London. Paris. Athens. Berlin. Bombay. Rome. New York City. Copenhagen. Dublin. Edinburgh. Jerusalem. The oldest known photographs of these cities and more are featured in this post at Abroad in the Yard.
I love the details in these photos that are usually left to our imagination. An 1858 image of a Toronto thoroughfare was likely taken in at its best, since the photo was part of a (failed) bid to become Canada’s capital. And yet the streets are still muddy enough you wouldn’t want to step off that freshly-swept sidewalk, especially if you were in a long dress.
You can read the shop signs in these pictures. See signs of construction and destruction, an eternal presence in these metropolises. Count the number of levels in the tall tenements and other buildings that sheltered our ancestors’ daily lives without air conditioning, central heat or elevators.
Despite the busy city streets shown here, they don’t look busy. So much time had to elapse during the taking of the image that anyone moving wasn’t captured. Only a few loungers and the shoe-shine man (and his customer) appear in these photos of busy streets.
Although not shown in the blog post above, my favorite historical image of a city is the Cincinnati Panorama of 1848, the oldest known “comprehensive photo” of an American city. The resolution of this series of photos is so high, you can see details the photographers themselves couldn’t possibly have caught. The panorama can be explored at an interactive website, which offers “portals” to different parts of the city and city life when you click on them. Whether you had ancestors in this Ohio River town or not, this is a fascinating piece of history.
Looking for pictures of your ancestor’s hometown or daily life? There are some great search tips in Lisa’s newly-revised and updated 2nd edition of her popular book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Maybe you already use Google to search for images. Learn how to drill down to just the images you want: black and white pictures, images with faces, images taken of a particular location during a certain time period and more!