Vintage Photos Make for Time Travel

Okay, so I’m cheating a bit here, but I’ve been extremely involved with starting a new website, Ancestors In Aprons, so this is a bit of time travel for Travel Photo Thursday with vintage photos.

Ancestors in Aprons is about tracking ancestors, memories triggered by food, and family, and a big part of it is vintage photos. I’m fortunate to have a wide range of pictures of my family members from tintypes to Kodak Brownie snapshots to digitals. I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the challenges there are in bringing those vintage photos to the web page. I have no fancy photo editing equipment, using Picasa to do whatever needs to be done.

Henry Butts
Great Grandfather, Civil War Vet, Henry Butts.



This first picture is the poorest quality, mostly because I cropped it from a scanned copy of a very old photograph (probably 1920s) of Great Grandfather and his wife, and then enlarged it to get just his head, because the two of them were standing too far apart. Therefore I lost any resolution that was there to start out with. But I had a reason for using it this way, and eventually I will be publishing the picture of the two of them. You can learn a little more about Great Grandfather Henry Butts in a Veteran’s Day article at A Traveler’s Library.



The only trick on the next picture was deciding which of two to use.  One of my uncles took this picture and my mother took this one. They are missing from each other’s pictures.  That’s my mother in the middle in the front, with both hands in her lap. Improving the contrast was difficult on this one, and the whites of the dresses started dominating everything.

family 1920's Killbuck
My mother’s family, Killbuck, Ohio,1920s


This picture didn’t do too badly, given that it is cropped from the long picture I use as the header for Ancestors in Aprons.  I cropped out some of the details, like focusing on my Grandparents and this cigarette ad on their counter. But the picture was a black and white, professionally shot 8 x 10 picture from 1940, so it was not too bad a quality.

Anderson Restaurant
My grandparents and a cigarette ad on the counter of their restaurant


And here’s what I did (with some help from Melanie McMinn) to the original to make it into a header for Ancestors in Aprons. Added a sepia tone and the lettering, plus cropped out some of the bottom and top to fit the wide short space.

Header for Ancestors in Aprons
Header for Ancestors in Aprons

When I see how much better black and white photos hold up than color, I’m tempted to take all b & w in the future. I know I won’t do it, but at least pictures of family members should be preserved in both for posterity. More recent color pictures are problematic. Interestingly, some of the 1950’s vintage photos are better than 60s and 70s that are losing all their color by now. Here’s a 1950 era photo of my family’s garden, unretouched.

Kaser garden Columbus Ohio
Kaser garden Loretta Avenue, Columbus Ohio


What a difference there is in the color quality of this picture from the late 1960’s. Granted it is Arizona and there is not so much vivid green to start out with, but the sky is definitely not that washed out blue. And the kids faces are fading away.


Two sons in Scottsdale
Two of my sons in Scottsdale, AZ 1960’s


One final challenge is not with quality but with how to copy.  I do not have a flat bed scanner (well I do, but it isn’t working), and many of the turn of the 18th/19th century pictures I have are tintypes or printed on heavy cardstock.  They routinely printed their vintage photos on postcards, for instance.  Here is one from 1881 that I had to resort to photographing with my digital camera and then cropping in Picasa. I DID NOT draw the circle on the picture. Not guilty. That’s my Great Uncle that is circled. Other than the fact that I could not make it perfectly fit within a modern proportion and you can see some white around the edges, this is a very true photo.

William M. Stout
Great Uncle William M. Stout as a college swell at 18.


This, with a stretch of the imagination, is my contribution this week to Travel Photo Thursday. (Okay, so I cheated–but I just want all my friends here, to take a gander over there.)

And if you want to see some Travel Photo Thursday photos that are really about travel, to to Budget Traveler’s Sandbox. There’s a BUNCH, including host Nancy McKinnon’s photo esssay on sparkling, spectacular Hong Kong.


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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

24 thoughts on “Vintage Photos Make for Time Travel

  1. I love your photos — not cheating at all! 🙂
    I’m a native Ohioan, and I have all my grandma’s photos. I noticed the same thing you did. Her photos from the 40s and 50s are holding up well. The photos from the 70s, when I was a kid, not so much. Of course, who really wants to remember the 70s?

    1. Har-Har-de-har as they would have said back then. Hope you enjoy your old photos as much as I do. Do yours stretch back to tintype days?

  2. you mother was a beauty. and congratulations on this ongoing project. a friend of mine in Ireland felt that the memories of his community were slipping away, so he began a proejct which he’s since taken on line to record the history of the area through the memories of its residents. he’s having a ball with it, and so, I think, is everyone contributing stories and images.

    1. Kerry: I’m hoping this will become a group effort, also. And thanks for the complement on my mother. I have lots of pictures her in her flappr days and her sophisticated 1930’s days, and wait until you see my father as a young man! What a gorgeous couple.

  3. Fun project, Vera. I’ve been going through old family photos recently as well, love the old b/w and sepia photos and the stories they tell (or, at least, imply).

    1. Yes, Sophie, you can read all kinds of things into those photos. One of the things I have to caution myself is to not assume personality from old photos–particularly the 19th century ones, where they had to look stern and still.

  4. This sounds like a wonderful project. I love what you did with that header. This is such a great idea to honor families and restore those photos.

  5. Okay I know I have told you before, but you have so much energy and enthusiasm for these projects that you are infectious – makes me now want to go dig out old family photos! A most fun sounding project but don’t give up those books – I rely on you for good book recommendations!

    1. Never fear Jackie, I have not lost my passion for books that travel . Hope you’ll be a regular at Ancestors in Aprons too.

  6. How lucky you are to have these old family snaps. I love looking through old photos. My 87 year old parents still have lots and I a asking them who the photo is of and writing it one the back.

      1. They are, but sometimes they can’t agree on who is in them. Found a really nice one of my Dad looking very handsome – one that I had never seen before 🙂 There are lots of my Mum with her girlfriends and American boys stationed in Townsville during the war. They were boys that my grandmother used to invite over for family cooked meals 🙂

        1. Ah, yes, another challenge with genealogy. You quickly realize how slippery history is. Even my sister and brother and I have serious disagreements, like a recent one about whose dog was in a particular picture!

          Wouldn’t it be fun to put those up on the Internet and see if any of the American families contact you? And speaking of American boys during the war–different war, but my brother never forgot the warm hospitality of an Australian family during the Vietnam War. The family and my parents became friends and they visited America.

  7. Love the idea for your new website. I’m also fortunate that I’ve got photos that go way, way back. My parents took good care to pass them along to me as well as tons of family history information that researched and collected over the years. I guess we were lucky that our ancestors had cameras and used them — wasn’t a common thing in my grandparents’ generation.

    1. My grandparents also took a lot of photos, but many of them are teeny tiny format. I forgot to mention that particular challenge.
      Yes, Cathy, you’re lucky. But isn’t it also a lot of responsibility?

      1. You know, it is — one that I don’t take lightly. I sometimes wonder who in the next generation is going to care enough to hold on to all these things.

  8. Looks like you have a heck of a big project on your hands – and you will likely become a pro in no time at getting the most out of old images. I’ll be able to use that advice as I have plenty of them myself that sit in albums or boxes collecting dust.

    1. Yes, I was fortunate that when my mother was in a nursing home, she loved to talk family history. I took boxes and albums of pictures in and made notes on the stories she told me and got a lot named. There are still dozens of tintypes that are unidentified, though! I hate thinking I have the picture of somebody that somebody else would love to have.

  9. I love black and whites, and as you point out, they hold up much better than color.
    It’s great that you have so many wonderful family photos and that you’re finding ways to make them come alive again.

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