Focus: Identifying and Dating Photographs

Identifying and dating photographs is an essential tool in doing successful local and family history research. Many details including the format of the photo itself, style of mounting, photographers marks, clothing and hair styles, signage, props, details of backgrounds and street scenes, can help in photo research. A number of books in our collection can aid in developing skills in this area. Several good ones are listed below. Subject headings to use to locate other titles in the catalog are: Photographs in genealogy; Photographs--Dating; Fashion--United States--History; and Hairstyles--United States--History.

Books

Unlocking the Secrets in Old Photographs by Karen Frisch-RipleyUnlocking the Secrets in Old Photographs
Frisch-Ripley, Karen
ISBN: 0916489507
Call Number: H 929.1 F9173
1991
A good starting place, this volume covers types, care and restoration of photographs, the process of identifying and dating photographs, sources of useful information, a chapter on ways to locate photos other than the ones you already own, and a good bibliography of additonal sources. There is also a circulating copy of this title.
Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photography, 2nd Edition by Maureen  TaylorUncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photography, 2nd Edition
Taylor, Maureen
ISBN: 1558707247
Call Number: H 929.1 T2444
2005
Similar in subject matter, but more detailed in coverage than the first title, this volume also contains several case studies. There is also a circulating copy of this title.
Dating Old Photographs, 1840-1929 by  Dating Old Photographs, 1840-1929
ISBN: 0968507638
Call Number: H 779.0722 D234
2004
Short on text, but contains many fine examples of portraits, arranged chronologically, that are useful for comparison in dating clothing and hairstyles. There is also a circulating copy of this title.
More Dating Old Photographs, 1840-1929 by  More Dating Old Photographs, 1840-1929
ISBN: 0973130342
Call Number: H 779.9722 M8353
2006
Similar in format to the title above, but with a lengthy introduction that points out useful clues to watch for in photo identification. There is also a circulating copy of this title.
Dressed for the Photographer; Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900 by Joan SeveraDressed for the Photographer; Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900
Severa, Joan
ISBN: 0873385128
Call Number: H 391 S498
1995
An extensively detailed analysis of photographs, including the social implications, of clothing styles for men, women and children of several ethnic groups. It covers everyday work clothes, as well as dressier attire. There is also a copy of this title in the Reference collection.
Fashionable Folks; Hairstyles 1840-1900 by Maureen  TaylorFashionable Folks; Hairstyles 1840-1900
Taylor, Maureen
ISBN: 9780578034904
Call Number: H 929.1 T2444
2009
Men and women, plain and fancy, hairstyles tell a lot about the date of a photograph and about the personalities of the people who sat for their portraits.
Military Photographs & How to Date Them by Neil  StoreyMilitary Photographs & How to Date Them
Storey, Neil
ISBN: 9781846741524
Call Number: H 929.1072
2009
Although this book deals exclusively with British military photos, it is an exceptionally fine source, worth looking at to learn what kinds of details to watch for, even if your soldier wasn't British.

Although not specifically intended to identify photographs, several books about American military uniforms, headgear, and insignia are sufficiently detailed to be useful for that purpose. They are all either in the adult circulating or the reference collections, generally under the class number 355.14 (or R 355.14, in the case of reference). They can also be located in the catalog by using the subject headings: United States. Army--uniforms, or United States. Navy--uniforms.

Many old photographs were printed on card stock that had postcard backs and could be mailed. These can often be dated by the format on the back, notably by the stamp box. The following link leads to a website with useful information about them: How to Identify and Date Real Photo Vintage Postcards.