What’s The Date On That Mystery Photo?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog called, Three Things You Can Do With Mystery Family Photos? But what about when you’re dealing with a mystery photo, and you have no clue as to when it might have been taken? Knowing the date a photo was taken just might get you one step closer to knowing who the images are of.

MyHeritage has launched a new tool that just might help with that. It’s simply called PhotoDater, and it’s part of MyHeritage’s growing selection of tools for photos.

This is one of my favorite mystery photos in my mystery album on FOREVER. The back says; Cora and Harry in front of their Chili Con Carne shop. On the back, Cora wrote, “I wish I’d pull down my skirt a little.” Oh, Cora, you’re fine.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I keep these photos at MyHeritage and in my FOREVER account, and they are in an album called Mystery Photos and tagged with “mystery photo.” That way, it’s easy for me to find them when I’m chatting with a new cousin and want to share photos in hopes that they know who they are.

If you don’t have your photos uploaded to MyHeritage, it’s easy to do. Just click that upload button, and it will take you to your computer, and you can choose the photos you want to look at. (click the photo below to give it a try.) You’ll notice you can do more than date photos; you’ll be able to repair, enhance, colorize, and animate. Dating your image is free, but there are limits for some of the other services, and then you’ll hit the paywall.

Because I’ve had Cora and Harry’s photo in my account, the estimated date is there.

Clicking on that estimated date takes you to a histogram explaining the degree of certainty in its accuracy. Here we see it’s 79% confident and has a 6-year plus and minus.

According to MyHeritage’s blog, “This technology is a machine learning algorithm that was developed by MyHeritage to provide an estimate of the year when a photo was taken. The date estimation algorithm was trained on tens of thousands of curated, definitively dated historical photos to help the algorithm understand nuances such as clothing, hairstyles, facial hair, furniture, and other objects that are characteristic of a particular decade.”

I think that Cora and Harry looked to be in their late 50s or so; (I might be wrong, I’m not good at guessing ages, so if you think otherwise, let me know). Therefore, with a date of 1935, that would place their birth at 1885. That would make them born around the same time as my great-grandparents Jesse and Alice Elizabeth Oliver, so they could be friends or cousins to either Jesse or Alice. This may be the connection because these photos came from my grandmother, and Alice was her mom.

I decided to peek at my family tree to see if I had the name Cora and sure enough, there were a couple of Cora but no mention of a Harry. There are also some photos online, but I’m unsure if they are the same, Cora, so I sent a message. I’ll let you know what I hear.

Let’s try another. I say this photo is of Pearl Thompson, but I don’t know that for a fact. It started with a group of pictures (again from my paternal grandmother’s collection). Everyone said they were of my great-grandmother Lily Shannon and her husband John Robert Thompson (step-great-grandfather). One day I had one of those “lightbulb” moments where I realized that the woman beside John Robert wasn’t my great-grandmother. It was for sure John Robert because his ears couldn’t be mistaken, but he and the woman were much younger. My great-grandmother was older when she was supposed to have met and married John Robert, so this made me research John Robert. Remember that this was again when I first started genealogy, and I believe I question things much better now than I did back then.

John Robert Thompson and Elizabeth Ralph?

After further research, I realized that John Robert Thompson had been married before, and he and his wife had a daughter Henrietta Pearl. The photo studio’s name on the couple’s photo was the same as the one on Pearl’s photo. So Pearl has been in my collection, but there is no family left to confirm it’s her.

In this case, MyHeritage’s PhotoDater gives it an estimate of 1903, and that would have made Pearl nine years old, and this little girl is much younger than that. If you look at the histogram, it tells us a bit more. The confidence is 82%, and again there is a +/- of 6 years. If you take those 6 years off, then you are looking at 1897, and Pearl would have been three. Now that’s a bit more plausible.

Here’s a bit of info that you might want to know. When the PhotoDater gives you an estimated date for your photo, it doesn’t go into the photo metadata until you confirm the date. If you have a photo that the PhotoDater doesn’t give you an estimated date, then that’s because it’s unable to provide an estimate due to the photo’s quality or other factors.

Do you have any old mystery photos you don’t know how old they might be? MyHeritage’s PhotoDater might be just what you need to have a starting point to work your mystery.

Let me leave you with two more photos. I decided to take the above photos further and use the repair and colorize tool. Cora and Harry, I just left in black and white (don’t you love the old monochrome photos? I sure do). You can see that it removed that stain, and it did a good effort to fix that right-hand edge.

Pearl is beautiful, colorized or not.

I love the tools at MyHeritage, and I store my genealogy photos on MyHeritage and all of my photos on FOREVER

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