Tips for Researching 19th Century American Photographers

Learning who took a historic photograph can help you determine when and where it was taken—and sometimes even why. This is especially helpful if you are trying to identify or better understand an old family photograph. Here are three top tips for researching 19th century American photographers:

  1. Look for the studio imprint on the back of the image. (Occasionally it appears across the bottom of the front.) By the 1860s, you’re likely to find a photographer’s name and address. It may be embellished with decorative elements.
  2. Don’t get your hopes up if the imprint says “Negatives preserved.” Very few of these negatives still exist. Try contacting the local historical society in the area in which the photographer did business, but it’s unlikely you’ll find a surviving negative collection.
  3. Use historical sources to determine when and where a photographer worked. You may be able to narrow down the time period for the photo. That window, combined with what you may already know about your family at the time, may help you more confidently identify the occasion and the people in the picture.

Learn to use specific historical sources to research 19th century American photographers’ careers in Chapter 6 of Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries. Does an old picture have you truly stumped? Send it to me for an online photo consultation, a cost-effective way to get an expert opinion on your photo mystery. Finally, contact me here about speaking to your group on historical photography, historical fashions and related topics.

Example: An Antique Photograph With Photographer’s Mark

Photo With Photographer's Mark

Treat photographers like members of your family tree and dig deep into genealogical resources to discover more about them. Photo from the mid 1880s.

-Collection of the author.