The history of the Addo elephant population in South Africa, from the creation of the Addo Elephant National Park (AENP) in 1931 to the present (every elephant currently living within the park is known), was reconstructed. Photographic records were used as a primary source of historical evidence, in conjunction with all documentation on the population. Elephants can be identified in photographs taken throughout their life by study of the facial wrinkle patterns and blood vessel patterns in their ears. These characteristics are unique for each elephant and do not change during the individual's life. The life histories of individual elephants were traced: dates of birth and death were estimated and, wherever possible, the identity of the individual's mother was ascertained. An annual register of elephants living within the population, from 1931 to the present, was compiled, and maternal family trees constructed. Preliminary demographic analyses for the period 1976–98 are presented. The quantity and quality of photographs taken during these years enabled thorough investigation of the life histories of all elephants. Prior to 1976, insufficient photographs were available to provide reliable data on the exact birth dates and mothers' identities for every calf born. However, data on annual recruitment and mortality are considered sufficiently reliable for use in analyses of the population's growth and recovery.