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Picture This!

Looking for more information in additional sources can lead to finding illustrations and photos of your family.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Many people who are compiling their genealogies and family histories are interested in having pictures of their ancestors and family. Since photography was invented about 1840, there is the chance of finding an old picture—an actual picture, rather than a drawing, painting or other representation—from after that time.

But where would you look besides the shoebox of pictures and slides (you know who you are!) in the house? Many times pictures of individuals are in newspapers, whether they are old papers now available only on microfilm, or more modern actual clippings. These can be scanned, photographed, and printed onto paper. Computer programs can make these look a lot better. I recently talked with a lady who had found pictures from 140 years ago in a trunk in the attic. The originals were faded and tatty, but a professional photographer was able to make them look very good indeed. We won't get into the argument of whether or not that's archival or allowable. The point is that modern folk now have access to the pictures and can share them so they don't get lost again.

But more to the point is where can you look besides other people's attics? Besides the newspapers mentioned above, try looking for histories of various occupations in the places where your family lived. Do they appear in a history of the police or fire departments? Are they on the wall of a church that the family attended, as the founders or as attendees at an anniversary dinner? How about checking with a local historian or historical society if there is one near you? I know of a gentleman who was a professional photographer and newspaper worker, who left 100,000 - yes, 100,000 pictures labeled and sorted in his garage. They were donated by the family to the local historian, who will be making them available to the public. And what's in them, the Queen of England? No, 100,000 pictures of local scenes and people. How's that for a treasure trove?

Postcard files in a library may also have photos. Families gave many of them to libraries, and such cards were often made up on demand about the turn of the last century. You will find family houses and individuals on them. Company magazines may have pictures of employees working there; obituaries often have photos; scrapbooks kept by families and libraries may have illustrations in articles about people or activities; and church bulletins and military publications may also be useful. I know of a set locally, in three volumes for World War I, which contains over a thousand individual portraits of people as young men and women. College and high school students searching gravestone histories are astounded to see the only remaining pictures of people their age from 100 years ago. Civil War regimental histories often have individual or group pictures. So do fraternal associations, and sports clubs.

So don't despair. Even if great grandpa was in a brush with the authorities, he may have been shown. If you don't have pictures of your own, ask at local libraries, historians, historical societies, churches and other places where you family lived, worked, played and worshipped. You may be happily surprised.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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