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# Sunday, 04 December 2016
Colorized Old Photos Offer Rare Glimpses of Your Ancestors' World
Posted by Maureen

Recently a collection of colorized historical images of immigrants at Ellis Island went viral. It's a pretty snazzy group of pictures. And these images are historically accurate: The historians behind this project researched actual colors in use at the time. You can see the photos here.

Somehow, the color makes the people seem more real. The black-and-white images seem to create a visual distance between us and them.  It's wonderful to have an idea of how our immigrant ancestors dressed and the colors they wore. 

Did you know that the Library of Congress has a collection that shows our immigrant ancestors' hometowns? Every one of the images in that collection is in color. They're called "photochrom prints".



Produced between 1890 and 1910 by Photoglob and the Detroit Publishing Co., they feature scenes popular with travelers—more than 6,000 photochrom prints of Europe and the Middle East, and 500 of the United States. Most are 6.5x9 inches.

I'm in love with the collection. Not only can you time travel to foreign lands, but you can view images of people wearing their native costumes.  Get ready ... hours will go by before you think to look up from your screen!

The newly reorganized Library of Congress user interface makes it easy to look at collection overviews, view specific collections organized by country or read articles on the topic.

Let me know what you found out about ancestral homelands by viewing this collection.




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
    photochrom
    Sunday, 04 December 2016 21:05:36 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 27 November 2016
    Clues in a Curious Old Family Photo: The First Mannequin Challenge?
    Posted by Maureen

    It's not the first time a family photo begs the question "What were they thinking?" That's the case with this image of family sitting as though they're doing a mannequin challenge.



    The story behind this clowning for the camera has been lost, and the picture lacks identification. It was found in the collection of Sherry Yates' great-grandmother. Sherry and her mother wonder if the older woman in the middle could be Mary S. Veal Parker (1834-1908).



    Approximating Ages

    Mary was Sherry's great-great-grandmother, who lived in Glassboro, Gloucester County, NJ, and died in 1908. Whether this is Mary depends on the date of the image. The clothing clues suggest a date from just before 1908, so it's quite possible this is Mary. 

    If it is her, then identifying the rest of the folks may fall into place. A family group sheet of who's living and their ages in about 1905 should help with that task. The little boy in the front, for example, is around 5 years of age. 

    Interior Views
    When you find an indoor photo in your collection, take a good look around. It's a glimpse into the everyday life of your ancestors.

    In the days before HGTV, decorating ideas came from magazines, which included instructions on how to make table scarves and wall hangings.  Sometimes you can spot photos of other family members hanging on the wall.

    Have you spotted the frame on the left side?



    Unfortunately we can't enlarge it to see the picture itself. It looks like a group portrait—there are multiple heads.

    My favorite part of this picture is this duo (father and son?) staring into each others eyes in the foreground. So cute!



    Family group portraits are a challenge worth trying to solve.


    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

  • SaveSaveSave
    1900-1910 photos | group photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, 27 November 2016 20:30:56 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 20 November 2016
    Colorizing Old Photos: A 1923 Thanksgiving Tablescape
    Posted by Maureen



    Our Ancestors' Thanksgiving

    Happy Thanksgiving! This 1920s table is set for a holiday meal. In 1923, the Underwood Co., publisher of stereoviews, sold this image. I'm not sure the intent of the picture, but perhaps it shows a model for our ancestors' idea of the perfect holiday meal.

    You can tell a story with a single picture. What do you see in this image?
    • two chairs
    • two candles
    • two place settings
    • a turkey (or perhaps a large chicken)
    • a cloth table covering
    • a basket cornucopia of fruits and vegetables (the centerpiece)

    Besides the table, this room has a hanging lamp, a couple of pictures on the wall and a combination sideboard/hutch (on the right).

    This picture gives us insight into the holiday festivities for this mythical couple. It's a time capsule of Thanksgiving in 1923.

    This particular image tells us that only two people were at dinner and that the turkey/chicken was the main part of the meal.

    Have you ever taken a picture of your holiday table before everyone sits down? I have. It helps me remember what we had for dinner that year, how I decorated the table (now called a "tablescape" on the decorating shows), how many people came, and who brought what dish.

    Colorize Old Pictures for a Look at Your Ancestor's World

    It's easy to imagine our ancestors' world as black and white, but of course they were surrounded by color. Algorithmia is a free site that helps you colorize black-and-white pictures to bring them closer to a real-life view.

    It's easy to use. Upload a picture to the site and see a comparison of the image in black and white, and color. You can move the purple line to see where the tinting happens. In this case, the stark-looking setting becomes a warm dining room. 




    Here's the colored image. Notice that not all of the items on the table were colorized. This isn't a professionally Photoshopped colorization with historically accurate shades, but it does enable you to quickly take a different look at your pictures.

    You can download the comparison and the final colorized image, albeit with the site's watermark.

     

    This Thanksgiving, take a break from the after-dinner clean-up and see  how this site transforms your old family photos. The dishes can wait.

    See others' colorized photos and share your favorite colorized photo with us on the Family Tree Magazine Facebook page. We'd love to see them!


    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
    1920s photos | facebook | Photo fun | thanksgiving
    Sunday, 20 November 2016 16:59:49 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 13 November 2016
    Behind the Scenes in Old Photos: How Your Ancestors Got The Thanksgiving Turkey
    Posted by Diane


    Few tables in America are without a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. It's an old tradition to roast a bird (although whether a turkey was actually at the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving is unknown).

    This father, accompanied by his young son, went to pick out a turkey big enough for their family gathering. (See the picture larger here.) In the middle of the photo, the poultry farmer weighs a turkey on a scale. The two men on the right of the image may be buying that particular specimen. Behind them are a lot of turkey's already cleaned and ready for purchase.  Doesn't look like they sell gravy and potatoes like the farm I used to go to though!

    The Bain News Agency took this image around 1910-1915. It's a great everyday scene captured for a newspaper. The George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress contains thousands of images of newsworthy pictures.

    This photo connects us to our ancestors. For years I visited a turkey farm to purchase the main course, but most nowadays get a frozen or fresh turkey from the grocery store. Our ancestors either shot one, took one from their own poultry stock or bought one in a setting like this. They were also available in city butcher shops.

    While shopping is usually done by women in the family, from this image it appears that obtaining the turkey was man's work. It was usually Mom's job to pluck and clean the bird.

    Preserve your Thanksgiving celebration by making like a news photographer:
    • If you buy your turkey at a farm, take a picture. That farm may not always be around. By doing so you're documenting a bit of local history.

    • I'm not sure how a grocery store would feel about you taking pictures as you shop, but imagine your grandchildren looking back on that image years from now. What would be familiar or foreign to them?

    • Using a video app on your smart phone, make a movie of a relative preparing a traditional side-dish or dessert. If they'd rather not be photographed, try zooming in on their hands and the ingredients.
    • Take pictures of guests. You can also delegate that responsibility to a younger member of the family, and have the child ask each person a family history question.

    The StoryCorps Great American Thanksgiving Listen encourages families to share stories this holiday. You may be asked by a student in your family for an interview. If not, be the person to bring up family history!


    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

  • SaveSaveSaveSave
    1900-1910 photos | storycorps | thanksgiving
    Sunday, 13 November 2016 18:54:04 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 06 November 2016
    Clues in a 1900s Mystery Photo of the Old Family Farm
    Posted by Maureen



    Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Planning a menu for that important family meal makes me think about how all that food ended up on my grandmother's table. There are no farmers in my family history, so I love to see reader's photos of rural life. 

    Darlene Sampley has this lovely picture of an unidentified farm family. Dad sits on horse-drawn sickle mower, pointing at something.[Thank you to reader Jim TeVogt for identifying the mower.] He's in the front yard with a team of horses. The barns—it looks like there are two—are in front of him. Anyone recognize the farm equipment?

    A Google Image search for farming equipment 1900 (about when the photo was taken—see below) turned up plows with similar wide metal wheels.

    The house has three chimneys. The attached building on the left could be the kitchen.

    What else do you see?

    This is a poor-quality image. I've enhanced this copy by playing with contrast and sharpening features in Adobe PhotoShop Elements. It looks better with these variations of color than a pure grayscale version did.

    Did you spot the boy and his dog in the foreground?



    How many children are on the porch?




    (Left to right) Mom stands holding an older baby/toddler, an older sister stands to the right and next to her a little girl.

    We know several things about this family: There are four children (at least one boy) ranging in age from about 1 year to preteen. They live on a farm. I've estimated that this picture was taken about 1900. It's hard to see the details, but from the scant clothing clues this could fit the time frame.

    A next step would be examining the 1900 census for any matches in Darlene's family tree. There's a statistical table for agriculture with the 1900 census but it lacks the specific details, including farm owners' names, present in earlier agricultural censuses.

    I'm hoping Darlene can put names with these fuzzy faces. Can you add anything to this story?


    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 | enhanced images | farming | group photos
    Sunday, 06 November 2016 21:35:53 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 30 October 2016
    Death Photography: Is it For Real?
    Posted by Maureen

    Forget all those postmortem photography slideshows that have gone viral, like this one. Only a few of these photos that supposedly show deceased people are actual postmortem images.

    Many of these supposed postmortem images show people who are very much alive and posing stiffly due to exposure times of up to 20 minutes, perhaps supported by metal braces photographers often used with subjects to help them remain still. Or a photographer may have darkened a person's blue eyes so they show up better (which does give a creepy effect).

    Photographing the dead is an old tradition. Photo history author Dr. Stanley Burns divides postmortem photos into two types: "One portrays the person in death, and the other ... poses the person as if they were still alive."

    Some of his collection is part of an exhibit called Securing the Shadow:Posthumous Portraiture in America, at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City through Feb. 27. It shows how to spot photographs and other art that truly memorializes the deceased.

    Thank you to Dr. Stanley Burns and the American Folk Art Museum for allowing me to use two images from the exhibit.

    Children were commonly photographed after death. Epidemics and the lack of modern antibiotics raised the mortality rate of infants and small children, and a postmortem photo might be the family's only picture of a child. Here, a grieving father poses with his baby. Sometimes the whole family surrounded the deceased in a last chance for a family portrait.  


    c. 1860

    Check women's listings in the 1900 or 1910 US census to compare the number of their children born versus the number still living. It can be shocking.

    An obvious sign of death in a portrait is a body in a coffin. The body may be adorned with flowers or for a child, a favorite toy.

     
    c. 1844

    In this image from a 2008 blog post, the family gathers behind the casket at a funeral.


    Some photographers did employ techniques to make a deceased person look more life-like. That included tying a person to a chair or tying their chin so that the mouth wouldn't open. Hand-coloring the image could enhance the image. 

    Mourning images are more common than postmortem images. Spot  evidence of a death in your family album by watching for the following.
    • a woman wearing jewelry, such as a brooch or pendant, made with hair and featuring a photo
    • a photo featuring dead flowers or arrangements of flowers with a picture in the center.

    • A person holding a photograph of a person who has died.
    • a woman dressed in black, but this is tricky. Dark colors and even some bright ones, like orange, appear black in old photos. And our ancestors might wear other colors while mourning. Some mourners wore lavender, depending on their relationship to the deceased.

    If you're not sure whether you have a postmortem photograph, look for death records, newspaper obituaries or a mention in a family document dating from the same time as the photo.


    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

  • SaveSaveSave
    men | mourning photos | negatives | postmortem | props in photos
    Sunday, 30 October 2016 19:02:16 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 23 October 2016
    How to ID Strange Faces in Six Kinds of Old Group Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Whether an old family photo has two or 20 people (or more), it's considered a group portrait. When you find one in your collection, it may generate a groan rather than a cheer. Solving those types of picture mysteries is a challenge and a some might say a curse. You have to figure out the identity of all of those people!

    Let's look at several types of group portraits.

    Sporting Groups


    This group of tennis players posed between 1870 and 1880. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

    Our ancestors participated in sports: tennis, baseball, basketball and football, to name a few. When you see an ancestor with equipment or in uniforms, you might need help figuring out what sport was being played.  Start by looking at city directory listings for clubs and organizations in your ancestor's hometown.

    Family Reunions and Gatherings



    Family group portraits cover everything from picnics to weddings to family reunions.

    Joseph Martin's family gathered at Belle Island Park outside Detroit. In my  Four Tips to Identify Group Portraits, you'll find techniques to sort out who's who in a family gathering photo. Figuring out time and place and matching up faces are just parts of the puzzle. Use a chart to track how old people were in relevant years, then use the picture as bait to get cousins involved in the search.

    School Pictures
    I have one and you might, too—a class photo. While you might not remember all the names of your classmates, posting the image on social media can help you renew friendships and connections. If it's a class photo from an earlier generation, social media is still a good option. Photographers sold copies, so it's likely you're not the only one with the picture. 

    Work Photos
    A group portrait might be several people posed at work. Use your family history research to determine where your ancestor found employment.  Census documents and city directories are a good beginning.

    Organizational Dinners
    Fraternal organizations and social groups often gathered for dinners in hotels. These yard-long pictures are often rolled up in a box. You don't necessarily need to know the names of everyone in those pictures, but it would be great to find your relatives. Looking for their faces in the crowd requires patience and a good magnifying glass.

    Military Images
    Men and women in uniform often posed for big group pictures of the people they served with. Some are informal snapshots taken by one of the group while others are formal pictures to document their unit.




    I'm still trying to identify these women. If you know of any women who served in the transportation corp at Montgomery Air Force base in World War II, let me know. This is one of five snapshots I have of these women.



    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
    group photos | women | World War II
    Sunday, 23 October 2016 18:09:04 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 16 October 2016
    How to Identify an Old Tintype Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    In part three of genealogist Darlene Sampley's mystery photos, it's time to take a look at another tintype.

    The first post explored the identity of a blue-eyed blonde girl in a painted tintype. Last week, we looked at a pair of crayon portraits.



    Preservation Note
    A tintype is an image created on a thin sheet of metal. If you don't know whether you have a tintype, here's a trick: A magnet will be attracted to a tintype.

    As you can see on the edges of this photo, the emulsion (image layer) has a tendency to flake off. When you have an image with this type of damage, scan it immediately to digitally preserve it. It should be kept in an acid- and lignin-free envelope for storage. 

    Dating the Image
    Created with a process patented in 1856, tintypes remained popular into the 20th century. This tintype was once in a case—you can see the mark of the original brass mat that framed the image. If the mat were present, it would be possible to study the design on the brass. But all we can see are the rounded corners of the opening.

    In this instance, the clothing helps determine a time frame for the image.



    This middle-aged couple posed for a solemn portrait in good clothes. The husband chose a wool checked shawl-collared vest. He tied his neck scarf in the horizontal style popular in the 1850s. He has a neck beard extending from near his ears to beneath the chin.

    His wife wears a cap on her head. A single brooch decorates her collar. While her clothes appear dark in this portrait, they may not be. Even bright colors like orange looked black in photos. She could be wearing a red dress or other dark shade.

    You can see that both members of this couple have blue eyes.

    There is one more clue in this picture.



    The man's hands show that he works without gloves. On his wife's hand is a wedding ring. Yes, in the picture it appears that it's on her right hand, but this is because the image is reversed—common for early photographic processes. Not all photographers used reversal lens to make portraits look natural.

    Let's estimate that this man is in his late 50s. If the picture was taken circa 1858, then he was born circa 1810. Darlene should examine her research for a man born about that time. I'm hoping these details help Darlene identify this couple.



    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

  • SaveSaveSaveSave
    1850s photos | cased images | men | Tintypes | women
    Sunday, 16 October 2016 19:07:01 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 09 October 2016
    A Pair of Photo Mysteries: Charcoal-Enhanced 1840s Portraits
    Posted by Maureen

    Darlene Sampley isn't sure who the young woman is in the painted tintype featured in last week's column, but she working on figuring out the mystery. But that tintype isn't the only problem photo in Darlene's collection. This week it's a pair of portraits, of a mysterious man and woman. Ladies first:

     

    There are several clues in this picture.

    First, it's a copy. It's a charcoal enhanced photograph on paper, as is the next image.

    The vertical pleats in this woman's bodice suggest that her dress dates from the 1840s. This means the original was a daguerreotype.

    Additional clues include:
    • Narrow lace collars were common in this period, then re-appear in the 1860s.

    • There are streaks of gray in her hair.
    • Married women often wore daycaps covering their hair in the mid-19th century. It's a conservative cap, plain with small ruffles on the sides of her head.
    • Her nose is narrow with a triangle shaped tip. Together with her small mouth, these two features can be used to identify her in other images.

    The second portrait could be her husband.



    Look at the width of those lapels on his coat! Combined with the knotted tie with upturned shirt collar, this suggests the 1840s.

    There are wisps of gray in the long sideburns and hair, but it's his eyes that dominate the portrait. They are deep-set and likely blue. Unlike last week's picture, the photographer didn't color them. Those eyes, his wide straight mouth and narrow chin could help identify him in later pictures.

    If this couple were in their 40s or early 50s, then they were born around 1800. 

    There is a possibility on Darlene's family tree: William Noyes (b.1789 -d.1878) and his wife "Polly" Huestis (b.1800 -d.1863). There are other couples on her tree born in this general time frame as well. To sort them out, she needs to do the following:
    • Follow the history of ownership of these portraits to verify they come from the Noyes line.  

    • Find other images. Since they live past mid-century, I'm hoping someone else in her family have other images of them for comparison. 
    Fingers crossed! I'm also hoping that someone in the family has the original daguerreotypes.


    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


  • 1840s photos | enhanced images | women
    Sunday, 09 October 2016 15:45:01 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 02 October 2016
    Family History Month: Focus on One Old Photo Collection
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you Darlene Sampley! 

    I met Darlene last month in San Diego at an all-day seminar for the San Diego Genealogical Society. We started talking about her family photo collection and I started thinking about Family History Month, which genealogists traditionally observe in October. Hmm. Wouldn't it be great to show examples each week from one woman's photo collection?

    Darlene agreed and here we are. Let's take a peek at her mystery photos and see what happens:

    Last week's Photo Detective Blog column focused on painted tintypes. Darlene has one, too. I enhanced this image to help you see the details.  The hand coloring is much clearer in this enhanced version that it was in the original. Photographers often varnished tintypes, and over time, that coating darkens and makes the image difficult to see. A simple tweak to accept automatic color restoration when scanning made this image pop into view. 


    The original customer asked the studio to hand-color certain details in this image—her blonde hair, white collar and gold pin. This girl has light-colored eyes, but unlike last week's picture, the studio in this case didn't dramatically color the eyes. It looks like there might be a subtle tint.



    The problem with this image is the dark area of her dress. Other than the collar, very little is visible. The collar could be from the 1870s or 1880s. Which is it? 



    The bar pin holds the clue. In the late 1870s, women often wore small pins like this at the base of the throat. It's lovely! It could be real gold or costume jewelry. 

    This lady doesn't look that old, perhaps only a young teenager. 

    Let's see what happens when Darlene compares these details to her family tree. I'm hoping for a tentative identification.

    If you want to learn more about painted tintypes, read an online article about the Dr. Stanley Burns collection, called Forgotten Marriage



    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


  • 1870s photos | jewelry | Tintypes | unusual photos
    Sunday, 02 October 2016 15:23:19 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]