New ‘look dater’ does detective work for family historians

Day and Mitchell group portrait, ca. 1895, Freeman Studio, Sydney

Day and Mitchell group portrait, ca. 1895, Freeman Studio, Sydney

The State Library is partnering with Inside History magazine to create a unique photo-dating tool – the first of its kind in Australia – which will transform the way genealogists and family historians trace their ancestors. 

A dynamic and freely accessible website will be built on the expertise of Library staff and its rich collections, to assist users to date family photographs based on how we dress!

“Our readers commonly request help with identifying when family pictures were made. With funding support from Arts NSW, we’re thrilled to be working with the State Library on this pioneering online tool that will provide vital information in piecing together a family history,” says editor Cassie Mercer, whose creative team at Inside History magazine will lead the project.

Up to 200 images from the State Library’s diverse collections (including paintings, drawings, miniatures, silhouettes, engraving and photographs,) dating from 1788 to 1955, will be arranged in a chronological timeline and form the visual centrepiece for the website. 

This core set of downloadable images will be supported by an impeccably researched reference guide, developed by the State Library’s dress and cultural historian Margot Riley.

“Users will be guided through a step-by-step process of accurately dating and interpreting images through Australia’s dress history (eg. style of clothing and accessories worn, hairstyles, etc), and also by studying the detail within the portrait image (eg. backdrop used and photographic studio details) and other key factors,” says Ms Riley.

“This is a highly anticipated resource not only for family and local historians, especially those in regional and remote areas, but also the film industry, designers, collectors, vintage clothing enthusiasts and students.”

This much-needed public resource will help history societies and public libraries across the state date photographs in their own collections, which will ultimately enhance our collective heritage.

The new website is expected to be launched early next year.