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A Genealogist In The Archives: Surprises Behind Those Framed Photos

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Surprises Behind Those Framed Photos

Many of us have inherited framed photographs or documents as part of our family genealogy collections. In the Houston County, TN. Archives & Museum, we sometimes receive framed photographs and documents as part of a records donation.

Many of these framed photographs and documents are in frames that have removable backs. This way the photographs and documents can be changed out if the person wanted to display a different photo or document. My Grandmother, Ida Kathryn (Drummond) Bartram (1922-2012), had framed photographs of all her grandchildren's school pictures and each year she would put the newest photo in the front to be displayed.

Frame with Removable Back

Frame with Removable Back

If you have received framed photographs or documents with removable backs, have you taken the back off to see what secrets could be hiding? A few years ago, I inherited some framed photographs from my Aunt and I found that there was a different photograph hiding behind the one that was showing.

The photograph that was on display was of my Great Grandfather:

William Sherman Bartram (1872-1961)

The photograph that I found, in the same frame, hiding behind the William Sherman Bartram photo was of my other Great-Grandparents:

Alva Filmore and Mary (Baker) Drummond

The interesting thing about these two photographs is they are from two different families that are both related to my late Aunt and myself.

One of the first things we do in the archives when we have received framed photographs or documents that have removable backs is to remove the back and see if there are any additional hidden documents or photographs that can't be seen from the front.

It is surprising how many people will put more than one photograph or document in a single picture frame. Then, over time, those older photographs and documents are forgotten. There has been many times when people have found long lost photographs and documents in picture frames of their family.

Some might remember back in 1991 when someone purchased a $4.00 painting at a flea market and when the frame was taken apart an original copy of the Declaration of Independence was found which was estimated to be worth $800,000.00 to 1 million dollars at the time. You can read about this event here:

While we may not find an original copy of the Declaration of Independence behind one of our ancestor's photos, it is still a good idea to check those framed photos and documents for anything that might be hiding!



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  1. My descendants will get lots of surprises if they follow your advice because I often leave older photos underneath when I put a new photo in the same frame!

    1. Thank You for reading my blog! Your descendants will get a surprise!

  2. Catching up! Years ago when I was checking photos, there was a sm photo in an imitation Ivory frame, abt 3 x 4. I could not get the photo out - it was very tight. When I finally managed to get the photo out to see the material behind it - surprise! It was a heavy paper folded which proved to be exam grades fm a boarding school the brother & sister went to in Livermore CA late 1890's!! Priceless and hidden - too easy to throw away. I won't be putting anything behind photos.
    My cousins.

    1. Linda, that is wonderful! Thank You for reading my blog.