Photos: Help identifying unknowns

Identifying unknowns

The place for help with family photos

Steps you take now may help in the identification of your photos.

  • Where did you find the photo? Was it with the Smith collection or in the Butterfield tubs? Chances are, the person belongs to that family. File or label it accordingly.
  • Have you tried to match it with other, similar photos in your collection? Look at fencing around houses, furniture, windows, trees, and even trim around the photo itself. Group what you can, and note possible locations.
  • Note that several old cardboard frames print a location on the front.
  • Make notes, and include your hunches. Your suspicions may be more accurate than you realize.
  • Enlarge photos if you can, use a magnifying glass, and study facial features closely. Look at ears, teeth, smiles, hair lines, even rings on fingers.
  • Always ask elderly relatives. They, too, know more than they realize.
  • Note any handwriting on the back, as in who wrote the note, not just what it says. The person who wrote the note may provide a clue about the unknown’s identity.

Start with what you know

Sample notes for the photo below:

Butterfield or Smith collection, location likely Tacoma or Minneapolis. Photo matches others that have the same notes on the back. The woman is sitting in the same chair in two photos. I suspect her to be Helen Eliza White Smith, Orah’s Smith Butterfield’s mother. Facial features closely resemble a woman labeled Sarah Butterfield. No one else in the family was able to identify this woman, but mom also suspects she could be Helen. The notes on the back read, “Charley,” and appear to be written by my own grandma, Lalla Butterfield.”

smith_helen eliza white_possibly_labeled Charley on back_not sure of location_

Back reads “Charley”

My notes do not identify her, but I leave the next curious person with significant clues. This meets my personal goal: I’ve left my children with what I know and/or suspect, far more than nothing for them to build upon.


To read an article about using instinct to help identify the unknowns, you can read Susan’s article HERE.


When your attempts to identify fail

There are no doubt photos you will not be able to identify, at least without help. I cannot emphasize enough the power of PHOTO MATCHING. Give it a try; you may be surprised.

For the families listed on the Surnames pages, I will make every attempt to post your unknowns. I’d like for cousins to connect, share, and learn about our families together.

Do you think you know my mystery woman? My guess is she was born a SMITH or married into the Smith family. If you so much as suspect you know her, please let me know.

To see the Gallery of my mysterious people, click HERE.

To ask about posting your unknowns, please click HERE.

Thank you! ❤

Top photo: Any help would be appreciated. I can verify Orah standing center back in the white dress, and her daughter, Hazel, seated, third from the left.

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