The Oldest People Ever Photographed

The Oldest People Ever Photographed

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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

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

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.

    https://yarbs.net/colorizations-enhancements/jackson-chaney-life-portrait.html