Monday 25 September 2023

Photodater by MyHeritage

MyHeritage has developed some amazing software to assist with saving photos and improving their quality. I use their enhancement feature almost every week. It is great for improving the clarity of photographs, of course, but also for maps and diagrams where detail is important. Almost every slide in my presentations and every image in my published articles have been improved through enhancement, many of them also utilizing colourization or repair to make them the best they can be.

Several past blog posts have been written about the various features: MyHeritage Photo Repair, Using MyHeritage’s Photo Improvement Processes, and MyHeritage Releases AI Time Machine.

I have tried animation and the AI Time Machine as you can read in the above posts. They are fun! I have started work on a Deep Story about my great-grandfather, James Shepheard. Like most projects, other stuff gets in the way, and I have not progressed as far as I would like.

The newest contribution to photo manipulation or use is their Photodater. This program estimates the date the photo was taken: “The date estimation algorithm was trained on tens of thousands of curated, definitively dated historical photos to help the algorithm understand nuances such as clothing, hairstyles, facial hair, furniture, and other objects that are characteristic of a particular decade.”

You can read all about the feature on the MyHeritage blog post of 13 August 2023 and watch a YouTube video introducing the product.

To test Photodater I selected a variety of photos from my own library including individual professional portraits, group shots, candid snapshots, old and new photos (from the 1870s to the 1970s), closeups of individuals and long-distance shots. I picked examples that I had a good idea of their age, from family information we already knew. There were a few for which we only had estimates so I wanted to see whether Photodater could give me a good estimate of their age.

Here is what I discovered:

Mary Crispin (Carpenter) Shepheard (1830-1890), my 2nd great-grandmother. This professional portrait photo came from England with my great-grandfather when he immigrated in 1911. He wrote “My Mother” on the back of it but without a date on which it had been taken. John and Mary Shepheard lived in Ivybridge, Devon, in 1871 but by 1881 they were in Torquay, Devon (18 miles to the east). I thought, given how old she looked and where the photographer resided (Plymouth, Devon – 9 miles to the west of Ivybridge), it might have dated from the 1870s. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1875. That was good news.

Mary Elizabeth (Pearson) Shepheard (1866-1891), my great-grandmother. The professional portrait photo was sent to my grandfather by his aunt (Mary Elizabeth’s sister) who said it was taken when she was 15 years old. That would have meant it was from 1881. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1879. Another good result for a very old photograph.

Miller-Watson family with Hannah Tunstall (Mayfield) Miller-Watson (1815-1909) with her six children. Using estimated ages of the children, for whom I have a lot of information. The professional photo was taken in Manhattan, Kansas, I thought about 1886. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1890.

James Shepheard (1865-1940) and Mary Elizabeth Pearson (1866-1891), my great-grandparents. This professional photo was probably taken in Tunbridge, Kent just after the couple’s marriage. James and Mary Elizabeth were married in Ellacombe parish, Tormoham, Devon, so this photo may have been taken on a possible honeymoon trip. Interestingly, for different copies of the photograph, with and without the photographer’s banner, Photodater estimated it was taken in 1888, 1889 and 1890.

Family of Newton Isaac Thompson (1859-1937) and Margaret Mary Anderson (1857-1919) my great-grandparents. They were married in 1884 in North Dakota, USA. The ages of the children, including my grandmother Carrie, standing in between her parents, suggest it was taken by a professional photographer around 1895. Photodater also estimated it was taken in 1895, an excellent result.

Brothers: James (1865-1940), my great-grandfather, William John (1855-1908) and John (1875-1943) Shepheard. It was apparently taken by a professional photographer around 1900 in Taunton, Somerset. I am not sure why the photo was taken there as none of the individuals lived there at the time. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1902. Curiously, a separate copy of the photo without the photographer’s banner did not get a date from Photodater.

Robert (1832-1912) and Susan (Phillipo; 1836-1905) Anderson, my 2nd great-grandparents. I believe the photos were taken by a professional photographer at the same time around 1900 but have no firm data to back that up. Photodater estimated that, as a pair, they were taken in 1879. A different version of the two images together got a date of 1884 but, curiously, individual pictures of each of them were not dated by Photodater.

James Pearson Shepheard (1891-1965), my grandfather. I believe this professional portrait photo was taken around 1905, in Taunton, Somerset, when he was 15 years of age. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1884, but he was not even born then. So, this dating was a bust!

Elizabeth Walker Cooper (1882-1922), my wife’s grandmother. The professionnla portrait photo would have been taken in Glasgow, Lanark, Scotland, possibly around 1910. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1912, which is probably a good date.

James (1829-1913) and Mary (Watson) (1930-1911) Walker, my wife’s 2nd great-grandparents. The photo was taken by a professional photographer in celebration of a diamond wedding anniversary in February 1911, in Elgin, Moray, Scotland. Photodater was unable to provide a date from any of three different versions of the photograph.

Newton Isaac and Margaret Mary (Anderson) Thompson, my great-grandparents and their daughter, Elizabeth Mae (1898-1985). I believe this photo was taken by a professional photographer about 1917, as Mae was a teenager and Margaret died in 1919. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1919. Photodater dated two versions of a photo of just Newton and Margaret, taken during the same sitting, as 1917 and 1920.

James Pearson Shepheard, centre, his father, James, on the left and sons Edward and William (my father). Photo was enhanced and colourized by MyHeritage. Given the ages of the children, I believe the picture was taken around 1920. Photodater did not provide a date, possibly because the individuals were too small.

Harry, Sarah, Elizabeth and Margaret Cooper, my wife’s uncle and aunts. Given the children’s relative ages, I believe the photo was taken around 1922, in Glasgow, Lanark, Scotland. Photodater estimated two versions of the photo as 1923 and 1925.

Cousins on the farm, including my father, William Calvin Shepheard (1914-1983), on the left. Given the ages of the children, I believe the picture was taken in 1926. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1925.

Nursing assistants at Victoria Hospital in Glasgow, Lanark, Scotland, including my wife’s mother Jessie Cooper (1908-1998), middle left.. Photograph was enhanced and repaired by MyHeritage. I believe the photo was taken in 1928. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1935 which is too late as she had immigrated to Canada in 1930.

This photo is of an elementary class at Irricana School, in Alberta, Canada, and includes my mother, Norma Miller (1917-1974). It was taken in 1929, just after she and her parents immigrated to the area. The photo was scanned from a book about the area so is of poor quality. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1922 which is too early. The error was probably due to the graininess of the image.

James Shepheard (1865-1940). I am confident that this photograph was taken in 1930. In spite of its good quality Photodater could not produce a date for it.

James Pearson and Carrie Jane Shepheard family, including father James and children, William (b.1914), Edward (b.1916) and Ethel Mae )b.1935). According to the relative ages of the individuals and location, the photo would have been taken about 1937. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1936.

Wedding photo of William Calvin Shepheard and Norma Mabel Miller, with their parents. The picture was taken in 1939. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1935.

Norma Shepheard with daughters Sharon (b. 1942) and Lynn (b.1940). The photo was taken in 1944.  Photodater estimated it was taken in 1945.

Sharon, Wayne, Lynn and Jimmy, children of William and Norma Shepheard. The photo was taken in 1949. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1955 which date is significantly in error.

Betty Mae (McKay) Relf (1934-1991). This picture of my wife’s sister was taken in 1952. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1955.

Alan Roy and Pricilla Lynn (Shepheard) Pettitt. This photo was taken in 1960 on the day of their marriage. It was enhanced from a poor-quality snapshot. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1961.

William and Norma Shepheard. The photo was taken in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1969. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1969. Interestingly, before the photograph was colour-restored by MyHeritage, Photodate could not give a date estimate.

Wayne and Linda Shepheard. This picture was taken in 1970 on our honeymoon. Photodater estimated it was taken in 1970.

While a few results suggest the program was of limited use, the overall outcome is very positive. Of 25 photos analyzed:

·         11 estimated dates from Photodater were within five years of actual or very confident dates I already have (44% of total). That was true of photos across the century sample.

·         Four of the estimates (16% of total) were identical to my dates. Of those, three matched exactly the known dates of the photos, including the two most recent examples.

·         Six estimates (24% of total) were more than five years away from what I have, although one was for a very poor-quality image and three were from photo dates that I did not have solid evidence for.

·         Dates were not offered by Photodater for four photos (16% of total), for pictures taken around 1900, 1911, 1920 and 1930. One was a scene of individuals in a field that would logically post a difficulty. The others were good quality professional portraits, though, which one might assume would have been dated.

·         Fifteen of the photographs were taken by professionals but the dating of them did not show any trend for accuracy.

What I have found out now is that almost every photo I open in my MyHeritage library now, a date is automatically generated. If I load a new image, a date is generated. I don’t have to do anything. Not all of them are right but at least I get something I can look at in terms of further analysis. Enhancing and other restoration techniques seemed to improve the dating result for a few photos.

My recommendation is to try it out, especially for those old photos for which you don’t have a good handle on in terms of its age. Use the other tools as well. You may be surprised and delighted by the results. Enhancing images is particularly valuable as it can bring fuzzy and indistinct images into clear focus.