Use this guide if you are looking for photographs at The National Archives.
Read our section on records held elsewhere or search our catalogue for photographic collections and refine your results using the filters.
The video below is a good introduction to some photo scanning options available to you. Try some simple image editing of your digital photographs, or have them professionally enhanced.
It's entirely possible to sharpen the image with the potential to reveal hitherto hidden details such as wedding rings that are hazy on the original. They're also important visual 'documents' when placed within their true historical context, so make it a research priority to date each and every photograph as accurately as possible. There are several ways of dating old photographs and ideally they should all be used together to obtain the closest possible date.
These kinds of time frames, along with age estimates, can successfully pinpoint the correct generation of the family you're looking at. Judging age in old photos can be difficult, due to poor image quality or varying visual perceptions.
To include all possible ages, estimate widely, not narrowly. Children's ages can be judged most accurately from their physical appearance, so when young boys and girls appear in a dated or closely dateable photo, try to calculate their likely birth years to within a few years, to find them on the family tree. You may have successfully dated an old photo and confidently identified its subject(s), but what does that mean?
From the 1850s they begin to occur commonly throughout the records of various government departments, but it is believed that only a small percentage of photographs have been identified and catalogued.
You might even get lucky and find one of your ancestors in a local history book. If 'borrowing' scanned photos belonging to relatives or other contacts, always ask the owner of the original for a complete front view and a scan of the back, too.
Printed card mount details all provide important historical evidence relating to place and time. If scanning an original photograph, you'll get the best quality image by selecting the area of the picture only and a high resolution – I recommend 600 or 1200 DPI (dots per inch) - before scanning.
So, without further ado, here are our 30 top tips for using old family photos for genealogy. Before they get added to your photo collection, make a note of where any newly-inherited or recently-discovered photos came from.
Recording the provenance (ownership history) of family photographs is vitally important for accurate identification and your own sanity later down the line. Old photos are often scattered throughout the attics, photo albums and hard drives of various family members.
Be aware, though, the data displayed may be incomplete.