Mystery Photographs

When my Grandma was sorting through my Great-Grandad’s effects following his death, she found an envelope with old photographs in it. It’s thought that they belonged to my Great-Grandma, but we are at a complete loss as to the identity of the people in the photos. Have a peek through this small opening in time:

Family Portrait

All Dressed Up

A Day Out

Lean On Me

Precious Flower

As much as I would love to know who these people are and what happened to them, I’m almost as enamoured with the intrigue as I am by their curiously rigid poses, their strangely styled apparel and their gravely silent gaze.  Did they lead happy lives?  What was their first childhood memory?  Was it standing on a chair, dressed in their Sunday best while a man stood shrouded behind some weird piece of technology?  What was their greatest achievement?  What moment would they relive if they could?  Who or what was the love of their life?  If they could tell me just one thing, what would it be?

So many questions, and all without answers…

What question would you like to ask these mystery people?  Or, indeed, what question would you ask of your own far distant ancestors?


April 23, 2008. Inspiration, Photography.


  1. Karen Swim replied:

    I am a great fan of a good mystery. These photographs do give us a peek into history. I would like to know who they are and what was going on the day they took the pictures. Were they nervous to have their photo taken? Was this for a special event or to mark some kind of milestone? What did they think of the world at that time? What were their dreams and plans for the future? Thanks for sharing this photo mystery with us Amy!


  2. mrschili replied:


    I literally have no photographic evidence of my past – nary a baby picture. These photos fascinated me.

    I DO wonder what the lives of some of the subjects in old photos were like. I tend to think of them as being very staid and proper, but the reality is probably that their lives were much like ours – filled with family and bustle and getting by as best they could, trying to collect a little joy here and there.

  3. Penelope Anne replied:

    I love old pictures and we got some from Allen’s family when his grandmother passed away. It is very interesting to conjecture as to what they are thinking in the picture.

    I think the morbid side of me especially is intrigued with what were called “death shots” scary and still interesting.

  4. Autumn Song replied:

    What wonderful pictures, Amy! It would be nice to know who they are, but in some ways not knowing is better – you can imagine what their lives were like. I like the idea that with old photos, you get a little slice of the past, of people who were clearly important to someone in your family in some way. Enjoy!

  5. amypalko replied:

    Those are great questions, Karen! I especially like that one about what their dreams and plans for the future were. I’m actually undecided as to whether some of the people in the photos are actually the same person at different life stages. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to hear how those dreams altered as they grew older?

    I think you’re right, Mrschili. I think we would be surprised to hear just how similar their concerns were compared to our own.

    Well, it is a little morbid, Penelope Anne, but you’re right – it is completely fascinating! If you want to see some, try this link.

    It does leave it a lot more open to the imagination, doesn’t it, Autumn Song?

  6. opengroveclaudia replied:

    The photos look old enough to have been done with one of those magnesium flares and glass plate. You had to hold still for a long time. I wonder if they are relatives that emigrated. But then I would, wouldn’t I? 😉

    What fun! I don’t have any photos either. Even my father threw out his photo album before his death. It wasn’t with his possessions after he died.

  7. Joanna Young replied:

    I think I’d be wondering: what would you tell me? Go on, just whisper it, what is it that I need to know?

    I love old photos too. I came across a recent one of my grandfather from the 1920s where he’s standing in front of a screen of a beach, next to a deckchair, with white pumps on, carrying a tennis racket. He looks extremely dashing!


  8. Tanya replied:

    These are great! I love the Charlie Chaplin-like one with the dog. It’s fantastic. We’ve got a stash of these old mystery photos too. I’ll have to pull them out again and see what I can imagine.

  9. amypalko replied:

    I actually did a google search, Claudia, on the photographer’s name to see if I could find out any more info. I discovered that the photographer in question was only in business in Dunfermline between the years 1887-1896. Truly astonishing!

    Oh, Joanna, you must show me that photo next time we meet up! I’d love to see it 🙂

    That one with the dog is great isn’t it, Tanya? Have fun exploring that stash!

  10. nouveaufauves replied:

    These are really compelling. Turn of the century. I have a stack of really old photos….relatives who are probably in my father’s genealogies. From their dress, they are mid 1800’s or so. They are on glass. I have no idea who they are either. It is the same experience you are having……although I really would like to know their names. But my grandmother is long gone and their faces live on without their names. I feel like I have a responsibility to protect the photos. They are likely the only material thing left that was ever theirs…..certainly the only photo.

  11. Damien replied:

    I love that scene in Dead Poets Society where they look at the old class picture and hear the whispers. Very similar to what these might whisper.

  12. nicholas replied:

    I’m fascinated that you have narrowed down the time of these photos to a nine year period. The Old Queen on the throne, a quarter of the map painted pink, a few cars on the road here and there, but no aircraft for another 7 years at least. Utterly fascinating. My parents have several albums stored somewhere of ancestral photos from the 19th century. A few of them have names pencilled on the back, but most are anonymous. It is both frustrating and intriguing.

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