Question of the Week: What do you do with unidentified photos?

+17 votes
2.1k views

What do you do with your unidentified photos?

One suggestion: create a free-space profile, upload the photos to the new page, and add the page to an Unidentified Photos and Scans category!  See the category page for instructions.

I plan on doing this during the Scan-a-Thon because I have many unidentified photos and hope one day someone will come along and know these people!

asked in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
edited by Eowyn Langholf
My grandmothers wrote names of a few friends on the backs of hers - I have created a small family tree for these people at Ancestry, added the photos, and if someone else copies them to their tree, I'll be able to remove those disconnected branches from my tree.  Others I've been uploading to Google Photos where I can write what I know about them, then send a link to the album to DNA matches or more distant cousins.  They have then forwarded links to other family and I have had several IDs and some guesses confirmed or refuted. I am now a member of the Facebook group - Genealogy -Dating old Photographs.  The generous expertise of some of the members there who know cars, architecture, hairstyles, clothing, shoes etc, in addition to some who know a lot about the photography printing styles or styles of studio portraits is helpful to placing names on people.
If you know the location where the photos were taken, contact the relevant community archives or museum  - they may be interested in having them donated for their collection (rural area, town, city, region, county, state, etc.)  I scanned mine first and saved to a thumb drive, so that if I ever get information, I can still access the photo.
If you are in Australia on Facebook, there is a page called Unidentified photos Australia. People can post their photos here. Often people have some idea, if there is a photographer's name and address it can often be dated easily, or the background identified etc.

13 Answers

+8 votes
I posted a lot of my old photos to a group on Facebook, as my parents are both deceased , I was left with lots of old albums, some people I knew but a lot I didn't....I was able to give some of them to family members also !
answered by Maggie Morris G2G4 (4.1k points)
+10 votes

I have a box of original photos from the late 1800s in an album. They were in my grandfather’s possession and I inherited it. He had no idea who any of the subjects were. His best guess: maybe the such-and-such family, in-laws of his Uncle Robert. No writing on the back. I have this sinking feeling they’ll never be identified. I just keep them in the original album in a box. So sad.

answered by Pip Sheppard G2G6 Pilot (902k points)
I also inherited a box of photos. Elder relatives helped identify some of them.
Every time I make contact with another distant relative I aim to see if any of them can be identified. I do not want to throw them away and have wondered if they can be uploaded to a library of sorts.
You should your grandfather's last name and birth and death dates. If I was looking for pictures of my family and saw your family name was the same as mine or my grandparents I surely would contact you. Add as much o formation as you feel comfortable with.
I had 2 albums that were from my grandmothers family.  I got on ancestry and with the help of some of my dna matches we have identified quite a few of them.  Usually grandchildren are aware of what their grandparents look like and even have a few photographs of great grandparents.  Once you have them it is easier to match up plus you have other opinions besides yours.  I feel like I have identified way over half or more of my older pictures.  And the others we know about what generation and family they belong to.
Check with local genealogical & historical society, see if they have FB page, check with local newspapers to see of they have a gen column in newspaper for posting of "Anybody recognize these folks" item, if they don't inspire them to start one.  Ancientfaces.com is a great site also. or you could check local libraries & start a "Who Do You Think They Are' poster that will get seen.  Be sure to include who,& where your grandfather lived to give one a basic idea of what they might be looking at!!   Have fun!  I do feel your pain - same happened to me.  I started a SW MO / NW AR genealogical page on FB to try & locate relatives & find pictures that I don't have!!   Good luck! Keep us posted!!!
+4 votes
My wife and I probably have about 5000 family photos. I'd say about 10% of them are very old and unknown. Rather than pass them on to my son, well probably discard them. He would do the same thing so we'll spare him the burden. For the remainder of the photos, I plan to select a few of the very best, scan them and place them in an image sharing site. Then, I'll give family members a link to the site and see if they are interested in any of them. I'll also put a select few on WT. In the end though the originals will most likely be tossed. Their online life will be much longer than their life as photo paper.
answered by Bart Triesch G2G6 Pilot (207k points)
If there is a name on the back of them even if unknown to you, you might consider giving them to a vintage store that sells old photos.  My great grandfather's photo was found in a store in a small town in Ohio near where my ancestors lived.  His name was on the back of it so the person who bought it sent it to the Wertz Family Association and it was published in the Wertz newsletter.  I can't tell you how happy I was to see this photo.
+6 votes

I would post them (if its not a huge number, obviously) on Dead Fred.

answered by Susan Hughes G2G6 Mach 1 (10.5k points)
Thank you! I had forgotten about the Dead Fred site - am going to spend some happy hours browsing! ;)
+2 votes
I have done an image search with one or two on google before ( I have to look up the instructions every time) so far none have been identified that way but am hoping as computers get better at facial recognition one might be one day. Also have tried showing them to other relatives, and to facebook family members
answered by Paula Dea G2G6 Mach 5 (52k points)
+2 votes

I have posted unidentified photos on Flickr with what information I do have, so they will show up in a search. Also, I have put them on Dead Fred. I keep an on-line album of unidentified photos that I let people look at in hopes of identifying them.

Some of the photos I think of as "unidentified" are partially identified, or I may know the person's name, but not anything else about them, or I am not related to them.

answered by Jamie Cox G2G1 (1.9k points)
+3 votes
I'll be uploading them to Wiki Tree in an unknown photos profile. I have a bunch of classmates and school photos belonging to all four of my grandparents.
answered by Katrina Miller G2G6 (6.5k points)
+2 votes
I have one now that's giving me trouble. Its a pair of photographer's portraits - I'm trying to date them by their clothing. I'm pretty sure one of the pictures is my Great Grandmother, Mary Anne, and the other is either her second husband, Richard Wilkinson, my Great Grandfather, or her third husband, Henry William Cardoza, I'm hoping for Richard, of course, but it could be either one!
answered by Linda Hockley G2G5 (5.3k points)
0 votes
I came into possession of sets of photos from both my mother and my father.  My father had photos from times he worked overseas of people I didn't know, had no way of finding out who they were and I threw the photos away. They were part of another life my father lived in the past. I can't say I'm sorry I threw away these photos of unknown people at an unknown place. There were also some photos of my father when he was in the Navy.  At the time of his death I wasn't very interested in genealogy.  Also I hadn't let go of an unhappy childhood so I threw away many of those photos as a way of pushing my father away.  I am sorry I threw away those Navy photos.  They are gone now and I can't get them back.

The photos from my mother included many family photos of grand parents, greats, great greats and maybe more greats not to mention aunts, uncles and cousins.  Some were photos of paintings.  Many were identified but not all.  Those I have in an album.  She had some photos of people she made friends with after I have moved away from home and whom I had never met.  I threw those away.

I framed 3 family photos several years ago.  The center photo is of my "father's parents".  The outer photos are of me and my parents.  Through the wonders of DNA I now know that that couple in the center are not my father's genetic parents.  Or maybe my father isn't my genetic father.  You find out lots of thing through genealogy and DNA.

All of my photos are in albums and clearly identified as to names of people, places, happenings, items of interest.  I have no children and no siblings so I don't know who would want those albums after I'm gone. One of my cousins said she would like to have them.  Maybe I'll send them to her.

I have uploaded  photos to various profiles that were taken prior to 1923 and so out of copyright.  Some were family snapshots.  I would like to upload more but am unsure if they are copyright free.
answered by A Nony Mouse Moffett G2G6 Mach 1 (13.2k points)
I had the same situation with my mom having this whole other life after I moved out and so upon her death, I ended up with a box full of photos from her travels, events, friends, and neighbors of people I don't recognize. I should just scan the family photos and throw the rest away.

My grandmother framed a childhood photo/painting of my father and she sent me that before she went into a home. It's on my dining room wall.
0 votes

My grandmother [[Babin-161|Theresa Babin Gallier]] left an album of mostly unidentified old photos.  I researched their time period using Gary W. Clark's KwikGuides and then put together an album on flickr that contains them.  I then sent distant relatives who I've discovered via genealogy and  DNA the link.  Hoping somebody would recognize someone in the photos.  No luck so far.

Anyone related to the Babins or Gallier's  and related families (Fruge, Navarre, Hayes) of Louisiana and Texas who wants to take a look can see them at https://www.flickr.com/photos/disneyite/albums/72157695912020244

I have posted some other on Dead Fred in the past with no luck either.

answered by Donna Storz G2G6 Mach 2 (20k points)
+1 vote
If you can identify the place and the time, you can often identify a family by the probably ages of the individuals.  With one of my photos, I found a young man who I couldn't identify until I looked in the census and found a boarder living with my GG uncle and aunt.   He was driving the cart with their daughter sitting next to him and the parents standing behind.  Better to post the photo with the words, "best guess" than lose the chance to identify them forever!
answered by Bob Hanrahan G2G4 (4.8k points)
0 votes
A New Zealand facebook site called "Finding & Identifying NZ Genealogical Memorabilia" provides help with photos and other items.  When I submitted a photo of an unidentified soldier I was provided with information about his uniform, badges etc that eventually enabled me to pin him down on my family tree.  As  a result I am now in contact with previously missing cousins.  And it all started with a relative in UK finding the photo amongst their deceased grandfather's possessions and wondering who the person was.
answered by
0 votes
I posted some of my mother in law's on www.ancientfaces.com so other people can help identify them.
answered by Louise Welch G2G Rookie (200 points)

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