Unknown Faces From The Past

Categories Old Family Photos
Unknown Faces From The Past

On rare occasions, a distant relative contacts me. I receive an old photograph displaying a moment in time from our shared family history.  Neither of us knows who some of the people are. Unknown faces from the past look to me in the present.

A Name To The Face

I contact the close family to help give those unknown faces a name. In most cases, the faces are unknown to them too.  Later, I contact other distant relatives for information.  And the same happens.

The ideal situation is the ability to obtain names for unknown faces in photos.  A name builds a skeleton of the ancestor’s life. Discovering records in archives, learning family stories and family locations add flesh and blood.  And in a strange way, the person is alive again.

With that ideal situation, I can bore non-family history addicts to death.  By sharing an account of another long-gone relative’s life.

But the ideal situation to identify old family photos is a rare event for me.  It is a frustrating brick wall.  And a one that family historians face regularly.

Frustrated Family Historians

I read on forums and social media, the frustrations of family historians.  An old photo is located and identifying the people looking at them from the past is an impossible challenge for the present.

Let’s be optimistic.  Breaking down brick walls in genealogy occasionally take years to achieve.  Putting names to unknown faces may take a lot of detective work.  But as time goes by you may well find relatives who share the same curiosity as you do.

And they may provide the tools to help break down those brick walls.  Those unknown faces may yet introduce themselves to you.  Be patient.  Here is a recent success of mine.

From Stranger To Relative

The photograph above is from the late 1940s.  My mother got hold of it in the 1990s and could identify several family members that included my Great Grandmother Lilly Corrigan.

But other faces in this photo kept their identity to themselves.  Some still do.

Recently, I shared this photograph with someone who is researching another family living in Parkhead.   She identified several people. Neighbours, and other family members including my Aunt – I never recognised her.

Unfortunately, my contact was not sure about who the bride and groom are in this photo.  They will introduce themselves in future I’m sure.

But there will be photos of unknown faces that will never be identified.  A huge shame.  So how do we avoid this happening for future genealogists who look at our own photos?

How To Avoid Unknown Faces In The Future

Most of us will leave a strong digital footprint for future generations.  For the future family historians, it will aid them immensely.   A snapshot of our lives is online.  Physically, we disappear.  In the digital world, part of us will continue.

So we won’t be far away to help future genealogists.

If you have family albums that you don’t wish to scan, archive and upload to the online world.  Could you do your future family a big favour?

Sharpen a pencil and write down this on the back of each photo:

  • The names of people in the photo
  • Date and location of the image – if possible
  • Other information relevant to the photograph


If our ancestors did the above,  the less frustrated would be.  All those people standing still in the past looking at you in the present.  They don’t know you, but you know them.

That makes family history research easier.  But who wants an easy ride in research?





Family History addict since 2012. Now documenting my findings and insights online.

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