Index of Surnames from Old Photographs
[The Family Photographic Index]

The Family Photographic Index is a computer database documenting the information written on and derived from my collection of many thousands of old photographs, dating from about 1850 onwards, with some from the twentieth century, all of which have information about the sitter written on them. Most are from Britain and Ireland although there are a number from other countries. Data from additional photographs is uploaded to the website every few weeks, so if your search is unsuccessful the first time, try again later.

We have the actual photograph of everybody listed under 'Surname' but not always of people listed under other headings. Copies of photographs can be supplied but we do not sell the originals.

How to search the Index

Type a surname into the box on the home page and click on 'Search'.

When you type in the surname, you can use the 'Wild Cards' * or ? to represent the letter that changes with spelling variants - e.g. Sm*th will find both Smith and Smyth. See 'About Signatures' below.

  • If your search is successful you will be asked to provide your email address so that the results can be emailed to you.
  • You will then be asked to pay 2.00 for the successful search through (you dont have to be a member of Paypal). The link to enable you to view the search results will then be emailed to you. This link will be valid for 7 days.
  • The results will be available in either CSV (comma-separated values) form see below - or you can download them as an Excel spreadsheet. Excel is recommended since it gives a clearer idea of the results because the column headings indicate the nature of the information from the photograph in each column.
  • If the search on any surname is not successful, you will be advised and you will not be charged. Try again with another surname from your family history.

Examples of the search results

Headings in the Excel search results in the order in which the information is presented is as follows:-


Not all photographs provide all this information.

Examples of the search results CSV form

12,"SUTCLIFF,","Sarah,","MITCHELL,","50sh,","Mitchell,Thomas,",Burnley & Hebden Bridge,"Hebden Bridge,","Sarah nee Mitchell of Burnley,wifeof Thomas large Portrait,","CdV,",1860/80,

Example of the search results Excel form

The number of examples of the surname you search will vary. An uncommon name may not produce a result, but a common name such as Jones or Smith, may yield many people called Smith or Jones in your results.

The database includes other surname headings as well as the sitter's surname. Maiden names are included when the photograph gives one. 'Other names' (for example, a friend or relative) are included when mentioned on the photograph.

The names of the photographers who made the photographs (when given on the photograph) are on the original database from which this is derived, but it has not been possible to include them in the on-line search. They are, however, on the Photographic Index CD ROM, or I can do a search for you. In the case of photographers, we do not have a photograph of the photographer, but only details of where they worked, if this information is on the photograph. I use the address of the photographer as the location of the photograph of the sitter. Because some of the inscriptions are too long for my database, I do use abbreviations. In 'PICSIZE' c.d.v is Carte de Visite.

About signatures or names written on the photographs.

Names as given on the database are my interpretation of what was originally written, which is rarely easy. Some handwritten names are capable of more than one interpretation. You should bear this in mind when searching.

The Index search is only for surnames and likely variants, which you can find by using the wild cards * or ?. Even the first initial letter of someone's name as written on the photograph may be mistranscribed. For example, in the old copperplate writing with the flourishes at the beginning, an "M" "H" or a "B", or a "T, J, or F" can easily be mistaken for each other. In the middle of the names, an 'o' could be an 'a', and distinguishing between 'w' and 'm' can be difficult. The ending of the signature may also be very indistinct. The ending read as 'er' may be 'en' or 'es' or just 'e' with a flourish.

So, if you do a search on-line, try the wild cards for the different beginnings and endings, and look closely at the other information to see if it may relate to your ancestor. I will always do a photocopy of the signature so that you can make up your own mind as to whether it is the surname that you are researching.

About the Index of Surnames

The Family Photographic Index is a Microsoft Access computer database containing the information written on a collection of photographs, dating from about 1850 onwards, some being from the twentieth century. They are principally from all over Britain and Ireland although there are a number from other countries as when people emigrated they invariably sent home photographs. In some cases the surname of the sitter is all the information we have. In most instances, however, there is more. Sometimes a date is written on the photograph. If not, then I date the photograph from the other indications of the type of photograph itself and the sitter's attire.

I buy the photographs from many areas. The main sources are a few image dealers that I know, and who are members of the Photographic Collectors Club of Great Britain. They save me the particular photographs of people, with surnames written on the photo, that I need to make up the Index. I also have many people who kindly support the collection by sending me any that they have acquired which they either donate or I buy from them.

Other information can range from an entire life history, a woman's maiden name, ages, and sometimes a home address. Surprisingly, even in the nineteenth century, people had their photographs taken whilst they were away from home. It is a misconception that ordinary folk did not travel. Holidays were not taken in the same degree as today, but they did visit relatives and travel to work for a time in another part of the country or world. They may well have had their photos taken whilst away. It is for these reasons that I advise that you do not link areas to surnames when carrying out a search

The whole 2003 collection without the new additions can be bought on CD ROM, which uses Acrobat. See Index of Surnames on CD Rom.

If you do not wish to use Paypal

If you prefer not to use Paypal, I will search the index for 2.00 per surname searched, and this will include a search of photographers' names.

How to buy a copy of the photographs

Please quote the Surname and the record number when requesting a copy of the photograph.

1) Photo-copies of the name written on the photograph. 1. 50p
To be absolutely sure that the correct signature has been found, I can, if requested, provide a photocopy of the signature only. I can get up to four cartes-de-visites backs, or front signatures, or the backs of two cabinet size photographs or equivalent sizes on an A4 sheet.

2) Photo-copy of the photograph. 5.00 per A4
An ordinary black and white photocopy of the front and back of the photograph, showing as well as the image, the signature and message. Up to two cartes-de-visites or one cabinet size photograph on one A4 sheet.

3) A black and white digital photograph copy at 15.00 per photograph.
We photograph the back and front of the original picture with a digital SLR, then print the resulting files as 5x7 prints. The resulting prints will show any defects present on the original. We do not carry out any retouching. For an extra 2 we can supply the large digital picture files on CD so that you can attempt whatever improvement is appropriate.

4) A computer scanned image at 10 per photograph.
A scan of the photograph can be provided without retouching and emailed to you or supplied on CD Rom. The image supplied will be as the original and un-retouched.

5) A printout of other names in a family collection for 5.00
Some of the photographs come from albums or other collections that contain many other names, (friends and relatives). So if you find a name that is interesting to your family research from my index, ask if it came in a collection, and, if it did, I will print out all the other names in that familys collection. You may find connections.

If there are any problems that you come across from this new site, or any questions, please email me at

Available Options:
(1) Photo-copy of the name wri:
(2) Photo-copy of the photograph:
(3) Black and white digital phot:
(4) Computer scanned image:
(5) Printout of other names in a:
This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 22 July, 2004.
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