Dating Old Family Photographs

How To Date An Old Photograph To Find Ancestors And Build Your Family Tree!

How to Date an Old Photograph

Unfortunately, dating an old photograph can be a difficult task if there are few details to go on.  Sometimes information is just lost to time as you will probably never be able to get an exact date, but this is one case where a close guesstimate is good enough. 

If you are like me, you have stacks of old family photographs with no date information on them.  Wouldn't it be great to be able to hone in on an actual date for them?  In a best case scenario, take the opportunity to pick the brain of a relative that was alive at the time.  If that is not possible then you will have to do a little detective work to figure an accurate date.

Advice abounds on the Internet to help a person put a date on an old photograph.  They suggest that you look for certain details within the picture such as hairstyles, clothing, jewelry, shoes, cars, plants, furniture and others.  By knowing the date when these items were available or popular would allow a rough date to be placed on when the photograph was taken.

That sounds like a pretty inexact science to me.  How can we tell if grandpa kept a certain hairstyle, clothing or car for 20 years beyond when they were available?  Also, I am not an expert on turn of the century hairstyles, jewelry and clothing and don’t really care to become one.

The technique I like to use is to date the people in the picture.  Children are the best because, in their early years, they change appearance somewhat dramatically from year to year.  Adults can look pretty much the same for a number of decades, making them much more difficult to guess.

Let’s look at an example photograph of my great grandfather’s family and see if we can figure out an approximate date it was taken.

Learn How To Date An Old Photograph To Find Ancestors And Build Your Family Tree!

From the 1900 Federal Census, I find the family’s ages in the year 1900 were:

Precisely How To Date An Old Photograph To Find Ancestors And Build Your Family Tree!

According to the census record, the youngest child Marie was 2 years old and her older brother George was 3 in the year 1900.  If I were to venture a guess from looking at the photograph, I would say that Marie was about 4 years old and George about 5 years old.  Therefore, the photo must have been taken about 2 years after 1900.

With a fairly high degree of confidence, I can say this photograph was taken somewhere around 1902.  For genealogy purposes, this is close enough and allows the person viewing the photograph to link the family with a specific turn of the century time-frame.

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