Finding family photo clues is an important skill for any genealogist. Clues usually lie inside family photos every genealogist possesses. Learn about resources for family photo clues using the main image (above).

Clues family photos

Hann family on the porch of 324 Marshfield Avenue, Chicago, about 1911.

Clue 1: Recognizable People

I found my grandmother (blue frame) and her sister Louise and mother Anna (green frame) right away. But, the rest of the people in this photo were unknown to me when I first found this family photo.

Clue 2: Physical Surroundings

At first, I assumed that the location of this photograph was the same as other family photos taken on front steps. The photo at right features my great-grandmother Anna, grandmother Frieda, and her siblings. Taken at 324 Marshfield in Chicago from the (cropped) house number, this address corresponds with their 1910 census address.

But, was this new family photo taken at the same house? A different handrail and entryway told me this was not 1910 and not Marshfield Avenue. And yet from the those gathered together in the main family photo, I know it was taken in Chicago, Illinois.

Clue 3: Sunday Best

I lingered a long time at the cute little girls on the bottom step of the main photo.  They practically vibrate excitement.

Clearly they were wearing their Sunday best; clock those wonderful shoes and flower headbands. And then I realized this was my third clue: everyone wearing finery and smiling. A holiday? Or bigger occasion?

Clue 4: Climbing My Own Tree

Clues family photos

Axel Einar Ignander Israëlsson, my first cousin, twice removed.

As I examined the unknown faces in this family photo, something clicked. I recalled another photo from my Swedish family line. I had scanned a signed and dated portrait of Axel Einar Ignander Israëlsson from 1925. Finding it using metadata was a snap.

Axel’s father, Per Israël Larsson, stayed in Sweden. He was the only one of my great-grandmother’s siblings who did so. Per Israël and his wife had one surviving child, the same Axel Einar Ignander Israëlsson. Finding family photo clues in this main photo revealed Axel Einer sitting on the front steps (red frame).

Axel Einer came all the way from Lindesberg, Örebro, Sweden, to visit his relatives in Chicago! I’m thrilled that my grandmother Frieda was able to meet her Swedish first cousin in person. Who is seated next to Axel Einar? Perhaps his mother, Matilda Elisabet Eriksdotter? Note made to continue researching this idea in passenger lists.

Clue 5: Relative Ages

Axel Einar was born 15 Jun 1902 at Björklund, the family homestead near Lindesberg, Örebro, Sweden. My grandmother was born on 30 Dec 1896 in Chicago, a posthumous child. Axel Einar probably did not travel as an unaccompanied minor. World War I would have restricted Scandinavian-US travel. So, I think this photo was taken about 1920.

Clue 6: Addresses

I reviewed census and city directory records I’d saved for this family line. In 1920, my grandmother’s brother, Ernie, was living at 5811 Byron Street. He had married in 1912 and moved to this address with his new wife, Myrtle Ida Benson.

Finding Clues in Family Photos

5811 Byron Street, Chicago, Illinois

They stayed here for several years, which was unusual. Other Hann family addresses were very temporary, as the family still struggled financially after the premature death of Gottfried Hann.              .

Happily, Google Maps revealed the original house at 5811 Byron Street (on the right) was still standing. The original porch railings, steps, and entryway were evident (purple frames}.

The original porch pillars, however, had changed. The family photo at top showed half-stone/half-wood pillars were original to the neighborhood. (See house at left). But the porch pillars at 5811 Byron Street were changed to the then-popular rough-hewn stone Richardsonian Romanesque style.

Finding the original house relatively intact was a great boon. So many of my immigrant Chicago ancestors lived close to the Loop in poor housing. Long ago these hovels were demolished and replaced with expensive condos.

Clue 7: Photographer

One thing that struck me about all the photographs of my Swedish-American line was the care that was taken to document events: New Year’s, slumber parties, family gatherings. All seemed to be documented by professional photographers.

clues family photosAs I looked at this image for family photo clues, I realized that this was no Brownie Box snapshot.  This family event was so important that a professional photographer was hired. I could tell because the original print of family photo survived on a cardboard mount.

Important clues can be found by examining the mount of any original photograph. The Smithsonian used graduate library science student-interns like me to examine these photographic mounts and compile a database to help date photos.. The size, color, and photographer’s imprint (embossed, stamped, other) of the mount often contained important clues.

So when I examined the mount on the original photograph, it had no photographer’s studio imprint on the front. But on the verso (back) of the mounted image, I found a stamp for R.T. Benson & Co. of Chicago.

Finding Family Photo Clues

Benson! Suddenly things made sense. I’d spent quite a bit of time un-Anglicizing Benson to Bengtsson in a collateral Swedish line. When I searched my tree, there was a Rudolf Theodore Benson, a peer of my grandmother, Frieda Hann. However, they were not related.

But Myrtle Ida Benson was the wife of Ernie Hann. And they both lived at 5811 Byron Street in Chicago. R.T. Benson, Myrtle’s brother, was the photographer for this image and probably many others.

So, when Rudolf’s sister Myrtle Ida Benson Hann and her husband Ernie entertained Axel Einar Ignander Israëlsson from Sweden, the whole family was invited to Byron Street. And they were photographed.