Write: Snapshot

Get started with a family portrait

If you’re fortunate, you’ll possess a Victorian family photo album with cartes de visite and cabinet prints tucked inside. Maybe your collection includes photos of family wedding scenes or seaside promenade postcards. Perhaps there’s even an older family portrait, painted in oils. Whatever you’ve tracked down – stiff studio poses or sunshiny holiday snaps – family photos are a fruitful resource.

1924-5 Len, Alice and Mona Collis

Figuring out why a particular picture was taken can provide a natural storyline: coming of age, family gatherings, engagements, weddings, holidays and anniversaries have all traditionally triggered a photographic record.

As dress historian Jayne Shrimpton observes in her book ‘How to get the most from Family Pictures’: “More immediate and engaging than any official documents or registers, old portraits are unique genealogical records – enigmatic and thought-provoking images that bring us literally face to face with our own history.”

Take a look at these brief stories inspired by snapshots:

Outside the Admiral Nelson (1911)

Now try this: Choose an interesting family photo. When, where and why was the photo taken? For studio portraits, describe what the subjects are wearing, imagine how they’re feeling. For photos taken in context – at school or home, outside the family business – investigate the location as well as the people depicted.


Find out how to create a set of cards with your family photos.