May 2021 Genealogy Blog Party: 10 Tips to Find Historical Photographers

Elizabeth O’Neal’s Heart of the Family theme for the May 2021 Genealogy Blog Party is National Photography Month.

All members of our ancestors’ FAN (Friends, Associates, Neighbors) club are important and the neighborhood photographer definitely qualifies as an associate in the FAN club.

How does one go about learning about photographers who took the family photos that we now cherish?

What you’ll be successful in finding is rather hit and miss. I’ve had good luck learning a lot about individual photographers, but have also totally struck out, not uncovering a single detail past the name of the company.

Here are several online sources and tips for finding out more about them:

1. City Directories – By the second half of the 19th century, personal photography was becoming quite inexpensive and therefore popular to the masses. City directories were also abundant in that time frame, so make good use of them.

2. Telephone Books – These were the natural progression of city directories and often had advertisements in them.

3. Census Records – Small towns can be read page by page for photographers, who often ran very mobile businesses. However, use the KEYWORD search to locate photographers. Don’t limit yourself to that one word. Depending on the time period, you might also find an  ambrotypist or daguerrotypist (often spelled creatively).

4. Newspapers – It might taking some digging and a bit of luck, but searching for photographers’ names/businesses might bring up stories about individual photographers or mention them in stories about weddings, reunions and other social events.

4. Photographers of the 19th Century

5. Langdon’s List of 19th and Early 20th Century Photographers

6. Historic Photographers of America’s History

7. Wikipedia’s 19th-century American Photographers

8. Wikipedia’s 20th-century American Photographers

9. Directory of Massachusetts Photographers, 1839-1900

10. Cyndi’s List – There are some international photographer databases here.

This is just a sampling to get you started. More and more databases are appearing for U.S. states and countries around the world, so take a few minutes to search. You might be surprised at what you find.


3 thoughts on “May 2021 Genealogy Blog Party: 10 Tips to Find Historical Photographers”

  1. There are similar databases for the UK – I used them a few years ago to uncover info about the photographer who took the wedding photos for my great-uncle in 1926.

  2. A good listing of resources to try! I used city directories to narrow down the date of an ancestor photo, whose portrait was taken at a photo studio that was only open between X year and Y year. TY!

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