General Genealogy Topics

Using My Genealogy Detective Skills

I am a huge fan of vintage items. I love going to estate and yard sales to find old treasures. I have even created my own business on Etsy to sell the interesting antique and vintage things I come across.

The Find

Antique Photo Album

One time, at a sale, I found an antique photo album in pretty good shape. The person who was holding the yard sale had no idea where the album had come from, but was sure that it did not belong to their family.

I noticed that most of the pages of the album included handwritten notes from the original owner, identifying nearly all of the 50+ people in the album. This brought out the amateur sleuth in me. I was intrigued and had to buy it!

The Investigation

Since there were a number of surnames written in the album, and the photos weren’t necessarily grouped by family, I decided the first step in my detective work would be to organize all of the names in a spreadsheet. Another detail I culled from the album to assist in my history investigation was from the advertisement on the front page, which identified the location of the album’s manufacturer as Philadelphia.

One other lucky clue I got was from the original album owner, who actually wrote their own name and the year “1865” on the inside cover. Although I am sure I could have identified the album’s time period based on the ladies’ fashions or perhaps by identifying the photograph types (tintype, daguerreotype, etc…), this fortunate clue saved me some research time!

Once all of the information I had assembled was organized and I had a research approach, I did an online search of U.S. census collections on Ancestry.com. I used the time period and location information, in combination with the surnames I found written in the album, to refine the search.

Detective skills census record

My genealogy detective skills paid off quickly! It did not take long for me to find some of the people from the album in the 1870 U.S. census living together in the same household.

The Happy Ending

From there I searched Ancestry members’ family trees for a living descendent. I found a member who looked to be an active, frequent user of the site and I sent off a message. I started out by introducing myself and wrote:

Old Photo Album

“We are not related, but I wanted to write to you because I found an old photo album at a yard sale….”

I am happy to state, there was a very excited reply and a sense of amazement that I had found the album. Shortly thereafter, the heirloom was being shipped to a very grateful family member. I had done my good genealogy deed for the day!

Genealogy detective skills

So, now I always keep an eye out for vintage and antique photo albums when I go to yard and estate sales.

I have managed to find additional family albums since this one was found. Unfortunately, not all of them provided as many good clues as this one did. I am currently investigating the best sites and online groups to share and upload my mystery album photos, so if you have any suggestions, just let me know!

Can I help with any of your family history mysteries? If so, I would love to hear from you.

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