Old photos: to throw, or not to throw?

  • #1
Wes Tausend
Gold Member
214
30

Summary:

I have some old unidentified family portraits and some family members recommend just throwing them. Should I throw them, or might a computer program eventually recognize who these people might be?

Main Question or Discussion Point

I have some old, large family portraits that seem to have been made pre-1900, but my parents didn't know who they were, and neither do I. They could belong to either side of my parents or no relative at all. Some of my family members recommend just throwing them instead of passing them on in hope. Should I throw them, or might a combination of computer facial recognition/digital aging eventually help determine who these people might be?

Might a computer eventually be able to determine the off-spring face of two parent faces? Or work backwards to choose the most likely parental mates of an off-spring from a limited group of candidates?

As a plus, there are some likely later smaller group photos that are identified, that may also represent later ages of the same portraits. In the meantime, ancestral lineage data may help resolve some probable identities.

I did find one helpful appearing link on the net: https://ancestralfindings.com/researching-old-photo-studios-to-identify-19th-century-photographs/ . This link offers research hints like hairstyles, clothing styles, the type of photograph it is and determining the photo studio by markings and/or signatures. My spouse and I are researching ancestral roots and there are many, many unidentified pictures. It's a long sorting work in progress now largely done by fickle humans.

I'm interested in any knowledgeable industrial comments as well as personal opinions on what folks here might do, or have done, in their families regarding old, seemingly useless photos.

Thanks,
Wes
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
11,268
4,731
I often felt that old family photos are of a personal nature and should be destroyed if they aren’t your family. Its sad to see them for sale in secondhand antique shops where folks can buy them cheaply as a curiosity.
 
  • #3
7,969
4,651
I often felt that old family photos are of a personal nature and should be destroyed if they aren’t your family. Its sad to see them for sale in secondhand antique shops where folks can buy them cheaply as a curiosity.
I would feel different. They are anonymous to a stranger and a window into history. Looking at them is like looking at an anonymous street scene. Some of the most famous photo collections include photos that must have been family photos.
 
  • #4
11,268
4,731
I understand your position but when you have lost someone so dear to you that the pain never leaves then the thought of their image being sold in a flea market is extremely repugnant.
 
  • #6
256bits
Gold Member
2,963
1,002
The team tested the abilities of human volunteers to spot family ties, and found that humans correctly identified parent-child matches and mismatches 67 per cent of the time, slightly worse than their algorithm’s 71 per cent
Interesting link.
Not much of a difference I think, so far between human/computer, so far.
Computer should probably get better I surmise - is facial recognition able to "see" through disguises.
The article does not say the skew of the error - towards false positive or negative for either human or computer, which would probably be an important thing to know. ( Who would want to be falsely computer recognized as being a child of an infamous character ). And of course quality of the photographs.

Never will this be 100 % match - adoptees, affairs, divorces and re-marriage, out of wedlock, ...., so whatever they are "selling", whoever they will be in the future, is going to have a ruse element to it I no doubt.

Some of the element of detected parent / child would be with both parents present and child - features of both.
And grandparents, grandchildren. Siblings.
They just might have something there to work with.

( But then again, don't they say people and their pets look familiar also o_O
https://theconversation.com/people-and-their-pets-look-alike-and-the-same-goes-for-their-cars-31065
Research shows... hmmm
)
 
  • #7
davenn
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2019 Award
8,987
6,647
Summary:: I have some old unidentified family portraits and some family members recommend just throwing them. Should I throw them, or might a computer program eventually recognize who these people might be?

I have some old, large family portraits that seem to have been made pre-1900, but my parents didn't know who they were, and neither do I. They could belong to either side of my parents or no relative at all. Some of my family members recommend just throwing them instead of passing them on in hope. Should I throw them, or might a combination of computer facial recognition/digital aging eventually help determine who these people might be?
I'm assuming ( you were not really clear) that these are actual physical photos
if so, at bare minimum, you should be scanning/digital photographing them and saving them to a computer
 
  • #8
WWGD
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2019 Award
5,122
2,321
Why not at least scan them and upload them to a free Dropbox or other account?
 
  • #9
harborsparrow
Gold Member
528
104
Here's what I did, personally, when I scanned all the old family photographs. If I could not recognize anyone, nor could my sister, I tossed them. If I recognized even some, I labelled the ones I could, and then I'd put them up on Facebook to enlist input from my dozens of cousins. Sometimes, I got a useful ID out of the ensueing discussions, sometimes not. I'm now one of the oldest members of my family. Anyway, I scanned everything, which took me a long time. But it had a good benefit, because it was oddly therapeutic as I worked through several old lingering family memories.

Good luck with your project! Personally, I would toss the unrecognized ones, but this is a private decision and others might do differently.
 
Last edited:
  • #10
Wes Tausend
Gold Member
214
30
These are all excellent replies! I find my varying quandary not alone. Thanks to all who have replied so far... and those that may. None of these great links showed up in my cursory search.

All my portraits are professional photographic portraits and thanks to davenn for pointing this lack of info out. I don't suppose photos of painted portraits would work as well unless the artist was particularly good at perspectives.

Thanks,
Wes
 
  • #11
5
1
It is best to backup them.
 

Related Threads for: Old photos: to throw, or not to throw?

  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
2K
Replies
5
Views
745
Replies
1
Views
6K
Replies
5
Views
703
Replies
1
Views
2K
Replies
4
Views
9K
Top