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Unlocking the Secrets in Old Photographs

Author: Karen Frisch-Ripley

Description: Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1991 Softcover, 190 pp

Any family historian who owns a box of old photos is eager to extract the secrets contained in such a collection. It would seem that this book would accomplish that. However, much of the author's information is simply too general--accurate, but very basic.

Turning eagerly to the chapter, "Recognizing Types of Photographs," I quickly realized that the kind of information I wanted along that line could not be covered in a chapter of only 21 pages. The chapter contained from one to six paragraphs each on: daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, pannotypes, calotypes, stereographs, lantern slides, and albumen prints. Likewise, a chapter of similar length, "Care and Restoration of Photographs," gave just enough information to tell me I needed more. Fortunately, in an extensive bibliography the author has included several titles in which these subjects are covered in depth.

A strength of this book is its blending of genealogical research strategies into a study of family photos. Especially helpful are suggestions for matching information gleaned from photo content with that contained in public documents. The author gives practical tips for identifying persons, places, and dates. She also offers advice for gaining the cooperation of other family members both in identifying faces and in adding to the photo collection. A chapter on record-keeping echoes advice offered in introductory books about how to do genealogy.

The author illustrates her book with photos from her own family album, together with a pleasing account of her own experiences collecting and identifying photos.

The author successfully challenges the family historian to give attention to old photos. However, the serious family photo historian will need to seek additional resources to enable full identification of photography style and appropriate preservation methods.

Beverly Whitaker is from Kansas City, Missouri.

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