Episode 97: So You Have a Mystery Photo? And Timeline Help

Perhaps you have a mystery photo and you’re wondering what a photo consult is like. 

During the course of a photo consultation, I look at your photos and discuss what you know about the pictures in question.  It’s often a deep dive into your family history.Together we discover and discuss the clues in the photograph and look at connections to your family history.

Frankly, I never know where a photo consult is going to go.  It depends on the pictures. The pictures drive the inquiry. The clues of who, what, when and where direct our research. It’s possible that the answers to those questions add up to a reveal about why your ancestors posed for that picture.  

As a former curator and a photo focused genealogist there are people I’ve met who might have that one bit of information you need to answer a question. As a family historian and former reference librarian that works on photos from all over the world it’s necessary for me to know how to dig up data. A colleague once called me a creative problem solver. 

There are three consultation options: a single photo consult, one for three photos, or if you want to discuss all of your mystery photos in one extended session you can take advantage of a volume discount. 

How Does it Work

First select the option you want–one, three, or many.  If it is 1 to 6 images you’ll be prompted to upload images and to add what you know about the picture/s.  

  • Single image consults are conducted via phone on Wednesday mornings ET
  • Three or more image consults are either via phone or video chat. You choose when you sign up.  Friday mornings are for these consults ET.  On video calls, I share your images on my screen. 

If you have a high-resolution digital scan that’s best, that way I can see all the details. But if all you have is a scan of a photocopy you can upload that. I have tools that can sometimes enhance images to make them more visible. 

Next add what you know about the image referring to them as image 1, 2, or 3.  

If you have an online family tree it’s helpful to invite me to see it by sending me an email invitation to view it through the site you use. There are usually instructions on the major genealogy sites about how to share links. Once I receive your images, I’ll start on the research using my entire library of resources plus my 40years of experience. I like to see the back of the image as well if there is additional information on it. The front and back of the same image count as one picture. It’s best if you email the scans of the back to me directly rather than use the uploader. Once you’ve signed up for a slot, uploaded your images, and paid you will receive a confirmation email for the consultation. Check your spam/junk folders if you do not receive a confirmation. The confirmation email will have call-in details for telephone consults. Video links are sent separately. .

As part of your consultation, I often make suggestions about further research. While it’s possible to date a picture, there is always information not known about the people, places, or family connections. It’s necessary to track down that missing information to tell the story of the image. 

We will talk through the photo problems and discuss a list of additional questions that need answers. I often share a list of people and resources to help.  Together we’ll develop a research plan. 

 A recent client had a very interesting daguerreotype of a man leaning over a deceased person in a coffin. I know I went WOW too.  Who was in the picture? When was it taken? And who’s the deceased.  

We talked through the problem and came up with a list of additional questions that need answers. I shared a list of people and resources to help.  His new tasks were to use those resources. 

One piece of additional work that I assign over and over is to create a timeline of an ancestor’s life.  The daguerreotype client did his homework and came up with an answer. He came back to verify that information. 

Why a timeline? Timelines are a good place to sort out data. A basic timeline is a graphic representation of events on a line. You can have one line with information on both sides. On top historic events with relevance to your family history. On the bottom, events for the person you’re researching.  

Related Episodes:

Episode 67: Solving Photo Mysteries


About Maureen Taylor:

Maureen is a frequent keynote speaker on photo identification, photograph preservation, and family history at historical and genealogical societies, museums, conferences, libraries, and other organizations across the U.S., London and Canada.  She’s the author of several books and hundreds of articles and her television appearances include The View and The Today Show (where she researched and presented a complete family tree for host Meredith Vieira).  She’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Better Homes and Gardens, The Boston Globe, Martha Stewart Living, Germany’s top newspaper Der Spiegel, American Spirit, and The New York Times. Maureen was recently a spokesperson and photograph expert for MyHeritage.com, an internationally known family history website and also writes guidebooks, scholarly articles and online columns for such media as Smithsonian.com. Learn more at Maureentaylor.com

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