The Oldest People Ever Photographed

The Oldest People Ever Photographed

How old is the oldest ancestor you have a photo of?

Many of us are lucky to uncover photographs of our ancestors from the early 20th century, and even luckier to find photos from the late 19th century. That means that the earliest photographs most people may have access to feature ancestors born sometime in the 1800s.

Photography as we know it was invented in the late 1830s, and became popular throughout Europe. It took a while for the trend to be adopted in America, however. A man named Matthew Brady, who witnessed the new daguerreotype method of developing photos when it was invented in France, brought the technique to the United States and began introducing it to the American public. He opened a photography studio in New York in the mid-1840s, and found that people were reluctant to have their photos taken. Eventually he found his clientele: mostly younger people keeping up with the European trend. However, some of his subjects were elderly people — distinguished members of society who agreed to pose as models to preserve their presence in the world and celebrate the bond they had with their life partners.

The more advanced age of these people in the photos makes them the oldest people to have ever been photographed. Many were born in the 1700s and some of them even lived through the American Revolutionary War.

See what they look like enhanced and colorized with the Photo Enhancer and MyHeritage In Color™:

The subjects of the photos are dressed in formal wear, with the women wearing bonnets. Dark colors were favored for clothing during this historical period because it was better at hiding dirt and stains and didn’t need to be washed as often. Most of the subjects are looking into the camera somewhat grimly, perhaps with an expression of suspicion or confusion, or sometimes even a spark of amusement. Smiling for photos only became common in the 1920s.

The MyHeritage photo tools make these photos come to life in an extraordinary way. With the colorization, we can see the shade of their hair, the color of their eyes, and the contrast between the bright white of their bonnets and collars and the dark colors of their jackets and dresses. The photo enhancement makes their features crystal clear, and Photo Repair removes some of the distracting scratches and blemishes.

We don’t know for sure whether all these were photographed by Mathew Brady — other photographers might also have been involved — but he was the most active photographer in New York during that period. He went on to become one of the most important photographers of the age, creating portraits of important figures such as Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and Abraham Lincoln.

Credit: The Library of Congress
Credit: The Library of Congress
Credit: The Library of Congress

He was also a pioneer of war journalism with the images he captured of the Civil War.

Credit: The U.S. National Archives
Credit: The U.S. National Archives
Credit: The U.S. National Archives

Do you have precious historical photographs of your ancestors? Bring them to life with MyHeritage’s incredible photo tools! Colorize them with MyHeritage In Color™, enhance them with the Photo Enhancer, and animate them with Deep Nostalgia™.


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  • Cheryl

    June 5, 2021

    MyHeritage your tools are great, however when used in conjunction with other AI tools and Photoshop you are limited only to your imagination. With the help of DeepNostalgia see the facial angle change and colorization of my ancestor’s portrait. I’ve always wanted to this but could not. Now with your tools and Photoshop, it can be accomplished. See the link below, I also have link to a tutorial.

  • Robert J Williams

    June 24, 2021

    Finding the photos is the problem!

  • Shirley Hoard

    June 24, 2021

    I checked and the earliest with a photo taken is my 4th Great Grandparents George French 1799-1867 and Mary (Homer) French 1809-1841.

  • Denise Pacitto

    June 25, 2021

    I have a photo of my great uncle, aged 106.

  • Lorraine Heaven

    June 25, 2021

    I was really disappointed to see both my parents with brown eyes. They each had vivid blue eyes and this was a prominent feature. All of the next two generations also had blue eyes as did all of the preceding four generations. Changing eye colour is a major error.

  • Michael Maddox

    June 25, 2021

    I have used for this for over 2 years and like it, except for the inappropriate random splotches of purple or red as shown in some of your samples.

  • Anne Costello

    June 25, 2021

    I have two photos of my great grandfather at 2 different ages. He was born in 1795 and served in the war of 1812. He died in 1880. He looks about 40-50 in the first photo. Taken by DeWitt photography in Scranton Pennsylvania. Much older in the 2nd one

  • KE

    Keith E. Wolfe

    June 25, 2021

    Yes, I have a photo of my mothers Baughman family taken in 1900 to celebrate the coming of the new century. My mother b. 1895 was five years old. It includes my grandmother b. 1874, my great grandmother b. 1846 and great grandfather b. 1837. My mother identified each person in the photo on the reverse side.. It is a treasured photo and has been preserved and is on display in my home.

    Keith E. Wolfe

  • Bob

    June 25, 2021

    Hi Esther,
    I enjoyed this blog post. I have several photos from the 1860’s and 1870’s, including one that is being used as part of an article for the University of Cologne. My favorite photo, probably from the 1880’s is of my great-great-great grandmother, Brita Stina Pehrsdotter, who was born in 1798, in Sweden.

  • Kristian Kristensen

    June 25, 2021

    Very interesting to se Old picturrs and to learn abort the historie of fotografier.

  • Joseph A Shaver

    June 26, 2021

    i’m looking for older records of my family.I have the ship name,the Captains name and it being his second group from Germany 1710 .Can you go back that far?

  • Patricia Van Brocklin

    June 26, 2021

    When will your AI be able to use a color for blue eyes. All of the lighter eyes default to a light brown color. I have many light blue eyed descendants and this default actually makes me reluctant to use your colorization tool. Will it be possible to eventually be given a choice to indicate blue or green eyes?

  • Ki’mmie’ Truehart

    June 27, 2021

    Beautiful clothing the women wore!

  • diana rasvanta

    June 28, 2021

    i have photos with most of my great-great-grandparents. the oldest was born in 1871

  • Helen Barbee

    June 29, 2021

    I think these are great picures. This is something I have been wanting to do for a long time.

  • Diane Lindsley

    June 30, 2021

    The only shortcoming I have found is how beards are treated. The AI must just animate the face from top to chin, but any beard that extends down over clothing is treated as clothing and hence does not move along with the head.

  • Oksana

    July 1, 2021

    With all respect, for me those photographs are precious as originals with all their antique look.

  • Barbara Smith

    July 1, 2021

    I have a copy of my husband’s great great great grandmother, Sarah Riley (Herlong) born 1801 and died 1872. I used both the enhancement and the animation for her and it was amazing. Not every picture works as well as some, however, so be prepared to be a little disappointed some times. It’s not perfect but pretty close some times.

  • Billi Shvilli

    July 1, 2021

    That ancient photographer couldn’t take pictures of young girls?

  • Tony Park

    July 3, 2021

    Can the same technique be used to upgrade blurred handwriting? I have a few old pieces of writing that I’d love to be able to read.

    • E


      July 4, 2021

      Hi Tony,

      It’s definitely worth a try!

      Esther / MyHeritage Team