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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree August 2019 > How to date your family photos

How to date your family photos

Photo-dating super-sleuth Jayne Shrimpton shares her expertise to help you date and identify your old family photos…

BUMPER GUIDE

PHOTO-DATING SPECIAL

Sometimes old family photographs are hard to identify – enigmatic images of unfamiliar faces and places.

Establishing an accurate date is key to successful interpretation and further research. This feature explains how to date old photographs using recognised techniques:

• identifying the format;

• dating card mounts;

• researching photographic studios;

• dating our ancestors’ appearance.

FORMATS

Identifying the format of a photograph should be foremost, as each type of photographic image was in production for a specific time period.

Daguerreotypes: 1840s/1850s

The first commercially-produced photographs were daguerreotypes – expensive one-off images on a silvered copper plate. Sometimes handcoloured, they have a polished, mirrorlike surface, the image fluctuating between positive and negative when tilted. Usually protected in a folding case, most British daguerreotypes span the mid-1840s to late-1850s. Obsolete here by c1860, few survive in UK family collections.

This re-touched daguerreotype, dated September 1849, illustrates the narrow frock coat, wide black cravat and bushy sideburns typical of the 1840s/early to mid-1850s

Ambrotypes: studio ambrotypes c1855-1863, outdoor ambrotypes to c1890

Next came the collodion positive or ambrotype, an apparently positive photograph created from the original glass plate negative, by bleaching the image and blacking one side of the glass. Sometimes reversed images, these too can bear traces of colour and gilding on buttons and jewellery. Cased, framed or surviving as unmounted images on glass, ambrotypes originated in 1852, but were uncommon before 1855.

Studio ambrotypes chiefly span the mid-1850s to early-1860s, although outdoor ambrotype photography continued until the 1890s.

Cartes de visites: 1859-WW1, fashionable 1860-1890s

Cartes (cdvs) were the first massproduced photographs – card- mounted prints available in multiples, perfect for exchanging, collecting and displaying. Introduced from France, neat cdvs measuring around 10 x 6.5cms were trialled in Britain from 1859, 1860 being their year of establishment. Cdvs soared in popularity, bringing photography to our mid-Victorian forebears. Produced for over 50 years, until WW1, from the 1890s they declined in favour of larger cabinet portraits.

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About Family Tree

If a picture tells a thousand words – what stories can our old family snaps reveal to us about our kin from times gone by? • Learn how to date your old family photos and unlock the clues to your kin with our bumper guide on ‘How to date family photos’ by vintage photo expert Jayne Shrimpton. • Discover how to trace long lost family with Dr Penny Walter’s advice on tracing adopted family members and tracing your own birth family if you were adopted. • Travel back in time two centuries to the time of Peterloo – when innocent ancestors were slain on the street, simply for peacefully marching for their hopes for democracy in Manchester 1819. • New to family history? And stuck? Get simple steps to discover more about your family tree Find all this and more in the latest issue of Family Tree!