JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen old photos #general

John Hoenig

Steven Ellner wrote:

I am fortunate to have access to about 20 photographs (portraits) of
relations taken mostly in Slovakia or Hungary, circa 1870's. We don't even
know who half the people are in the photos.
Are photos of this type somewhat commonplace among researchers, or should
I consider them rarities? There is a lot of printed "advertising" on the
photos (see below). Given that I have little information, are these worth
translating >from Hungarian?

You don't know how incredibly lucky you are to have
access to those photos. Old photos are one of the
absolute best kinds of record a genealogist can find.
It doesn't matter if you don't know who's in a
photo. Getting the photos is just the first step.

First, you absolutely want to see the photos
personally if at all possible. There may be the name of
a photographer - or his address -
embossed in the edge of the photo and that might not
show up in a copy of the photo. And, there could be
something written faintly. So try to borrow
the photos and study them carefully. Give a number to
each picture, and type a full description of each photo
into the computer. You'll find yourself going
back repeatedly to your database to check information.
Either scan them into your computer or take them to a
drug store or photo store that has a photo copying machine.
For around $7 - $10 you can make an 8.5 x 11" print.
So, you arrange as many photos as you can onto the
glass screen and copy several photos at once. Yes, you
want to translate the material on the back. The cities
are a fantastic clue. If you know your family came
from "Austria" or "Russia" that's pretty useless because
those were awfully big places. If you know a particular
city you can search for your family there. That's feasible.
If you also have an approximate year that's so much
better. Now you know WHEN to look for records. And,
given a year for a photo you can assign an
approximate age to the people in the photos. You can make
a list of all the people you have photos for and a list
of all the known relatives for whom you do not
have photos. Given the ages, dates, and places, you can
eliminate a lot of possibilities and focus in on some
possible identities. And, keep track of who appears
with whom. That's a very important clue.

Now suppose you find someone with the same surname as
your relatives and they're >from the same or a nearby town.
You can show them your photos and see if they recognize
anyone. Even if they can't recognize anyone, it may
turn out that they have the very same photo you have,
or they have a different photo that's clearly the
person in your photo. That almost surely means you're
related. Why else would you have photos of the same
person? I obtained a pile of photos >from a newfound
relative and immediately identified a photo of two
teenage girls. The photo was taken in Saratoga, New York,
in 1898. I knew there had been relatives in
Saratoga Springs and the ages of the daughters matched
those of the two girls in the photo. My guess was soon
confirmed. I also found a photo in that pile of a
young man that had been taken in Minneapolis. I guessed
that the Saratoga Springs relatives, who "disappeared"
around 1911, might have moved to Minnesota and the
young man might have been their son. Sure
enough, when I checked, that's where they were.

I discussed strategies for using photos to find
relatives in an article I just published in the July-August
issue of Family Chronicle.

Good luck hunting. Your work's just begun.

John Hoenig
Williamsburg, VA

searching for FITZER (Stanislau, Brzezany, Czernowitz, New York),
PELLER (Jablonow, New York, Minneapolis), HONIG/HOENIG (Aranyosgyeres,
Cluj, New

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