Dear Lee,

In recent months, people have been cleaning out attics and basements and discovering old photographs and memorabilia. I bet you’ve even found a few things that you have questions about! Dating these finds can be difficult. But there are clues. You can try to date using clothing styles, colors used to decorate a room, model year of a car, hair-dos, hats, skirt lengths, and even the length and width of a necktie. You can even look at the size of the tree in front of your house! Did you find a picture taken at a beach while on vacation? Look at the bathing suits. Bikinis were introduced in 1946 in France and worked their way to the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.

Put all information from your sleuthing on the backs of the pictures in pencil, including name, place, possible date, event, and how the person is related or if a friend. If you found some postcards, check the year printed, or the postmark or the amount of postage. We have an online list that tells the postage amount by year. Go to and search for “Dating Postcards.”

Buildings, furnishings, and pictures of people in rooms at family events and birthday parties also can help. Is there a pet in the picture? People seem to remember the dates for the years they had a cat or dog even if they don’t recognize a cousin. Is there a store sign in a family picture? A local historical society can probably tell you when that company was in business. Is there a telephone, radio, refrigerator, washing machine or even an ad for a product or a TV set in the background? TVs were first found in homes about 1951.

Books and inline information make it easy to find out the TV’s date or when radio or movie stars were pictured as dolls, cards, or part of an ad or endorsement in a picture in an old photo.

Lee, remember to use archival paper to protect important legal papers, birth certificates, wedding licenses, car titles, wills, medical records, powers of attorney, special business records like patents, copyrights, tax records and most of all, a list of computer passwords, bank accounts, credit cards including information about benefits like points or frequent flyer miles you might have earned. Tell a trusted person where everything is and, if in locked files, the location of necessary keys.

This is a huge, time-consuming job, but family members might enjoy going through the scrapbooks and pictures with you.

Terry Kovel


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