Identifying Unfamiliar Faces in an Old Group Photograph

By Maureen A. Taylor

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Last week I shared three tips for identifying an old group photograph, using an early 1900s mystery photo of German-born inventor Emile Berliner with unnamed family members. We looked at the youngest person and the oldest person in the picture, then asked if census records could helps us identify the people in the picture.

They did.

The entire Berliner household appeared in the 1900 census, complete with three “servants.” Emile was 49; his wife Cora, 38; and their children ranged in age from 17 to one month.

By the 1910 census, most of the children have left the household except for the three youngest—Louise, Henry, and Alice.

So based on the ages of the youngest children in this photo, it’s possible to narrow down the time. This portrait likely dates from about 1903, when family members’ ages would be:

  • Emile, 52
  • Cora, 41
  • Herbert, 20
  • Hannah, 19
  • Edgar, 17
  • Louise, 9
  • Henry, 7
  • Alice, 3


Identifying unfamiliar faces in an old group photograph

I used the names and ages in the census to tentatively identify the faces (I used the collage feature at to do this):

identifying faces in an old group photograph

But there’s a problem with this picture: It has too many people.

There are three too many women, and one son is missing. I suspect that son took this photo with one of those Kodak Brownie cameras, which were fairly new at the time.

So who are those extra women? They’re too stylishly dressed to be servants, except for the woman in the back row who isn’t wearing a hat. I wonder if she’s a nanny. The other women may be friends or family.

The woman I’ve identified as Hannah could instead be Cora’s sister. The two women look a lot alike. This would make one of the other women a daughter. Teasing out the identities in a big group portrait isn’t easy, but if you can name some of the people, their faces can help you identify other family photos.

See our article “Elements of Style” for more on figuring out when old mystery photos were taken based on clothing and fashion clues. All visitors can view a limited number of premium articles for free, and our Premium members get full access to our online library of genealogy how-to articles and videos.