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Keeping it
Curious

The GRPM Blog

Discovering Grand Rapids History through Photography

Date

June 8, 2022

Category

Team Photo

Team Photo Shares Tips and Tricks for Researching Historic Photos.

Meet Team Photo! This volunteer group is scanning and cataloging the Museum’s large photo Collection. There are over 10,000 historic photos in GRPM’s Collections that cover a range of subjects including local industry, recreation, military, communities, business and more. This incredible collection captures the visual history of West Michigan dating back to the late 1800s and can be explored online through grpmcollections.org.

The Camera Shop Collection is an example of a large group of photos that Team Photo is researching. The Camera Shop was formed in 1908; this small business sold supplies and provided photography services in Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas. The company retained copies of the thousands of photos they took for the community and a ledger book which gives a brief description of some of the photos. These photos came to the Museum when The Camera Shop closed and the majority of the images are from the 1910s – 1930s. The Camera Shop Collection, along with other photos the Museum has archived over the years, are rich resources that are continuously being digitized to reach the broadest audience.

The Camera Shop Photograph

Through their volunteer service, Team Photo has learned to identify information in photos such as where the photo was taken, who is in it and what is the focus. Dating photos is a key part of their research. Using their tips and tricks, you can research your own photos using Team Photo’s recommended research tools and some good old fashioned detective work!

In order to properly date photos, try these tips as you explore photo(s) while using the resources below during your search.

  • Look for the hints hidden in the photograph such as signs, church steeples, historic buildings, landmarks and the structure of the land including hills, valleys, rivers etc.
  • Read notes on the back of the photograph.
  • Ask around! There are many online groups interested in historic photos. Crowdsourcing can help gather information from others.

Research Resources.

  • Visit GRPMCollections.org to explore a catalog of more than 10,000 photos
  • Grand Rapids City Directories (earlier than 1934 are available online)
  • Sanborn Insurance Maps available for viewing in the archives
  • Other photos, especially aerial photographs
  • History of Grand Rapids Michigan by Albert Baxter
  • The Story of Grand Rapids by ZZ Lydens
  • Old Grand Rapids by George Fitch
  • Gathered at the River by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council
  • Pictorial History of Grand Rapids by Mapes and Travis
  • Grand Rapids Then and Now by James Van Vulpen
  • Almost Lost, Building and Preserving Heritage Hill by Thomas Logang

Check out these highlights from the Historic Photo Collection!  Visit GRPMcollections.org to see more. 

By: Andrea Melvin, GRPM’s Collections Curator

Carousel Update.

The Spillman Carousel is currently closed while we are undergoing riverfront construction. The Carousel will re-open Spring of 2025.

Carousel Update.

The Spillman Carousel is currently closed while we are undergoing riverfront construction. The Carousel will re-open Spring of 2025.

Carousel Update

The 1928 Spillman Carousel is closed while we undergo riverfront construction. The carousel will re-open in the Spring of 2025.