Mystery Album

Recently a friend and I were discussing organizing family photos. She had inherited boxes of her mother’s photos and was telling me that there were quite a few photos that she didn’t know who the people were and she was going to throw them away.

My immediate reaction was; Noooooo don’t do that.

I told her the story of a family photo that I received from my parents when they were going through photos they had retrieved from the family farm. I was about 16 years old and fell in love with the photo of a lady sitting very stiffly in a chair, her hair was pulled back tightly in a bun and she was holding a bible. I kept that photo in a special box that I keep all the family papers I collected.

Thirty-five years later I sent an inquiry to the Leeds and Grenville Genealogy Society in Ontario, Canada asking for some information about a cemetery that made reference to one of my ancestors; Caroline Shannon. The Vice-President of the Society at the time replied and copied the President; Ron Shannon. The Vice-preseident said that Ron could probably be quite helpful with my inquiry. Ron was, and it turned out that Ron was my 2nd cousin 2x removed.

A couple of weeks after connecting with Ron, he sent me a small booklet of family history that he had collected. In among the pages was the same photo that I’d had kept for all those 35 years. But the difference was that Ron knew who it was; it was my great grandmother; Lillie Shannon’s sister; Sarah Jane Shannon.

Now I knew who she was

So getting back to my friend; I understood her dilemma. Often you do have limited storage. So do you really want to keep those photos of people you can’t identify?

I offered her this solution. What if she scanned all the photos that she had that were of people that she didn’t recognize and then she could make an album on her computer and in her photo storage program/cloud storage site and called that album; Mystery Photos. If she had mystery photos from different families then she could make several Mystery albums, identifying each surname the mystery photos came from like mine might be called, Thompson Mystery Photos, Middlebrough Mystery Photos.. you get the idea.

Then after scanning and storing those photos, she could throw them away. Or if she has a cousin that might like them offer the photos to them. But if there was truly no one that would want them, throw them away and at least she’d have copies if at some time in the future she meet a cousin and they knew who the mystery person was.

For me, it’s heartbreaking to throw out old photos, probably because I don’t have many of them and I’m always looking for new cousin to share photos with but I understand where my friend was coming from and this was the solution that I could think of. If you have other ideas let me know.

If your wondering about photo organizing programs the one I use is FOREVER Historian and of course I also have all my photos save in FOREVER Storage. To find out more you can go to my FOREVER site and be sure to sign up for your FREE 2GB FOREVER account.


  • LeAnn says:

    She could always post to DeadFred or Ancestors Lost and Found / or appropriate Facebook group.

  • Lois M. Wells says:

    Never underestimate the value and impact of those unidentified images! I’ve been trying to reconstruct my husband’s paternal lines for more than thirty years. Recently a very distant cousin posted images she had inherited, hoping to identify some and share others for whom she did have information. What a wonderful and completely unexpected surprise to see an 1860’s image of my husband’s great-great grandmother, Sarah Hull Wells. Over the years many, many folks have shared bits and pieces – or even whole family lines – and it is a very great kindness to do the same with whatever snippet of info or old photo you may find among your own family treasures.

  • Constance Pentzer says:

    Many genealogical societies and museums will take old photos from their area. Cousins may be able to identify people that you can’t. I received labeled photos from a cousin that enabled me to identify people in my own photos and I was able to identify ones she didn’t know. I have also identified some when finding the same photo on Ancestry. I constantly tell folks to never throw out old photos just because you don’t know who they are as someone else might know them.

    • Great suggestions Constance. I’m with you I never want to throw out photos. I’m more inclined to find someone else in the family that would want them but societies and museums are great suggestions.