The antique portrait shown above came to me recently in an unmarked box of vintage photos left behind by my grandmother more than 25 years ago. Unfortunately, there was no one left in my family to help identify the hundreds of faces on the thousands of photographs in the box. (To make matters more difficult, the majority of the images were tiny snapshots from a Folding Pocket Kodak camera, and measured only 1- 5/8 x 2-1/2 in size.)
My first job was to scan the pictures on to my computer (get the step-by-step how to for digitizing your photos here), and then set about sorting them using the information I had. Since only about one percent of the prints had anything written on them, my starting point was finding the few people I could identify, and hope that one thing would lead to another.
Over time, I came to realize how important the little things were in helping solve these riddles. I learned to pay close attention to what people were wearing, what they were doing, and what appeared in the backgrounds of the photos.
As a result, over the course of a year, I came to know my ancestors better than anyone else alive.
Here's a look at how I used even the tiniest details in a vintage photograph to help figure out at least a few of the five Ws: who, what, where, when and why.
I started by using Google and the resources I compiled for the article Dating vintage photographs by clothing & hairstyles to analyze specific elements. This is what I learned:
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