Now What: Identifying People in Family Photos

By David A. Fryxell Premium

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Question: I have a slide my father took at Christmas in 1958. I can identify most of the people, including myself as a child. But I’m stumped about the identities of two women and a man. Any suggestions?

Answer: Slides are even more likely than photographic prints to lack identification, because of the limited space to write on the cardboard or plastic frame. Figuring out who might be who in a slide, as in other old family photos, is a bit like solving a murder mystery: Start by assembling the possible suspects. That is, which relatives might plausibly have been in the photo in 1958? Since family might’ve traveled to holiday gatherings, you can’t always go by where people lived. But you can scan your family tree for people of the right gender and approximate age at the time, and with a similar relationship as those you’ve already identified. For example, if every known adult present is a cousin or spouse of a cousin, it’s most likely that your mystery women and man are, too. If others in the photo are couples (except your mother, since your father was behind the camera), it’s also likely that the unidentified man is married to one of the unknown women. The other woman might then be unmarried or a widow, so check your family tree for single women of the right age.

If you have cousins who might be able to help with identification, email the photo to them. Don’t overlook second cousins and “removed” cousins: If the older unknown people in the photo are your grandfather’s siblings, the living relatives most able to identify them would be their children (your first cousins once removed) and grandchildren (your second cousins). For tips on finding living relatives, see the December 2017 Family Tree Magazine “Now What?” (And in fact, we learned just prior to publication that ourquestion-asker’s second cousins identified one mystery woman as their grandmother, and the man as her second husband. The other mystery woman was probably the grandfather’s second wife, whom he had not yet married but certainly knew by late 1958.)

When cousins can’t help, try looking for photos of candidate relatives in old yearbooks. Although aging changes the face, you can compare distinctive features such as overall face shape, nose, eyes and ears. Find old yearbooks at sites such as, and

From the January/February 2018 issue of Family Tree Magazine.