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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree March 2018 > Finding clues in your family photo albums

Finding clues in your family photo albums

Jayne Shrimpton reveals the ancestor-hunting clues in our old family picture collections


Early snapshot albums often had pre-cut apertures and the photographic prints were rather small. Sometimes names, places or dates were written close to the picture, as in this album from 1909

Some family historians are lucky to have inherited not only old photographs, but also original 19th- or early 20th-century photograph albums compiled by past generations. Here we examine the evolution of photograph albums, with tips for dating surviving albums from different eras and understanding their contents.

Early photograph albums

In around 1858 the neat ca de visite photograph measuring a standard 10 x 6.5cms arrived in Britain from France – the first mass-produced cardmounted photographic print. A few UK studios began trialling cartes (cdvs) in 1859, but 1860 was the first significant year of production. The novel format rapidly became fashionable, inspiring a craze for commissioning, exchanging and collecting cdv photographs of relatives and friends, as well as portraits of famous personalities of the day – a craze known as ‘cartomania’. This new trend inspired the production of the first purpose-designed photograph albums, the availability of albums in turn prompting the taking of more cdv photographs. Indeed, during the early 1860s, cartes de visite were known as ‘album portraits’, demonstrating the close relationship between the popular photographs and the fashion for displaying them in albums.

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About Family Tree

Where would today's family historian be without the wonders of the web? This issue we give you bespoke clues to help you mine that nugget of ancestral gold from among the billions of records available the major family history websites. But family history isn't just about researching facts. It's about recording and treasuring that family story. So to help you do just this, we also have a guide to building your own website for your genealogical discoveries - an online home for your family archive. Step up, and see where you can take your research next!