When do your Family Photo Postcards Date From?

School class photo

There are times I think there ought to be a law against having photos with no names written on the back! I have inherited some wonderful photos but there are a good number where I don’t have the faintest idea who is in them.

I usually try to work out  who is in a photo from the following

  • Whose collection they came from
  • The clothes being worn
  • The type of photograph
  • Family resemblances (always a dodgy one!)
  • The number and relative ages of people in the picture

Popular postcard format

One type of photo that seems to last quite well  are ones with postcards on the back.

I have a few of these including

  • one of my maternal grandmother in a white dress, ringlets and mob cap
  • one of my paternal grandad in a garden
  • one of a school class of young boys in stiff collars with a woman teacher in academic robes.

In the first two it is quite easy to work out who is the subject of the photo, but in the last one even identifying who I am interested in is a challenge. One of the boys or the teacher?

In the absence of much else, I decided to see what I could work out from the photo format itself.

So what did I learn from the postcard photo?

Photograph postcards were most popular between about 1900 and 1920, although they were still around up to the 50s. A key dating feature is the line down the middle of the postcard back, where you use one side for the message and the other for the address. This was allowed by the Post Office after 1902 which means that cards with it were made after that date.

These cards were mostly taken by photographers studios and were given away to friends and family. This means that they were rarely sent in the post and so don’t have a post-mark on them. Which is a pity, as that would be really useful for dating!

My next steps

Based on understanding the popularity of this format  I think this was probably taken somewhere  around 1910 -1920.  My next step is to review the family 1911 census records for boys and single women teachers of the right age to be in the photo.  I believe that 1901 census is likely to be too early.

And if I ever work out who is in it, be certain that I will write their name on the back!