Identify Old Photos With Crowdsourcing: Lang Family Photo Mystery

By Maureen A. Taylor

Sign up for the Family Tree Newsletter Plus, you’ll receive our 10 Essential Genealogy Research Forms PDF as a special thank you!

Get Your Free Genealogy Forms

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Identifying Old Photos

When I see old photos at antique shops and estate sales, it’s hard to let a photo labeled with a name go unclaimed.

As family historians, we have the genealogy skills to reconnect these pictures with living descendants.

A couple of weeks ago, Family Tree Magazine shared a group of partially identified images that contributor Sunny Morton found in an antique shop. The challenge was to see if they could use crowdsourcing to identify the old photos.



Crowdsourcing Old Photo Identification

Crowdsourcing is when you post a question or problem online and the other people—acting as a sort of collective internet “brain”—contribute their skills and expertise toward a solution. When you identify old photos through crowdsourcing, the more you know before you begin, the better the results. That gives the crowd a place to start.

Three of the five mystery photos had names on the back. The images show:

  • a toddler, labeled Bernie Lang taken by photographer J.E. Gearing of Covert, Mich.
  • a postcard of Bernice Lang, 3 years old.
  • a postcard with a message on the back “Compliments of Little Beatrice to Little Bernie and signed by a woman named Etta”
  • an identified picture of Beatrice Lang as a young woman, with “Henry Burg” also named on the back
  • a card photo of someone named Lenna Lang


Clues to Identify Old Photos

I start every photo inquiry the same way: At first, I ignore what’s written on an image. Captions aren’t always correct.  Then I look at the type of photo (such as print, daguerreotype, etc.), clothing shown, and photographer information. I think about when and where the images were taken.


All the provenance (history of ownership) for the photos is missing. It’s doubtful that the shop owner knew where they came from, but it would be worth asking in case it would help fill in those details.

Several readers have searched for censuses and other records, and weighed in on the identification in comments to our blog post. Thank you to those photo sleuths! Take a look at the post and their comments, and contribute your thoughts.

Next week I’ll share what we’ve learned about these pictures and tell you about some photo ID cold cases from the Photo Detective blog.

Learn more about my identification strategies for old photos in my Family Photo Detective book.