Genealogy in the age of coronavirus- Part 4, Family Photographs.

I have finally reached the final post in my series about genealogy in the age of coronavirus. So far, I have covered interviewing relatives and organising your research, some interesting online resources and sharing your research and writing your own history. In this final post, I will talk about a large group of the documents we inherit: family photographs.

Who is that?

I don’t know about you, but I have acquired a lot of photos. My mum is always photographing things wherever she goes, so we have many albums of family holidays and other events at home. Then there are my own photos and ones I have inherited from other family members. Photographs are an excellent way of documenting our lives, but there is often a problem. I’m sure you know the one I mean. Some of the photos you inherited have no name, no date and no place attached! When my grandmother passed away, I spent some time at my Aunt’s house scanning and sorting through various photos and documents.

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An unknown child from Fanny and Lizzie’s photo album, taken in Yeovil. I don’t know the child’s identity, but I love the outfit!

I came across a wonderfully full photo album which had belonged to my gran’s spinster aunts, Fanny and Lizzie. The downside was that a large proportion of the photos it contained were completely unlabelled. Not even a name, let alone a date or a place. Now, there is no-one left who knows who these people are. This is a very common problem for genealogists and family historians and sometimes we have to accept that we may never identify who is in the photograph that we are looking at. Properly labelling my own and my family’s photographs is something that is near the top of my project list. It could take some time though, especially because of the number of photos that my mum takes!

What else can we learn?

Just because we may never be able to put a name to a photograph, doesn’t mean that we can’t learn other things instead. There are various books and authors that talk about how to distinguish different clothing fashions from different eras. A good book for family historians is Tracing Your Ancestors Through Family Photographs by Jayne Shrimpton. It is very comprehensive and talks about other things apart from fashion. There can be clues in the location of a photograph, the photographer, the type of photograph and many other things. The book even contains a section about inherited photo albums and clues that may be found in something as simple as the layout and order of the photographs themselves. That is certainly a section I need to revisit for Fanny and Lizzie’s album.

There are some other routes you can take to help identify your photographs. In a previous post, I wrote about using a Google Image search to help to identity mystery photographs. You can find that here, but I concluded that it may not be 100% successful. It depends on either people sharing photos from your family, having a famous relative and photos that match being on the internet in the first place. Still, you never know when your luck might be in.

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Sarah Cole (neé Hawker) in her later years. This is part of a group photo and may have been taken at the wedding of one of her sons.


A fun application that may (or may not) help you identify who is in a photograph, is the ‘Compare-a-face’ service from FamilySearch. I recently stumbled upon this and have found it fun to compare my own photo to those of some of my ancestors. I have always thought that I get the shape of my face from my great-great-grandmother, Sarah Hawker (you can read more about her here) and her mother Mary Ann Rowsell. According to the service, there is only a 48% resemblance between me and Sarah. This did change depending on the photo of me that I used. One comparison raised that to 51%. I only looked 38% like my maternal grandmother and 51% and 45% like my dad and my mum, respectively. I don’t know who the other 4% belongs to!

With the changing percentages, this is not something that I would rely upon as being totally accurate. I’m sure that the accuracy depends on whatever algorithm is used to determine likeness. I haven’t been able to find anything on the FamilySearch website so far that explains how this works. Still, it is an amusing way to pass the time, especially with the amount of time we are spending at home.

Picture My Heritage

This also goes for another FamilySearch service, ‘Picture My Heritage.’ In this application, you take a photograph using your device camera and it is then superimposed upon a picture of someone in the national dress of your choice. For me, the website picked up that my surname was most common in England, Wales, America and Canada. These were the top choices for my solo ‘historical picture.’ The finished picture then adds in facts about the place you have chosen. You can also picture yourself in a variety of historic group pictures. The website asks you to choose a face and then the process is the same as with the individual photos. Some of the photographs you can choose from look suspiciously modern, just taken in black and white! Both of these sources are free, but you do need a FamilySearch account to access them.

MyHeritage ‘In Color’

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An unknown man from Fanny and Lizzie’s album, this time taken in Brecon. I wonder what this would look like in colour?

A final online source which might be of interest to those with black and white photographs, is the MyHeritage In Color service. You do have to register for an account and it seems there are a limited number of photos that you can colourise for free. But you can upload black and white photographs and the service will put them into colour for you. Do read the FAQs, as they do say that it is all done by algorithm and the colours may not all be authentic. The examples they give are very varied, from all countries and backgrounds. The before and after shots clearly show the difference and give an idea of how your ancestors would have seen the scenes represented.

Remember, with all online services you may need to think carefully before you upload any photographs. Read any terms and conditions, especially if you are unhappy about others accessing your own family photographs.

There is much more that can be said about family photographs. One aspect I haven’t been able to include here, is storage and preserving them for years to come. That is a whole other topic for another post!

For the time being though, enjoy the family photos that you have. They are certainly another project to add to my growing list….

Copyright © 2020 Shersca Genealogy

Genealogy in the age of coronavirus- Part 3, What do I do next?

Welcome to the third post of my genealogy and coronavirus series. Today’s topic considers what to do with all of the information we have gathered in our research and how we can share it with other people. As genealogists and family historians, our main focus is on the research we do. We love finding out new things about our ancestors and filling in their stories. Something we may not consider is what to do with all of the discoveries we make and sharing our research with others. How do we preserve our research for the future?

Writing a family history

These days, there are many different ways of sharing our research and a lot of these can be online or at least begun whilst at home:

  • Articles
  • Blog posts
  • Family history websites
  • Mini biographies
  • Family history book

The one you choose does depend on what your overall aim would be and how comfortable you are writing. Each type may lend itself to a different style of writing. If you would like to share your research with the genealogical community and are hoping to be published, then an article might be the right choice. For a slightly more informal medium, perhaps a blog post would be more suitable. If you want to share your research with others who may be unknown relatives, then a website dedicated to a specific family name might be best. Some find that writing a full manuscript is the best way to record all of their research to date. You would need to assess how much time you have, what your end goal for writing is and also how comfortable you are with writing. A useful source that I have found is the book “Writing your family History” by Gill Blanchard. It gives a lot of advice from length and scope of your writing, to how to set about writing in the first place. There are of course, many other articles and books that give advice, some which can be found online. One that has some interesting writing tips is an entry in the FamilySearch blog from a of couple years ago.

Sharing family trees

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My tapestry family heirloom: “Joseph presenting his father to Pharaoh.”

Of course, if you are not looking to draw your research into a narrative, there are ways of sharing family trees only. Companies like Ancestry, FindMyPast, FamilySearch (and others) have facilities to share family trees online. I personally have used Ancestry in the past and have shared my tree both with current Ancestry members and other relatives through email. I have found relatives all the way across the world in Australia. The stories that have been passed down to them add extra information to the stories passed down to me. One of my Australian relatives then sent me a photograph of a tapestry that was passed down through her branch of the family. My branch also has a tapestry (of a different subject) that was made by the same ancestor as the Australian tapestry.

Something to consider with websites like these, is the level of privacy and security you get. It is a well-known fact that Ancestry allows members to elect to have a public or private tree. Bear in mind though, that according to the Ancestry terms and conditions, anything you post that is public on the website is automatically available for anyone to see and to use. Reading the terms and conditions of these sites is always a good idea, especially if you are intending to share family information. If you don’t agree, choose a different way to share. I never use an online based service for my clients. Instead I use an offline program. There are various computer programs now that can create and manage family trees. They can even produce an output that is easily transferable through email or printing and can be shared with other family members. Each one is different, so read any instructions or help articles if you have one already. If you don’t, have a good look at the ones available and choose the one that suits your family history needs best.

Write you own history

Something that we also forget when researching, is that we, ourselves, hold valuable information. How often have you wondered about the everyday things in an ancestor’s life- the little things that never make it into the records? The further back you go, the more difficult (sometimes impossible) it is to find that kind of information. I will never know whether some of my ancestors had pets or who their best friend was, or what hobbies they had (if they had time). When people move out of living memory, these everyday things that make us who we are, can vanish.

But we can help future generations to remember us in this way, where our ancestors haven’t been able to. Recently, I have started writing a mini-autobiography of my life so far. Not only will this give a fuller account of the everyday things for future generations, but it is a good task for when we are all needing to stay at home. It is to some extent, an extension of interviewing relatives (have a look at my first post in this series). The only difference is that you need to ask yourself questions. I mentioned when I wrote about interviewing relatives, that people find it easier to talk when they have something to focus on first. It is exactly the same if you think about writing your own story. Think about what you consider important- what would you want future generations to know about you? At the same time, you don’t necessarily have to include everything, down to the time you went to the dentist last week. Perhaps you might like to include pets, friends, schools and events that had a particular impact on your life.

As with interviewing relatives though, be aware that some things may be difficult to put down. Don’t push yourself, perhaps you might be able to come back to some things later on in your life. Although this is a good time for this kind of activity, many of us don’t have as much support as we usually would. So take care if you think you might touch upon anything that could have a detrimental impact right now. An extension of this idea would be to document life as it is right now, so that generations to come could get an idea of how their ancestor’s lives were impacted during the COVID-19 crisis. What things have changed from the way life usually progresses?

The children are the future

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Photograph of family members who I wish I had learnt more about as a child.

Spending more time at home for some, means planning activities for their children too. Perhaps we don’t talk about involving children and young people in genealogy as much as we should. They will be the ones who remember us. The number of times I and even my parents, have wished we had the interest as children to ask relatives about their lives, is quite large. It seems to be quite common that people unfortunately only become interested, after the people with the answers are no longer with us. See another previous post for an interesting idea of how to involve children in genealogy. There are also various other blog posts and articles around at the moment which give some ideas about how to introduce children to genealogy and family history. You can find an good one on this topic here. It was written by a fellow genealogist and contains some thought-provoking ideas. Family Tree Magazine also has an interesting post with some further thoughts.

So, whether you decide to write your autobiography, your whole family history, or just share your family tree with relatives, now is a good time to do it. Even though we may not be sharing our research in person at the moment, the wonders of modern technology mean that we are at least still able to.

Copyright © 2020 Shersca Genealogy