How to Identify People and Places in Old Vintage Photos Using the Internet

Updated on October 19, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I love searching for bargains in yard sales, thrift stores and charity shops. As fast as I donate items, I acquire new ones.

A sepia (brown-colored) photograph of unknown origin.
A sepia (brown-colored) photograph of unknown origin. | Source

Old Photographs Are a Gateway to History

I love preowned and second-hand goods and I often go to thrift stores and yard sales. Recently, I found some old sepia photographs lying loose inside an antique book I purchased at a yard sale. Their owner may have put them inside the heavy volume to keep them flat and then forgotten all about them. Whatever their story, there is no-one I can ask. The owner of the book and the creator of the photos have long since passed away.

The pictures shown above and below are just a couple of those I found that day. They piqued my interest and I wanted to find out more about them. The photos show a group of young men engaged in some kind of physical exercise. They capture a snapshot in time. I decided to use the internet to help me with my search into history.

Are these the same group of athletic young men as in the other photo above?
Are these the same group of athletic young men as in the other photo above? | Source

Internet Resources For Identifying Old Photos

  • Search Engines e.g. Google, Bing - Type in a question and the algorithm usually produces relevant answers.
  • Image Search e.g. Chrome - Can help identify period and location.
  • Wikimedia - Helps you visualise a specific place.
  • Ancestry.com - Gives features and dates of different types of photography.
  • Roger Vaughan Picture Library - Contains hundreds of dated Victorian and Edwardian postcards for clothing and hair fashions.

Using Search Engines to Help Your Quest

The first step to finding some basic information for my detective work was to use search engines on the internet. I typed the phrase “identify old photos” into Google and then into Bing. The results were similar but not identical. This is because search engines use different algorithms to produce their results. For this reason, it is always a good idea to use more than one search engine.

When you review the search results, remember they are influenced by cookies that have been placed onto your computer by your previous internet use. I recommend you clear (delete) the cookies before you start your research. This should bring up a more objective results list. My initial search enquiry suggested I take the following steps to learn more about my photos.

  1. Identify the type of photograph (e.g. daguerreotype or tintype).

  2. Try to find the photographer’s mark or name.

  3. Discover the location or setting of the picture.

  4. Look for period detail such as hairstyle or clothing.

  5. Be a detective and use clues such as where you found the photo and any family connections to help identify the occasion.

How to Date Old Photographs

How good a detective are you?

See results

Identify the Type of Photograph and Who Took the Photo

There are many specialist sites online that give detailed information about early photographic methods. One of the more useful is Ancestry.com and there are many other genealogy websites that can help you in your search. Many people use old photos to help research their family tree. The Roger Vaughan Picture Library website is also a good resource as it has uploaded numerous dated photographs that can be used to benchmark your own.

There are no identifying marks or names on the back of my photos. However, using the guidelines found on the websites above, I narrowed the years down to their being made between 1880 and 1900. The sepia coloring, the type of paper and paper size, all point to the prints having been produced in the late Victorian period. It can be frustrating but dating old photos is not a precise art. At best, pinpointing the relevant year can only ever be an educated guess.

How to Use Google Chrome Photo Identification

Where was the Photo Taken?

If, like me, you do not know where your picture was taken, you need to become a detective. I turned to YouTube for help and found the interesting video above. In it, the narrator describes how to use the Image Search function on Chrome to find matching or similar photographs on the internet.

I uploaded a pdf of one of my sepia Victorian photos and the Chrome image search produced lots of images that were similar in layout to my pictures. I was surprised how good the results were. There were several photographs of groups of young men in comparable attire. One was dated 1882 and showed a British military battalion. Another group showed some hospital orderlies in India dated 1913. I also found one of Cambridge University’s cricket team dated 1897, which is shown below.

King’s College lawn tennis team, Cambridge University 1897.
King’s College lawn tennis team, Cambridge University 1897. | Source

Wikimedia is Good For Finding Photos Too

The background setting of the Cambridge cricket team set me thinking. It was possible that my photos were also located in one of the UK’s Universities. In the old Universities of Oxford and Cambridge the enclosed grassy areas are called quads or quadrangles.

So, I did a Wikimedia image search on Cambridge University colleges. I then refined that term to search Cambridge University quads. The result was better than I could have hoped for. The buildings at Westcott College (see below) are almost identical to those in my sepia photos. I probably need to do a bit more research on this but I think I am at the right location.

The Quad at Westcott College, Cambridge UK.
The Quad at Westcott College, Cambridge UK. | Source

Hairstyle and Clothing Can Indicate Period

The people in a picture can give useful clues about the period and country where a photo was taken. However, not everyone dresses in the height of fashion. In many communities, clothing was passed down from sibling to sibling until it was threadbare. Hairstyles and facial hair may be a better indicator of the year as these cost little to change and so are not constrained by poverty.

The photo of the group of men that I was researching shows them in athletic garb. The style is consistent with the late 1890’s. A number of them are sporting moustaches, but none of them have beards. This fashion can also be seen in the Cambridge Photo of 1897. I am therefore of the opinion that my pictures are of a similar date.

The image below shows the German royal family in 1900. The Empress Victoria was the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The style of their clothing gives you an idea of fashions in Europe at the start of the 20th century.

Empress Victoria of Germany (the Daughter of Queen Victoria) and Her Family in 1900

Victoria the Empress-widow of Germany and her children (from the left), in 1900: Princess Sofia, Princess Victoria, Kaiser Guillaume II, Empress-widow, Princess Charlotte, Prince Henry and Princess Margaret.
Victoria the Empress-widow of Germany and her children (from the left), in 1900: Princess Sofia, Princess Victoria, Kaiser Guillaume II, Empress-widow, Princess Charlotte, Prince Henry and Princess Margaret. | Source

Successful Detective Work

I had great fun researching my old photos on the internet. I was surprised how much of the jigsaw I was able to piece together in just a few hours. Having found such a similar photo on the web from the archives at Cambridge University I intend to continue my search there. I will email the images first to see if the archivist can shed some light on them. Then perhaps I can visit some of the old University quadrangles in Cambridge to see if I can make a precise identification of the location of the photographs.

I can understand why people find genealogy and family history so fascinating. The research bug has bitten me. I am going to have to find some more old photos or postcards to research.

What is the Date of the Earliest Photograph?

The first photograph ever taken with a camera is thought to be one by Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. However it was a rudimentary form of photography and each photo took at least 8 hours of exposure to capture an image.

Forerunners of modern cameras were developed from the 1840s, but photography was an expensive hobby until the Kodak Brownie camera arrived in 1901. This simple camera was cheap to buy and made taking photographs an affordable and popular pass-time for everyone.

Victorian and Edwardian Interiors – 38 Rare Photos

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Beth Eaglescliffe profile imageAUTHOR

    Beth Eaglescliffe 

    2 months ago from UK

    You need to scan the picture onto your computer. This will create a pdf file that can be uploaded onto a search engine like Chrome image search or Google image search.

    The resulting similar images can be clicked on to find websites that have featured them. Compare your picture to the images on these websites. You will need to be a detective to find the date and origin of your signed photo, but patience and persistence can pay off. Good luck with your quest!

  • profile image

    Tricia Pike 

    2 months ago

    I bought a very old picture from a auction and when i took the back off of it ...there was another picture of a man in between two pieces of hard card board, It is signed by this man on the front and back. Is there any sites where i could post this picture and the name of this man where someone could help me find out more about it? Thank you!! It is dated 1913

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, turbofuture.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://turbofuture.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)