This AI Tool Will Estimate When an Old Photo Was Taken

When looking at an old, undated photo it can be difficult to guess when it was taken, but now an artificial intelligence (AI) tool claims to offer a helping hand.

PhotoDater from the family history website MyHeritage is trained on “tens of thousands of curated, definitively dated historical photos.”

Through this process of machine learning, PhotoDater can offer an estimate of when a vintage photograph was taken.

“It provides date estimates for undated photos taken between 1860 and 1990 with remarkable accuracy,” MyHeritage says.

“Estimates are calculated for photos that lack metadata dates, feature people, and are actual photographs and work not only on black-and-white but also on color photos.”

MyHeritage says that it has tested the algorithm extensively and found that PhotoDater can provide estimates within five years of the actual year for nearly 60 percent of photos.

“The tool doesn’t just narrow photos down to a decade; often, it’s accurate down to the specific year,” it adds.

MyHeritage allows users to track their family history and has in recent years expanded its offerings to include AI-based features that not only restores old photos but animates them too.

“While date estimates should be viewed as a starting point, they may lead to groundbreaking discoveries in your research,” the website writes of its new tool.

Testing Out the PhotoDater AI Tool

PhotoDater is still in beta — not every photo that PetaPixel uploaded to MyHeritage received a date estimation.

Rat catchers
This photo of the Women’s Land Army in England was taken in 1942. MyHeritage says it was taken in 1947.
Civil War Soldier
Historians believe this photo of Christan Fleetwood, a non-commissioned officer in the United States Army, was taken in 1884. MyHeritage estimates it was taken in 1880.
Valencia football team
This photo of a Valencian soccer team was taken in 1958 but PhotoDater estimates it was taken in 1925.
Grandmother holding camera
This photo from Wikimedia Commons is of a “grandmother holding a camera in South Florida in the early 1970s.” PhotoDater says it is 1972.
AI-generated image
This picture has no date because it is AI-generated. However, PhotoDater estimates it to be 1895.

While the AI tool didn’t ace every test, it did fairly well and this type of technology will only improve and could come in useful for a photo researcher or historian.

To use the PhotoDater tool, simple upload a picture onto MyHeritage and it should appear in the top left corner.