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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# 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]
    # Sunday, April 17, 2016
    Caption Mystery for an Old Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Identifying captions written with good intentions years ago often confuse descendants rather than clarify who's who.

    On the back of this photo found among the things of Roxanne Turpin's mother-in-law is a cryptic note: "Relative of Grandpa (Grande), I think."  The person wrote in ball point ink, which means it was written after 1941, when those types of pens became widely available. It's possible Roxanne's mother-in-law wrote it.



    There is another problem with this image. It's a copy! This is a 20th-century black-and-white print mounted on cardstock. The scratches visible on the image suggest the original was a tintype. 



    Dating the photo relies on the sleeve style. The peaked fabric at the shoulder seam suggests a date circa 1890. The bodice style agrees with this date. The fabric is likely a patterned cotton. It could be a deep color accented by flowers. 

    So who are these folks? It could be a father and two daughters or a daughter (on the left) and her parents. The man in the middle is definitely older. I think the women are his daughters.

    Roxanne thinks the man is either Gottfried Grande (born 1894) or his father Gottlieb Grande (born 1860), both Germans who lived in an area alternately owned by Poland and Russia. She'd like to know where it was taken. Figuring out who's who could reveal that fact.

    Given the clothing date, the man in the middle could be Gottlieb, who'd be in his 30s when the image was taken, although this man does look older than that. 

    Next Steps
    • Roxanne should check her tree for the birth date for Gottfried. The photographed man looks older than someone in his 30s.
    • Who's Gottlieb's mother? Maybe this isn't the Grande family at all, but his mother's side of the family. Did his mother have a sister?
    • Examining the family information should reveal where the family lived in the circa 1890 period. That information could solve the question of where the picture was taken.

    I can't wait to hear an update from Roxanne! 


    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


  • 1890s photos | Immigrant Photos
    Sunday, April 17, 2016 4:41:45 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, April 10, 2016
    Round Three: Clues in a Nineteenth Century Family Gathering
    Posted by Maureen

    Heidi Thibodeau is determined to identify the folks in that July group portrait. It's a key to other unidentified photos she may find.

    thibodeau.jpg

    It can take time to solve a photo mystery. The clues stack up, but making that right match often involves re-examining photos in your collection or asking cousins to look for pictures as well. DNA matches are good for picture clues too. The individuals you're genetically related to may have photos relating to your picture mystery.

    Two previous blog posts explore the identity of these individuals in particular the man in the center of the image. He's a person that whole family posed around, an elder member of that clan.

    The first post looked at the general evidence of clothing and props to support the 1890 date on the image.

    The second post explored whether or not Bessie Hodgdon was in the image. She could be one of these two girls. Bessie once owned the original.



    Heidi was able to rule out Noah Lord, the girls maternal grandfather, as this man, and wonders if he could be the girls' paternal grandfather William Hodgdon (1821-1902), but there are no pictures of him.

    There is a picture of Bessie and Ella's brother Chester. It would be best to find a photo of any of William's siblings for comparison, but there is a resemblance between the man in the group and this man holding a kettle and pan of potatoes. 
     


    To solve this mystery I'd reach out to anyone else related to William in case one of the descendants has a photo. I'd locate these descendants through the mega genealogy sites like Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and FamilySearch.

    Once Heidi is able to identify the man between the two girls, it's possible the rest of the identities will fall into place. It's a lot like falling dominoes—topple one and the rest fall down.



    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


  • 1890s photos | 4th of July | facial resemblances | family reunion
    Sunday, April 10, 2016 2:34:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, April 03, 2016
    Which Grandmother is It Revisited
    Posted by Maureen

    Three weeks ago I posted about a crayon portrait owned by Joan Klein in Which Grandmother is it? Joan wrote and said she's going to use DNA to locate other information and possibly images.

    DNA can help you connect to other relatives, and it's a good idea to ask about family history "stuff" those matches might own. I've had a number of people tell me that DNA was just the first step. Those new cousins shared pictures and stories that helped solve quite a few family mysteries. 

    A nice email from a reader asked me to revisit the topic and dig a little deeper.



    Could there be other pictures of these women?
    Whether or not an ancestor had a picture taken during their lifetime depended on several factors, like the availability of photography in their area, the family's economic status and whether or not the person liked being photographed. Not every family had a camera.

    While it's true that more photographs were taken in each successive generation, that doesn't mean that more photographs exist of certain relatives. Even if they were taken, it's possible they didn't survive or that they were parceled out to other relatives. Joan is using DNA to try to find more pictures.

    Why does she look uncomfortable?

    In the daguerreotype era, it could take up to 30 minutes to sit for a picture, but by the time this picture was taken, the sitting time was way under a minute. She could feel uncomfortable posing for a picture, or the solemn expression on her face could reflect how seriously she took having a picture taken.

    Is this what she really looked like?
    This crayon portrait rendered by a photographic artist may not accurately represent this woman's appearance. She looks quite young, but that could be an "artistic face-lift." Occasionally I've been shown crayon portraits and the original pictures from which they were created. The biggest difference between the two is the number of lines on someone's face.  Artists wanted their customers to be very happy with the final product.

    It's also possible that this woman's crayon portrait was based on a picture she had taken years earlier.

    Could this be a memorial portrait?
    The short answer is yes, but crayon portraits aren't always memorial pieces. Sometimes couples had them done around the time of their wedding, in other cases men had them made when they'd started a business or reached a milestone. Anniversary portraits were also popular.

    What about the picture of the grandfather?



    Here it is. This picture is either John Gordner (1851-1939) or Charles Carroll Steck (1855-1926), the husbands of the woman shown above. This blue-eyed man could be either.

    The style of this portrait is very different from the one of the mystery grandmother. This was done earlier and by a different artist. The tie, shirt collar and suit combined with the mustache and hair suggest a date from the early 1890s. It's another mystery for Joan to solve. 

    Who do I think the woman in the portrait is? It could be Agnes, who died in 1907, but proof is needed. Fingers crossed that DNA provides Joan with more than genetic cousins.


    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


  • 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | women
    Sunday, April 03, 2016 7:50:12 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, March 27, 2016
    Who's Who in an Old Family Gathering Photo?
    Posted by Maureen



    Last week's column explored some of the identification clues in this family gathering. Heidi Thibodeau thinks it depicts members of the Tibbetts and Hodgson family of Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.

    Bessie Mabel Hodgdon, born in 1877, owned the picture, and it was handed down to her granddaughter (Heidi's first cousin once removed). This photo dates from July 6, 1890. If Bessie were in this picture, she'd be approximately 13 years of age. Only two young women in this picture appear the right age to be Bessie.




    They flank this older man who sits in the center of the group. That's a place of prominence. I wonder if they're his daughters or granddaughters. Bessie had a sister Ella, born 1881, who became Heidi's great-grandmother. Their mother died in 1886. Their father, Albert, born in 1856, would be only 34 at the time of this photo, far too young to be the man shown above.

    The sisters' maternal grandfather, Noah Lord, born in 1830, would be 60 years of age at the time of this picture. Heidi sent me photos of him (from a private source so I can't reproduce them here). The man in this picture doesn't look like Noah Lord.

    Could this man be the sisters' paternal grandfather? Perhaps. I'm going to ask Heidi if she has any photos of him.



    Heidi has another picture of Bessie and Ella from 1905, depicting the Tibbetts Family. Bessie sits on the left in the center row, and her sister Ella Hodgdon Tibbitts is on the right.




    Let's look at the girls and women side by side. The images pixelate when enlarged due to low resolution.



    It looks like the girl with her eyes closed could be either Bessie or Ella. The girl on the lower left is hard to see for comparison purposes.

    Given the history of ownership of this picture, the group on the porch in 1890 could be either the Lord family or the Hodgsons. One of the only ways to determine who's who is to compare other photos of any members of those families alive in 1890 to those faces in the big group picture.  It's a process of elimination.

    This photo mystery isn't solved but with a little time and research the answer may be clearer. I'm hoping Heidi and her cousins have more pictures for another blog post.
       


    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


  • 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | family reunion | group photos
    Sunday, March 27, 2016 6:57:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, March 20, 2016
    Old Mystery Photos: ID Clues in a Family Gathering Picture
    Posted by Maureen

    thibodeau.jpg

    Heidi Thibodeau's cousin found this image in the papers of her grandmother (Heidi's great-grand aunt), Bessie Mabel Hodgdon Hoogerzeil. Bessie was born Jan. 27, 1877. Heidi thinks she might be in this photo.

    A caption on the reverse states the picture was taken by Sprague and Hathaway, July 6, 1890.

    There is evidence to support this date:

    Clothing


    The two women (left and center) in this collage wear the peaked shoulder seams of the circa 1890 period. The children (right) wear striped play clothes popular in this era as well.

    While several women wear dark-looking clothes, they may not have been wearing black. Many bright colors appear dark in 19th century, black-and-white photographs. Popular clothing colors in the 1880s included shades of red, brown and greens.

    Photographic mat
    Chocolate-colored cardstock was commonly available in the 1880s and faded out in favor of light-colored card stock in the 1890s.

    Photographer
    Sprague and Hathaway started their company in 1874 in the Davis Square area of Somerville, Mass. By 1890, the studio was a corporation and they'd moved to West Somerville, Mass. The Smithsonian has trade catalogs relating to these photographers.

    Props
    Look closely at the women in the middle row. They carry fans to help them deal with the hot, humid weather of a New England July. Several individuals look like they're tired of posing for the picture.

    One little girl has her eyes closed.



    If this picture was taken today we'd think she was looking at her phone. In 1890, though, she either fell asleep or blinked. 

    So who's in the picture?  Next week I'll tackle who might be who. 


    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


  • 1890s photos | 4th of July | family reunion | summer
    Sunday, March 20, 2016 8:40:51 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, March 13, 2016
    Which Grandmother is It?
    Posted by Maureen

    I own an old "crayon picture" and you might, too. They were extremely popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. It's a photo and a piece of artwork. Photographers hired artists to charcoal these oversize pictures, which held a place of honor in a family home.

    Joan Klein owns this one. Her father told her it was his grandmother. The problem is, which one?



    There are two possibilities: 
    • Agnes Almeda Smith Steck, born 25 March 1858 died 08 December 1907 at age 49.

    • Mary Isabella Bruner Gordner, born 28 April 1853 died 15 November 1933 at age 80.

    All of us have at least two grandmothers, a maternal one and a paternal one. Joan's father didn't specify which grandmother he meant. This particular picture dates from c. 1900, when women wore their hair piled on the tops of their head and dresses had high necklines ringed with lace.

    The big problem in identifying this woman is that Joan's great-grandmothers were born within five years of each other.

    There are other things to consider, as well.

    One of my grandmother's died when I was one and I didn't know her.  When people ask me about grandparents, I always talk about the one I knew. Perhaps that's what happened in Joan's family—"Grandmother" could have been the one who lived the longest.

    Of course, there's a chance this portrait was made around the time Agnes died, as a type of memorial.

    The only way to know for sure who's in this picture is to find known photos of Agnes and Mary, or even photographs of the siblings of the women.

    Listening to family stories might help, too. This thin, aristocratic looking woman may have looked very different from the other grandmother.

    I'd reach out to other descendants of the two women in hopes of either hearing tales or finding photos. Someone else in the family might even have a copy of this picture ... with a name on 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


  • 1900-1910 photos | Drawings | enhanced images | women
    Sunday, March 13, 2016 6:11:14 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, March 06, 2016
    Adding Up the Clues in 3 Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Wanda Allison inherited photos of the McIntosh/Pearson families. Last week we looked at a tintype of this man, wearing Masonic regalia and posed with his wife. Relatives thought the couple could be John McIntosh (1810-1898) and Isabella Rutherford (1806-1894).



    The problem is the couple in this 1860s image is a lot younger than John and Isabella would be in this time frame.

    Notice the pink cheeks, a common way for photographers to add life to a portrait.

    Wanda has two other images that weigh into this puzzle:



    Here's a family-identified picture of John and Isabella in the 1880s.




    And a card photo of Isabella in the 1860s. This woman is not the same person as the one in the 1860s tintype at the beginning of this post. Their noses are different.  


    The nose of the young woman on the left is very different from the woman in the middle.

    So who's in the 1860s tintype? That's the big question.

    Last week I mentioned how her arm resting on his shoulder suggested a close relationship. It's possible that the pair isn't husband and wife, but brother and sister.

    John and Isabella had nine children:
    • John, 03 Apr 1833 - 24 Aug 1896
    • William, 07 Jun 1836 - 23 Jan 1913
    • Christina, 30 Jan 1839 - 04 Apr 1918
    • James R., 03 Oct 1840 - 21 Jun 1924
    • Catharine, 25 Feb 1846 - 05 May 1919
    • Jessie, 25 Feb 1848 - 18 Oct 1928
    • Isabella, 21 Dec 1849 - 19 Dec 1895
    • Jane (Jeannie), 02 Jul 1851 - 02 Mar 1888
    • Elizabeth Bruce, 27 Sep 1854 - 09 May 1930
    Let's estimate that the woman in the tintype is in her 20s, and that the picture was taken in 1864. That means she was born about 1844. This birth date rules out several of the daughters born too late to be the age of the young woman in the 1860s tintype. Any of the brothers could be in the tintype—John, William or James. Certainly the man and woman in the tintype bear a resemblance to John and Isabella, something that could lead descendants to believe them to actually be the older couple.

    Sorting this out involves more research and more photo comparisons. 
    • When do the older children marry?
    • Are there pictures of their spouses?
    • Are there pictures of the children?

    Figuring out who's who is all about finding more pictures. There is a picture of Christina with her younger siblings taken in the late 1880s, but it's the older siblings that will help identify that tintype. 


    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 | men | Tintypes | women
    Sunday, March 06, 2016 3:15:42 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, February 28, 2016
    Fraternal Clues (and more) in an Old Tintype Photo
    Posted by Maureen




    There is so much to love about this old tintype photo: 
    • The pose and the people are a story waiting to be told. She sits with her arm on his shoulder in a comfortable and personal way. It states that he's her husband.

    • Look at the way his hair sticks out from the sides of his head.


            He wore a hat at some point. Yup! That's 19th-century hat hair.
    • Their direct gaze makes the viewer connect with them. It's like they are here with us.

    • The sash he wears signifies a fraternal membership. Which one? He could be a Mason, but he lacks the traditional apron. Did you notice the slight yellow coloring present in the sash? Lovely!
    So who are they? That's the question. This tintype image dates from the 1860s.

    Could they be John McIntosh (1810-1898), born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and his wife Isabella Rutherford (1806-1894), born in Arngask, Fife, Scotland? Both are members of the photo submitter's family.

    I don't think so. For one simple reason:

    They aren't old enough. In the early 1860s, both husband and wife would be in their 50s. This couple is too young. 

    Next week, I'll compare some other folks in the family and see if the facts add up.


    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 | Civil War | fraternal | Tintypes
    Sunday, February 28, 2016 3:39:29 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, February 21, 2016
    Searching for Family Photos with Google
    Posted by Maureen

    I have an ancestor, James Wilson, who drives me crazy. I bet you have a few of those too! It took decades to piece together what I know about him. Despite all this research, I still can't find a photograph of him or anyone in his wife's family. It's doubtful that I'll ever locate an image of him, but over the years, I've been able to piece together photographs that document key points in his life.

    Using the facts of his life, here's what I've found (and how):
    •  His Civil War records are sparse. He served as a gunner's mate on the USS Brandywine, the USS Morse and the USS Ohio. By searching Google Images, I was able to locate images of all three of those ships and shared them on my Facebook page. This one of the Morse fascinates. It's from the Library of Congress and appeared on Civil War Talk, along with another image.

     
    His Civil War service records gave his physical description: 5'10-1/4," hazel eyes, dark hair, light complexion. Only a small portion of the Library of Congress' images are on its website, though, so a trip to Washington, D.C. would be worthwhile.

    It's a small ship. Chances are slim that James Wilson is in this photograph, but if it's possible to narrow down the time frame he was on it, then maybe I'll find a picture of him on board. 
    Hint: Check the Library of Congress website for images of places your ancestors lived, or in this case, pictures of their service.
    • The 1865 census of Massachusetts shows the family living in Charlestown.  Another quick search using Google Images resulted in multiple stereo card views.  Instead of a general search just for the Charlestown Navy Yard, I added 1865.  It worked!
    Hint: Try a very specific search first and if it doesn't work then try again using more general terms.
    • Census records often give you the name of the street and the house number where your ancestors lived.  In 1880,James Wilson's wife and children lived on South Emerson St., New Bedford, Mass.  Within moments, I'd found their house using Google Maps.
    I'm still looking for a picture of him, but in the meantime the hunt for information has given me a view of his life.  You can do this too.

    There are more tips for locating photographs in my guide Searching for Family Photographs: How to Find Them Now.


    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


  • Civil War | photo-research tips
    Sunday, February 21, 2016 3:46:43 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]