Find “Missing” Family Photos on Instagram

Orphaned photos that once had a family now sit forgotten or discarded in antique shops, in boxes at tag/yard sales or online at eBay. They are being sold as instant ancestors for the asking. If you’re like me then it’s hard to walk away from an image with a name or one with identification clues. Actually, let’s be honest. I have trouble leaving any photo behind <smile>.

Pictures are my life. New ones. Old ones. It doesn’t matter. I’m a visual thinker and I need those images like thirsty person in a desert needs water. That’s why I love Instagram. I can spend a lot of time (I’m too embarrassed to say how much) scrolling the posts looking at all those pictures.

After months of thinking of social media help for all those “lost” images, I realized the answer was obvious. Instagram! Never heard of it? You will. If you love pictures, you’ll be hooked within minutes.

Join me on Instagram. It’s Free!

Here’s how Instagram works. A person, business or organization posts a picture sometimes with a caption and then a set of tags to emphasize important bits.

The lighting strike of an idea came one day when I was looking at Instagram. Those hashtags reminded me of subject headings in an old fashioned card catalog.

Instagram means images + Photo detecting is about identifying pictures= A new way to locate your lost family photos. There are other photo reunion sites using social media to promote their collections and connections, but my account is a bit different.

One of my favorite Instagram pages, @ArtGarments, features a detail and then the larger painting. It’s brilliant and when I share these posts on social media, my “friends” think so too. So I thought why not apply the concept to pictures.

Example showing hashtag usage.

Hashtag Clues

On the surface this is just a lovely photo of a mother and her baby, but look at the tags for more information. Each one is significant. Watch for the hashtags identifying who’s in a picture, who took it and where. Have fun looking at the details in these images and then compare them to your own.

photodetective#photodetective : Refers to my instagram name.

#photomystery : This is a mystery photo

#photoreunion : I’m hoping someone recognizes Mom and the baby

#genealogy : It’s definitely a genealogical document of the birth of a baby

#oldphoto : This one and the next are self-explanatory. It’s an old photo of someone’s ancestor.


#vintage photo : Just another way of saying old photo

#babylove : I love the expression on this baby’s face and so does it’s mother.

#muslincollar : A key fashion detail to date the baby’s outfit

#scandavia : Oops.. A misspelling of Scandinavia.

#ullared #elfsered #sweden : A quick minute on Google told me that the two towns where this photographer had studios are both in Sweden. These are small communities which up the odds that someone might know this woman and child.

#1900: A possible date for this image.

#warneranderson : The photographer’s name.

It’s a lot of hashtags but at a glance someone can tell who took the picture, where and when. Here’s the beauty of using them. If you click on any one of them you’ll be taken to other pages where posters used those exact terms. Think of them as a research short-cut. Keep in mind not all of the hashtags will yield important information, but I’ll be reusing many of those general tags on future posts.

You can facilitate a reunion by sharing the image on your social media. Click the heart icon when you like a picture or if you’re viewing the image on a mobile device click the little dots in the upper right hand corner to share the post on Facebook.

Watch for More

Some of the photos I’ll feature are unidentified but others came with a name. Those names will be part of the hashtags so that someone searching for that surname should be able to locate the image.

Each week I’ll feature a few photos then share them on my other social media outlets like Facebook and Pinterest. The more people that see an image the more likely it is that their descendants will find it.

Lost and Found

I’m not alone in seeking to reunite these images with relatives. The good news is that plenty of genealogists are stepping in to make sure that some of these orphaned images are reconnected with their long-lost family.

For anyone (like me) each one is like catnip. I can’t stop looking for the people in these pictures in the hope that someone will return the favor and come forward with an image of one of my ancestors.

A few pictures a week seems small, but it will add up. Over time, @photodetective will become a library of pictures full of references, resources and reunions.

The very idea of it makes me smile.