Tag Archives: photographs

Who’s in that photo?

It’s a common problem for those researching their family history. You find an album or a box of photos, and you have no idea who the people in the photos are, or even how to go about finding out. In many cases, you may not even know if the people in the photos are related to you at all.

In my own family research, where I’ve spent considerable time reaching out to relatives to try to collect family photos, it’s not uncommon to find a cousin with photos of people they don’t know anything about. Sometimes I’ve only figured out who people are by finding the same photo, or a photo of the same person, in the possession of other distant cousins who might have a labeled photo. Sometimes you need to do a bit of detective work, such as if the photo has a studio stamp on the back showing where it was taken, which can help you figure out which cousins to ask about them (i.e. if the studio was in Rzeszow, Poland and you have only one branch of your family you know lived there, then start by sending the photo to other descendants of that branch and asking if they’ve seen the photo or otherwise know who the people are).

I’ve had some luck in researching photos in that I have a few 90+ year old relatives who remember who many of the people are, but sometimes you run into a picture that nobody knows about. My guess in many of these cases the photos are of people related to the person who saved the photo, but not to you. In other words, from the other side of the preserver’s family.

Imagine finding a group of family photos preserved by your third cousin’s grandfather, whom you are related to, and one photo out of the group ends up being his wife’s family’s photo. You could contact a hundred of your distant cousins and never find a match for the photo because simply, the photo is of people not related to you.

One that I think falls into this category is the following photo, which I found among my first cousin twice-removed (i.e. my grandfather’s first cousin)’s photos:


Family Photo – 19th century? Poland, probably. Click to enlarge.

Now it’s a great photo, right? Probably 19th century. Most likely taken in Poland. I have no idea who any of the people are. The relative who shared this photo with me, now deceased, had no idea who was in the photo. I’m related to his father, and have a lot of other photos of our mutual family, but not these people. So perhaps they’re connected to his mother’s family? Could be, but I’m not in touch with any of them, so I don’t know. That family’s name is Augenblick, in case you might be related. Then again, they could be from another branch entirely. It could be his mother’s mother’s family, whose name I don’t know, or could be people not related at all.

If you’ve seen this photo, or any of the people in it, certainly be in touch. Also, if you’ve seen the prop the man on the left is leaning on in any of your family photos, let me know. If you know what town it was taken in by identifying the prop or the background, then that can help figure out what family this might be. I actually have two other photos taken in the same studio with the same prop, both around WWI, and while I knew who the people were, I only knew the location of one of the photos. By noticing the same prop and background in both photos, it let me figure out the location of the photo. Interestingly enough the photos each showed by great-grandfathers, but before their children married each other some 30 years after the photos were taken.

One interesting thing about the photo is that the man on the left, presumably the father, is not in the same photo as the other people. If you’re confused, take a closer look and you’ll notice that he’s a cut-out from a different photo. The easiest place to see it is on the bottom left where the table leg is partly colored in to match, and the floor under the table changes color. Also, his left foot (right side in the photo) has a clear white line that comes to a point, showing where the negative was presumably spliced.

Are the other four people his children? Is one of them a spouse? Was this put together after the father died? Where is the mother? I don’t know the answers to these questions.

I have a lot of family photos which I’ve collected over many years from many relatives, but I don’t have too many photos from the 19th century. True, this could be early 20th century, but in any case I think I can say with certainty that it’s over a hundred years old. After years of trying to figure out who is in the photo, I’m fairly convinced that this is not my family. The question then remains as to how much energy I should put into figuring out who is in it, when I don’t think they’re related to me. I’d love to be able to share the photo with whomever’s family this is, but at the end of the day there are only so many hours one can put into research, and this kind of research take a lot of time and effort that I’d rather put into the many other mysteries in my tree. In the end, this post has led me to reach out to a few possible relatives of the family this photo MIGHT be from, and if I get any positive responses, perhaps I can find a match, and if not it will likely sit on this web page until someone else recognizes someone in the photo and contacts me.

When I started this post I actually intended on taking a look at a few other photos I recently discovered, but those will have to wait for another post, as this one seemed too interesting to combine with others.

Israel Through Photographs

A recent article in the recently-launched Times of Israel website covers, briefly, the story of Nadav Mann, who has been spending many years criss-crossing Israel to scan private collections of photographs from the early years of the State of Israel (and the years leading up to its foundation). This collection is incredibly important and offers a unique view of the growth of communities within pre-state Israel.

The article is written by Matti Friedman and is titled A lost world in black and white. The article includes a selection of the more than 100,000 photographs that Nadav Mann has collected over the years, but also helpfully links to a series of online albums [these now seem to be gone, sorry] that Nadav Mann has published via Google (which include thousands of photos, but certainly not all of them).

While the descriptions of the photos in the Google albums are all in Hebrew, just browsing through them without being able to read the captions is still incredibly powerful. Of course, if you find a photograph with someone you know, you should leave a comment on the photo – as not everyone in each photo is known, and you might be able to help improve the collection by pointing out who someone is in a photo.

An easier look in English at many of the photos can be found in Nadav Mann’s regular articles highlighting photos from his collection on Ynet’s English site (Ynet is the online publication of Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Achranot).

A few photos from the collection:
[UPDATE: Sorry, but it seems Nadav Mann has removed the photo albums he had posted online, and the photos in this article were from that album so are also now gone. Check out the article A lost world in black and white and Nadav Mann’s other articles in Ynet.]

Maccabi Girls Trip in 1930 in Poland
1936 Class Photo from Herzaliya Gymnasium
Building an irrigation system connect to the Yarmouk River in 1940
Kibbutz Dalia Dance Festival, during holiday of Shavuot in 1944

Yad Vashem teams up with Google

In advance of Holocaust Memorial Day tomorrow, Yad Vashem has announced a new partnership with Google to digitize and put online large portions of Yad Vashem’s archival holdings. As of today, they have made over 130,000 photographs from their archives available online and searchable using Google technology. Google says they are using experimental OCR technology to make all the information on the photos searchable.

I’ve tested out the site and it is a little buggy right now. When searching from the main page you sometimes get a blank page, but if you search again from the blank page, searching works. Also, when you search and get a list of results, they don’t tell you how many photos have been found. In addition, if you choose a photo you expect the previous and next buttons to take you to the previous and next photos within your result set, but instead they take you to the previous and next photos within the entire archive, which is irrelevant to your search results. Hopefully they’ll fix these issues quickly.

You can of course search for the names of relatives using the search engine, but keep in mind that you can also search for locations like your ancestral towns. Even if none of the photos are directly relevant to your family, you might still be able to see photographs from the town your family came from, and learn about how your family lived in Europe.

[Update 1/27/2011: A Google blog entry explaining the partnership.]