Identifying and Using Photographs

I’ve been doing quite a bit of searching through old photos over the past few weeks. For the last 12 years I have created a family calendar for each of my daughters and my husband (that way they can’t forget the important dates such as birthdays and anniversaries). Usually, I’m rushing to get it finished as the final date approaches. This year, I got it done early because I was concerned about the shipping dates. Usually the calendar is designed with pictures from the events of the past year although one year I focused each month on a different ancestor; another year I did family recipes.


This year I had some pictures from our trip to Maine in July, but I needed more pictures. I’m always lucky to have lots of pictures of my granddaughter since we have a shared album and my daughter takes lots of pictures. It’s a bit harder to get pictures of my other daughters, but between Facebook and various website I can usually scrounge out a few. Those are for the top section of the calendar. For the special dates such as birthdays, I go back and forth between current pictures and baby pictures of everyone. Anniversaries are usually some wedding photo if I can find them. Even though everyone knows they are getting a calendar, no one sees it until Christmas morning. I realize that it’s late, but if you are interested, MyCanvas’ 20% off sale ends tonight and you can download the information from your Ancestry tree to create your calendar. I've also used Shutterfly.


You, like me, probably have thousands of pictures and each year plan to do something with them. Occasionally I’ll go on a scanning binge and move the photos to the appropriate digital file (if you are interested in my organizing system, here’s the blog), but I never seem to make a dent in the piles of photos. Last month, my step-sister sent a large envelope to me and to each of my sisters. She was cleaning out and found them (and I appreciate the fact that she didn’t throw them out). Her mother married my Dad (who died first) and my step-sister took them when she was cleaning out the house after her mother died in 1999. Some were duplicates of pictures I had…pictures of our daughters I had sent to them…but there were a number of pictures I’d never seen before including some pictures of my Dad in uniform during World War II when he was stationed in England and France. I’ve added to the pile of pictures that need additional research.

1945 - England My Dad, Thomas Mitchell in Navy Uniform, others unknown.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably know that I inherited my great grandmother’s photo album (my Dad’s grandmother) which was titled “Our Friends.” Here’s lesson one. DO NOT REMOVE PHOTOS WITHOUT FIRST TAKING A PICTURE OF EACH PAGE SO YOU KNOW THE ORDER! I received this as a “newbie” and my concern was to prevent further deterioration of the photos, so I removed them from the album (which was falling apart) and scanned them. I now have digital copies of all of the photos, but have no idea the order. My great grandmother had 10 siblings, so I'm sure that some of them are included in the album, but no one has been able to identify anyone. Out of the entire album, only one photo had anything written on the back and it was one word, Roach. The picture was of an older women taken in Leith, [Midlothian, Scotland] which was where my great grandfather, James Sprague, was born. Maureen Taylor (The Photo Detective) dated this picture by the dress to about 1892. I know from my research that my great grandfather had a sister, Joanna Roach Sprague (from her civil birth record) born in Midlothian 2 May 1862 and died 16 Jun 1862. James Sprague died in Dundalk, Ireland in 1899 and his parents, were John Sprague and Mary Hay. I have their civil marriage record in South Leith in 1857 and therefore the names of both of their parents I love Scotland's records) William Sprig [sic] and Jane White and James Hay and Mary Hutchison. So where did Roach come from?


To add to the mix, I had a DNA match with someone whose family included Roach and they also had the same picture which they identified as Mary Hay Roach. At first I though this might be mine, since I knew that John Sprague died in 1876, but he was a widower when he died and although I haven’t yet found her death, I know that my James Sprague ended up living with the Roach family in Ballyshannon, Ireland, where he learned his trade as a stone mason. I’ve traced Mary Hay Roach’s death to 1903 in Portsmouth, England but still haven’t found the connection. All this from a photo!

Possibly Mary Hay Roach

I hope you will check out my Photos page, especially if you had Northern Leitrim or Ballyshannon, Donegal ancestors. I’ve been lucky enough to have readers identify some of the pictures. The possible names of “Our Friends” are Mackey/Mackay, Johnston (multiple instances of Johnstons marrying Johnstons), Whitten, Curry/Corry, Sprague, Roach, Walker, Brooks. Many of the pictures were taken in Bundoran, Donegal which, when I visited the area, discovered was a seaside holiday town with a boardwalk. It was only a 15 minute drive from Kinlough, Leitrim where my ancestors lived, so definitely close enough, even in the 1890s for a Sunday visit, a picnic and photos.

Check your photo collection for unknown people and look for hints. Post them to Facebook pages for the localities where they were taken. If you need help I recommend you listen to The Photo Detective podcast. Maureen Taylor also also provides consultations, conducts classes and has a presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!



Some of the promotions I discussed last week are ending tonight,

so check out the Promotions Page.

(I just ordered some DNA kits to take to Ireland next year)


RootsMagic has a Holiday Special until December 24th that includes their

new RootsMagic 8



Don't forget that the Irish Quick Reference Guides are on sale through the end of December. The Digital Bundle is half off (if you are outside of the US, please order the Digital Guides). The Laminated Quick Guides are available while supplies last.

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