Who are they?

Unknown Family

Unknown Family

The montage of pictures above are a very small sample of hundreds of my family’s pictures that are without names. I have no idea who they are. They are my family’s orphans. Some are old family friends I am sure, but most are relatives. A few have a first name on the back but with no last name. It does me no good to have Edward written on the back. In my family we have about six Edwards, for each generation. To make it a little more interesting it may say Edward, on the back and on the front you may have as many as four people who could be Edward.

I had to face this problem a few years ago when my wife and I cleaned out her parents house. We found boxes of pictures and countless photo albums, with most of the pictures not identified. The range of pictures were from the 1880’s and up. We spent hours identifying the ones we could and getting them labeled. The others we took to every relative we could to see if they could get a few more of the unknowns identified. After a couple of years we got most of them named, dated, and placed. However as I said we still have a few hundred that will most likely never be identified.

Look over your own photographs are they named and dated? The picture of your grandmother in the picture frame is it labeled? It may have been in that frame for years, without her name placed on the picture’s back. This is another point I wish to make, place the name on the picture not on the frame backing. You have a good chance that they could be separated. Try this test could your children recognize your grandmother, aunts, and uncles throughout the years of their life? How about your grandchildren? Lets face it they are the ones who will be going through all your possessions once we are gone. If we did not care enough to take care of them and label them, why should they care?

I have had many people tell me they store their pictures in their home computer, even more on their cell phones. Do I really have to point out the danger of not getting these pictures printed in a timely manner? While they maybe up in a cloud somewhere floating around, how does that make them easily accessible to your family after you are gone. I have many pictures on my computer and they are backed up to a service I use. But I have hard copies of these pictures in albums and such for me to look at and to pass down to my family.

This brings me to a very slight change of subject. We all should share our pictures freely. In my research I found the wife of one of my elderly deceased second cousin. Because of her generosity I received a picture of my grandmother, great-grandmother, and my second great-grandmother, all in the same picture. Also I got a picture of a great-aunt that whose existence I was never told about. What a great find. I was walking on clouds for days. However, and we always have a however and here is mine. I was contacted by a man who was the grandson of my grandmother’s sister (on my father’s side) or you could say my great-aunt. He had pictures of both, my grandmother and great-aunt. This was a great deal as I have not found any pictures of my father’s parents or grandparents. We exchanged some information and he was to send me some copies of the pictures. But at the last moment he decided they were private family photographs and would not send them. Private? They were my grandmother and great-aunt. By failing to share our photographs we reduce the chance that our ancestors will live on in our family’s memory. I look forward to your comments.

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49 Responses to Who are they?

  1. Natasha says:

    I’ve been lucky to acquire 19th century photos of a few ancestors from complete strangers (well, they are really distant cousins) by posting messages in genealogy forums. I notice that some are now posting old photos and documents on Ancestry.com but don’t know if the photos remain when the member’s subscription ends.

    • chmjr2 says:

      It is great that you have been able to get these photographs. I try to get what I call hard copies so I have them in my family file. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Val Sanford says:

    Photos always bring the past to life. Thank you for sharing.

    • chmjr2 says:

      I could not agree with you more. I think family photos are what helps to bring all of this research and work to life. Thank you for reading and your comment.

  3. Sharon says:

    I agree – copyright is about protecting intellectual rights, not about hoarding that which might have come into your possession.

  4. chmjr2 says:

    I will share any picture or information I have on my family tree. Without people sharing with me I may never have made some of the progress in my search for my family. Thanks Sharon for reading my post and your comments.

  5. Jenn O. says:

    I keep holding on to all those old, unlabeled photos hoping that some day I’ll figure out who is in them. I’ve been quite free about sharing photos with others researching the same family. I’ve even reached out to people to say “hey, I have a photo of your great-grandmother who was sister to my great-grandmother”. I’ve actually had a few people say they aren’t interested.

  6. chmjr2 says:

    Thanks for reading my blog and your comments. Most people I have met are very willing to share their photos. I cannot thank these people enough for their generosity. Everyone gains when we share our genealogy freely with each other. The pictures that we have that are not identified are a problem. We just do not know what to do with them. I am not surprise that people say they are not interested, but I do not understand it. Many people have a disconnect with their families past.

  7. locksands says:

    I always reckon we should give and share freely – but taking care,, where appropriate, of copyright issues.
    We have had similar problems to yours in identifying old photos – some of which I only have in negative form. If I have any idea as to location, I often send copies to a local pub. Pubs seem to act as local information exchanges and get things to the local historian who may be able to tell me a lot more..
    Unlabelled photos are a nuisance, but I still keep them in the hope that some information will come my way somehow.

  8. chmjr2 says:

    Yes the photos with no identification are a nuisance. I keep them in a box where I hope to rescue them someday. Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to make a comment.

    I do like the pub idea, but I think I will leave the photos home. 🙂

  9. Guenevere Crum says:

    I have many unlabeled items from one side of the family and there isn’t anything to do about it but love them for what they are. Everyone is gone that was associated with them and the towns they lived in were erased by the dust bowl times. However I love them for the strong hanging on they are doing even without the labels. I especially love the ones from about 1890 were two of them maybe an adult brother and sister are goofing off and teasing each other. I love that eternal silliness captured there. Names or no, they belong still.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Well said. I have spent hours looking over these pictures. I do not know their names but they have a story to tell. They are the people who made the way for us. So I also will keep them and hope that someday I will be able to tell their story. Thanks for your comment and for reading my blog.

  10. I appreciate your comment on my blog, mostly so I could discover yours! I’m anxious to read more and follow your posts.

  11. I agree with you about photo sharing. That leads to many answers. Also, the more we study the photos and all the details and learn we can start to figure out more. One thing I learned from someone since starting this blog is that they used to “copy” old photos, so the age of the photograph itself doesn’t tell you the age of the person. We need to examine the clothing styles, hair and facial hair, etc. instead.

    • chmjr2 says:

      They have books out on how to date photographs by examining the photos as you said. I am not very good at it. It would be far better for everyone to put down the names and dates.

  12. My parents albums had photos like those. We called them cousin no name. It’s a pity. That’s why ever since I’ve been old enough to take pictures, I’ve labeled them with name, date and even location most of the time. Thanks for good advice.

  13. You make me feel I should go through old family photographs with my parents while they’re still on this Earth. There are no doubt lots of old sepia pictures without names and dates that I won’t have a clue about when I have no-one to ask. It sounds as if you did a great job finding out about yours and I hope you continue to put names to faces through other means. That’s an interesting point about the sharing of pictures and I agree with you completely.

  14. chmjr2 says:

    Yes you should as soon as possible get those pictures taken care of. Thank you for reading my blog and your comments.

  15. I agree, I have photos from family I have no idea who they are. At work we get in vintage photos all the time and even some tin types. The latest was a great-great-great-great grandmother born in 1978 and the photo was taken circa 1985’s. Thanks for liking our recent posting.

  16. chmjr2 says:

    Thanks for your comment and taking the time to read my blog.

  17. Silverleaf says:

    Wonderful! I love old family pictures, genealogy, archives – I could spend days in the archives collections (and I have). This is a great post, made me laugh in places and has prompted me to go downstairs and label some of my own photos. My grandmother and great aunt did a great job of that but I’ve kind of turned digital (I know, I know) and stopped labelling the hard copy pictures I have.

    Thanks for liking my post about the picture of my great aunt. I have another one I’m planning to do in the coming days.

  18. gpcox says:

    Any luck yet on the photos?

    • chmjr2 says:

      No not yet. I really do not except any luck with them either. They have been shown sometimes two or three times to every living relative we have. I have even brought them to old family friends for help. While my wife and I have been able to put names to most of the photographs, these and a box full more are left.

  19. ahrhoads2010 says:

    LOVE old photos!! They can be a treasure trove of info if they’re labelled properly!! May I share this post on my blog??

  20. chmjr2 says:

    Thank you for reading my post and thinking enough of it to want to post on your excellent blog. Please feel free to post my blog.

  21. You might be interested in this article http://gretchenhayhurst.wordpress.com/ -My life by #pinhole- she’s saying the same thing you are about photos.
    I have some daguerreotypes of some of my husband’s family & I have no idea who they are. Probably great, great-grandmothers, judging by the era in which these type of pictures were produced, but I will never be sure. Of the few pictures my mother-in-law had, most had names on them and a cousin helped with other identities, but worst of all was the absence of pictures. One photo album covering almost 80 years? Tragic.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thanks for the article suggestion, I found the blog very interesting. It is too bad about your photographs and the lack of names. Also just one album for 80 years is very tragic. However thanks for reading my blog and your great comments.

  22. Catherine says:

    This resonates with me more that you could ever know. Genealogy research can sometimes take us to the most unexpected of places… e.g. I discovered that my paternal grandfather had skipped across “the pond” to Canada from the UK which explained lots of questions/ family myths re: this mysterious grandfather of mine.
    Determined to track down my “Canadian cousins” I eventually got to know (online) the “keeper” of all the documents/ photos etc which she has so willingly shared with this previously unknown/ unexpected cousin from “downunder” (Australia).
    Now, not only do I know what my mysterious Grandfather looks like but June and I have shared so much other info which helps disprove so many of the family myths/ cover ups and has brought a closeness that is such a treasure.

    • chmjr2 says:

      What a great find your cousin was. It also sounds like you have a story or two that you could tell about your grandfather. Thanks so much for your comment.

  23. You mention two of the most frustrating situations when working with genealogy.

    One is pictures that you are sure are of family, but not positively identified. The other is reaching out to distant relatives and having them back off.

    Your situation with a distant connection who agreed to share pictures and then backed off is heartbreaking. Where is the harm in sharing a photograph, for pete’s sake?! How selfish. I am sorry this happened to you…or to any genealogist for that matter!

  24. charts2012 says:

    Loved this…and a timely reminder to get my own photos named and dated! Great Grandfather Edward Barfoot was unknown to me until a ‘lost cousin’ sent me a photo… amazing! Couldn’t stop looking at it!

  25. Anna Hibbard says:

    This is the same dilemma I have been facing. I have a suitcase of pictures that belonged to my great uncle. My father passed away in 1997 and my mother gave me the suitcase recently. Oh how I wish I had known that my dad had that suitcase. He was very good at knowing and remembering. I also have another box that belonged to my grandmother (my father’s mother). She got it when my great grandmother passed away. It has a very old Victorian or may Edwardian photo album. It is edged in velvet and the album was made to specifically hold the size of the pictures that are in it. I haven’t had the nerve yet to see if any of those pictures have anything written on the back. There are even old tin types. It really does make me sad.

    • chmjr2 says:

      You have a very hard job ahead of you. I hope someone in your family can help identify the pictures. Myself I still have many pictures without names from the past. The sad part is they all meant something to our family or were part of our family. I wish I knew their stories.

  26. I have a similar situation. I became custodian of a large cache of photos after my sister passed. Some I have been able to ID with the assistant of a distant relative I connected with through Ancestry. many others are just unknowns

  27. johnpoyser says:

    There’s nothing more disappointing than having family members from other branches treat you like a total stranger, even if you share close, common ancestors. It can be very confusing and disheartening. I’ve reached out a number of times offering to share what I have, going so far as to provide scanned photos from my collection only to have them ignore me after a few initial emails. One uncle said he would contact a lawyer if I put anything about “his family” online. A guy could get a complex 🙂 I actually look at it as their loss. I now password protect my online family tree db and know exactly who is accessing it. Sad because it could have been such a great two-way conversation, and so helpful to all parties.

  28. chmjr2 says:

    Thanks for reading my post and your comment. I could not agree with you more when you said it is their loss. But when you think about it, it is the family’s loss. But I guess we do what we can.

  29. danimweston says:

    I have had the problem of trying to figure out who is in one particular picture that was in my Great Grandmothers items that my Dad acquired after her husbands death a few years back. Unfortunately the names on it we’re write in pencil and faded beyond readability. All that would have been able to identify have since passed. I fear that it will forever be the one picture I will never be able to identify. Because of this I am a firm believer in adequately labeling any and all pictures for anyone who may acquire them, whether they are digital photos or traditional photos.

  30. corinthrose says:

    I have read the comments and responses to this post, and all I can say at this moment is a hearty AMEN! This family historian and keeper of the pictures and documents has felt such kinship with you and those who have commented on your post. It’s a lonely job/privilege. Thank you for this post and for your many “likes” on mine.

  31. chmjr2 says:

    I feel that it is our duty to compile and keep safe our family history. But also sharing it with our extended family. That way by placing our family history in the many different branches of the family tree we keep our history alive. The many likes I have given you on your blog is because I believe it is one of the best that I read.

  32. Mrs. Padilly says:

    I think I saw this on Pinterest, but someone made a page for their family history book, and titled it “Lost but not forgotten,” and put all their unidentified family pictures on the page. I thought it was a great idea and will do the same, too.

  33. bushmaid says:

    I agree completely about photos. Luckily I was able to go through the albums of photos with my father and aunt and write meaningful comments beside some of the photos as to who, when and where before they died. The photos the basis for much of my website. Thanks for visiting it and “liking” my post about the things I’d have preferred not to have found from family history research. Your blog is very interesting and well presented.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thank you for your very kind comments. I have so much yet I want to say in this blog. I am slowed down sometimes by daily life. But that’s a problem we all have as we pursue the things we like to do, instead of things we must do. You have a very nice blog yourself. Your post really hit home for me about things we find in our family history. I have found the great and the appalling. Thanks again for your comment.

  34. retroillini says:

    I’m so passionate about old photos, I’ve been known to post an old labeled photo i bought, on a findagrave memorial! Needalife? yup. That’s one of my solutions to sharing abandoned photos. Of course, so many without i.d.s.

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