Dating Old Photographs 1840-1950 Family historians often seek to date pictures they have inherited, since knowing when a photograph was taken may help to identify an unknown ancestor or decide the likely age of a known one.
Dating photographs is not always an exact science, but a surprising degree of accuracy can often be achieved, and this frequently results from assessing evidence of several different kinds.
It is, therefore, worth taking the time to compare all the dating clues that can be gleaned from an old portrait.
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This guide will help you to find individual photographs among our vast holdings, some of them in discrete collections but many scattered more haphazardly among the documents of the scores of central government departments, past and present, that commissioned and collected them.
You can view and purchase high-quality copies of many thousands of our photographs through our Image Library.
The collection also covers some 7,000 schools and colleges so it's a good chance that if your school had a group school photograph taken, then it will be in our collection.
To start searching for your old school photo just click here and then enter the name of your school and the year you think the photo was taken, and the database will do the rest. Go to our "Find your School" page and see if your school is in the archives.
The Image Library is the easiest way to get a sense of the breadth and depth of what we hold but most of our photographs are not available to view online.
To see anything that is not available from the Image Library you will need either to visit us or pay for copies to be sent to you.The National Archives does not hold any cinematographic film.Archived film of government origin is held at the British Film Institute.The National Archives holds central government and court records that have been selected for permanent preservation.Our photographs are among these records, all of which, broadly speaking, have played some part in the working life of their government department of origin, whether commissioned as part of a survey, collected by British diplomats overseas, inherited, donated or acquired in some other way.Then there is the image itself, which can provide telling information in the studio background and props., in the composition and technique, and in the clothes worn by the sitter.