Karen Levers, a genealogy researcher, bought it on eBay for £780, expecting it to contain pictures from Victorian high society.
But within its curled pages lay an extraordinary collection of lost photographs of Miss Austen’s relatives, compiled by an Ulster aristocrat who scandalously married two of her nieces.
A historian who examined the album said the lives of those within it appeared, unwittingly, to have imitated some her fiction.
Dr Sophia Hillan, a retired associate director of the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s University Belfast, who had previously uncovered the Austens’ link to the philandering Lord George Hill, said his mother resembled Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Ms Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
The author’s niece, Cassandra fell in love with Lord George, and “just as in Persuasion, they had to part for eight years until, like Captain Wentworth, he returned and they could marry”.
Dr Hillan added: “In the novels, the heroines have often lost a parent at a young age - and we see that time and time again in this album.
“Cassandra died in childbirth just like her mother.
“The parallels are there.”
Also in the album is a wedding picture of a groom who lost his arm to a tiger while fighting in India, just before marrying Ms Austen’s great niece.
Ms Levers said she hoped the photographs could be exhibited in the future.