This is Week 36 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is Photographs and Postcards.
Strangely perhaps this topic ties into the archives and libraries branch of the series. This is something of a case of “teaching your grandmother to suck eggs” since most of us are forever on the hunt for photographs which show our ancestral families. With our focus on the personal perhaps we’re a little less likely to think out images of places. So where might we find these hidden treasures?
FFANS: Family, Friends, Associates and Neighbours
You will almost certainly harass every close relative you’re aware of to see if they have any old photos. But what about the family’s friends? Do you remember your family receiving photos of a distant cousin’s First Communion, school photo or 21st? Well it’s quite likely that this happened back as long as there were photos, so isn’t it worth trying to track down who might have what you’re looking for.
For example one of my treasured family photos of my grandfather’s sister’s wedding includes the extended family group, excluding him (they’d had a falling out over religion). This photo came to me from two 2nd cousins but had been taken by the Kunkel’s neighbour who was the local photographer. I did try to see what happened to this photographer’s images, but sadly without success.
One photograph of my Mary O’Brien (2x great grandmother) came to me from her granddaughter who had lived with them. However the photo of Mary’s husband, George Kunkel, came from a 3rd cousin in Sydney who has whole suitcases full of photos from her aunts and cousins! Sadly not all of them are labelled or known.
This highlights the importance of shaking the family tree (hard) to see what photos emerge.
Not only are the hoarders among us absolute gold-mines with documents and photos, but there are also friends who are photo-fiends while others take no photos. When a close friend of ours died tragically in his early 30s, the family had very few photos of him but we had lots of photos and even home movies.
Bric-a-Brac stalls or markets
It’s less common to see photos or postcards at market stalls in Australia than it is in the UK (not sure about other countries) but it’s certainly worth snooping among the piles if you come across them. Don’t forget old postcards which illustrate the places where your families lived, and add richness to your story. I got a great old photograph of a railway camp family through hunting through boxes of photos.
Local history libraries/museums
I talked in detail about this topic a couple of weeks ago so won’t elaborate much here. However, these places are great opportunities to perhaps find old photos of your family if they lived in that town for a while. For example the Winton Local History Museum has photos of my Mellick relations’ shop. Alternatively there may be photos of their businesses or the local area. My post linked to these types of discoveries by Joan, Sharn and Tanya.
Again this has been the subject of an earlier post in this series. Old local history books or books about your ancestor’s occupation or industry may well provide you with either indirect or direct images to add to your own story. (Don’t forget to get copyright approval to use them though you can take a photocopy for your personal, unpublished, use). From a local history book I was able to contact an elderly lady and obtain a copy of the photo of a railway work gang, very relevant to my family history.
Reference Libraries and Archives
This also ties in with books as this is your best chance to find a relevant book. You can also borrow from your national library on an inter-library loan to your local reference library.
These reference libraries may well have archival sections where they store a wide range of photos of people and places (more often catalogued under places or topics). While Picture Australia, now via Trove, has many digitised photos, they’re not all there so it’s still worth working your way through the catalogue to see what they have. For example I’ve looked at old photos of places where my families lived, and the hobbies and activities they were involved with. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t, but at least you’ll know you’ve given it your best effort.
I first found a photograph of my maternal 2xgreat- grandmother, Hannah Partridge courtesy of an index at the John Oxley Library in Queensland. Her photo had been published in The Queenslander as part of a series for Queensland’s Separation in 1909.
Similarly they have an index of many of the Queensland men who joined up in World War I. Both sets of images were published in The Queenslandernewspaper. This has now been digitised but if you search Trove you may not necessarily find their names pop up, or at least that’s been my experience. I know they’re there, have the date and page references from years ago, so I could find them. If you know your ancestor went off to World War I it’s worth while checking to see if there’s a passport-sized photo of him. Try using the search term “Reinforcements” for best success but be aware there may be time delays. If you’re near Brisbane it’s probably best to just check the card index in John Oxley library.
The Australian War Memorial is also a good option for finding photos of people or places. For example I was able to obtain a photo of the crossing the line ceremony held on my grandfather’s voyage en route to France in 1917.
Yes this is one of those cross-over moments, and I guess we’ve all searched e-bay and the internet for images of people and places we’re hunting.
I wanted to share another site with you though, perhaps a little more obscure. Have you ever looked at the George Washington Wilson Photographic Archives at the University of Aberdeen? You might be astonished to find, as I was some time ago, that this archive holds photos not only of places around the UK, but also early Australian photos.
There is a photograph of my old school which is labelled only as a convent school – I was able to give them the additional details, and also let the school know of this early image. There are all sorts of other intriguing photos too, so do have a browse and see if it’s helpful. Don’t be too specific in your search parameters to ensure you pick up as many as possible. For example there are 629 images under a search for “Victoria” and 242 for Queensland.
I’ve also found great photos in the Francis Frith collection including one which shows the house where Mr Cassmob’s family lived in Bath before emigrating to Australia. In all cases, don’t forget to check out the copyright and reproduction conditions. Catherine, my fellow blogger and friend, tracked down a photo of her ancestor’s band and her post on Mysterious Musicians and Mariners very clearly illustrates how broadening your search can turn up great relevant images, whether your person is in the image or not.
These diverse sources show just how many strategies you can use to find images which will bring your family story to life.
Have you had any successes in tracking down family images or places in any of these ways? Or have you got your own innovative way of finding them? Why not share them in the comments or on your own blog.
6 thoughts on “Beyond the Internet: Week 36 Photographic archives”
Great post Pauleen! Thank you for so many suggestions about where we might find photographs. The University of Aberdeen site is a new one to me. I especially like your suggestion of broadening our research, and going beyond the search for specific individuals. I like to scope out photos in antique shops and at auctions, and have been rewarded for my efforts with images which provide historical context for my research. If I may mention one, I am a big fan of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site (http://www.cwgc.org/) for images of the graves of family members killed in World War I. Thanks again.
Thanks Jennifer. I haven’t explored antique markets and auctions so that’s a good addition. I too like CWGC for images and other details for family killed in various wars. Cheers Pauleen
Jennifer I should have asked for tips as to auction websites to help us all along. Thanks Pauleen
Thanks for this, Pauleen. which echoes my experience as well. Most of my collection does come from family members. My local archive centre has a huge indexed collection of postcards on the Scottish Borders, dating from c.1900 which are great for adding background interest to a family history story e.g. picture of carters, and probably many of us have carter ancestors. The local museum service specialises in photographs and you may be in luck if you have an ancestor prominent in the local community e.g.town councillor or even better provost, or textile manufacturer. Since starting blogging, I have a hankering to go to a postcard fair to see what I can p/ick up in the way of interesting iamges that would make a good blogging post. Unfortunately there does not seem to be much locally, so i would have to plan a trip to Edinburgh.
Oh no a trip to Edinburgh, Sue, that would be hard to take 😉 Can I come too? I’m glad you can confirm that Scottish archives can be similarly rich sources of relevant images, whether they show our specific ancestors or not.