How I use to research photo studios used by mystery ancestors

How I use to research photo studios used by mystery ancestors

deadfred ancestry photo new york photography studio

Nearly every family historian has a collection of formal portraits featuring unknown ancestors. We call them UGPs – unidentified genealogy people. Because no one bothered to caption the subjects’ names, and relatives that once knew them have passed away, there is no easy way to identify the UGPs.

But an old portrait sometimes contains a valuable clue: the name of the photography studio. Using an independent genealogy photo database called, it’s possible to learn more details about the subject based on the photographer’s history. Here’s an example:

unknown ancestor deadfred photo studio archive

This UGP came to me via a great aunt. She never married and died in the 1980s. No one alive knows who this man is, and he doesn’t resemble any relatives. Looking at the clothing and spectacles, I assumed the photo dated from the 1930s. He looks as if he is about 60, which would put his birthdate in the 1870s.

But then I checked the name of the photo studio (“Huested”) in DeadFred. A number of matches came up from the same area, including the lady at the top of this page. The lady and Huested’s other portraits dated from a much earlier period, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

While it’s possible Huested’s studio was still operating in the 1930s, a more likely explanation was our UGP was photographed a decade or two earlier. This places his birthdate in the 1850s or 1860s. We still don’t have a name, but this information can help focus future research.

I have a video overview of DeadFred below for those who are interested in trying it out.

Back to blog