Tracing Your Ancestors Through Family Photographs
My latest book was published last week: Tracing Your Ancestors Through Family Photographs: A Complete Guide for Family and Local Historians (Pen & Sword, January 2014)
This in-depth guide is the result of over 25 years’ professional experience of dating, analysing and interpreting many thousands of photographs from private family picture collections, as well as images from lpublic archive, library and museum collections. Covering early photographs dating from the 1840s and 1850s to mid-20th century snapshots, the book spans a hundred years of photographic images that have never been published in book form before.
Dealing firstly with how to date photographs, the book demonstrates how to use various photograph dating techniques to establish the most accurate time frame possible. This includes recognising different photographic formats, investigating photographers and studios and estimating the date range of the card mount.
There are also chapters explaining how to date the visual image from the composition of the subject(s), from the studio or natural setting of the photograph, and, especially, from the fashions worn by our ancestors – their clothing, accessories and hairstyles.
In the next section, the book explains how to study photographs at a more advanced level, offering tips for spotting the occasion behind the photograph, identifying and understanding photographic copies and dealing with old photograph albums and their contents. It also addresses the main issues that arise when scrutinising old photographs, for example judging age and facial likeness or estimating social status.
The next major section of the book deals with the ways in which photographs reflect the lives of our past family members, providing important and fascinating details about ancestors’ and relatives’ weddings, occupations and leisure activities.
In recognition of the 2014 centenary of the outbreak of WW1, there is a dedicated wartime photographs chapter which discusses at length how to date, investigate and understand the kinds of photographs that survive from the First World War, as well as from the Second World War. These were major conflicts that affected all of our families and for which there survives much visual evidence.
Photographs with strong local connections also have their own chapter of the book, emphasising the powerful links that exist between personal family history and the wider history of the area in which forebears lived. This explores school photographs, pictures of local industries in which ancestors were employed, district sports teams to which they belonged and so on, suggesting ways of investigating these photographs, using the many local resources available to researchers.
Many of us have forebears who moved abroad or who travelled with work and so photographs taken overseas are also covered in the book – both formal studio portraits and casual outdoor snapshots from locations as diverse as Canada, Malta, India, South America and Egypt.
I hope that there will be something for everyone in Tracing Your Ancestors Through Family Photographs. Among the 150 dated illustrations, there should be many examples that typify the kinds of photographs occurring in today’s family and local picture collections.
Tracing Your Ancestors Through Family Photographs (Pen & Sword Books, January 2014)
Available from the Publisher