Top 3 photo-dating tips


09 October 2020
The back of this old photograph mentions 'electric light'. A handy clues which means that the photo cannot pre-date the 1890s. Discover further photo-dating clues with Jayne Shrimpton
Do you have a family photo album that holds some mysteries? Who's in the picture? When does it date from? Why was it taken? Learn super-sleuth photo analysis skills with photo-dating historian Jayne Shrimpton.

Words from Jayne...

Hello! As a trained art/dress historian, I have been working professionally on portrait images – photographs and artworks – for over 30s years, chiefly within the family and local history arenas. As well as contributing photograph dating and fashion history columns and articles to various publications, I have penned eight books, the latest to be published by Pen & Sword Books in November 2020, Fashion & Family History: details here.

My time writing for Family Tree magazine, Britain’s longest-running genealogy publication, dates back to 2007. I worked with the team for several years providing the expert dating service at Who Do You Think You Are? Live genealogy shows in Olympia and Birmingham. We also feature in the magazine a popular monthly photograph dating column, helping readers to understand more about their tricky inherited pictures.

Here are a few points to get you on the right track:

1. When sharing photographs online among relatives, be sure always to scan the backs of any printed card mounts, as well as the picture on the front.

2. Study the backs of photograph card mounts for dating clues, like the years of medals awarded, or mention of electric studio lighting (an innovation in many towns c.1890).

3. Whilst focusing on the ancestors portrayed in a photograph, also consider who is not present. For instance, a missing parent in a family group scene often implies that they had died or were resident in an institution.

Content continues after advertisements

Learn online with Jayne Shrimpton - Family Tree webinar

Family Tree is now running regular live webinars open to all (£10 each). 'We had a great response following my opening talk, Dating & Understanding Victorian Photographs,' writes Jayne, 'And we’re following this up with another webinar on 24th November, geared towards anyone interested in 20th-century photos and fashions: Dating & Understanding Family Photographs, 1900-1960'.

To find out more and book your place please click here.

Watch Jayne on TV

Jayne writes:

'Finally, a reminder that BBC1 TV series Who Do You Think You Are? returns for a short season this October. I have been picture consultant on the programme since 2012, advising on family photos belonging to Lulu, Ruby Wax, Olivia Colman, Sharon Osbourne, Boy George, Daniel Radcliffe and other participants. This time I’m also on-screen talking to the lovely, talented Ruth Jones (‘Nessa’ and writer of Gavin & Stacey) about an evocative photograph portraying her fascinating Welsh ancestors. Tune in to BBC 1 at 9pm on 26th October to view (and on BBC iPlayer after transmission).

'Working with family photographs is an ongoing process and a life’s passion. I have seen ‘typical’ images thousands of times, and yet there are always unexpected surprises. I enjoy sharing my experience and knowledge with family historians, so keep in touch with Family Tree for news of family photographs and dress history columns, articles and webinars to help you learn more about special pictures in the family archive.'