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Identifying old photos

The Pioneer Museum in Hot Springs, S.D., has thousands of treasures, most of which can be identified for labeling by personal stories or research.

One large collection has museum personnel baffled. It is a group of some 600 portrait photos taken by Stevens Studio, a photography studio that was in business in Hot Springs for 70 years. The photos are not identified. From the garments worn, the years represented seem to cover the early 1940s to the late 1950s. Due to the time period covered the museum believed many of the photo subjects or their families could still be around the area.

The local newspaper, the Fall River County Herald-Star is running one photo each week with the hope of identifying the portraits. The museum would like to enter the information into the database and when a photo is known, the museum emails a digital copy to the family to use as they wish.

When the portraits were taken, each one had at least two views, for a couple. A family of four or more had at least four views. Each view was numbered. The digital photos came to the museum as negatives and were scanned to turn them into positive images. The negatives were sorted by number and family unit and placed into envelopes several years ago, which helped with the next steps. Those same numbers are used by the museum in temporary records.

“It’s a project that museums or local historical societies in other areas might want to emulate. Volunteers donate their time and when people respond with identification, everyone wins and it’s gratifying.”

Of the first eight photos in the newspaper, four of them have been positively identified and one under review as a possible identification is in the works. Considering the photos were apparently taken between 60 and 80 years ago, the museum thinks 50 percent is quite good.


Last week a photo of a handsome, mustached man was the mystery photo of the week. A couple in Hot Springs sent me a copy of a color photo portrait that hangs in their living room. The photos match perfectly, with no speculation. This same couple identified three of seven in a photo of Hot Springs policemen. A woman from a rural town in the county let me know that one photo was of her aunt and uncle and provided the names. Their daughter lives elsewhere and she ultimately received a digital copy of the photo taken on her parents’ wedding day, Aug. 4, 1945. Her mother is still living. I would think it would be a thrill for both mother and daughter to have a fresh copy of such a photo.

This is where the public comes in and the museum needs your help. Please read the newspaper each week and let me know when you can identify a photo, or can even give a lead upon which the museum can follow. It’s a project that museums or local historical societies in other areas might want to emulate. Volunteers donate their time and when people respond with identification, everyone wins and it’s gratifying. ❖

— Sanders can be reached by email at peggy@peggysanders.com.




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