How to Read Handwriting on Old Photos

Tips for Reading Inscriptions on the Back of Those Old Family Photos 

I’m always having trouble reading the backs of old photos. That is if they have something on them at all. You are going to have to take into account the age of the photo, what the person wrote the message with and many other things.

One of the biggest problems is handwriting.  You can find words you know for sure and check how they make their letters to use on different words you just can’t make out.

I always keep a magnifying glass around to look at the picture front and the back. That helps at times. But I think the main thing that helps me is to take a picture of the photo with my phone and play with the settings.

Modifying Digital Photography

Here is an example of a photography that I took with my phone.  After I take the photo, I load it on my computer.  That way I have a larger screen to view them and enlarge if needed.

The photo on the left is the original.  The two on the right are photos I worked on with setting on my computer.  I will adjust brightness, contrast or just about any photo setting I can find to improve the readability.

Every computer is different and everyone has different software.  If you don’t have photoshop or other photo software then you can use an online photo processor like Canva.

Canva for Online Photo Processing

I also cropped the bottom so I could see it larger to make out what was on it. Little by little I figure it out!

So, with the help of blowing the picture up and changing some of the settings on the photo I can now read most of the back.

Photo of Turkeys???

Here is a good example of how you can modify a photo and discover new information.

I love this photo of the turkeys. I just assumed they were all wild turkeys that she had raised to be tame.  I would not have known different until I modified and enlarged this photo.  I found out I was wrong.

After I blew up the bottom of the photo I could make out more of the detail.  I could see writing that said  “Willow Hill Turkeys.” I Googled it and there is such a thing. I gathered that they are pastured turkeys instead of raised in pens. Wouldn’t that just make them wild turkeys again?

A girl and her turkeys. What a great old photo!

Where is Desdemona, Texas?

I also had no clue about the rest of it. That is until I figured out the last two letters were “tx”. Now I knew it had to be a town and looked it up and yes, I have never heard of that either! Desdemona, Texas.

When you are not sure of the letters you can just start adding some and it will sometimes pop up and you can then make out the handwriting. I discovered that it is was a former oil boom town located on Highway 16 southeast of Eastland, Texas. Hummmm… does anyone else see a common pattern here?

This photo is from a completely different scrapbook and was bought in a different store and town, and probably different years. I am just destined to work on things from east Texas I think. Either way I will be looking this little ghost town up because I go that direction all the time.

Back to the Back of the Photo Again

I have an entire scrapbook of photos that this one picture came out of. I always go through them. Looking at each one to see what is on the back and make notes about what I can find out. If I see photos taken the same day or at the same place I put them together so I can figure out what and where.

I do the same thing with the people in the photos. That way if only one photo has a name on it, I know that person and can put sticky notes on the other photos with names. And sometimes I add other information if I figure it out from other clues and things in the photo.

What does it say, What are My Clues?

Transcribing the back of the photo from up above: “ This of course is ?????… “(I’m thinking Shirley – but not positive).

Now, this is a good TIP! Do not just look at everything on a screen or zoomed in. I had no clue until I placed the photo down on the table and just tried to read it over and over a couple of times. Then it looked like Shirley. But zoomed in I could not make out anything at all. So I will just go with Shirley for now until or if I know something different.

“This is Shirley and her turkeys. She certainly has nice ones. Please send back.” Then the bottom piece reads “Willow Hill Turkeys & Queen, Desdemona, Tx. 9-11-24”.

What a great photo from 1924! I have no idea what the Queen part is, maybe she is just Queen of the flock! But I think I know the girls first name and maybe I can do some more research to find out something else about the turkeys using the date, some newspaper articles, and the town.

More Tips on Finding Information on Photos

The last TIP for now. The place that developed the photo. Most of the time back in those days it would have been developed at the closest town near where the person lived.

Those old film days were great, people may not be able to ever do that again. They will have to search our photos of today a totally different way! Not to many places develop film anymore. This one said “Dixon’s Kodak Shop – Comanche,  Texas.” 

Yep, I looked it up on the map and there is only twenty eight miles between them. That may have been a lot of miles back then, but from what I read about Desdemona it may not have had a place to get film developed. They would have had to mail it off to another town.

Hopefully by the time I go through all the photos in the scrapbook I will have a last name and some more family members names. Never give up! Everything is a clue, and there are always plenty of clues to go on. Happy hunting and enjoy the search.

References:,_Texas – Some really great pictures here, very old.
Photo from a scrapbook in my personal collection – Jena Hamilton