To correctly identify military uniforms in photographs, it is necessary to read reference books and related websites about the particular branch of the military in its specific country during the correct historical time period. There are absolutely no rules about how a military designed its uniforms over time, although there are a few observations that can be made about military uniforms in general.
A country did not always automatically give uniforms to its military personnel. In some cases, a soldier or sailor had to supply his own uniform, as was done in the case of the Confederate Army during the U.S. Civil War. Uniforms, like other clothing during the early years of photography, were often handed down from father to son.
More often than not, the higher the rank of the individual, the more ornate the uniform was. The uniform almost always included headwear, so the style of the hat or helmet is a further indication of rank. The insignias worn on uniforms provide further information about the individual.
It’s easy to miss clues when viewing the photograph of an ancestor in military uniform. With our “Photography: Clues Pictures Hold, Editing, Digitizing and Various Projects” course you will learn more about locating and identifying some of those clues within your photographs.