It’s not often that the team at the John Gray Centre cannot identify a place in a local photograph (it’s harder with people). But sometimes we are stumped.
Nowadays we record as much as we can when any picture is deposited with us. This gives a context, or reason, for collecting it and is a great help to future researchers. But sometimes the essential information is simply unknown. This could happen in the past before there was a systematic accessioning policy in place. And this is now our challenge – some of these older accessions can be a real puzzle!
Clues within a photograph can often be unravelled to arrive at a firm identification of landscape and buildings; sometimes even individuals. Costume, traffic, shop and street signs or (when a location is known) buildings help with dates. How a photograph was itself made can help to date it as an object – but we’ve always got to be careful when there’s a possibility that it is a copy (most postcards, for example). Then with a general idea we can look for confirming details. We can search guidebooks and advertisements, censuses, directories and valuation rolls: all the resources of the Local History Centre.
The power of our website’s mapsearch, fading in and out of historic overlays, zooming in to individual buildings, sometimes coupled to the perspective view enabled using proprietary street view technology, is proving to be a wonderful new tool in identification.
But still we’re sometimes stumped. In that case the best way left to us is an appeal to our local experts. East Lothian is fortunate in having a great pool of local historians, each knowledgeable about some aspect of the county’s past. They can frequently supply the essential snippet or fact to tie down an identification.
We thought it might be an idea to post some of our intractable problems on the website to see if our audience can assist. It’s not a competition – just a plain old cry for help!
Please have a look here!
Can we help you?
In a similar vein, do you have mysterious old photographs in your collection?
It’s often the way of it when they’re passed down the generations. Rather than curse ‘great-aunt Aggie’ for never writing names and places on her photographs, why not enlist the aid of the resources of the John Gray Centre. We can help with all things and images associated with East Lothian.
We are adding online guides to the website to help investigators plan research visits and ask the right questions of their treasures. Or bring your photographic conundrums along with you when you visit us and use our resources to puzzle out where and when they were made. Our opening hours are here and you can contact us before visiting.