your photographs and research.

So, back to our photograph – is there any chance that anyone knows who these people are or where the photograph was taken? I appreciate that the resulotion is not great but I’m happy to send a scan to anyone who thinks they can help and we would love to know! As for my lovely albums, well one day I shall retire and write stories about all the people in the album; I feel we owe it to them to be remembered by someone!

Happy Researching!

PS: If you have any original photographs and would like to know how to care for them and store them safely, why not visit the conservation page on our website

Written by Jane Lewis

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