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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, 23 April 2017
What's the Story in this Old Family Photo? The Big Reveal!
Posted by Maureen

It's time to look at the big picture, the whole image and the rest of the details. If you've followed the last two posts, you've heard Mikael Hammerman's family story and seen some of the clues in the picture. 

Let's answer his big question: Is this his great-grandmother's sister and her daughter?



The big sleeves on this woman and her daughter date this picture to the mid- to late-1890s. Sharpeyed individuals will see the fashion plate on the sleeping mother's lap.

 

The hat and the dress style in the fashion plate date from 1897 to circa 1900. Before Mom fell asleep, she was browsing the new fashions.

Also on her lap is a paper that says "Bon-Ton." There was a Gazette du Bon-Ton published in France from 1912 to 1925, but those dates are too late for this image.

This could be an advertisement for Bon-Ton, a department store that debuted in 1898 in York, Pa.

Adding up the Clues
Mike's great-grandmother's sister, Mathilda Ericson (born 1859), immigrated to New York in 1879 when she was 20. By 1899, she'd be 40.  Could this woman be her?

Possibly. The rest of the facts need to add up, including where she lived around the turn of the century.

Could the girl playing the piano be the daughter Mathilda was possibly pregnant with in 1879?

No.

This girl looks to be a lot younger than 20.  Perhaps Mathilda had several children.

What's needed is a timeline of her Mathilda's life from when she moved to the United States until the year this picture was taken. Here are the primary names to trace:

  • Matilda Ericson (born Aug. 25, 1859 in Sweden)
  • Anders J. Carlson (born April 11, 1843, in Sweden)

According to Mikael, they arrived in New York on January 31, 1879, as Auguste J. Carlson and Mathilda Carlson, a married couple. 

Next stop: Digging into genealogy databases for more information. A photo mystery needs more than picture clues. It also relies on family history and good old-fashioned genealogical research.


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

  • Save
    1890s photos | children | photo-research tips | women
    Sunday, 23 April 2017 17:16:43 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Sunday, 16 April 2017
    How Clues in Your Old Family Photos Can Keep You Out of Trouble
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time for another installment of Mikael Hammerman's mystery photo, which shows a mother and a daughter—and just might shed light on his family legend about a young mother who ran away with her employer to America

    Clues in a picture can keep you from jumping to conclusions about how the photo and a handed-down family story are connected. Before I read readers' email submissions of mystery photos for analysis, I always look at the picture first to see what it says about time period. Only then do I consult your description of the problem. 

    Here are three clues in Hammerman's picture that require more study. I purposefully haven't yet shown you the whole photo—I'm keeping you in suspense!

    1. Examine the image to see if other pictures are displayed in the background.

    In this case, they're on a shelf, but look for photos hung on walls, too. 



    Here's a close-up of the two clusters of pictures:





    You can get a closer look by using a photographer's loupe or by scanning the photo at a high resolution, then zooming in on he digitized image.

    This type of clue would send me running back to my collection of pictures to see if I have any matches to the background photos.   

    2. Look for obvious date clues. 
    The little girl in this picture is seated at a piano. Her hands are on the keys and her eyes are cast downward at sheet music. I'm not musically inclined. Can you read this sheet music and play it? (Unfortunately, the original image resolution doesn't allow a better close-up shot of the music.)     



    Wouldn't it be great to hear what she's playing?  If you can, I'd love to hear a recording of what it sounds like.

    Looking at this picture and hearing the music would bring a new dimension to this photo, and possibly offer a date (based on when the music was released or was popular).

    3. Watch for subtle clues.



    This little chair, decorated with ribbons, occupies a space between the mother and daughter. I wonder why. The problem with older photos is you can't see the original colors—the ribbons could be black (signifying mourning) or bright red. The seat is well-worn. It could be used as a step-stool, or it could memorialize a little child who died. 

    Photo clues come in all varieties. What's the oddest clue you ever seen in a picture? 

    Come back next week for the big reveal about this clue-filled 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

  • SaveSave
    children | photo backgrounds | photo-research tips
    Sunday, 16 April 2017 16:49:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Sunday, 09 April 2017
    Can an Old Mystery Photo Prove a Passed-Down Family Tale?
    Posted by Maureen

    Don't you love a good story? I do. As genealogists we're trained to listen to the tales told at family gatherings and sort fiction from fact. Pictures not only come with their own set of stories, but they also can be used as proof of a genealogical event. 

    Mikael Hammerman of Sweden sent me a beautiful family photo of a woman and a girl participating in an ordinary activity. He's hoping that the picture can verify a whopper of a immigration story. For the next few posts, we'll explore the details in the picture and see if all the clues add up. 

    Could these two people be part of the following story? Wait and see.



    This mother is in the middle of an afternoon nap. 



    This is her daughter.

    Here's the family story, full of love and intrigue:
    Mike's great-grandmother's sister was born in 1859 in Sweden. She served as a maid and ran off with her employer. They arrived in New York in January 1879. She changed her last name and marital status for the trip, and he used a different last name.
    According to an aunt of Mike's second cousin Doris, the family rumor is that the sister was pregnant when they left.  Her employer left his wife and five children behind. He sold horses and goods to finance their trip.
    Family tales have the sister living alone with her daughter. Even today, rumors swirl in the family. Did she and her lover break up before leaving Sweden? Or did the separation occur once they arrived in New York?

    The man's parents were already in the United States, having arrived in 1869.  The young woman had cousins who immigrated in 1882 and lived in Wisconsin.

    Could Mike's photo be tied to this love story? He's hoping the clues will lead to the woman and girl in this image being the young pregnant relative and her daughter. Mike's also hoping for a little help with his mystery story.

    When faced this type of picture puzzlement, step back and really look at what the photo says. I'll show you how in upcoming blog posts with more details about Mike's photo and the family legend it could shed light on.


    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

  • Save
    children | unusual photos | women
    Sunday, 09 April 2017 16:13:07 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 02 April 2017
    3 Translation Tips for Foreign-Language Captions on Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Ann Sandler's mother-in-law left behind a mystery photo.
     


    The family doesn't know who's in the photo and they can't read the caption on the back. It's in a language they don't recognize.

    Many immigrant families brought with them images of family and friends they'd left behind. Without the translation, the details in this picture and in the family history don't add up. Here's what's known:
    • 1910 appears on the back of the photo. This man's clothing clues—collar, suit and mustache—agree with that time period.
    • The name of the photographer is on the mat. A general Google search for "Makart Portrait" found a 19th-century Austrian painter of the same name. Hans Markart, the painter, died in 1884. Perhaps this photographer was a relative. 
    • The mother-in-law's family wasn't from Austria. They immigrated from Poltava, Russia, in 1910. There are approximately 800 miles between Poltava and Vienna. Perhaps this young man was studying in Vienna.
    Is the date on the photo a coincidence? Probably not, but clues are hidden in the foreign script. What can you do when faced with foreign writing on a photo?
    • Try Google Translate. You can type words into the translator or upload a PDF or Word document.

    • If you can identify the language, find someone who knows it (such as at a research library affiliated with a heritage museum, through an ethnic genealogical society, or through an such as the Association of Professional Genealogists).

    • You can post it on Facebook or on your blog in the hope that someone can read it. That's why I need your help: If you can translate this caption, it'll help Ann place this photo in her family history. Feel free to share this post to reach more people.

    Can't wait to discover what this says. Let's solve this 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

  • Save
    1910s photos | foreign photos
    Sunday, 02 April 2017 15:43:11 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [8]
    # Sunday, 26 March 2017
    Old Family Photos of Women in the Workforce
    Posted by Maureen

    Jeanine Black saw the post How to Learn About Working Women in Old Photos and sent me two images of women in her family. It's a fitting end to Women's History Month.



    In about 1909, her 15-year-old paternal grandmother, Louse (first on the left) worked in a Brockton, Mass., shoe factory. Louise's mother, Louise, is the first woman on the right. The family immigrated from Canada to Brockton in 1895 once Louise's husband found a job.  

    Her other image is more recent.



    It depicts her maternal grandmother, Augusta (second from right, first woman looking at the camera). It was taken in 1962 in Gloucester, Mass., where she worked in the garment industry. Jeanine even has her International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union membership card!

    Augusta immigrated from Madeira, Portugal, at 18. Decorative handwork on fabric is well-known in Portugal and it looks like she found a job doing similar work at Vita Creations.

    These photos not only document the working lives of these two women, they provide Jeanine with information she didn't have. Her paternal grandmother died before Jeanine was born. Augusta didn't talk about her time in the factory. It was only when Jeanine found that color photo and membership card that she learned more about her grandmother's life.

    While it's wonderful to find photographs of men and women working, they aren't as common as other types of paper documentation about employment. In Jeanine's case it was a membership card, but it could be a work badge, a pass, a pay stub or an account book.  

    What have you found?


    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

  • Save
    1900-1910 photos | 1960s photos | occupational | women
    Sunday, 26 March 2017 19:44:59 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [9]
    # Sunday, 19 March 2017
    Comparing Faces in Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen



    Here they are again. I'm enamored of this photo; it's a layered puzzle with many clues.

    In my first post about it I examined the clothing details and asked for additional information. In the second post, we considered the other couples in the family that married in the 1880s.

    William Davis supplied background for the couples and their families. 

    Henry Wille, married in approximately 1886 in St. Louis, was a probable match for the couple. His parents, John Henry Wille and Bertha Emilie Heitmann, were Catholics from Oldenburg, Germany. German weddings are very formal and brides (and grooms) often wore gloves. John Henry Wille ran a tavern and later helped his son open a grocery.

    Henry's bride Elizabeth Theresa Boedeker also had German roots.

    Let's step back and examine who owned this photo:

    William's cousin remembered this picture hanging in his grandmother Wille's house, suggesting that this could be someone in either the Wille or the Carrigan family. The Carrigans were Irish. Hanging on the same wall was a beautiful needlepoint tapestry sewn by great-grandmother Theresa.

    So does this photo show Henry Wille and Elizabeth Boedecker, or William Isaac Carrigan and Sarah Ann Hutton? For more on the second couple, see 3 Clues to Identify Family In Old Wedding Photos.

    Compare the faces:
    When presented with a case like this, it would be great to have the photographer's information (we don't) or other pictures for comparison.   William sent several to see if we could match up the family resemblance.

    Here's a photo of John Wille, son of Henry and Elizabeth, and his wife.



    I thought the wife's nose looked familiar. Here's a comparison of their faces with the bridal couple. What do you think?



    I'm not going to share the detail that confounds the whole thing even further until next time.  :)



    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

  • Save
    1880s photos | facial resemblances | wedding | women
    Sunday, 19 March 2017 15:36:12 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [5]
    # Sunday, 12 March 2017
    How to Learn About Working Women in Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    March is known as Women's History Month. It's a good time to celebrate our female ancestors. Did your ancestral mother's work outside the home either before or after marriage?  Many did. 

    Michael Albrecht sent in series of family photos. In the pile were two very interesting images of a tailor shop in Baltimore, Md.  He labeled the images with the name of the tailor: Boleslaw Cwalina.

    Before you think "what an uncommon name," try searching for men named Boleslaw in Baltimore. There are a lot of them.



    Look closely at this image. The clues are in the fashion plates hung over the head of the clerk.



    The fashions in these plates suggest a date of late 1910s to circa 1920. Those large feathers in the women's hats and the narrow skirts are clues.

    The second image shows women at work.


    It's not very often that you see a picture with an exact date stamped into it's surface.  This one says "Feb. 15, 1935.  Model Coat Makers. Baltimore, Md."

    So the women in this photo appear to be making coats for customers to try on.   I'm hoping that Michael knows the story behind these two photos. I'd love to know who's behind the counter in the first one and if any of the women in the second are his relatives working in the family business.

    To learn more about the occupations of the women in your family:
    • Look at the category that states a woman's work in a census, then see if the name of the company that employed her appears on the same line.
    • City directories sometimes list unmarried working women separately with the place of employment. Married women are generally mentioned in parentheses next to their husbands.

    Do you have an image of a woman in your family at work?  I'd love to see it.


    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


  • 1920s photos | 1930s photos | occupational | women
    Sunday, 12 March 2017 14:57:37 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Sunday, 05 March 2017
    How to Identify the Right Couple in an Old Wedding Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    In the recent post 3 Clues to Identify Family in Old Wedding Photos, I asked a series of questions relating to this image belonging to William Davis: 



    This week, I'm back with more information.

    The clothing clues in this picture, including the woman's front-pleated skirt and  her bodice, all date the picture to the 1880s. Davis thinks the photo depicts William Issac Carrigan and Sarah Ann Hutton, who married Sept. 4, 1884.

    Other Brides

    To narrow the possibilities, I asked William if there were any other family weddings in the 1880s. There were three! (Four if you count the couple married in 1879, but I'll eliminate them for now. This bride's outfit is definitely from the 1880s.):
    • John Bailey Peyton Boswell and Lydia Ann Jane Trull married  Dec. 6, 1882, in Williamson Co, Ill.
    • Henry Wille and Elizabeth Theresa H. Bodedeker married circa 1886 possibly in St. Louis, Mo. 
    • William Issac Carrigan and Sarah Ann Hutton married Sept. 4, 1884, in Carrolton, Greene, Ill.

    Financial Clues
    All the couples except the Willes were from farming families. Henry Wille's father was a tavern owner who helped his son become a grocer. 

    Armed with the list of other couples and some financial clues, I'm going to dig into the databases and see what other clues might pop up. I'll have more information 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

  • Save
    1880s photos | wedding
    Sunday, 05 March 2017 14:22:52 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Sunday, 26 February 2017
    Old Movies: Study These Three Clues. Tell the Story.
    Posted by Maureen

     
    Romney, WV, March 1938. Library of Congress.


    Another Oscar statuette has been bestowed upon a movie of the year (not withstanding some painful-to-watch onstage confusion when the presenters announced the wrong Best Picture winner due to an envelope mixup).

    My family has a long history of being film buffs. My mother recalls Saturday double-features with her siblings. Even now, there's nothing she likes better than a good film (new or old). Do you know about your family connections with movie viewing? Here are some clues to look for:

    Trinkets and Treasures
    My grandmother collected an entire set of dishes from viewing movies at the local cinema. It wasn't until I was older that I learned the story behind those dinner plates. You might have a souvenir from an old movie in your family collection. It might be dinnerware, a trinket or a still. My Dad managed to get Boris Karloff's autograph. Unfortunately, he never told us the full story of that moment. It would've been a good one.

    Fashion Facts
    Movie stars were fashion trendsetters. The smokey eye make-up of the silent films became common place for our female ancestors, as did short hair thanks to the influence of Gloria Swanson and Theda Bara. That dark shadow and lipstick made their facial features more visible in black-and-white films. In 1915, Maybelline, Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden all offered women a way to look star-like.

    Look at family pictures from the early movie period to today. See if you can spot the fashion trends that first appeared in the movies.

    Movie-Making Relatives
    No one in my family ever participated in a professional film, but someone in your family might've had the opportunity. I met a man in September who told me of an ancestor who had starring roles in old westerns. He was fascinated by this untold tale and he had the pictures to prove it.

    Movies weren't always made in New York and Hollywood. In the early years, there were studios in small towns and large cities all over the country. For instance, there were several in my little home state of Rhode Island. 

    Much of movie history is lost. The films, stories and the stills are missing.  Use Google to search for lost films. You'll find links to a list of lost films on Wikipedia (including many from a 1937 Fox vault fire caused by combustible nitrate film) as well as a list of rediscovered gems.

    If your ancestor ran a movie theater, it's possible that tucked away in a box is movie memorabilia or even one of these missing films. You might own movie ephemera that a local museum would love to have in its collection. 

    Family history and film.  It has a nice ring. This is one of the stories that need to be documented before the persons connected to them are gone. 


    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

  • SaveSave
    1910s photos | movies
    Sunday, 26 February 2017 18:38:03 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [7]
    # Sunday, 19 February 2017
    3 Clues to Identify the Ancestors in Old Wedding Photos
    Posted by Maureen




    Dr. William Davis dated this photo in his collection to sometime between 1860 and 1890.  It once hung in his parents' house, but he can't remember which side of the family it represents. 
     
    The photo documents the wedding of one of Dr. Davis' ancestors, but which one? 

    If you find yourself wondering the same thing about an old wedding photograph, keep reading. Pictures that depict a bride and groom often contain specific clues to help you figure out more about the image and the individuals.

    Wedding photos also can hold the key to missing family information including where the wedding took place, the couple's religion, and their ethnicity. I have several questions about this image.

    Study the clothing
    Two young women in my family are currently planning weddings.  One stated she'd like to wear her mother's gown. The other one said the same thing, but in her case, her mother's gown also was worn by two earlier generations of women, beginning in 1890. Each bride updated the look of the dress, but kept the original bodice. 

    This is a cautionary tale: Not all brides wore a brand-new dress and veil.  Dresses could be re-made and veils were often inherited.

    Study all the clothing worn in the picture to make sure that all the facts add up. By the time Dr. Davis wrote to me, he'd already determined that this picture could have been taken in the 1880s. He's right. 

    The dress with its center pleats in the skirt, the fitted bodice and the bustle all suggest the 1880s.  The man's close-fitting jacket with narrow collar are from the same period.

    I love the bride's mantilla-style veil and the pearls around her ruff collared neck and her wrist. Lovely!  Look closely, you can see her simple shoes.

    Their matching white gloves suggest that this was a formal wedding.

    Notice that the veil is white, but the dress is a different color.  It could be dark ivory, or one of the popular colors in the 1880s—a rust tone or a reddish shade. Many different colors were worn for weddings in that decade. Sometimes newspaper announcements for weddings of prominent community members mentioned details of the bride's gown. 

    Look at your family tree
    Davis thinks this photo could be William Issac Carrigan and Sarah Ann Hutton, who married Sept. 4, 1884, in Carrollton, Greene County, Ill. He could be right. It all depends on who else in the family married in the early 1880s.

    According to the census, Carrigan and Hutton both were born in Illinois.

    They posed in an elaborate studio, one with real furniture and a gorgeous painted backdrop. This couple's attire suggests they have some means. Does this fit what Davis knows about Carrigan and Hutton?

    I'm hoping Davis has other wedding suspects on his short list of people married in the 1880s.  While it's possible this picture shows William and Sarah, I'd like to know more about their families' status in society before saying yes. 



    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

  • Save
    1880s photos | wedding
    Sunday, 19 February 2017 20:50:58 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [10]