Two years ago I got involved in researching my ancestors. It took over my life. I didn’t have a lot of information. Our family didn’t take many photos. I had nothing for my paternal grandmother and my material grandfather. For the other two grandparents, the few photos I had were taken when they were old. They looked like they fell off the turnip truck old. It’s ok. I don’t take great photos either. It must be a family trait.
During my initial deep dive I fleshed out a family tree. I did well considering my grandparents emigrated from rural areas where I only had church records and not all of them. Parish scribes had their own style. Some used flourishes that made reading them hard. Some were in Latin, some in German and some in Hungarian. Yikes! (I knew my two years of Latin in high school would come in handy and it did!)
I joined an on-line group of people who are researching the same area. I got boatloads of information. I was contacted by people who partially matched my DNA and we worked to find out our connection. I spend 12 hours a day doing this. It was fun.
Then I burned out. I started to hit a lot of dead ends. I couldn’t go back farther because of lack of records (my oldest known relative was born in 1790). I started branching sideways, filling in siblings of my grandparents and their lines. Then I went dark.
Every time someone in the family died, I used the information from their obituary to fill in any unknowns. Other than that, I wasn’t actively working on it.
Last week someone who lives in the home town of my paternal grandmother (in Europe) reached out to me. He had about 20 to 25 formal portraits found in the house next door and he was trying to identify them. (Why oh why don’t people put names and dates on the back of photographs?)
These were professional shots taken at a local studio near me in the early 1900s. They were weddings, families and some individual portraits. The photographs were taken and sent back to “the old country.” All were connected through my paternal grandmother.
At first I wasn’t helpful at all. These people were relatives of my grandmother and I didn’t know what she looked like. Everyone was dead. We never were close to this side.
Then came the epiphany. I opened one photograph of a family and my eyes went to someone who looked just like my brother (wrong time frame though). I studied it and realized it was my paternal grandparents taken around 1913. My dad was around 10 or 11 and he looked just like my brother. Score! This is the only picture I have of my paternal grandmother and one of my uncles.
I recognized a younger grandfather and identified my aunts and uncles. It was like winning the lottery. (Almost!) Now I knew what they looked like when they were young.
With the information I received from my Austrian friend, I was able to fill in more holes. I mined other trees for pictures to help him identify a few more of his portraits. He is using facial recognition programs but they aren’t completely accurate.
This is time consuming and detail-oriented work. Neither of which I’m a fan. Yet…I can’t describe it. I’m finding it strangely rewarding and a huge time suck. Fortunately it’s winter here and the perfect time.
Author’s rant: Dang it! Go write information on the back of your photos! If you find professional photos of old people, make an effort to find out who they belong to.
Funny story: When my brother saw the photograph of my grandparents with their kids he said, “They were a good looking bunch!” He also said, “I never saw them dressed up like that!” When future generations look at photos from our era they may comment on how poorly everyone is dressed. No one seems to dress up these days.