Background Items Help Find Places and Dates

The background tells a great story – Items or events in the background of photos can help you determine where and when the photo was taken

The photo below is a great example.   Monterey Miller is sitting on the left and her cousin (I believe) is next to her.

You can she she drew an arrow above his head.

Mammoth Cave

The best part about the photo is where they are at.

It looks like they went to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky.

I believe she was a school teacher, but I will have to dig into my notes to see if I remembered correctly.

antique photos mammoth cave

Monterey Miller Album

Good Details Written on the Back.

I think that is why she writes on the photos and does such a good job with the detail. The photo was taken at 2pm, (I have never seen anyone else put the time taken) on July 1, 1937.

I believe this was one of the promotional photos taken at Mammoth Cave. You pay for it and pick it up before you leave. There are two of the park employs off to the right side of the photo.

How Objects Help You Date the Picture

Look at that lantern, It would also help you determine the date if you didn’t know (or at least get a close date).  The man with the lantern is their guide and all the others are just visiting.

Get Several Opinions From Other Relatives.

Here is another good tip for some of you. We had a reunion and we took photos that we were having trouble identifying some of the people in them and passed them around.

We told everyone to write who they thought it was if they know on the back.  That way notes could be made and everyone was helping out.

The reason I brought this up. Monterey had done this on the back of every single photo in her album and put her initials under it.

I even had an old school friend contact me on Facebook and tell me stories and helped me identify several people in the old photos my mother had from back when she was in high school.

Another Example of Background Items – Dating Cars

cars in background help you date photos

If you are not sure of a date you can at least have a general date, at least within a few years. I know the baby is under a year old and if the name is on the back I can some up with a date from that. The date would be apx. 1934 I believe. And I’m no car expert but I thought this was a good item to add to the information to show my grand kids about the car. The will find the price of the car crazy!

And it does look the same from the front, so maybe a good guess at the type car they had.

Look up the style of car and get a general idea of the time frame. Not only do you have that but you have the type of car for a personal story on the family.

I could not read the license plate on this one but from the date of the baby I think I can determine a year and place where the photo was taken at. Mainly because I have other photos with the same house in them and they are labeled. So be sure and put all the photos together and look for clues.

Locations, Places and Businesses Can Help You Find Dates

automobiles and business help with dates and places of old photos

If you can find the business listed in an advertisement in a newspaper or a phone book, any of these can help get an approximate date.

So far I have not found the Millers Garage but I think by the photo that they may have just started the business. Showing off the front of the business and the car with the sign on it. So if I can find the town where it is located then I will have an approximate date for the business. Update… I found the business and it will all be added in on the album article on this entire family.

Newspapers are a great place for this type search but phone directories and other things link business or classified adds may even list the garage.

Famous Vacation Places


This was very cool, I had never heard of this place. Noccalula Falls Park is in Alabama. I will guess they are on vacation, and this is a wonderful story for your family history. How awesome, a 90 or 100 foot (according to where you look)  waterfall with a winding trail. Black Creek Gorge, caves, an old fort, old Civil War carvings and pioneer homestead all on 250 acres. This sounds great, I may have to make a trip to this one.

An awesome story to share with in the family tree. And if you are like me I try and go recreate the photo with present family members.

Finding Out Where They Had Been

This was a train ride from San Diego called the TiaJuana Limited. This train could have ran anywhere from the 1888’s to 1930’s or so.

It was ride was taking the vacationers to the horse races in Old Mexico.

Use Message Boards for Help

Duke – Old divided post card  says – Hello Bud addressed to Mr Duke – Fred Toys in Denver, Co.

Based on the background, we can tell that this  old photo looks like the ones that are staged.  I picked it up in Colorado, so we will see if I can find anything out about it!

This might be an easy one to date and place by using message boards. If it is a vacation place type photo you know there will be many more just like it out there somewhere.

Then you will have some more information to go on if you need to find dates.

Search Famous Vacation Places and Parks

One thing you can do on a photo like this, especially if you have no idea where it was taken is to Google horse and rider statues under images. Meet Mary Lou Hamilton and Garry Hamilton. I bet they had a wonderful vacation. and photos like this are a great memory for the next generations to admire and read about.

The next thing I did was to zoom in or look with magnifying glass to find any clues and Buffalo Bill came out of that at me. So I now know this beautiful lady (my grandmother and my uncle) took this photo in Cody, Wyoming.

The statue was placed in 1924 to commemorate Buffalo Bill Cody. What a great story to write up in my family tree!

Look for Similar Photos

This was a postcard and is an army base and if I look long enough I’m sure I can find another photo of this to put a name to the location. Especially because it is the type photo that you buy for visitors and it was mailed to a family member.

With the mailing, I can determine the date. The person sending it drew on it to show where he was standing. If you look really close there is a little “x” one top of the line of men right to the left of the flag pole. This makes me think they made several for the men to send home to families.

Type in Any Information Visible to Search

There are many things you can pull out of a photo to help date the picture. This one now has a new sign and I’m sure it can be date to at least a close date using some of that information.

When I find the locations and share with family on Facebook about the things I find I always include a link to the place so the family members can see how things have changed over time. This also makes a great  part for the story.

Images online is a Fast Resource

I think I have found where this was taken in Colorado. We will see what all I can find on this photo.

This one I typed in horse and rider and searched till I found a statue that told who it was, then I could search for more information on the exact monument. So, this is a Kit Carson monument in Denver, Colorado. It was commissioned in 1906.

Be sure and look more into your photo background! You can discover information and get the real story behind the photo.  You will cherish all of the memories from your ancestors forever. Have fun searching through the past!