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# Sunday, June 26, 2016
Aerial Photographs and Ancestral Home Towns
Posted by Maureen

In the 19th century, daring photographers climbed into woven baskets held aloft by balloons in order to take pictures of local landscapes. While French photographer Nadar's photograph of Paris from the air in 1858 no longer exists, other such landscapes still do.

J.W. Black of Boston photographed Boston from a balloon in 1860. That picture is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. You can read more about it in Smithsonian magazine.

The world seemed enamored with aerial photography in the 1860s. During the Civil War, Gen. Ambrose Burnside employed a balloonist, Prof. James Allen of Providence, RI, to take reconnaissance photographs of battlefields and troop locations.

Visual Time Traveling with the Library of Congress.
A large number of aerial images are in the collection of the Library of Congress. Search the Prints and Photographs collection using the term, "aerial photography," then use the "Refine your search" options on the left side of the screen to narrow results by date, place or online availability. You might locate an image of an ancestral hometown taken in the time frame your ancestor lived there.


Richmond, Virginia looking west, April 1865. Library of Congress.


Kite Photos
Balloons weren't the only way to photograph from the air. In 1882, a British meteorologist developed a way to attach cameras to kites. The caption of this postcard states that a kite-held camera took this scene.


Aerial photography never went out of style. Airplanes replaced balloons and kites, and now there are drones. Visit any gadget store and you're apt to see drones capable of taking videos. Search online for "drone film of [fill in the blank]" to see if there's virtual aerial tour of an ancestral hometown.

You can read more about the history of aerial photography on Wikipedia.


Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1860s photos | 1880s photos | 1910s photos | aerial photos | Airplanes | Civil War
    Sunday, June 26, 2016 10:13:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, June 19, 2016
    College Girls in an Old Mystery Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Did your grandmother, great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother go to college? The proof may be in an old photo album.



    In the early part of the 20th century, young women filled black paper albums and scrapbooks with pictures of their family, friends and college activities. You might have one of those albums tucked away in an old trunk. If you don't know where your female ancestor went to school, study those images for clues. 

    I recently found a series of five photographs of young women at an unidentified school. At least five clues immediately stand out in one of the pictures. These details could add up to identify the school, and then maybe the women.



    1. The fluted column.
    This is a distinctive feature. Columns come in various designs, but the size and shape of this one stands out. It signifies a large building. The wall visible behind the column is brick. Right away those two clues come together: It's a large brick building with fluted columns, likely one on either side of the doorway.

    2. Engraved stairs.
    "Class of 1910" engraved into the riser of the top stair provides a starting time frame for the photo. The clothing clues suggested it was taken circa World War 1, but this clue, combined with the column, adds a more specific piece to the puzzle. 

    3. A plaque.
    These two women sat on the stairs of an important building on campus, one with a commemorative plaque. Unfortunately no amount of tinkering with the image could make it readable. 

    4. Clothing clues
    It's possible the girl on the left is wearing a uniform of some sort. This signifies a school with a dress code perhaps. Her attire and that of the woman next to her place this image in the circa-World War 1 period.

    5. Activity
    The girls are making something.

     
    It looks like luminaria. The woman on the right holds a candle. The two bags on the stair have bases that could be filled with sand and an opening for a candle. These are generally made for special occasion. Neither woman is dressed for cold weather so these could be for a graduation, an induction ceremony, a fall festival or some special school event.

    Brick+column+engraving+plaque =a very recognizable building standing as of likely 1910. The problem is...WHERE?

    Where was it taken?
    Posting on social media as a crowdsourcing experiment didn't help, so it's back to research. A timeline of women's colleges in the United States on Wikipedia works as a checklist. I'm using the process of elimination to try to figure out where these women and the other women were photographed.

    It's a three-step process.
    • Use Google Images to look for pictures of each of the colleges listed on Wikepedia to see if there are any buildings with fluted columns built circa 1910. 
    • If there are buildings with columns on the campus, then the next step is to look at digital collections in the school archives on their website.
    • Send an email to their archivist asking if they recognize the building.
    This research takes time.

    So far I've heard back from the following colleges: Wellesley College, Hollins University and Barnard. No matches. 

    So...if you recognize those distinctive features or know of someone who might, please share this.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1910s photos | school photos | women
    Sunday, June 19, 2016 9:36:53 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Sunday, June 12, 2016
    Daguerreotype, Ambrotype and Tintype: Telling Them Apart
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week's post discussed Jay Kruizenga's ancestor James Pennington's dreamy blue eyes and trendy 1850s fashion.



    When an individual visited a photo studio in the late 1850s, he could choose the style of portrait—shiny reflective daguerreotype, glass ambrotype, metal tintype or a paper card photo. 

    This is a key part of identifying a photo from the mid-19th century. If an image was taken before 1854, then it's a daguerreotype, but if it was taken after that point, then it could be one of the others. 

    Daguerreotypes, introduced in 1839, have a distinctive appearance. Because they're reflective, you have to tilt them at a 45-degree angle in order to view the image. Otherwise, the silver-coated copper plate is often so shiny you just see yourself in the plate.

    Ambrotypes, patented in 1854, are on glass. Backed with a dark substance (such as varnish or paper) they look positive, but when the backing starts to deteriorate, you can often see through the glass. This gives the image a ghostly appearance.

    Tintypes, patented in 1856, are actually on iron, not tin. Unlike a daguerreotype, tintypes are not reflective. While you can find them in cases (like the previous two image types), most tintypes found in collections aren't in any type of protective sleeve or case.

    Card photographs (introduced in the United States about 1859) are on cardstock and instantly recognizable.

    So James posed about 1857, which means his portrait could be a daguerreotype, ambrotype or tintype. Jay's cousin sent him the pictures digitally. When she photographed the images, she propped them on a dark surface to decrease the reflection. Plus, the image has a type of deterioration known as a halo, usually found on daguerreotypes.
     
    I'm leaning toward it being a daguerreotype, but sometimes a digital image can be deceiving. We're waiting for verification of the appearance of the original.

    Photo Milestone
    After reading Jay's family history website, it's pretty clear when James posed for this image. He married his wife Esther Inwood in 1857. Both James and his bride are dressed for the occasion. 

    Mysteries usually come in twos. The picture of James came with another. The woman is Esther, an ID based on other photos of her. The mystery is the identity of the girl.




    Esther's attire also suggests the photo was taken circa 1857 for her wedding. The wide collar and dress design are appropriate for the time period. You can even see the outline of her corset.

    So who's the girl?  The couple didn't have children at this point. I wonder if she could be a flower girl? 

    Esther's brother had a daughter Sarah, but in 1857, she'd only be 4, and this girl is older. She could be the daughter of one of the witnesses at the wedding.

    If you'd like to see a wonderful example of how to present your family history on the web, take a few minutes to look at Jay's site on James Pennington.  You'll find everything from narrative to documents and DNA. 



    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1850s photos | cased images | daguerreotype | wedding
    Sunday, June 12, 2016 8:27:46 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, June 06, 2016
    Old Blue Eyes in a Family Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    This man's pale blue eyes stand out in this portrait.



    Jay Kruizenga submitted the photo with an inquiry about a date for the picture. He's hopeful it was taken circa 1857, making James Pennington (1828-1903) a potential ID for this man. Pennington would be 29 years old in 1857.

    This is a typical mid-19th century portrait. It doesn't show the background; the focus is on the sitter and what he's wearing.

    Nineteenth-century fashion trends originated in Paris and spread from there. In the United States, our ancestors wore Americanized French fashion. Here's a fashion plate from an 1857 issue of Journal des Merchants Tailleurs:


     
    A well-dressed man wore a jacket, vest and tie, just like the men in this illustration and the man in the photo.

    A few fashion details visible in Kruizenga's photo help date the portrait:
    • He wears his hair combed back with oil.
    • His necktie is a wide silk stock, wrapped under his collar and tied. By 1857, another type of tie also was available—a wide, horizontal looking bow tie.
    • In the 1850s, patterned vests were common. A little bit of patterned fabric shows in this closeup. 
    • Often, one of the key details in a man's outfit is the width and shape of the jacket lapels. In this case, his lapels are quite wide.  
    Next week, I'll examine the types of photos available in the 1850s. It could help confirm the photo's time frame.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1850s photos | men
    Monday, June 06, 2016 5:00:41 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, May 30, 2016
    Walt Whitman and Your Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen



    Walt Whitman, 1854, Library of Congress.


    What could a famous man have in common with your picture collection? It turns out, plenty! Whitman (1819-1892), an American poet, journalist and essayist, had picture problems you'll find familiar.

    In 1888, surrounded by images taken of Whitman during his life, his friend Horace Traubel asked for details about a particular one. Whitman couldn't recall when, where or who took the picture and remarked,
    "I have been photographed to confusion."

    According to the Whitman Archive, Whitman sat for thousands of pictures in his lifetime. He was likely the most photographed man in America. On that day in 1888, Whitman couldn't identify many of the facts of those pictures in his studio. They were too numerous for him to say when they were taken.

    His problem is one common to many of us today. We take pictures all the time, following in the footsteps of ancestral photographers who aimed to capture family in studio portraits and snapshots. 

    Not everyone went to the studio just for family milestones. Whitman recognized the power of photography to freeze life moments allowing us to look back on the past. In some cases, you may have pictures that document a person from birth to death. There were individuals who, like Whitman, enjoyed being photographed, and much-loved children that parents took to the studio for pictures.

    Unlike Whitman, we have tools to help us figure out when pictures were taken. Try these tips:
    • Estimate the age of a person in a photograph. You'll be able to group images by childhood and the teen years without too many problems.
    • Create a picture timeline of their life. A new tool on the market is Twile.com. You upload the photos, attach them to a person and a significant detail and within minutes you have a timeline of facts and images on which relatives can comment.

    • Not sure when a picture was taken or why? Research the photographer using phone books and city directories, ask family if they remember, and study the details in the background. My downloadable article called Hidden in Plain Sight will help you spot new clues. 
    Who's the Walt Whitman in your family collection—i.e. the most-photographed family member?  

    I'd love to see him or her! Send a picture of your "most photographed" ancestor to this blog following the instructions in our "How to Submit" guidelines



    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1850s photos | men | Walt Whitman
    Monday, May 30, 2016 4:44:28 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, May 23, 2016
    Memorial Day Tribute in 1918
    Posted by Maureen



    A quick search for Memorial Day photos on the Library of Congress website turned up this image. According to the cataloging record, the original was a glass negative, and on the envelope was a note suggesting this was taken by the National Photo Company on Memorial Day 1918.  It's a posed press photo of what seems to be a significant event.

    The letters on the women's sashes caught my attention. Downloading a high-resolution version of the photo from the Library of Congress website revealed the letters L, U, S, I, T:



    My mind immediately thought about the significance of the day and year of this image.
    • Memorial Day, a holiday that honors service men and women who died in the Armed Forces. Today it's the last Monday in May.  Originally called Decoration Day, after the Civil War this day was set aside to decorate graves with flowers. In 1918, Memorial Day was May 30, a Thursday.
    • In 1918, the world was battling in the First World War.
    • What event helped to turn the tide of American opinion against Germany, eventually pushing the United States into the war? The sinking of the RMS Lusitania, May 7, 1915. The women's sashes likely spell the ship's name.

    Searching for keywords relating to Memorial Day and Luisitania with the year 1918 on subscription newspaper website GenealogyBank gave me the answer. Bingo! This mostly unidentified photo now has a story.

    On May 7, 1915, a German U-boat torpedoed and sunk the RMS Luisitania, an ocean liner returning to Europe with close to 2,000 passengers and crew on board. Bestselling author Erik Larson featured the tragedy and the events surrounding the sinking in his 2015 book, Dead Wake. Here's a panoramic photo of the ship at anchor in New York harbor in September 1907 for its maiden voyage. It shows the scale of this vessel compared to everything else on the waterfront that day. You'll find more images of the ship on Wikipedia.



    Some of the women in the first photo sit within a large wreath.  It was one of two of the wreaths made for the Memorial Day ceremony. The story appeared in papers across country including the Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, Calif.), May 30, 1918:
    Down on the peaceful Potomac two gigantic rose wreaths were set adrift, markers for the graves of the Lusitania dead. Daughters of the American Revolution launched the first: the crew of a British warrior the second.
    In the photo appear both the members of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the crew of the British warrior. They posed for the picture before they set the wreaths in the water.

    Identifying the details and the story behind this picture required studying the clues: sashes and the history of the period.  The answer was in the news.

    How did your ancestors celebrate Memorial Day? Read local historical newspapers to learn more about the special events in which they participated. Using the details mentioned in those articles, go through your family photos looking for matches.
     


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1910s photos | Luisitania | women | World War I
    Monday, May 23, 2016 4:55:08 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, May 15, 2016
    Counting the Clues to Solve an Old Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    The three parts to this German photo mystery are the caption, the date of the image and the family history information.

    The first blog post dated the image to the 1880s, and the second post discussed caption translation confusion. Please read the comments to the Caption Confusion post. A woman from Germany weighed in on the writing.



    Here are the highlights of the comment discussion.
    • Alex wrote that the caption is written in Suetterlin style and reads "An die Nette der Mutter ihre Schwester" which he says doesn't make sense in modern German, but it could be a local dialect. He thought the ballpoint caption could identify Nettie's aunt as the sender of the picture.

    • Susanna from Germany agreed with Alex's translation of the ballpoint as an indication that "to" suggests the sister sent it. "The person who wrote down the German sentence wrote it as she or he would speak it. It is not a dialect. The person who wrote it is the child of the mother in the picture." She thought it meant the photo was to be given to Nette. Nette is the aunt of the writer.

    • Leslie added that Grossie is likely a shortened form of Grossmuetter, aka Grandmother. Debra Allison, owner of the picture, emailed that the family used that nickname for their grandmother. She found it interesting that Susanna suggested Grosse in German also means a tall woman. In fact, her grandmother was almost six feet tall. 

    So who's in the picture?

    Debra's great-grandmother Antoinette (born 1856) immigrated to America in 1881. She was the youngest of nine siblings. She brought with her two of her nephews, sons of her only sister who didn't immigrate. All of Antoinette's brothers remained in Germany.

    The answer to who's in the photo relies on the ages of the people in the picture as compared to what Debra knows about the siblings. She's dug into records to use the process of elimination.

    Antoinette's eldest sister Katherine and her husband Philipp Letzelter had eight children. The second and the third traveled with their aunt, who was only seven and eight years older than her nephews.

    The remainder of the family stayed in Germany. Debra thinks the picture depicts Antoinette's mother, Elisabeth Wiegand Fichter (1814-1888), as well as her sister Katherine (born 1838) and her husband Philipp (born 1837). The children could be their four youngest ones: Ferdinand (born 1871), Victor (born 1874), Antoinette (born 1877) and Karl (born 1881). Two of the older siblings are not in this image. 

    If the picture dates to approximately 1886, then their ages are as follows: Elisabeth (72), Katherine (48), Philipp (49), Ferdinand (15), Victor (12), Antoinette (9) and Karl (5).

    I know that relatives who didn't immigrate often sent photos to family in America. It's likely that Katherine sent this image to her sons and her sister. She may have sent it to her sister Barbara, who also lived in Cincinnati.

    This agrees with the comments in the previous post and the assessment by a Miami University professor who told Debra that the image was to be given to another. 


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now







  • 1880s photos | children | Immigrant Photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, May 15, 2016 4:34:14 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, May 09, 2016
    Piecing Together Old Photo Albums: A Challenge
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week, I collected images from individuals who'd found photos in their registration goody bags at the National Genealogical Society conference in Fort Lauderdale. As the images flooded in to my exhibit hall booth, it quickly became apparent that this was an enormous photo identification challenge. 

    Would it be possible to match up some of these images and recreate some of the original albums? Maybe. 

    Bins and boxes of miscellaneous snapshots that were left behind when someone died or discarded are in almost every antique shop and photo sale. I've watched sellers at photo shows pull apart old albums to sell the images individually. They don't know that albums tell a story and that by taking them apart they are discarding the context of the tale.

    I'd love to have a photo album owned by an ancestor, and I bet you would too.

    For two days, volunteers helped me organize those turned-in images. At last count there were 75 bags of recreated matches ranging from just two images to one envelope that contained approximately 20 images of a New Jersey family.

    Here's how we did it. If you inherit a large box of miscellaneous pictures, these tips might help you put them in order.


    unidentified image, circa 1920.

    • Watch for writing: There was handwriting on some of these images. By matching up the script, it was possible to group pictures captioned by the same person
    • Album corners: One person designed beautiful black photo corners, the remnants of them were still on the images.  They became another group.
    • Caption clues: A person with a flair for poetry wrote on the back of many images, creating a rhyme about the people depicted. You guessed it.  This was a matching clue.
    • Dogs, cars and people: We watched for similarly dressed individuals, thinking that photographers often take more than one picture on a given day. Yes!  That was case, now the challenge is to recreate the order of those images.  

    There were pets in some of the photos and they also served as an identification clue.  So did automobiles.

    • Background: One family posed relatives in front of a grape arbor for about 30 years. It was their own private photo studio. Another family posed in front of a brick house. After studying other clues, it was apparent that this posing in front of architectural elements was part of their family photo technique. Both groups of images represented the same family at different times. Bingo!
    • Photo format: Early 20th century images came in a wide range of sizes, but it was easy to group pictures by the same decorative border, the quality of the sepia tone or those mid-20th century black-and-white snapshots with deckled edges.
    • Photo developing number: After examining all of the above, we turned over the images and started matching developing numbers (those stamped numbers) on the back, cross-checking by image size and people. This resulted in many more matches.

    It's clear that many of the images people gave me were random photos, not part of any of the existing matches. There is still a lot of work to be done on the piles. I'm hoping for a few more picture connections.

    There are still photos out there. If you received one and don't want to keep it, perhaps you'd consider sending it to me.  Email me for instructions.

    I'll be back next week with the third installment of the German mystery.



    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • Vehicles in photos | women | World War I
    Monday, May 09, 2016 4:07:25 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, May 02, 2016
    Caption Confusion in a Foreign Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Caption confusion is a common condition. You may suffer from it. The main symptoms are squinty eyes and a headache from trying to figure out what someone wrote on a picture years ago. You can't read the handwriting or follow the cryptic clues.

    Maybe you discover that what's written isn't a caption at all—one of your ancestors used the back of the photo as a notepad or to practice their sums. 

    If you think that's enough to drive you mad, think about Debra Allison's dilemma: The caption is in a foreign language and she's received not one or two translations, but four.



    Last week's blog post examined the clues on the front of the picture, which dated the picture to the 1880s. Now it's time for the reverse side.




    Let's start with the photographer's imprint.

    George Schaffer operated his studio in Oberotterbach (Pfalz), a municipality in western Germany. This clue could narrow down who's in the picture if only part of the family lived there, but that's not the case in Debra's family. They all lived in the area.



    Three different scripts appear on the back, including a ballpoint translation of the German written in fountain pen, and a pencil caption. A granddaughter of the original owner added "Grossie's Mother, Father & Sisters & Brother." Grossie was a nickname for Debra's great-grandmother, Antoinette/Nettie Fichter. 

    Which of the following translations is correct? If anyone reads German, please add your translation in the comment field below this article.
    • "To the niece of the mother's sister."
    • "To the nice mother of the nun." [This one is definitely incorrect. While the family was Catholic, no one was a nun.]
    • "on [to?] the Nettie the Mother her sister."

    The family was also told the caption states that the picture was given to someone to give to another person.

    Caption confusion indeed!

    Debra has created tables for all the possible ancestors in this picture, with their life dates and places of birth and death. One thing is certain: This is not a picture of Antoinette with her mother and siblings—the life dates don't add up.

    So who's in the picture?  Debra and I have some ideas.  Watch for the third installment of this photo mystery next week.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1880s photos | group photos | Immigrant Photos
    Monday, May 02, 2016 10:28:15 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [6]
    # Monday, April 25, 2016
    Foreign Photo Caption Mystery
    Posted by Maureen



    Ownership is a clue to who's in a mystery photo. The problem is while most people know who gave them a picture—such as an aunt, parent or grandparent—but before that, ownership information may be unknown.

    Debra Allison can trace the provenance (ownership) of this picture back to her great-grandmother Antoinette "Nettie" Fichter Mader (1856-1938).  Nettie gave the picture to her daughter, and then her granddaughter (who expanded the caption on the back) gave it to Debra.

    This photo has a caption on the back that offers ID clues both helpful and frustrating. This week, we'll focus on the front of the photo.

    Debra knows that Nettie Fichter immigrated to the US in 1881 and that she brought her nephews August and Phillipp Letzelter with her. She was the youngest member of her family.

    Should be easy to figure out who's in this photo, right?  Not so fast.

    Debra sent me a page-long chart that included the names of everyone she found who had a family relationship to Nettie. It lists the person's name, their relationship to Nettie, their date and place of birth, date of immigration, marriage and death dates and their place of death. Whew! That's a whole lot of research.

    A family would often pose for a group portrait before someone immigrated to create a memento both for the immigrant and for the family left behind. It also was common for family members to pose for a group portrait after the fact to send to the immigrant.



    Let's look at who's in the this picture. There's a husband (the mustached man) and wife (the woman next to him). The wife has her hand on the older woman's shoulder. A daughter would do this. The older woman occupies the center, the most important spot in the photo. To our left are three children, two boys and a girl. To our far right is a young man with his hand on his mother's shoulder.

    Who might they be? 

    According to Debra's chart, Katherine Fichter Letzelter, the mother of August and Phillip, had eight children. There are only four children in this photo, three boys and a girl. Katherine's mother Elisabeth was born in 1814 didn't die until 1888.

    The clothing clues in this picture, such as the husband's under-the-collar tie and the wife's jacket-like bodice and pleated hem, suggest a date in the 1880s. The dark cardstock mat was also popular in that time frame.

    Take a closer look at the picture. The photographer put a dark dot in the center of each of their eyes. Blue/light colored eyes often paled in pictures so darkening them for portraits was common. It's quite possible that members of this family all had blue eyes.

    I'll be back next week with a look at what's on the back of the picture.



    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1880s photos | children | group photos | Immigrant Photos
    Monday, April 25, 2016 6:22:25 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]