State Library Victoria has an extraordinary collection of original materials. Naturally, with a collection of this size and depth there will be items we haven’t fully researched and described. These are our unknown or unidentified items… and there are thousands of them!

[Two unidentified men in open-top sports car] / Mark Strizic.
H2008.11/1423. This work is in copyright.

It might be the creator, the date or the subject depicted that is unknown. Family photographs are often without captions to help us catalogue them. The friends and family of those depicted usually knew who everyone was in the picture, where they were snapped and when, so it wasn’t necessary to provide detailed captions or information with the images. A few generations later, that knowledge is lost and we are left wondering.

Photograph album relating to the Stringer family and friends, 1917-1933,
compiled by Reg Stringer.
Photograph album relating to the Stringer family and friends, 1917-1933,
compiled by Reg Stringer. H2013.253/1-330 (detail from page 30).

Researching these mysteries can be very satisfying. Sometimes details in the image give us more information; for example, fashion and technology can help us date the era (like a style of haircut or the model of car), whilst online street maps and street-views provide us with points of comparison or verification. If only we had endless time to research these unknowns in our collection!

If you happen to have the time and inclination, we’d love you to use your local knowledge or special subject interest to help us out.

How to help:

  • once you choose an image from the search results, in the catalogue record there is an option to ‘Share a comment about this item’:
  • in your comment please include your rationale and evidence if possible. You can include a link if your evidence comes from an online source.

All comments we receive undergo a verification process and State Library Victoria catalogue records are reviewed in accordance with our cataloguing policy.

Here are some examples of contributions we’ve received that have eliminated unknowns…

[Exterior of Moran & Cato Grocery Store, 87 Toorak Road, South Yarra]
[Exterior of Moran & Cato Grocery Store, 87 Toorak Road, South Yarra] H92.20/545

The above photograph was previously catalogued without an address. We now know this shop was at 87 Toorak Road, South Yarra. In this example, a researcher used their detective skills to spot the names of other businesses reflected in the window, cross referencing those details to both an article found in a digitised newspaper and the current addresses of the businesses still operating. Amazing!

[Craig's general store - Queenscliff]
[Craig’s general store – Queenscliff] , unknown photographer, H24782/1

The description of this photograph, showing a general store in Queenscliff, Victoria, has been pinpointed to the intersection of two streets. The researcher made use of our high level zoom function to read the tiny street names signposted on the building. Zoom in to see the signage we missed when we catalogued the photo from its original size of only 5 x 9 cm.

H24782/1 (details)

If you think you can eliminate an unknown, we’d love to hear from you.

‘What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order.’ P. D. James

This article has 9 comments

  1. Great idea in asking if anyone can help fill the unknowns from the SLV archive. Personally, I cannot help with any identification, however, I was definitely impressed with the detective work on identifying the 2 streets that the general store was located at. Well done and hopefully this post will help you get some of these identified.

  2. Looking forward to searching through some collections in order to try and help. Interesting to think about how solving some of these mysteries and getting more details could uncover pieces of history and insight into people’s lifestyles from decades past.

  3. This will be a great task for all those with a detective personality for sure! I think we will be surprised by people recognizing places and people within the SLV unknowns as well. I hope the cataloging venture goes well!

  4. Love the old picture Bridie. I’m sure their are tons of stories and historical discoveries behind alot of them. Hope the search to uncover the photo unknowns goes very well and appreciate you sharing them!

  5. Very cool seeing all these old pictures. Definitely helps give a good feel and some insight into what life was like back then. Hope you are able to uncover some of your unknowns in the near future if you haven’t already!

  6. Awesome vintage photos! Love seeing the history, architecture, and style of decades past. Best of success in filling in the unknowns within the SLV Catalog and thanks for sharing these.

  7. The photo of Craigs Store in Queenscliff is remarkable, and it still stands to this day. I believe it is now a woodworks store.

  8. Was wondering if there was a Historical Society at Ballarat that could assist with some of Ballarat’s unidentified pics?

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