Using images in family history

How often do you find out everything shown in an image when adding it to your family history tree or scrapbook?

This course is now getting to the fun part of dating images. It is suggested that you start by taking one image and trying to read it carefully. Find out everything you can by studying it in all its fine details.

Remember back in the beginner Intro to Family History course, where we were told to do exactly that with a document?

Formal analysis looks at colour, lines, space, mass and scale. This is looking at the visual effect of the image and how the image is composed.

Contextual analysis looks more at the historical or cultural aspect of the image. This includes who took it, what type of image, why was it made etc. Often this is pure speculation and you need to ask more questions of the owner.

So I am going to test this out by using one of my photos relating to my family history.


Formal Analysis

Two young girls facing the photographer. One standing upright beside a piece of furniture, the other sitting sideways with one leg tucked under the other on top of the piece of furniture. The image has been coloured with the older child in a pink frock and the younger in a green frock. Both frocks are knee high and simplistic in design with small collars and short sleeves.

Both have long white socks with Mary Jane type shoes. Behind the younger child is a vase of flowers and a draped curtain. The older child is standing on a rug in front of the piece of furniture (maybe a desk). The two girls are centred in the image with the light coming from the right hand side of the camera, giving a bit of shadow on the left side of the girls’ faces when looking as the photographer.

Contextual analysis

These two young girls are my aunts – the eldest is Iris who died about three weeks after my mother was born in 1934. The youngest is Margaret who is still alive. The image is a studio portrait from Brunton and Easton in Elizabeth Street, Hobart. It is framed on cardboard with the studio name included.

I have a second black and white copy of exactly the same image on a postcard with room for both correspondence and address. On the back of that copy is written the names and ages of the girls when this photo was taken. It is written in the handwriting of my grandmother (their mother) so Iris was aged 8 years 4 months and Margaret 4 years 8 months. This means the portrait was made in December 1932. Maybe this was a Christmas portrait with the girls in their new clothes and shoes.

Readers: Anything else you could add to my analysis of this photo?

4 thoughts on “Using images in family history

  1. The short bobbed hair styles could be considered, and the older girl’s fringe. Also any patterns on the dresses and jewellery – I cn’t see the photograph well enough to know whether the older girl has a bracelet

  2. Hi Sue really enjoying your latest posts. To date photos from Victorian and Edwardian era try It has lots of examples of costumes, the significance of the poses of the people and hints. I had a photo of “My Grandfather??, ” by looking at the costume I deciphered that the photo was from about 1874 so that meant GG Grandfather. Can also google examples of dress patterns from eg 1960 see if style is what your subjects are wearing.
    My husband is really good at recognizing old cars, he can tell you the year and series numbers etc. so sometimes the vehicles can also give you clues. Or if in front of a new house you can also date the type of dwelling eg tin awnings, gable roof etc.; tongue and groove ceilings approx. 100 years old. You can sometimes find out when the photographic studio operated. Hope this is of some help.

  3. I so enjoy reading your posts, I have told another uni student about it as she thought as her parents died when she was ten that she did not have history object to write about. I think I have convinced her otherwise and told her of your useful blog which I am sure is a great help to many of us. Thanks, Peg

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