Free Updates

Let us tell you when new posts are added!



November, 2015 (4)
October, 2015 (4)
September, 2015 (4)
August, 2015 (5)
July, 2015 (4)
June, 2015 (5)
May, 2015 (4)
April, 2015 (4)
March, 2015 (5)
February, 2015 (4)
January, 2015 (4)
December, 2014 (4)
November, 2014 (5)
October, 2014 (4)
September, 2014 (5)
August, 2014 (4)
July, 2014 (4)
June, 2014 (5)
May, 2014 (4)
April, 2014 (4)
March, 2014 (5)
February, 2014 (4)
January, 2014 (4)
December, 2013 (5)
November, 2013 (4)
October, 2013 (4)
September, 2013 (5)
August, 2013 (4)
July, 2013 (4)
June, 2013 (5)
May, 2013 (4)
April, 2013 (5)
March, 2013 (4)
February, 2013 (4)
January, 2013 (4)
December, 2012 (5)
November, 2012 (4)
October, 2012 (5)
September, 2012 (4)
August, 2012 (5)
July, 2012 (5)
June, 2012 (4)
May, 2012 (4)
April, 2012 (5)
March, 2012 (4)
February, 2012 (4)
January, 2012 (5)
December, 2011 (5)
November, 2011 (4)
October, 2011 (5)
September, 2011 (4)
August, 2011 (5)
July, 2011 (5)
June, 2011 (6)
May, 2011 (7)
April, 2011 (4)
March, 2011 (5)
February, 2011 (3)
January, 2011 (5)
December, 2010 (4)
November, 2010 (5)
October, 2010 (4)
September, 2010 (4)
August, 2010 (5)
July, 2010 (4)
June, 2010 (5)
May, 2010 (4)
April, 2010 (4)
March, 2010 (5)
February, 2010 (4)
January, 2010 (4)
December, 2009 (3)
November, 2009 (5)
October, 2009 (4)
September, 2009 (4)
August, 2009 (5)
July, 2009 (4)
June, 2009 (5)
May, 2009 (4)
April, 2009 (5)
March, 2009 (6)
February, 2009 (5)
January, 2009 (5)
December, 2008 (4)
November, 2008 (4)
October, 2008 (6)
September, 2008 (5)
August, 2008 (5)
July, 2008 (4)
June, 2008 (6)
May, 2008 (5)
April, 2008 (5)
March, 2008 (4)
February, 2008 (4)
January, 2008 (5)
December, 2007 (4)
November, 2007 (4)
October, 2007 (6)
September, 2007 (4)
August, 2007 (4)
July, 2007 (5)
June, 2007 (4)
May, 2007 (3)
April, 2007 (2)
March, 2007 (1)



<November 2015>

by Maureen A. Taylor

More Links

# Sunday, September 06, 2015
Labor Day: Work Clothes in Old Photos
Posted by Maureen

The first Labor Day was held Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City, sponsored by the Central Labor Union. You can read more about the history of Labor Day here.

In honor of Labor Day, let's take a look at an occupational portrait of a latch maker in the collection of the Library of Congress.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-3597

It's a gorgeous daguerreotype taken between the late 1840s and 1860. The key dating clues in this image are the style of the mat and the case that holds the image (not visible here).  

Did you notice that this man is wearing a vest? He likely wore a jacket on his way home. Men generally dressed in shirts, vests and jackets.  He's rolled up the sleeves on his collarless work shirt. I've even seen photos of farmers plowing fields in full dress with a hat on their heads.

He's posed with one of his lock mechanisms. Bringing an object into a photo helps the viewer identify his trade. Without the lock, it would be a mystery work picture. He's even demonstrating how the lock works with the key. 

As soon as I enlarged the digital image, I realized that the daguerreotypist colored his cheeks and slightly tinted his lips for a more realistic look. 

While his hair isn't visible in this picture, that's an interesting clue. Many men in the 1850s wore their hair longer than this man does. Perhaps it's short so that it doesn't interfere with his work by getting in his eyes?

The hat looks like it's a heavy fabric rather than felt.  It's seen some use, fraying at the edges.

If you have a work related picture of an ancestor, please email it to me using these submission guidelines. The last time I asked for images, there were enough for weeks' worth of blog posts.

1850s photos | daguerreotype | hats | occupational
Sunday, September 06, 2015 11:03:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, August 31, 2015
Foolin' with the Past in Old Photos
Posted by Diane

At historical sites around the country, it's not unusual to see men and women dressed in fashions of the past. The same is true for parades and town anniversary celebrations. 

If you have a photo of a relative in historical garb, it can make you do a pictorial double-take.

Donna Bowman has one in her box of old family photos:

Take a close look at this image. The woman wears 1870s attire, but her hair is out of the 20th century. And it's hard to tell from this digital version, but this is a snapshot, not a typical 1870s card photograph. 

At the woman's side is a man dressed for a different era:

This one is a bit confusing. The tie looks like the 1850s and the tall hat also would fit that period, but that cutaway coat is much later. Historical fashion details can get mixed up when dressing up for a one-time event. Serious re-enactors and museums often will research each detail in an outfit to make it period-appropriate.

So how can we date this snapshot? By this girl in the background and the rest of the crowd watching the action:

Don't you love her bobby socks from the 1950 era? Here's the full image.  It's very likely that the baby in the stroller is still alive today: 

If Donna knows who's in this picture, I'd look in the local papers for a special event to link to this image. Too bad the sign on the front of the stroller isn't facing the camera. 

Do you have any pictorial double-takes in your family 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

  • 1850s photos | 1870s photos | 1950s photos
    Monday, August 31, 2015 3:37:14 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, June 14, 2015
    Spotting Light-Eyed Ancestors in Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Paul Newman, Frank Sinatra, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Craig and other Hollywood actors and actresses draw attention with their variously shaded blue eyes. Eye color is easy to spot in contemporary color pictures, but how can you tell if you inherited your baby blues from your maternal or paternal great-grandparent? The proof may be in a family photo. 

    Here's a quick identification tip: Look at your ancestor's eyes. Do their irises look dark or are they ghostly in appearance? Blues and light greens often appear pale and ghostly in old pictures. The lighter the eye color, the whiter they appear.

    Here's an example:

    This is one of my favorite images from the Library of Congress website. It depicts Maria Boyd of Warwick, RI, holding a weaving shuttle in the mid-1800s. Take a close look at her eyes. 

    Her irises are pale in color, suggesting blue or light green eyes. This one detail can help you identify the right ancestor if you have additional information such as:
    • a family story about the blue-eyed greatgrandmother
    • a pension or military service papers that mention eye color 
    • an already-identified photograph of a person with similar facial features and the same eye color

    However, identifying a person based on eye color comes with a warning. Not everyone liked the appearance of their light-colored eyes in pictures, or sometimes the pale eyes need additional definition to be clearly seen in a photo. Photographers sometimes added color in hand-colored images, or darkened the eyes in enhanced black-and-white pictures. 

    On a somewhat-related note, blue eyes and DNA have been in the news. Scientific studies suggest all blue-eyed people descend from the same ancestor. Interesting!

    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 | occupational | women
    Sunday, June 14, 2015 1:10:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, March 02, 2015
    Photo Jewelry
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I showed you a picture of a piece of photo jewelry owned by Teri Luna and discussed a few clues. 

    Teri saw the column and wrote back with a few more details.

    This particular pin is 1 3/4 inches high and 1 3/8 inches wide.  In the photo it looks larger than that.  These small pins could be worn at the neckline or pinned to the bodice. 

    I suggested that this man could be either the father of John Waddell Brown or the father of his wife, Agnes Dunlop Drinnan Brown if either man was born circa 1810.

    Teri doesn't know too much about either man. Both were deceased at the time Agnes and John married in 1892. John's father, John Brown was a carting contractor but Teri lacks both birth and death information for him.  It's a classic case of genealogical research problems relating to a common name. His wife was Janet Waddell.

    Agnes' father, John Dunlop had a civic occupation as the Registrar of Births. He was born circa 1818 in Tarbolton, Ayrshire, Scotland.  His wife was Catherine Fulton Dunlop.

    Both mother's were alive at the time their children married. The mystery remains. Who's depicted in the photo and who wore the pin? Janet or Catherine?

    Teri's determined to figure out this mystery. She's going through microfiche of town records looking for clues. She might want to consult too.  I found several possible matches for her ancestors including census records for the Dunlops.  Find My Past offers a free 14-day trial subscription.

    She's happy to know more about the pin and said, "We will treasure it forever."

    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

  • 1850s photos | photo jewelry | Web sites
    Monday, March 02, 2015 5:23:26 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, October 19, 2014
    The Ring Brothers: Triplets in the 1850s
    Posted by Maureen

    Multiple births aren't uncommon today, but they were rarer in the 19th century. Four years ago I wrote about Judy Linnebach's photo of an unidentified set of triplets. This week, it's the adorable Ring brothers.

    Image copyright: David Levy. Not to be used without permission

    Meet Charles, Eleazer and Millard Ring! David Levy bought this lovely daguerreotype. A daguerreotype is an image on a highly reflective, silver-coated copper plate, a photographic method introduced to the United States in 1839. This image dates from the early 1850s.  

    A quick search of the 1860 census found the three 11-year-olds living with their mother, a sibling, and possibly their grandmother in Lubec, Washington County, Maine. Beside their names, the enumerator wrote "of one birth."

    A source for the Linnebach article, Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George Milby Gould and Walter Lytle Pyle (published in 1904 and available on Google Books) states that most multiple births in the 19th century were to women in the age range of 30 to 34, and heredity was a factor.

    Their mother Margaret gave birth to her daughter Lucy at age 23, and then two years later in 1849, to the boys. The Rings weren't the only multiple birth in town: Just a page earlier in the census, Job and Almira Goodwin had a set of fraternal twins, Otis and Emily.

    Charles, Eleazer and Millard were obviously doted upon by their mother. The identical tunics and broad-brimmed, decorated hats in this photo attest to that. Because of the fancy hats, David initially believed he'd bought an image of three girls.

    Little boys in this period typically wore caps or broad-brimmed hats with wide hat bands. In this case, what looks like flowers could be a cluster of feathers—not an unusual hat decoration for a set of very well-dressed boys. The photo studio enhanced their buttons with gold paint.

    Lubec, the easternmost town in the United States, sits on the border of Maine and New Brunswick. In the 1850s, it was an economically stable community of farmers and fishermen. According to Wikipedia, in 1859, the town had a tannery, a gristmill and nine sawmills. While I didn't see a photographer listed in the 1860 census for the town, it's possible that this thriving town had a daguerreotypist in 1850s.

    Thank you to David for pointing out that another daguerreotype of the Ring triplets is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA. You can view it here.

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

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

  • 1850s photos | children | daguerreotype | unusual photos
    Sunday, October 19, 2014 4:26:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, July 27, 2014
    Clothing Clues for Women in Old Photos: Bloomers
    Posted by Maureen

    In 1849, a group that advocated reform dress for women advised them to wear "Turkish dress." That meant a billowy pant that ended below the knee, worn beneath a shorter dress.

    This illustration is from sheet music composed by William Dressler in 1851. He called his piece "The Bloomer Waltz." When Elizabeth Smith Miller wore the style to visit her temperance friend Amelia Bloomer, the press began referring to these "trousers" as bloomers. Women's rights reformers claimed they were healthier than the restrictive corsets and dress styles then in fashion. While a few women wore bloomers, including Civil War doctor Mary Walker, shown below, the trend never caught on with the general public.

    But by the 1890s, the bloomer was back.  It was a safety and modesty issue for women who wanted to ride bicycles.  As this illustration in an 1895 Puck magazine shows, both men and women wore them.

    By the turn of the century, women's colleges adapted the style for female athletics such as basketball teams like the one here from Smith College (found on Wikipedia). Bathing suits of the early 20th century also featured the bloomer look.

    Bloomers remained in fashion for women attending gym classes into the mid-20th century. Those forward-thinking women of the 1850s would be happy to know that they were trendsetters.

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

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

  • 1850s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | women
    Sunday, July 27, 2014 5:12:16 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, May 25, 2014
    Daughters and Sons-in-law in an 1850s Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Jim TeVogt owns a copy of this gorgeous image, reported to be three of Horace W. Twichell's daughters and their husbands. A cousin told him that his photo was made from a glass negative in the Twichell family.

    Horace W  Twichelledit daughters  _husbands-Eveline Twichell  Usual Haggerty Devore Irene Jane _Twichell  Will Thomas Cadoo Emeline Twichell  Peter H  _C.jpg

    Could this be:
    • Eveline (born 25 May 1824) married in 1840 to Usual Haggerty Devore (born 1815)
    • Emeline (the twin to Eveline, born 25 May 1824) married in 1844 to Petr H. Conklin (born 1822)
    • Irene Jane (born 1838) married in 1852 to Will Thomas Cadoo (born 1825)?
    There are many questions:
    • What type of image is it, as it was supposedly made from a glass negative?
    • Who's who? Are these the twins with another sister?

    Here's what I see: 
    • All three women wear their hair tight over their ears in the style of the 1840s. It's a very conservative style. The family were Methodist.
    • Each woman Has a flower pinned in the center of the opening of her collar.
    • Wide-necked dresses with short sleeves were still being worn in the early 1850s. Each woman has accessorized her dress with a wide collar tucked at the waist.
    • The center woman wears a wide bow at the waist.  I've seen this in photos of weddings.
       horace twichell daughter.jpg
    • The daughter on the far right wears undersleeves to cover her arms. These tied on the arm above the elbow.

    twichell daughter right.jpg

    Horace Twichell had two other daughters: Harriet (born 1826), who married Daniel Malin in 1845; and Henrietta (born 1831), who married a man named Sulla before 1860. 

    The only sister the family has a positively identified image of is Harriet and her husband, circa 1870. 

    Daniel  Harriet Mallanedit - ca  1870.jpg

    This is not one of the sisters or husbands in the first image. This man has bushy eyebrows and is much older than his wife. There are facial similarities between the sisters, such as the shape of the face and nose. Unfortunately, there are no other images of the other sisters and their families.

    Wedding clues include the presence of the ribbon, the flowers and the similarly dressed women. So who's in the possible wedding image?  It could very well be the twins Emeline and Eveline with their sister Irene Jane in the middle. Irene married Dec. 15, 1852, which is a likely date for the picture. 

    As to the relative's comment about the glass negative, the original for a photo of this era would have been a shiny reflective daguerreotype. Glass negatives weren't available until after 1852, and glass ambrotypes weren't patented until 1854.  Someone in the family may have copied the original and ended up with a glass negative, from which TeVogt's image was made.  

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

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

  • 1850s photos | unusual photos | wedding | women
    Sunday, May 25, 2014 4:34:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, February 10, 2014
    Photo Album Mystery: Whose Granddad is It?
    Posted by Maureen

    Photo albums are always interesting to look at.  You can find almost anything tucked into a album: I've seen locks of hair, swatches of fabric, colorful scraps of paper, postcards, family photos, and images of friends and famous folk. Most times it isn't clear as to who's who.

    Art Parker calls himself a "Kodak kid" from Rochester who grew up in the Pocket Instamatic generation. He's fascinated with photographs but is stumped by this image.


    At some point, a well-meaning relative of this man wrote on the page, "Grand Dad Armstrong."  I bet you know the problem.  The big question is, whose granddad is Mr. Armstrong?

    This is a question of provenance. The history of ownership of this image is very important. This album is currently owned by Art's cousin. To verify the identity of this gent, it's important to know who owned the album all the way back to when it was put together. Of course, it's possible someone added that image later, but it's also likely that the person who placed the images in the album put it there.

    Some 19th-century albums have patent numbers in the front that can suggest when a relative bought it. Researching patents is really easy at Google's Patent Search. Art can enter a patent number into the search box and find the patent relating to the album. Nineteenth century patents included an illustration of the item.

    GrandDadArmstrong close up.jpg

    The general appearance of this image suggests that it's a copy of a daguerreotype. Here are some tips on spotting a copy in your album. A daguerreotype is a shiny, reflective image on a silver-coated copper plate that needs to be held at a angle to view. You can read more about daguerreotypes in the January/February 2014 Family Tree Magazine.

    Art believes there are two possibilities: This man is either Isaac Armstrong (1779-1855) or his son Alfred B. Armstrong (1819-1902). 

    The knotted tie worn by this man looks like those worn in the mid-19th century. Combine this detail with his age and the fact that it's a copy, and it appears this man could be Isaac Armstrong. His picture was likely taken in the early 1850s.

    Now I want to know ... where is the original daguerreotype? Descendants of the Armstrong family still live in New York State's Southern Tier. I'm hoping the original is still in the family.

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

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

  • 1850s photos | cased images | daguerreotype | Revolutionary War
    Monday, February 10, 2014 10:07:58 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, December 23, 2013
    A Look Back at Photo Detecting in 2013
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time for the end of the year round-up just in case you missed one of these columns.  Here are some of my favorites from 2013.


    The Inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. On March 4, 1865, Lincoln began his second term in office. Photographers were there to capture the crowds standing in the rain.  Perhaps your ancestor was there? 

    I'm a huge fan of Downton Abbey so it was a natural choice to write about the fashions worn on the show in Downton Abbey and Your Family Photos.  The new season starts this January and I can't wait!


    If you've ever walked into an antique shop, spotted an identified photo and thought I'd like to help reunite it with family then you're not alone. Here are some tips on how to do just that in Reuniting Orphan Photos With Family.


    I came back from Who Do You Think You Are Live! in London with a tip for smart phone users.  You can use your phone to look at negatives.  It's an amazing use for the device we all have. Here's how you can do it too.

    How can a husband and wife from unrelated families end up with the same photo of a supposed relative?   Same photo with different identifications. It's a mind-bending mystery in two parts.  Part One and Part Two.

    Two part mysteries are so much fun to work on that I featured another one. This time it was two Italian family photos found in a box with a note. You'll have to read parts one and two to see who's who.

     The nation honored the 150th anniversary of the Battle at Gettysburg.  Burns was 69 at the time he fought as a civilian.  You can read about his remarkable story in John L. Burns, Civil War Sharpshooter.

    A lovely handcolored carte de visite from Charleston, South Carolina is the subject of A Southern Photo Mystery.  Is it Cornelius Webb?  Follow the genealogical bread crumbs to see how it adds up.

    Don't you love when a ancestor puts a name over the head of someone on the front of a photo? The problem in the Marsteller family is that only one person in the group portrait is identified. The rest of the folks are unidentified. Is this a photo of Pennsylvania relatives?  Are they the relatives of the man's father who died suddenly as a young man?  It's another two part mystery.  Looking for a Pennsylvania Connection and The Marsteller Old Photo Mystery

    Photo albums tell a story of friends and family. Here are some tips on how to read your family album. Adding up all the clues in this man's family album led to a photo identification home run--ID's for all three images.

    Spotting a copy in your family collection can be a challenge. In part one I showed how I identified a picture as a copy of an earlier photo and in part two there are tips on what to look for in your own photos.

    A lot of former switchboard operators wrote to me after a picture of women switchboard operators appeared in this space. Ask the women in your family if they worked and interview them about their jobs.  You might be surprised by the stories they tell.

    Here's a classic Irish tale of love and loss in two parts with a few letters and photos too. When a man's wife dies leaving him with several small children. He returns home to Ireland.  The oldest son decides he'd rather live in America and moves back.  His younger brother writes persuasive letters trying to convince his big brother to let him follow him to Massachusetts.  I won't tell you how it ends.  It's a heartbreaking Christmas story.

    Happy Holidays!  Watch this space for new family photo stories in 2014.  It's easy to submit your own photo mystery. Just click the link on the left, How To Submit Your Photo.

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

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

  • 1850s photos | 1860s photos | 1900-1910 photos | Civil War | group photos | hats | men | Military photos | occupational | photo albums
    Monday, December 23, 2013 3:25:32 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, October 21, 2013
    Clues in an Old Photo Copy: Who Is She?
    Posted by Maureen

    Two weeks ago I wrote about Shirley Dunkle's image, a copy of an earlier photo. The clues added up to suggest the photo was copied about 1900, but that this woman in the image sat for the original portrait in the mid 1850s.

    Dunkle - Moores family - About 1860.jpg

    Shirley has a possible identification for this woman based on the date: She young woman could be Mary Jane Smethurst. She was born May 24, 1839, in Middleton, Lancashire, England. She married James Roberts March 31, 1861, in St. Mark's, Dukinfeld, Cheshire, England. 

    After the death of her husband in 1885, Mary Jane and many of her children immigrated to Massachusetts in 1888. She died in 1916.

    If this is Mary Jane,she was approximately 17 years of age and living in England when she sat for this portrait.

    I have one last question. What type of photograph was the original?

    In the United States, photographs taken in the mid-1850s were primarily daguerreotypes. These are shiny and reflective, and quite distinctive in their appearance. But when I looked at photographs at the Who Do You Think You Are Live show in London, it was quite apparent that the English didn't embrace the daguerreotype. 

    William Henry Fox Talbot, an English photographic inventor, introduced a type of paper print that was popular in the 1850s: the salted paper print, produced from paper negatives.

    Frederick Archer invented photographs on glass in 1851. His ambrotype process competed with both the salt paper print and the daguerreotype. The Ambrotype didn't become popular in the United States until the mid-1850s. 

    Shirley's family no longer owns the original photograph. I'm hoping another of Mary Jane's descendants still does and can shed some light on just what type of picture their ancestor posed for.

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

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

  • 1850s photos | ambrotype | daguerreotype | salt paper print
    Monday, October 21, 2013 3:07:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, October 13, 2013
    Spotting a Copy of an Old Family Photo: Part 2
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week, I discussed photographic copies. It's a big topic. I used Shirley Dunkle's photo as an example. In the case of her photo, it was the context and the costume of the image that clued me into it being a copy.

    I've received several questions about the topic this week, so I'm going to delay discussing the identity of the woman in Shirley's photo until next week to focus more on copies.

    So, how can you spot a copy? Sometimes it's a little thing and other times it's pretty obvious.

    Here's a photo from my research collection:

    It's a little fellow from the mid-19th century. Can you see the scalloped mat visible in this copy? The original in this case was a daguerreotype.  The reflective nature of a daguerreotype made it difficult to photograph.  It's a great example of an obvious copy. The rest of the evidence in the image added to the identification of it not being an original.

    The copy is a real-photo postcard of the type that dates to the early 20th century. Real-photo postcards are introduced circa 1900. Someone (perhaps the little boy all grown up) wrote on the card that the original image was taken 52 years in the past. Too bad there are no other identifiers on the card, like a name, date or location.

    There were photographic copies in the early days of photography as well. The only way to make an identical daguerreotype was to either duplicate the pose or make a copy of the original.

    Photographers' imprints often include a statement about their ability to provide copies. Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, paper prints and tintypes were all copied in photo studios when an owner needed another one.

    One person asked about remounting of pictures. Theoretically it's possible to remount an older image on newer card stock, but I've never seen an example of this from the 19th century. It was far easier for a photographer to re-photograph the original.

    I'm still working on Shirley's mystery. She's added another image to the mix. Tune in next week!

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

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

  • 1850s photos | daguerreotype
    Sunday, October 13, 2013 11:43:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, October 06, 2013
    Spotting a Copy
    Posted by Maureen

    Here's a pretty typical family scenario: Mom and Dad have their picture taken in the early 1850s. Years later each of their five children wants a copy, so someone takes the original picture to the photo studio to have paper prints made. Each of those children pass that paper copy down to their children and so on until today. What happened to the original?  Generally the answer is, "Who knows?"

    Shirley Dunkle showed me this photo at a recent meeting of the Falmouth (Mass.) Genealogical Society. Shirley is a descendant of the woman in this photo.

    Dunkle2- Moores family - About 1860.jpg
    I knew immediately that this paper print is a copy of an earlier image. The woman is wearing a dress and hairstyle that was very fashionable for 1856-58:
    • Pagoda sleeves that bell out at the elbow with white undersleeves.
    • Straight trim on the sleeves and bodice.
    • Wide fringed bretelles that meet in a point at the waist.
    • Ribbons in her hair that show behind her collar.
    • She wears her hair behind her ears with small drop earrings.

    Dunkle 3- Moores family - About 1860.jpg

    I personally love the hand-crocheted lace collar at her neck, accessorized with a brooch. A necklace of shell or glass beads also accents her neck.

    Shirley's unknown ancestor is a young woman, likely less than 20 years of age. Estimating an age can narrow down the possibilities on her family tree.

    While the clothing definitely points to the 1850s, it was the context of the photo that identified it as a copy of an earlier photo.

    Dunkle - Moores family - About 1860.jpg

    Heavy gray cardstock wasn't available in photo studios of the 1850s. It's a copy likely made around 1900.  

    I'll tackle this triple mystery next week:

    • Who made the copy?
    • Who's the young woman?
    • What type of photo was the original?

    Unfortunately, Shirley doesn't know who owns the original picture.

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

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

  • 1850s photos | hairstyles | jewelry | women
    Sunday, October 06, 2013 6:47:01 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, August 20, 2012
    Genealogy Fashions: Is Your Ancestor's Hat Back in Style?
    Posted by Maureen

    Fashion is looking back not merely to the 1970s, but all the way to the 1920s and even 1880s, at least as far as hats are concerned.

    Last Sunday's New York Times fashion supplement featured advertisements showing old-fashioned-looking hats by designers Louis Vuitton and Donna Karan. Even the Bloomingdale's ad featured a model in a vintage style hat.

    I can't show you the Louis Vuitton ad, but I can show you hats that resemble the ones worn by the models in the New York Times ads. It was a fashion spread for handbags, but the head wear looked liked these workmen's hats from the 1850s. I'm serious! Vuitton added a grosgrain band above the brim, but the shape is very similar.

    Donna Karan's ad is online. The hat on the woman in the video strongly resembles those worn in the 1880s. In fact, I featured a similar looking hat in Photo Contest Submissions: Shirley Jenks Jacobs submitted this photo of a woman in a rolled brimmed hat with trim and a high crown.

    Shirley Jenks Jacobs2.jpg

    One more blast from the past was the Bloomingdale's ad of a young model wearing a plush hat with a very wide brim and a plume of animal fur. It looked something like this image I own of a wedding from circa 1920.  Don't you love his hair? It helps date this image.


    So which hat style will you wear this season? I'll be looking through the photos in my Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900 for more matches.

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

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1850s photos | 1880s photos | 1920s photos | hairstyles | hats | | unusual photos
    Monday, August 20, 2012 3:55:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Wednesday, March 28, 2012
    Graduation Caps
    Posted by Diane

    It's the last week for hats. It's also your last chance this month to save 10% on Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900. Use HAT10 as the coupon code when ordering from

    I've blogged about a lady in a fancy hat, a young man in a felt hat and two men wearing work hats. You're probably wondering what's next.

    A graduation cap!

    graduation caps.jpg

    This image, from the collection of the Library of Congress, is from about 1860. I love the young man's blue bow tie and red tassel. He's smiling for the camera with a toothy grin. That's something you don't usually see in a 19th century picture.

    Notice the stripe down his pant's leg? He wears military style trousers. It's possible he's a cadet.

    ehow credits the contemporary mortarboard to 15th-century France and Italy. The term "mortarboard" comes from its shape—it looks like a piece of equipment that a bricklayer uses for mortar. Today's graduates wear tassels that reflect their school colors. Some students personalize their caps, too.

    I hope you've enjoyed this month's worth of hats. I'll be back with other caps, hats and bonnets this year.

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

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1850s photos | 1860s photos | hats | men | unusual clothing
    Wednesday, March 28, 2012 12:59:53 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Friday, July 01, 2011
    Identifying an Old Crayon Portrait
    Posted by Diane

    This crayon portrait passed from Geri Diehl’s grandmother to her mother, and ultimately came to be in her own collection. She asks, "Could this be the wedding picture of Elizabeth Goza and William Harrington who married in 1846?"

    On, Photo Detective Maureen A. Taylor adds up the clues in the image and gives some cautions for dating hand-drawn portraits based on photos.

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

  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1850s photos | men | women | Drawings
    Friday, July 01, 2011 6:51:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, May 09, 2011
    A Soldier's Story
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week, I spent time browsing the Liljenquist Collection on the Library of Congress website. It's a jaw-dropping set of gorgeous Civil War photographs. You can view them online or in person at an exhibit at the Library of Congress.

    Charles Bickford.jpg

    This portrait depicts Charles H. Bickford of Massachusetts as a young boy. As a genealogist, it's difficult for me to see a name on a photograph and not dig a little deeper into a life story.

    The LOC cataloging record provides a few details, while some library research fills in the blanks.
    • It's an ambrotype. The date created field suggests a time frame of 1850-1855, but ambrotypes were patented in 1854.

    • The cataloging record also includes information from a handwritten label in the cased image. It supplies a date of birth (March 1844) and his death date (May 3, 1863).

    • Bickford served with B Company of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. A quick search in a series, Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War compiled by the Adjutant General and published in 1931 (volume 1, page 80), yields even more data. Bickford was a resident of Lowell, Mass., and a machinist when he enlisted at age 20 on May 25, 1861. He died on May 3, 1863, at Chancellorsville, Va. May 3 is considered the bloodiest day of the Battle of Chancellorsville and resulted in the loss of 14,000 Confederate soldiers. General Stonewall Jackson was fatally wounded that day, as well.

    • Searching for vital records for Bickford suggests he was born in New Hampshire. There is a Charles H. Bickford, age 17, living in Strafford County in the 1860 federal census. 
    Telling a soldier's story involves looking at vital records, census records, Civil War material and of course studying the evidence in a family photo.

    In this picture, Bickford is a young boy dressed in a typical suit—buttoned jacket with the collar peeking out, and a large bow at the neck. Born in 1844, it's possible he's about 10-12 years old in this photo. If he were older than that, he'd be wearing a different style of attire. This data suggests the photo was taken between 1854 and 1856.     

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

  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1850s photos | children | Civil War
    Monday, May 09, 2011 1:33:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, July 19, 2010
    Mourning Clothes
    Posted by Maureen

    Ten years ago, I analyzed a photo sent to me from a woman in New Zealand. In the New Zealand Mystery, I discussed the family information, but also described her clothing and how it indicated she was in mourning.

    Queen Victoria set the standard for both wedding attire and for mourning. After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, she wore black mourning clothes for the rest of her life. In the Victorian era, men would wear a black armband when someone died, but women wore full black crape (the 19th century spelling for crepe) dresses for a year and a day. Then they wore just crape-trimmed black dresses for another 21 months. (Tortora and Eubank, Survey of Historic Costume, 348). 

    But what if your family didn't have the resources of the woman depicted above?  A wardrobe of mourning clothes probably wasn't economically feasible. Instead, clothes could be rented or borrowed for the funeral. According to the 1877 article by Henry R Hatherly, "Mourning Clothes as a Source of Infection" (Sanitary Record: A Journal of Public Health, Google Books), less-fortunate folks were spreading disease by wearing clothing worn by others—in particular, skin and parasitic diseases.

    Not just Queen Victoria's subjects followed mourning customs. This week I looked at a tintype from Dresden. The dark clothing and the large hat with long, heavy fabric at the back suggests this 1880s woman is in mourning. The style of the hat is a bit unusual. I think the browband helps keep the hat on her head.


    If you have any 19th-century photos of family wearing crape, I'd love to see them. You can e-mail them to me.

    Need help researching, preserving and displaying your family photos? Visit for how-to books and CDs.

    1850s photos | 1880s photos | mourning photos | unusual photos | women
    Monday, July 19, 2010 3:47:35 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, July 05, 2010
    Uncovering Your Revolutionary War Ancestor
    Posted by Diane


    This carte de visite of Daniel Frederick Bakeman commemorates his status as the last living Revolutionary War soldier in 1868. Bakeman died the following year. This image was widely available in the 19th century and Bakeman is generally accepted as the last living Revolutionary War soldier, but there is one problem: Other lesser-known men outlived him and were photographed. One such man was John Kitts of Baltimore, who died in September 1870.

    Photographs of other members of the Revolutionary War generation exist in public, private and family collections. While I've collected 70 images of men, women and children who lived during the war, I know that additional images are still undiscovered. I'm hoping that by studying your family photograph collections that you'll find images that meet the following criteria: 
    • Men who lived during the war and who were alive after 1839 when photography was introduced in the United States would be at least 80 years of age. These individuals could be patriots, soldiers, loyalists or non-participants in the war.
    • Women may be wives or widows. Locating pictures of these women means looking at pictures taken anywhere from the advent of photography to the early 1900s. The last Revolutionary War widow died in 1906, according to this New York Times article.
    Please contact me if you think you've located a picture of a Revolutionary War ancestor.

    If you're interested in seeing my first collection of images, they appear in my new book, The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation (Kent State University Press, $45)

    Taylor cover (2).jpg

    Revolutionary War research resources from Family Tree Magazine and

    1840s photos | 1850s photos | 1860s photos | cased images | men
    Monday, July 05, 2010 8:46:08 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, July 27, 2009
    Adding Up Photo Clues
    Posted by Maureen

    I had trouble deciding the angle for this story. Would I discuss the problem of trying to figure out the photographic method or mention a family brick wall? Then I re-read all the emails from Randy Majors and decided to cover those topics as well as how he identified his picture.

    What is it?
    Electronic files are wonderful for sharing pictures, but nothing compares with looking at the original, especially when you're trying to determine the photographic method. One of the first questions I asked Randy was, "Can you describe the picture?"

    There were two types of metal images in the first 20 years of photography. Daguerreotypes are shiny, highly reflective images that are reversed, but tintypes are on a thin sheet of iron and usually varnished. They aren't really shiny. He said that the image was somewhat shiny, but not mirror-like. 

    So what is it? Without seeing the original, I'd guess a tintype. If you look very closely at the left of the picture you can see a crackled pattern in the photographic emulsion. I've never seen that in a daguerreotype, which is created by chemical salts on a silver plate. 

    Williamcrop 1.jpg

    The other detail that makes me think this is a tintype is the hole in the upper-left corner. I've seen scads of tintypes with this, but never a daguerreotype.

    This lovely picture was once covered by an oval mat, appropriate for either a daguerreotype or a tintype.

    When was it taken?
    Let's look at the subjects' attire from left to right. The boy wears a jacket several sizes too large. The stiff wave of hair atop of his head was particularly popular in the 1850s. His father wears a collarless shirt, a vest and a jacket. His hair is long and combed back. A full under-the chin beard completes his appearance.

    It wasn't unusual for little girls in the 1850s and in the early 1860s to wear dresses with shoulder-bearing necklines and short epaulette sleeves, with strings of beads around their neck. Their attire could be from the late 1850s or even the early 1860s.

    The girl's doll could date the picture. I'm no doll expert, but determining whether this is a rag-style doll or a china doll could help place this image in a time frame. I think it's a china-headed doll. The problem is that the detail is missing from the face. For help with dating dolls in images, consult Dawn Herlocher's 200 Years of Dolls, 3rd edition (KP Books, $29.95).


    Who is it?
    One of the best ways to identify a picture is by swapping with relatives to see if they have similar images. The unidentified picture Randy sent was his great-aunt's. In Rady's collection was an identified picture of William Riley Majors, (1821-1881).

     William Riley Majors (2).jpg
    Notice anything familiar? You guessed it.  It's not only the same man—it's the same picture, only a copy.

    So who's in the first picture with William? His son William Andrew Majors and his daughter Martha Etta Majors. Based on the children's ages, Randy thinks this picture was taken about 1865 in the Madison County, Ill. or St. Louis, Mo., area. He could be right. This late a date also would suggest that the image is indeed a tintype.

    Randy's biggest problem is that no one has been able to find out the lineage of William Riley Majors. He was born in either Alabama or Kentucky, and died in Cowley County, Kan. "He remains my biggest brick wall," Randy wrote.

    Anyone have any research suggestions for Randy?
    1850s photos | 1860s photos | children | men | Tintypes
    Monday, July 27, 2009 8:55:27 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, March 23, 2009
    Hand-Colored Photographs
    Posted by Maureen

    Do you own any photographs that are hand-colored?

    These tinted enhancements range from delicately shaded pink lips and gold jewelry to elaborate coloring that obscures the image and transforms a photograph into a painting.

    Powders, paints, crayons and pastels were all used to make photographs look more lifelike. Some photographers hired artists to apply the color, while others attempted to do the job themselves. The final results were mixed based on the skill of the person laying down the color.

    The history of photography is full of examples of hand-colored images from the early daguerreotype period to the digitally colored images of today.


    Here's an example from the Library of Congress. It's three men from the Phoenix Fire Company and Mechanic Fire Company of Charleston, SC.  Isn't it beautiful? The photographer tinted their jackets, but the red color most attracts the eye.  

    It was taken c. 1855 by Tyler & Co. Additional information on Tyler can be found in Craig's Daguerreian Registry.

    In John Comstock's A System of Natural Philosphy (1852), there are details about how this tint might've been added and a bit of background on coloring in general:
    Coloring daguerreotype pictures is an American invention, and has been considered a secret, though at the present time it is done with more or less success by most artists. 
    The color consists of the oxyds of several metals, ground to an impalpable powder. They are laid on in a dry state, with soft camel-hair pencils, after the process of gilding. The plate is then heated by which they are fixed. This is a very delicate part of the art, and should not be undertaken by those who have not a good eye, and a light hand.
    Comstock received these details from a Mr. N.G. Burgess of 192 Broadway, NY, and claimed that "he was an experienced and expert artist in this line." Nathan Burgess also is in Craig's Daguerreian Registry. It appears he was one of the earliest daguerreotypists in this country.

    Note: If you were looking at the original of this image, you'd have to view the image at an angle. This is a key characteristic of a daguerreotype. They were also reversed.

    If you have a hand-colored image you'd like to share, see the photo submission guidelines.

    1850s photos | enhanced images | men
    Monday, March 23, 2009 2:07:20 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Tuesday, July 08, 2008
    Is This the Same Man?
    Posted by Maureen

    Charles Blyth found this handsome daguerreotype in a group of identified family photographs. He thinks the man might be a colleague of his great uncle, but isn't really sure. It's beautiful and in pristine condition, so I couldn't resist this challenge.


    It's important to remember daguerreotypes are reversed. Before comparing this gentleman to any family photographs, it's necessary to flip the image to see his natural appearance. Faces can look quite different when reversed.


    Blyth doesn't think this man is his great uncle Henry Blyth, born in 1831, but the evidence suggests it could be. Here is the quartet of facts I've considered.
    1) This man appears to be in his 20s and the clothing (wide cravat, slicked back hair and long sideburns) suggests the photo was taken in the 1850s. This man is the right age to be Blyth.
    2) The equipment on the table identifies this man as a surveyor.  As far as I can tell, the device is a Wye level, used for long- distance surveying. I found a similar-looking piece on Larry and Carol Meeker's Web site Antiques of a Mechanical Nature. Blyth was a surveyor in New York State before leaving home at 22 for Chile. He returned home with a beard in 1858 and posed for a portrait with his family; a few years later, he was in the card photograph (below). If the daguerreotype is Blyth, it was taken before his travels in 1853—a date that fits the clothing clues.
    3) Even though Blyth's hairline is receding in this known picture, you can see the similarities between him and the unidentified portrait. Besides a similar hairline, their face shapes are close. It's not outside the realm of possibility to conclude Blyth posed for the daguerreotype before traveling to South America. This card photo shows he aged a bit from his frontier experience, but it's likely both pictures depict the same man.
    4) One other feature in the daguerreotype suggests it could show Blyth: the cross. According to Charles Blyth, members of the family often posed wearing a cross.
    I think the evidence strongly suggests this unidentified picture is Henry Blyth—the tools identify his trade, his age is right, facial similiarities suggest a relationship and then there's the cross and the fact the image was found with family artifacts.  I think it's Blyth, but I'm not sure I've convinced the owner.

    Got an opinion? Sound off in the Comments section! Let's create a dialogue.

    1850s photos | cased images | props in photos
    Tuesday, July 08, 2008 8:37:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [7]
    # Monday, June 16, 2008
    Sisters or Mother and Daughter?
    Posted by Maureen

    A reader named Judy sent me a picture mystery that's a lot like choosing the answer to a multiple choice question—a, b or c. This makes my brain and eyes hurt. Here goes:

    • On the back is written Great Grandma Frances Huffman.  Huffman was born in 1838.
    • In a different handwriting on the back someone wrote, Nira. There were two Niras in the family: Frances Huffman's mother, born about 1817, and a sister, born in 1859.
    • Frances Huffman had a daughter in 1856.
    In case you're confused, both Huffman and her mother were giving birth to children in the 1850s. Huffman was 18 when her own daughter was born; her mother was 42 when she had Nira.

    So who's in this picture? That's the quandry. The wide lace collar and beads suggest it was taken in the mid-to-late 1850s. The caption on the back suggests the woman is Huffman, but if it's really her and her about-2-year-old daughter, then it's an odd picture. 

    In 1858, cased images such as daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and even tintypes were available, but paper prints weren't common. Note the gray cardboard used as backing and the circular shape to the portrait—I think this is a copy of an earlier image. The blurring of the portrait suggests the photographer shot the copy through the glass covering the original picture.

    What about the additional caption mentioning Nira? Unless this is a picture of Huffman with her much younger sibling, that's probably a misidentification.

    I'm not sure all the pieces of this puzzle are in place yet. I don't think the mother in this picture looks like she's in her 40s, but genetics and illness are just two factors affecting the aging process. Another picture of either Huffman or her mother wouldhelp  confirm the woman's identification.

    1850s photos | children | women
    Monday, June 16, 2008 10:33:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]