My wife's father was born in Queensland, Australia in 1930. He died in 1989. She has only 2 photos of him. One has no markings on the front or rear and nothing to identify the year taken. What avenues are available to estimate the year the photo was taken?

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  • 4
    Are you able to estimate the individuals age from the photo? Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 20:02
  • 8
    Even general questions about dating a photograph are better framed in the context of an actual photograph. Are you able to post the mystery-date photograph to a public site and include the link in your question? In the alternative, perhaps circle me on G+ (see my Genealogy.SE profile); send me the image and I'll add it to your question.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 20:03
  • 2
    A basic description eg, black & white or colour, size and possible period (life span of subject, broad age category of subject) would narrow down the question and elicit a more specific answer.
    – Sue Adams
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 10:29
  • The photo is about 4cm wide by about 6 cm long. There is an additional border on the left side of 4mm. The top, right and bottom do not have a border and look like they have been cut. The cuts are straight and not done by scissors. The photo is sepia in color and looks like it would crack if rolled/bent. I will try to upload the photo later.
    – Gerald
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 5:48
  • 5
    Could we ask him to stand up, please?
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 20, 2012 at 0:19

9 Answers 9


This needs more work, but adding to the fun:

  1. His jacket. This looks late 1940s early 1950s to me, has a short "Ike" feel to it. Not yet greaser style; not yet denim. See the greaser look in the "Rebel Without a Cause" picture on pg 57 of the scribd file: Fashions of the Decade 1950s.
  2. Trousers. They have cuffs (back in fashion after the war) and are not too slim fitted (greaser) but not exaggerated either (as were some in the late 40s); not denim. See the Dacron ad on pg. 37 of the scribd file: Fashions of the Decade 1950s.
  3. His shirt; the collar, width of the front placket, etc. I thought I would fair better working on this than I did. I can only note that it is relaxed and has the casual/crumpled look.
  4. His hair. This seemed it could be misleading. (He's obviously having so much fun!)
  5. No wedding ring.
  6. Sandals/no socks. This should tell us something, but I wan't able to find good information.

P.S. If I only had two photographs of my dad, I'd want this to be one of them. Check out that smile--he's lovin' it.

  • 4
    +1 for "If I only had two photographs of my dad, I'd want this to be one of them". Couldn't agree more, this is a great family photo.
    – fbrereto
    Commented Nov 20, 2012 at 21:14

Some questions to ask about photographs:

  1. Can you estimate the age of the people, particularly if there are young children or pregnant women involved?
  2. Can you make a guess based on the style of clothing?
  3. Does the background of the image yield any clues?
  4. Are there any identifying marks that indicate who took the picture? The name of the photographer or the studio, its location, etc.?
  5. Is there any writing on the back? What language? To whom was it addressed? Post mark?
  • 1
    As to points 4 and 5 (although they are good), the OP states there are no markings at all.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 22:21
  • 3
    Understood; might still help the next person looking to date a photo. Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 22:49
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    @Luke - there may be some faint watermark-type marking on the photo paper used
    – warren
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 20:04

Dating photos relies on a combination of:

  1. internal evidence - clothing, subject matter, composition, props, etc
  2. identification of people in it - what age were they when the photo was taken? how does this fit with known birth dates?
  3. production processes - different materials (eg. type of photographic paper) and chemical processes resulted in characteristic types of photo. Standard sizes of commercial prints have changed over time.
  4. photographer - photographer's marks and advertising can be used to identify the photographer, hence the period the business operated.

Jayne Shrimpton and Maureen Taylor's books are good references, but they concentrate on the 1850-1950 period.

The scanned image shows a black-and-white print. The informal outdoor setting suggests it was taken by an amatuer photographer. I think this print has been cut down from a larger original because prints usually had white borders on all sides.

Commercially processed prints tended to come in standard sizes, which is derived from the size of the negative. Typically commercial processesing produced contact prints (exactly the same size as the negative) and enlargements of the whole negative, which maintain the aspect ratio of the negative. Unfortunately in this case, we do not know the size of the original print, so we can't deduce the size of the negative.

As othe answers have suggested, the 1950s is strongly indicated. At that time, colour photography existed, but was not as widely popular and affordable as black-and-white.


I would try to track down the source of the photo. If your wife didn't take it, then she must have got it from someone. Who did your she get it from? Maybe it was her brother or uncle. Maybe they took the picture or got it from someone else.

Once you track the source steps of the photo as to how it got to your wife. See if the person at each step might have other photos taken from that day and place. Those other photos would provide more important clues and maybe even indicate the event (birthday, get-together, location) that the photo was taken and enable you to get a more accurate date.

In addition, I would also contact all my wife's first cousins, and send them a copy of the photo and ask them if they could help identify it. One of them may have at one time seen the photo and it or others from the same event or copies of those may have somehow come into their possession. While doing so, ask your wife's cousins what else they know or heard about your wife's father.

  • My wife found it in a box of old photos after her mother died. This was the only one she kept. Her sister took the rest of the photos and unfortunately, she destroyed them all. Her older sisters were born 1950 - 1952 and do not remember the photo or location. My wife only met her father on one occasion after the mother separated. None of the people in his new life had any idea of his daughters, let alone where he had been and when.
    – Gerald
    Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 23:52
  • @Gerald - thanks for the extra info. See my "in addition" in my answer.
    – lkessler
    Commented Nov 20, 2012 at 0:15
  • My wife says her mother left him when she was 3, so that would be about 1962. We both think the photo would have been before separation, as her mum and dad did not see each other again.
    – Gerald
    Commented Nov 20, 2012 at 0:45
  • @Gerald - Is it possible to get any documents about their marriage? Church records?
    – lkessler
    Commented Nov 20, 2012 at 0:47
  • @lkessler - I have been watching this progress and would like to know what could be gained by the wedding documents?
    – Those Legs
    Commented Nov 20, 2012 at 0:54

An additional avenue for investigation may be "who took the photograph?" Does it appear to be a posed studio portrait or a snapshot?

There were fashions in how amateur snapshots were printed that may help you to narrow down the time period. Compare these two for the width of the white border and the presence (or absence) of a deckle edge.

Two 1950s photographs

Other relevant features might include whether the surface is gloss or matte (or even textured in the 1970s); the presence of perforations on two edges only (machine-printed in strips); or even the size of the print (sometimes an indication of relative prosperity).

Although there may be nothing written ON the back of the photo, look closely IN the paper. Many manufacturers of photographic paper incorporated a watermark in their products. That may also help you to identify a probable time for the creation of the image.

  • what time periods are your samples from? Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 22:41
  • @RustyErpenbeck I just realised that when I enter a description (Two 1950s photographs) for an image, it is visible only in Edit. Not awfully useful! The narrow border deckle edge is from circa 1956 (based on my stylish clothes) and the plainer version is probably 5 years later.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 0:49

Eyeballing the age of the man in the photo I'd say he's between 20-35 years old. If he was born in 1930 that puts the range of the photo between 1950-1965.

The composition of the photo is interesting. Given his relaxed posture, his smile, him looking down at the camera, and the tilted angle of the photo itself leads me to think his picture is being taken by a child or a girlfriend in a very lighthearted moment. I'm not sure if any of that helps close the gap of when the photo was taken, but if it was your wife's mother (his girlfriend at the time) who took the photo, the year they met to the year they got married would be a bounds to the photo's age (otherwise he'd be wearing a wedding band). The fact he has no wedding band would suggest to me he's on the earlier side of the above range, maybe mid-to-late 20s in age.

The fact that this is a black and white picture could narrow the date the photo was taken, assuming you can accurately figure out when consumer color photography was becoming more commonplace in Australia.

Assuming she is still living, what details does your wife's mother know about the photo?

  • My wife's mother died some years ago. The photo(s) were found while cleaning out her belongings.
    – Gerald
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 12:22

Not being a fashion person, but looking at his face, I estimate he is in his twenties, so that would make the photo the fifties.


Judging by the hair style, jacket and cut of the shirt I would hazard a guess at mid to late 50's.

The fact that you say it is sepia in colour and that it looks like it would crack if bent would seem to back that up as by the early 60's photographic paper was becoming more robust.

In terms of archiving the photographs (which I know you didn't ask about) I would highly recommend getting a high resolution scan of the images and having them restored. Most of the time, you find that much more information is in the image that you previously thought and your wife could have a bigger version on show.


His hair looks like late 1950s/early 1960s, and his collar and sandals seem more late 1960s, at least by USA fashions. Was the photo taken in Australia?

  • My wife assumes it was taken in Queensland Australia. It was possibly around Brisbane or Townsville, as they are the only areas she knows he lived until older.
    – Gerald
    Commented Nov 20, 2012 at 0:34
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    Looking at the stumps on the house, the height would indicate around Brisbane rather than Townsville. If that is the case, you could exclude the time spent in Townsville.
    – Those Legs
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 12:26

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