Today I read this article (Philadelphia man finds self on missing children’s website – CNN.com) about an adopted man who discovered that he had been a missing child. He found this out when looking at age progression photos on Missingkids.com. This is pretty impressive, since had been missing since the age of four or earlier.
This got me thinking if similar techniques could be used in genealogy to identify people in photos. In terms of doing an age progression and comparing results, the answer is pretty much no. This article from www.forensicgenealogy.info explains that there is no simple computer program to do age progression, and the technique involves analysis of how close family members aged along with psychological information about the missing person. I’m curious to know how psychological details factor in here, perhaps to guess if the person will have more of a counter-culture look or whether they will be neat and trim.
You can, though, look at individual characteristics from the pictures and see if they match. Earlobe, chins, and the like don’t change much and can help determine if two pictures might be of the same person. They do a better job of showing that two people are not the same since differences stand out more, but the technique can still be helpful. We used this to identify my grandmother and her parents in the title photo for this blog, a topic I’ll write about later.
A middle ground between formal age progression and manual comparison would be the face matching features of a program like iPhoto or Picasa. I’m an Apple guy but I’ll stick to Picasa here because it’s facial recognition is much more accurate. I’d say that this can be used to get ideas for who might be a match, but not much more than that. I’ve seen Picasa make some good matches, but also seen it make lots of crazy mistakes. It is still going to come down to manual comparison.
Here’s an idea for a web service, though. Take a site like Dead Fred and add good facial recognition software. People would then upload their old photos of known and unknown people. The site would give possible matches, like Picasa does, which the person could then confirm or deny. If it could work it would be an improvement over the current method of looking through random photos or going by surname, which may not cover everyone in the picture.
UPDATE: Loyal reader Michele pointed out that there is software to do age progression on pictures. Face of the Future is a website that does this, and in the past I have played with HourFace, an iPhone app that made me look depressingly old. The difference is that professional age progression takes in factors like how the parents aged and the person’s psychology in estimating how they will look in the future, factors that these programs do not consider. You can still have a lot of fun with them, though, if you want to see your possible future.