Home School Life Journal From Preschool to High School

Home School Life Journal ........... Ceramics by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

Hands-On History: Old Photographs

Three Generations of Women in My Family
This is not an old photograph, but I am trying to make sure that I leave as much information as I can about our family photos, for generations to come.
Another interesting hands-on history project for modern history is to look at old family photographs. Photographs are primary sources of historical information that can provide you with direct links to the past. Analyzing photographs for what they can tell you about the past takes practice, however. 

The background setting can give you a lot of
information. This is a photo of my father, Berkley Proctor
who was a waterman.
Questions to Ask When Analyzing a Photograph

  • What is the subject of the picture?
  • What is happening in the picture?
  • Why was the photograph taken?
  • Can you determine when and where it was taken?
  • Does the photograph give you any clues as to the viewpoint of the photographer? If it is a studio picture, does it have information about the studio, such as where it was taken?
  • What does the photograph tell you about the time period?
  • Is there anything written on the photograph, such as on the back?
  • Do you have other pictures to compare this one to? Does the uniqueness of this photograph tell you anything?
  • Can you tell what type of camera was used? (Polaroid, Dry plate, Tin Type, Daguerreotype are some examples of photographic styles that are distinctive.)

My mother, Dee Proctor.

Things to Note About Older Photographs

  • Before the 1880's people had to stand very still for a long period of time for photographs. If a person has their hand on a rail, for example, it might be because the photograph was taken before the 1880's.
  • Not only can photographs be used as historical documents to identify people, but can also be used to identify objects. Do you have a family heirloom that is also in a photograph?

This is a picture of me in front of my parent's house.
Easter, 4 years old

Other Activities to do with Photographs

  • Comparing photographs of relatives with photographs of yourself at the same age. Make comparisons in the clothing, hairstyles and objects. What can this tell you about the different time periods?
  • Find an old photograph of a street or scene which you can still see today. Take a photo of it in as close to the same place as the original photographer stood. Compare and contrast the photographs. Do the cars look different? The people? Does the street, buildings or the scene look different? What has changed?
  • Cut some photographs that interest you from old magazines or newspapers. Imagine that you are a historian some time in the future looking at these photos. Can you analyze the photographs for clue of what they tell about the time period?



  1. When I was in high school we used to be given assignments like this in our college prep class, we'd be given a picture/painting a primary document and an essay question. We were to build our support from the documents we were given. It's a fun way to argue things, and really gets you thinking. Unfortunately, not many people are taught to think that critically.......

  2. What three beautiful women!! And I love this post. I have told my mother numerous times, the only thing I want from my parent's house are the old photos :) I love and cherish the old family photos. And what a sweet looking little girl you were. I love those darling shoes you have on in the picture. Thanks for sharing a trip down memory lane :)

  3. I love this Phyllis. We were fortunate to have my husbands grandparents with us until Little J was born. I made sure to get a lot of pictures with the 4 generations.
    Kelly at Little Wonders' Days

  4. I've never thought to look for family heirlooms in the old photos - what a fun idea!

  5. What a great perspective on teacher modern history, and one all children enjoy!

  6. This is great! We love geneology and I'm teaching a class this semester on teaching history. I'm going to share your questions!

  7. That photo of you all is so beautiful! You all look so happy and loving.

    And as usual I have learned so much from this post - thank you!


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