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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, April 21, 2014
Foreign Photo Mystery
Posted by Maureen



This damaged image depicts one family line of Julie Townsend Gontarek's husband. Julie knows the image shows relatives in Poland, but not their identities. There are three possibilities: The Gontareks, Klamsky and Otrasek families all lived there.

Before she can delve deeper, Julie wants to know when the picture was taken.

It's a really interesting image. When I view pictures, my eyes dart over all the clues from sleeves to doorways.

Look at the detail in this exterior doorway. It's lovely: 

 

This young woman's sleeves suggest a date of the late 1890s, when there was fullness on the upper arm. The addition of plackets of contrasting fabric on the bodice and the cuffs shows off the skill of the person who made the dress.  I think she's pregnant: The longer bodice shows off what appears to be a baby bump.

 

Mom wears a head scarf commonly seen on women in rural regions of Poland and other European countries. Her dress has detailing on the upper arm as well. Her long bodice is a little out of date for the late 1890s.



Her little girl's clothing is typical for children: hair bows and short sleeves, which suggests warmer weather. I've seen a variety of clothes worn in rural regions both in the United States and overseas. Sometimes women would make clothes using older patterns, reusing older clothes and updating their fashions by adding sleeves or collars.  All the clothing worn here looks to be in excellent condition. 

Both the mother and the girl shown above photo wear necklaces bearing crosses, which indicates their faith.

The clothing clues in this image were confusing until I took a closer look at the men. Their collars date this image: Those starched, high-necked collars were popular about 1905. In particular, the man on the left wears a rounded-edge collar, common from about 1905 to at least 1915. 



Men wore a wide variety of ties in the early 20th century, from long, thin knit ties to wide silk ties, as well as bow ties.

This photo is full of family history clues:
  • The young girl leaning toward her mother appears to be around five years of age. If the picture dates between 1905 and 1915, then she was born between 1900 and 1910. I'm leaning toward the earlier end of this time frame.

  • The young pregnant bride looks like she'll be having a baby within a few months.

  • All of the individuals depicted could be relatives, but they also could be a collection of friends and family.

  • Who's not depicted?  Did someone in the family own a camera or did a professional take this image?
I'd love to know the occasion for this photo.  Everyone is dressed up for a special event.  I'm hoping that these details help Julie figure out who's who and a reason this image was taken. 
 


Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1900-1910 photos | children | Immigrant Photos | men | unusual clothing | women
    Monday, April 21, 2014 7:08:40 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, April 14, 2014
    Donating a Piece of History
    Posted by Maureen

    Now that Yvette LaGonterie knows that the mystery photo discovered in her grandparents' house doesn't show her family members, she asked me for advice on donating the image.

    The man in the family portrait LaGonterie found is Rev. George Frazier Miller, one of the founding members of the Niagara Movement, the predecessor of the NAACP.

    This is a question I'm asked on a fairly regular basis.  If you decide you'd like to pass on a photographic bit of history, first find an appropriate facility. Yvette wondered if she should donate the image to Howard University. Rev. Miller graduated from Howard.

    It's a good idea to call a library, historical society or archive first to see if it would be interested in your donation. So I called and spoke with woman who works with prints and photographs at the university. She would love to have the photo in the university collection, but there's a gift process that's pretty typical when an organization considers accepting donated material:
    • Staff would like to meet with Yvette, either over the phone or in person (if she's in the area). It's important to discuss all the details of the prospective gift.
    • Archivists and librarians want to see the condition of the original.  This can also be done virtually using a scan of the photo.
    • The next step is for the library to draw up a deed of gift that outlines everything discussed.
    • Once the parties sign the deed of gift, the university receives a copy and so does the donor.
    It looks like Yvette's picture will have another home. <smile>  Have you ever donated items to a historical or genealogical society?  Please share your experiences in the comment section below.


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1900-1910 photos | photo news
    Monday, April 14, 2014 4:27:15 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, April 07, 2014
    Next Steps After Solving a Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    What do you do after solving an old-photo mystery? I'm hoping you label the picture on the back using a soft graphite pencil. I'm also hoping you let that photograph take you to a new level of genealogy research.

    While the group portrait featured in last week's blog didn't end up being Yvette LaGonterie's relatives, she used the identification of the Reverend Miller's family to circle back to her own family research.

    Yvonne2.jpg

    She used Google to locate information on the house her ancestors lived in at 86 Vanderbilt Ave., Brooklyn. It's a fun research twist to use real estate sites to learn more about the places your ancestors lived. The house was new when Anna and Edward Powers raised their family. Today it's worth nearly $1.5 million.

    Real estate sites can provide:
    • current value of an ancestral home
    • the date of construction
    • photographs of the building

    Once I have an address for an ancestor, I often use sites like Zillow  and Google Maps to locate places where my family lived.

    annapowers1921edit.jpg

    Yvette also sent along a photograph of her grandmother, posed to show off her oversize coat, taken in 1921. It's a great fashion photo.


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1920s photos | african american | house/building photos | women
    Monday, April 07, 2014 3:19:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, March 31, 2014
    Photo Success Story: Reverend George Miller
    Posted by Diane

    Last week I wrote about Yvette LaGonterie's mystery photo and the possible link to the Underground Railroad. The clues dated this photo to circa 1900.

    Yvonne2.jpg

    I wondered if the man's collar was actually a clue to his profession. Could that be a clerical collar?

    Rev Miller.jpg

    That one little question led to an identification. This family has a name!
    Yvette's ancestors Anna and Edward Powers lived in Brooklyn by the 1890s and were active in St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, when the pastor was the Rev. George Frazier Miller. During his time at the church (1896-1943), four generations of Yvette's family knew this man. The relationship extended from her great-great-grandparents to her mother. 

    Yvette found a photo of him on the University of Massachusetts website. It confirmed the identity. Rev. Miller was one of the founding members of the Niagara Movement, the predecessor of the NAACP. 

    He was a important person in the community and obviously someone the Powers knew quite well. That's why this family picture was in with their photos.

    Next week, I'll be back with more on Yvette's family and this photo.


    1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | african american
    Monday, March 31, 2014 3:23:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, March 24, 2014
    A Photographic Link to the Underground Railroad?
    Posted by Maureen

    YvonneMystery Family.jpg

    The condition of this photo isn't unusual. The heavy acidic cardboard mount is very fragile. It's rare to find a photo of this type in perfect condition. Store a photo like this in an acid- and lignin-free folder made of heavyweight cardstock, so it's supported.

    If you've ever found a box of photographs in a relative's home, then you understand Yvette LaGonterie's excitement when she located several photo albums in the back of a closet at her grandparents' house. The albums contained images dating as early as 1918. 

    The big mystery is this photo. It was loose in the box, not mounted in an album. She showed it to her mother, who said, "it looks like my maternal grandmother's family."

    Yvonne2.jpg

    Unfortunately, the facts don't line up exactly.

    LaGonterie's great-grandmother Ella Estelle Powers was born in Philadelphia circa 1878. Ella's parents were Anna Elizabeth White Foreman (circa 1852 - 1925) and Edward Francis Powers (circa 1857-1911). Anna's family was prominent in Philadelphia. She was the niece of Jacob Clement White, Sr., secretary of the Philadelphia Vigilance Association, a group active in the Underground Railroad.

    Anna and Edward had three daughters, so this family doesn't match their family. Did Anna or Edward have any siblings?  This could depict their family. These are some photo facts to consider:
    • The little boy's play suit is a item available from the mid-1890s into the 20th century.
    • Mom's hairstyle with the topknot on the crown of her head was common around 1900. That date also fits with her dress style.
    • Dad's suit is very interesting. While upturned collars were commonly available, it's the style of the jacket that's fascinating. It features cloth-covered buttons and doesn't have a traditional jacket opening. This jacket extends to the neckline.

    It's an intriguing photo due to the connection to prominent Philadelphia residents involved in the Underground Railroad, and because of that suit. Yvette is looking for a family with a son and a daughter that had a connection to her relatives.


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1900-1910 photos | african american | children | women
    Monday, March 24, 2014 7:34:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, March 17, 2014
    Cars in Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    In 20th century family photos, it's pretty common to see folks posed with their automobiles. It's a variation on the late 19th century scene with the family posed with their horse.  

    Not everyone owned a car. Photo studios jumped on this as a marketing opportunity. Individuals could go to have their picture taken and pose in a fake car (or even on a plane).

    wiseman.jpg

    Elizabeth Wiseman thinks her grandfather is behind the steering wheel in this studio shot of four men in a fake automobile.  Before I weigh in on who's in the car, I'm going to ask her for a higher resolution photo.

    The first thing you notice when you look at this photo is that the steering wheel in on the right side.  In the early years of American automobile manufacturing, it's not unusual to see the wheel on the right.  It was pretty typical for early horseless carriages.  There was a rare car known as a Hamilton constructed in 1909 that also featured a right-hand steering wheel. Only 25 were made.

    There were so many car manufacturers in this country that there's no comprehensive guide. Just like fashion, the date is in the details. Start by looking at the length of the chassis, the style of the wheels and headlamps as well as the style of the windshield (if there is one).

    These four men posed for a photo seated in a studio prop that resembled a touring car.  I love the small side door with a handle!

    wiseman2.jpg


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1900-1910 photos | automobiles | props in photos | Vehicles in photos
    Monday, March 17, 2014 1:54:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, March 09, 2014
    Stories in the Family Album
    Posted by Maureen

    Three Women  Man on Fallen Treeedit.jpg

    Way back in grade school, I learned that the building blocks of a good story are who, what, where, when and how. Those elements plus a little family history lore add up to tell a tale.

    In the case of this photo, here's how it breaks down:

    Who: There are lot of "might"s in Jane Bonny's email but here's who she thinks might be in the photo. The woman on the far left might be her grandmother Grace Wickline (born 1891).
     
    crop1Three Women  Man on Fallen Tree.jpg

    According to Jane, the woman on the far right bears a bit of a resemblance to Grace's sister Bella, but Bella never lived near her sister.

    The woman in the center could be Grace's mother-in-law, Henrietta Gardner, but it all depends on the date of the photo. Grace married in 1923.

    Where: From 1910 to about 1923, Grace lived in Hidalgo County, Texas. She met her future husband, Francis Cooper Anderson, there. 

    Hidalgo County was a base for the US Army beginning in 1916, when American soldiers invaded Mexico in search of Pancho Villa. You can read more about it here.

    What: Exactly what's happening here is a bit of a mystery. It looks like a group on an outing.  Who's behind the camera is unknown.  It's important to think about who took a snapshot, because there's a relationship of some sort between that individual and the folks in a candid image.

    When: Now we are at the key piece of evidence. A date or time frame can help to confirm or refute an identification.

    On the woman who might be Grace, the deep crowned hat with a small brim is interesting. There were hats like this in the late 1910s and in the early 1920s, but hats in the late teens had brims that tilted down, not up like in the 1920s. 

    Bangs start to become fashionable again circa 1920 and if women didn't crop their hair they found ways to pin it up to look shorter. That's what this woman has done.

     crop3Three Women  Man on Fallen Tree.jpg

    These clues plus the dress styles suggest this photo was taken circa 1920. So Grace would be 29 in this photo.

    crop 2Three Women  Man on Fallen Tree.jpg

    Jane doesn't recognize the young man on the far left. He doesn't resemble Grace's husband, Francis.

    There is a great family history nugget relating to Grace. She told her family that she had a boyfriend in the Army, but that she didn't continue seeing him because she judged him to be without character.

    This man is not wearing a military uniform, but Jane wonders if this could be the boyfriend. Could they be holding hands? It's unclear. 

    The how in this photo involves trying to figure out his identity. First I'd compare his photo to other images of Francis. Perhaps he's related to the woman on the far right. 

    If he's not Francis, then who are the other two women?  Perhaps other relatives came to visit Grace in Texas. Posting this image online and in social media might help.


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1910s photos | 1920s photos | men | Military photos
    Sunday, March 09, 2014 10:48:27 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, March 02, 2014
    Sweden to the U.S. and Back Again
    Posted by Maureen

    Do you have photographs in your collection that were taken overseas? That's Maria Benini's problem. Only she lives in Stockholm, Sweden. and her mystery photo was taken in Illinois. 

    Benini found this boy's picture in a little brown box that her mother had in her family home in southern Sweden.

     mariabeniniJohn Doe Swedish boy.jpg
    mariabenini backohn Doe Swedish boy.jpg
     
    This little lad sat for his photo about 1870.  This date is based on the shape and style of the card photograph, the style of his suit and tie as well as the presence of the chair.

    Edgar Codding was a successful photographer in Knoxville, Illinois.
    1870 census codding.jpg
    1870 Federal Census record from National Archive microfilm M593, roll 241, p.87 digitized image from Heritage Quest, a Proquest database.

    In 1888, Maria's great-grandfather, Anders Nilsson, immigrated to Sioux City, Iowa. He wrote letters home about his time in the United States and stayed until 1933 to 1935. He signed his letters from America with the name Andrew.

    Benini thinks this photo might be proof that other family members also immigrated. A quick search of the census shows 38 Nilsons living in Illinois in 1870. The name could be a variant spelling of Nilsson.

    This information is a start. I'll post an update if Benini has any new information.


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1870s photos | children | Immigrant Photos
    Sunday, March 02, 2014 5:30:41 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, February 23, 2014
    Old Family Photos: Boys in Dresses
    Posted by Diane


    Collins-AB-and-Amanda-with-Arthur-Carlos-Ray2.jpg


    Anna Swinney's question doesn't have to do with the identity of the people in this picture. She knows who they are. She submitted it because of what the youngest child is wearing: a dress.

    Collins4.jpg

    Amanda Perryman Collins (1860-1930) and her husband Albert Buell Collins (1862-1942) posed with their three children (left to right): Arthur (1887-1908), Carlos (1891-1985) and Ray (1889-1984).  The absence of their fourth child helps date the picture to circa 1892.

    There are some interesting details in the picture.
    • Mom still wears a popular 1880s hairstyle of curly bangs with her hair pulled back and a wide lace collar. 
    • Notched edges cabinet cards were in style in the 1880s to circa 1900.

    • Dad wears his tie under his collar.

    In the 1890s, Highland-style suits were popular for boys. These consisted of a short jacket and a kilt.

    Since this family still retains remnants of the 1880s in this early 1890s photo, let's look at boys' clothing from that decade: The general rule for both boys' and girls' attire was long dresses until they could walk, then shorter dresses to allow movement. Boys wore skirts until about age 5. Often, boys skirts' were paired with short pants underneath.

    Toddler boys also wore skirts and dresses in the 1860s and 1870s. In the 1860s, there was a type of loose-fitting "French dress" that was worn loosely belted at the waist. 

    It's also not unusual to see boys with "love-locks," or long sausage curls in family photos. If you're having a hard time telling little boys form little girls, here's a rule of thumb: Boys wore their hair parted on the side, while girls sported center parts.


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1890s photos | children
    Sunday, February 23, 2014 5:05:37 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, February 16, 2014
    New England House History Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    There are photos that get stuck in my mind. Those are persistent mysteries that defy strategies to solve them. Bergetta Monroe's photo of a large farm is one of those images.

    I first wrote about it in 2009 in an article called Raising the Roof: Architectural Images. On a cold winter day about 1870, a photographer climbed the roof of a building and took this picture. It's a detailed look at a family's rich agricultural landholdings. Wood smoke comes out of the chimney in the foreground and the possible owner of the property stands at the gate.




    monroe house 2.jpg

    That was five years ago, and web searching has changed a bit since then.  When I first wrote about this image, I discussed the following identification details. Here they are with some updates.

    Provenance
    This is key information. Knowing who owned this image before Bergetta's father can help solve the mystery. Her father told her that her grandfather Sidney Hinman Monroe was born in Jericho, Vt., in 1843, and then moved to Wisconsin. 

    Who's Who
    There may only be three generations between the people who posed for this picture and its current owner—Bergetta's grandfather, her father and her.  There appears to be an older generation sitting on a bench on the side of the house.

    monroe house 3.jpg

    Location
    Bergetta's ancestors lived in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Wisconsin. I suggested making a list of all the specific towns in which they lived. 
    • Search census records for the people. It's possible that the man at the gate is the owner or manager and the older couple lives there. The older couple would've been born in the early years of the 19th century. There might be an extended family living there.
       
    • The owner of this property would stand out due to his wealth.  It's a very large farm with many outbuildings. Tax records and deeds would also supply details on her ancestors' holdings.

    • Show the image to realtors in the towns in which her ancestors lived. This farm and its next-door building (the photographer stood on the roof to capture this picture) would be significant. I spent time today looking online at historical houses in Jericho with no matches.

    • Check with historical societies and historic preservation groups as well. It's possible the house is now gone.

    • I tried using Google Images for matches using Bergetta's photo for comparison by uploading it into the search engine. Nothing turned up.

    Tax Stamp

    Back in 2009, I spoke with revenue stamp expert Michael E. Aldrich.  He stated that this stamp on the back of the photo is significant due to its light blue color. A darker blue stamp was issued in 1864, but this one wasn't available until 1870, providing a date for the image. Because this stamp doesn't fall within the traditional revenue stamp period of August 1864 to August 1866, Aldrich thought it was placed there later.  If you'd like to see what other revenue stamps look like click here.  To learn more about a particular stamp, click the image. 

    I encourage you to go to the original article to see more pictures of the property. The house has gorgeous Doric columns and the barn is of Italianate design.  This was owned by someone who would've been very well known in his community.

    Strategy
    I'd follow the land evidence first to narrow down possible locations. Look for relatives that combine wealth and property. The 1870 Agricultural Census could offer clues once you have a list of towns. This non-population census exists for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. You can learn more about them from the National Archives. It took awhile to build a farm like this.

    Next step is to check in with realtors, historical societies and preservationists.

    Bergetta has already tried social media using her FaceBook page, but she should also look for pages for the towns in which her ancestor's lived.

    I remain convinced that this is a picture mystery that can be solved!  It's all about connecting with the right pieces of information and following the bread crumbs.


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1860s photos | hats | house/building photos
    Sunday, February 16, 2014 7:40:47 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]