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<2017 February>

by Maureen A. Taylor

More Links

# Sunday, 19 February 2017
3 Clues to Identify the Ancestors in Old Wedding Photos
Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

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

  • Save
    1880s photos | wedding
    Sunday, 19 February 2017 20:50:58 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 22 January 2017
    Old Photos: The Secret Ingredient to Discovering Family History
    Posted by Maureen

    You're probably wondering what I mean by photo clues being the secret ingredient. 

    Think of your family history as a recipe.  In my grandmother's terms, that would consist of a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Genealogy is the same way: We look at documents, manuscripts and photographs for information. It's how these things come together that helps you tell the story of your family.

    For instance:
    • The details you find in a census record, added to what you learn in an old letter, can tell you who's who in a mystery photo. 
    • Or ... the hat, sleeve or prop in a photo identifies a time period that sends you scurrying for more details on your family's lives in your favorite genealogy database. 
    Pictures really are the secret ingredient. Sure, you can test your DNA and find a census record, but photos are a visual link to that data. They enable you to look eye to eye with an ancestor. It causes goosebumps just thinking about it.

    Here's how it works: Let's think about sleeves for a second.


    Look carefully at the design of this sleeve.  The slight fullness at the shoulder and the tight lower sleeve suggest a date of circa 1889.

    Now, let's look at the whole image.

    Collection of the author

    This young woman is wearing the latest fashion, from the hair piled on her head to the shape of her bodice and the drape of her skirt. All confirm the date of 1889.

    The imprint states that the photographer, A. Marx, had studios in Frankfurt and Hamburg. The photo album prop is a nice touch, but we don't know if it's significant to her family or just a photographer's prop.

    If this were your family photo, you'd know the following:
    • It was taken in either Homburg (Hamburg) or Frankfurt.
    • It shows a young woman, likely a teenager.
    • You (might) know who gave it to you.

    Each of those clues is part of the recipe, as is the date of the image. You might next research the history of those cities to understand why your ancestor left the area.

    You'd also gather what you know about your family history—and determine whether you need to find out more--so you can answer the question: Who's the right age to be this girl living in that part of Germany?

    You might know immediately who she could be. Now try to find another picture of her later in life to see if the faces match. 

    You can learn more about dating clothing from Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats and Hairstyles 1840-1900. Both available at

    That picture might help you tie up a piece of unknown or confusing family history.  It's all in the details of the secret sauce that make family history so fascinating.

    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
    1880s photos | sleeves | women
    Sunday, 22 January 2017 19:47:13 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 04 September 2016
    3 Tips to Locate Photos of Ancestors' School Days
    Posted by Maureen

    For the first three years of grade school, I went to class in a 19th-century building. A big wide staircase and a classroom cloak room stick in my mind. That building is long gone, replaced by a modern school. I've search for a picture of the original structure to see if my memories of it compare to how it actually looked.

    Finding images of the schools my family attended is a good beginning to understanding their classroom experience, and it helps flesh out my family story.

    Depending on when and where they lived, the school could be a one-room schoolhouse or a massive brick-and-mortar city school.

    Nebraska State Historical Society, [Digital ID, e.g., nbhips 12036]

    If your ancestor attended school in Nebraska, count yourself lucky. The Nebraska State Historical Society added images to the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress. This one is a sod school, District 62, 2 miles west of Merna, Custer County, Neb., in 1889. 

    In this picture, you can see the backwards writing on the bottom edge of the original glass plate.

    According to the cataloging record, in 1974, someone identified the teacher in the middle as Elsie Thomas who married a Bidgood. One of the girls in the back row, second to the left of the teacher, is Nettie Hannawald. There is another picture of Nettie online as well.

    Tip 1: Look online. Search the Library of Congress for pictures of schools in places your ancestors lived. Choose "Photos, Prints, Drawings" from the dropdown menu at the top, and type search terms such as Merna Nebraska school.

    Then expand your search to Google images. A quick search for history of public school architecture Grand Rapids resulted in a lot of hits including an online article and photo essays for Grand Rapids, Michigan.

    Tip 2: Check newspapers.
    In a town where I once lived, an old schoolhouse is now a bank, but I learned a lot about the building form old newspapers. In the 1930s, some members of the town balked at installing indoor plumbing. The old outhouse was good enough, they said.

    Search newspapers looking for school information:
    • You might locate information about the school building.
    • Merit student lists in the paper could mention your relative
    • There might be an engraving or a photograph published

    Tip 3: Ask the locals. Public libraries and historical societies often have pictures of old school buildings. Check the library or society website for a collection of digital images. Include school yearbooks in your search.

    Let us know what you find!

    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 | school photos
    Sunday, 04 September 2016 17:27:43 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 14 August 2016
    3 Next Steps in Photo Identification
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week's How to Tell Men's Faces Apart in Old Photos examined two photos thought to be the same man. Two branches of the family identified him as Patrick Sheridan, but the facial clues didn't add up.

    When looking at pictures, it's important to examine other family history details as well. Here are three:

    Family Stories
    According to family members, one of Patrick's granddaughters remembered seeing him when she was young. The feature she recalled was his curly white hair.

    Another story circulates among his Fayette County, Ohio, descendants. Passed down from generation to generation, it claims that he was a stowaway on a ship that arrived in New Orleans.

    A transcription of an obit (the original hasn't been located) states that on his deathbed he mentioned a brother he hadn't seen in 20 years. The family is working on proving this.

    Family Data
    Photos can become a stumbling block even for genealogists who know every detail of an ancestor's life. Pat Dwyer has accumulated a lot of material on Patrick. This is an overview of what she learned:
    • Patrick's naturalization papers from Mason County, Ky., state that he was under 18 when his arrived. He was naturalized April 11, 1853. He must have been in the U.S. by 1848. No age is mentioned in these papers.
    • He lived in Maysville, Mason County, Ky. He was from Cavan County, Ireland.
    • He was either 60 or 70 when he died in Clinton County, Ohio, in 1888. The obit says one and his headstone, the other.
    • In the 1860 census for Maysville, a Patrick Sherdon is a wagoner. If his age is correct, then he was born in 1828. That fact then helps determine his age at immigration (15) and death (60). More census data and other records could dispute or confirm that exact year.

    Family Connections
    The notes on the back of the older man's photo says Wes' grandfather. Wesley, was the son of William. When someone bought Wesley's farm, the new owners found a box of photos in the barn and brought it to the one man in town with the Sheridan surname. 

    Last year, Pat Dwyer visited this Ohio branch of the family and is still overwhelmed by all the documents and information she collected.

    Patrick Sheridan had 12 children. It's possible that the descendants of each one of them have details about his life. Tracking down those individuals could tie all the stories together, plus give Pat even more photos and documents. She's descended from Patrick's son, George. As she reaches out to cousins, she discovers that many of them also have copies of the picture of Patrick as an older man. The younger man is still a mystery.

    It seems that every picture solution opens another avenue worth exploring. Pat Dwyer is going to be busy for years to come.

    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 | facial resemblances
    Sunday, 14 August 2016 23:24:16 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 24 July 2016
    Political Memorabilia in Old Time Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Political memorabilia first appeared in John Adams' campaign of 1796, but that was too early for photographic political pins and advertisements. It was another 60-plus years before followers could wear pictures of their candidates. Tintypes of Abraham Lincoln's face debuted in his 1860 campaign:


    Check your family photos for banners, buttons and badges proclaiming your ancestors' political leanings. Philip Hill manufactured caps and capes for the presidential campaign of 1868, which featured Horatio Seymour vs. Ulysses S. Grant.

    Library of Congress

    Men wore the hats and capes shown above for political torchlight parades supporting particular candidates. Some hats worn in these parades even featured oil and wicks in a canister torch affixed to the front of the headgear. You can read more about them in Collecting Political Americana by Edmund B. Sullivan (Christopher Publishing House, 1991).

    Women couldn't vote until the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, but that didn't stop them from being interested in politics. Genealogist Orvill Paller found an interesting image in his family photos featuring a woman wearing a pin in the shape of a name.

    It's an example of how a single detail can offer clues to a person's life.

    Frances Althea Cuppernell's pin proclaims her support for James G. Blaine. In 1884, Blaine ran against Grover Cleveland in a tense campaign. Cleveland admitted fathering an illegitimate child and Blaine faced accusations of accepting bribes and being anti-Catholic. As we know, Cleveland won.

    Trinkets sporting slogans and candidates names weren't just for men. Manufacturers produced pins, aprons and hairpins for women to help influence the votes of the men in their lives. During the Blaine campaign there was even a pocketbook emblazoned with his name.

    Do you have any photos of your ancestors wearing political memorabilia? I'd love to feature them next week. You can email them to me.

    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

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

  • 1860s photos | 1880s photos | Abraham Lincoln | Politics
    Sunday, 24 July 2016 21:39:10 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 26 June 2016
    Aerial Photographs and Ancestral Home Towns
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

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

  • 1860s photos | 1880s photos | 1910s photos | aerial photos | Airplanes | Civil War
    Sunday, 26 June 2016 22:13:57 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 15 May 2016
    Counting the Clues to Solve an Old Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

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

    So who's in the picture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

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

  • 1880s photos | children | Immigrant Photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, 15 May 2016 16:34:14 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 02 May 2016
    Caption Confusion in a Foreign Photo
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

    Let's start with the photographer's imprint.

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

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

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

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

    Caption confusion indeed!

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

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

    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

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

  • 1880s photos | group photos | Immigrant Photos
    Monday, 02 May 2016 22:28:15 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [6]
    # Monday, 25 April 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, 25 April 2016 18:22:25 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 14 February 2016
    Three Clues that Identify an Old Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    The clues add up differently in every photo. It's never just one thing that helps put a name with a face. In Pat Eiler's tintype the three clues are age, fashion and another picture.

    There is no mystery as to the identity of these three people. Pat knows they are Mary Seigrist Forster (1870-1946), her mother, Mary Heffner Seigrist Schumacher (1845-1922) and George Bean.  Based on the age of George, she estimates the picture taken circa 1920.

    It's this tintype that's causing the problem. Which woman is in this picture? The mother or the daughter?

      Tintypes, patented in 1856, stayed popular until the twentieth century and are still being made today. The lovely bonnet dates this picture.  Peaked straw bonnets decorated with botanical elements and ribbons gave the wearer extra height and balanced off the bustled dresses.   The photo studio added a bit of paint to the decoration to make it visible to the viewer. 

    The shape and style of this bonnet date the picture to the late 1880s, specifically circa 1889.

    So who's in the picture.  Mary Schumacher born in 1845 was 44 in 1889. Her daughter Mary Forster was 19 in that year.

    I find it easier to compare faces by looking at them side by side. With a little help from we can do that.

    Both women have wide noses, wavy lips and a similar shaped face.  But look closely.  There are no age lines in this face. One woman has straight eyebrows while the other woman has brows that frame the eyes.

    I think it's the daughter.  A twenty-something wearing her first grown-up bonnet.  That occasion is more than enough reason to go to the photo studio but I wonder if there was a special family event in the circa 1889 period.  

    There is one other detail.  People usually pose with similar expressions when posing for a photographer. 

    To look at more Victorian hats and bonnets consult, Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900.

    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 | facial resemblances | Tintypes | women
    Sunday, 14 February 2016 16:30:35 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 24 January 2016
    Old Photos in Print: A Collection of Tips
    Posted by Maureen

    One of the first tips for finding images (photographs, engravings, and paintings) of your ancestors is to start at home and branch out from there.  Those images could be hiding in plain sight on everything from passports to licenses.

    You're probably wondering when you can expect to find pictures of  relatives on those records. For instance, a common question is, "when were pictures first included in school yearbooks?"

    Use this handy guide to when various types of family history documents began to include pictures.

    Newspapers and Books
    Long before pictures appeared in print, editors hired artists to turn  photographs into engravings. You can find examples in early family histories and local histories. Civil War newspapers and magazines featured engravings of famous folks and battlefield scenes many based on photographs. 

    Photomechanical engravings that looked more like the original photographs appeared in 1880, and actual photos appeared in papers around 1919.

    In the mid-19th century, class books at Ivy League colleges contained actual images, carte des visite and cabinet cards. It wasn't until around 1919 that mass-produced yearbooks with photographs were common. Check school archives and local historical societies for copies.

    Immigration Paperwork
    If your great-grandparents liked to travel outside the country, it's possible to find their pictures in a passport created after about 1918. For more information on passports see the National Archives website.

    If your immigrant ancestor applied for citizenship and received it after July 1, 1929, his or her naturalization papers will include a photo.

    Drivers' Licenses
    New York city issued the first paper drivers licenses to chauffeurs in 1910. You can view these licenses in "The Evolution of the New York Driver's License."

    There's more information on how to locate other ancestral picture sources in Searching for Family History Photos How to Get 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

  • 1850s photos | 1880s photos | 1910s photos | Civil War | Immigrant Photos | newspapers | school photos
    Sunday, 24 January 2016 18:06:10 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 29 November 2015
    A Timeline of Portraits
    Posted by Maureen

    Candace LaPrade send in several images of one of her ancestors. She's very lucky to have more than one picture of this man! 

    When you have multiple pictures of the same person, try to put them in chronological order using their attire and age as a guide.

    Peter Whitmer (1828-1909) of Lancaster, Pa., and later Bloomington, Ill., liked the chin beard. As a young man he wore the full chin beard. Later on, he groomed it into a small chin beard often referred to as the "spade."

    Here, Peter is dressed in typical attire for the 1850s/early 1860s with a patterned vest and horizontal tie. In 1860, he'd be 32.

    This is likely an 1880s photo. By now, Peter's hair is more gray. He wears the under-the-collar tie popular in the 1880s.

    This image has the appearance of a late-19th to early-20th century portrait. Note the way the photographer has lit the face to draw attention to it. 

    Three pictures. One man over a 40-year time frame. His face changes in subtle ways from his 30s to 60s. What do you notice?

    Certain facial features identify this man in all the images. The shape of his nose, his straight mouth and eyes, for instance.

    Each of these images was likely taken for a specific reason. The middle one was probably posed for a local history and the last one might signify his retirement. The next step is to place these images in a timeline of his life and see what milestones line up with these portraits.

    Next week, it's Peter's wedding portrait from 1855.  Such a treasure!

    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 | 1860s photos | 1880s photos | 1900-1910 photos | men
    Sunday, 29 November 2015 18:05:06 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 18 October 2015
    Teasing the Clues Out of An Old Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Larry Calhoun thinks this is a gathering of either the Benfield or the Calhoun family in western North Carolina. Last week, I discussed how Annie Oakley influenced frontier dress for women. This week, let's study the other clues in the same image and see if they help Larry figure out who's who.

    A big group portrait generates a LOT of questions and this image is no different. My eye roams over the family members trying to see patterns. I like to start with simple questions and see if those answers lead up to the big question of why the group posed for the image:

    When was the photo taken?
    The clothing worn by the young women in this picture can help provide a time frame.

    The neck scarves on the young women above suggest a date of the mid- to late 1880s.

    Who's the oldest person?
    In this case it's a woman. Generally the oldest person is someone important like a mother, grandmother or even great-grandmother. Look to see who sits next to that person. It's usually his or her children.

    The oldest woman is seated in the middle of the group. Estimating an age for her can help Larry fit her into either the Calhouns' or the Benfields' genealogy. Let's say she's 75 and this picture was taken in 1885. That suggests a birth date for her of circa 1810. There doesn't appear to be a man about the same age in this photo, so it's possible her husband has died.

    Who's the youngest person?
    See the baby in the front row leaning against a middle-aged woman?   There's also a baby in the arms of the woman in the back. The birth dates of those two children can pinpoint an exact year for this gathering.

    Think about the last time you posed for a family group portrait. Spouses and older children stand near each other, while younger children are allowed to sit in front of all the adults. In this image, study the men and women standing next to each other. There are a few couples in the back row. Matching them up with all those children is going to be a challenge.  But Larry can use his family history research to create a two-column table of names and ages of the Calhoun and Benfield family members about 1885. It will give him a quick overview of the family to compare to the picture.  

    The next step is to compare any other related family photos taken around the same time to this picture. If those aren't available, he can try locating photographs of Benfields and Calhouns in the hands of his cousins. This is a great picture to post on social media to see if anyone else in the family recognizes anyone. I'd also reach out to historical and genealogical societies in the area of North Carolina where these folks lived.  

    The big unknown in this picture is why it was taken. Is it a family reunion or does it document a family gathering for an event like a death or marriage?

    Identifying one or two people in this picture may reveal the answer and lead to a lot of other folks being identified as well.

    Knowing when all of these family members posed for this picture is the first step in the long process of identifying who's 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

  • 1880s photos | beards | group photos | women
    Sunday, 18 October 2015 17:15:36 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 09 August 2015
    Three Techniques for Solving a Military Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    You know the expression, "There's something about a man in uniform." Well I can finish that phrase with "that's so mysterious."  One of the most difficult photo mysteries to solve is a person in a uniform.

    There are a few reasons why that's true. First there were no standardized military uniforms in the nineteenth century. Plus there were uniforms worn at military schools as well. Variables in head to toe attire and gear can make identifying the uniform in a military image a real challenge. You can learn more about solving these types of mysteries in the Family Photo Detective.

    Rebecca Cook owns this photo of her great-grandfather Montgomery Grant Hunter. Not only does she know who's in this picture, she knows how old he is here.

    On the back appears a caption: "age 18."  Since he was born in 1864 in Virginia, that information dates the picture to circa 1882.  He lived in the Virginia-Maryland-District of Columbia area.  Family thinks he was named after two Union generals.

    Research the Photographer
    The photographer was Rice.  That name is barely visible on the dark card stock. There were two photographers named Rice in Washington, D.C. who were uncle and nephew.  Moses Parker Rice and his nephew George W. Rice operated studios in the nation's capital. George left the area in 1881 to join an ill-fated Arctic expedition. The Rice family originally hailed from Nova Scotia and several generations became photographers. The photographer's imprint places Montgomery in Washington, D.C. for this portrait.

    Study Family Information
    I wonder if there are any stories passed amongst his descendants that address his military service. A quick search of revealed a gravestone for him without any military symbols on it on Find a Grave and information on his medical school training in the Directory of Deceased American Physicians directory. He attended the George Washington Medical School. Creating a timeline of his life before and just after this photograph could offer clues to the uniform.

    Identify the Uniform
    This is the really hard part. There were military schools in Virginia and Maryland. It's a two phase identification problem. First identify which of those schools were founded before 1882 (and had graduating classes) then try to locate pictures of graduates in uniforms.  Given his age, this could be a graduation photo OR an image of him as a freshman in college.  OR he may have enlisted.  The fact that he was in uniform and the photo was taken in DC suggests he was in that area at that time.

    Using Google Images didn't work. That can be a quick shortcut. You upload an image and let the web do the work, but results showed other cabinet cards of men and no matches for the uniform.

    It's going to take time to search each school and then contact their archives/special collections department for examples of the uniforms worn by students in the 1880s. 

    It only takes one match to make this a photo success 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

  • 1880s photos | Military photos | photo-research tips
    Sunday, 09 August 2015 17:34:27 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 26 April 2015
    Wavy Hair in Old Photos: Spot the Right Decade
    Posted by Maureen

    The next time you curl your hair, think about the success of 19th-century hairdresser Marcel Grateau. In 1872, he turned hair tongs upside down when styling a stage star's hair, and created a trend that remained popular for more than 50 years!

    Last week I discussed Jim DeVogt's funeral card for a woman named Jane Early. He'd like to know if this photo shows Jane Early. 

    Right away her hairstyle stood out. It's the Marcel Wave. In this circa 1878-1880 image, this fashionable young woman not only shows off the latest hair fashion, but also a very trendy collar.

    Religious motif jewelry also was worn in the 1870s. Her choice of accessories could be fashion or faith.

    Jane (Darcy) Early, born in Ireland in 1828, died in Wabasha County, Minn., in 1891. Is this Jane? The big question is, how old do you think this woman is? If this photo was taken in 1878, Jane would be 50. I think this woman looks too young, but everyone ages at different rates.

    Provenance could be key. This photo is from Jim's aunt, who inherited it from her mother, who had been married to Hugh Darcy. There are multiple marriages between the Darcy and Early families. The aunt thought that the photo album in which this image appeared had once belonged to the Early family, but the last member of that family died in 1906.

    I'd love to see your pictures featuring the Marcel Wave. Send in your pictures of women from the 1870s through the 1930s wearing the Wave through the ages using this blog's How to Submit guidelines.

    You can learn more about using hair to date your old family photos from my book Hairstyles 1840-1900

    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 | 1880s photos | 1930s photos | hairstyles
    Sunday, 26 April 2015 21:24:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 13 April 2015
    Labeling Old Photos: A Good Deed
    Posted by Maureen

    Along the bottom edge of this photo someone wrote: "Noland...Ohio."  One of the problems is that on the back Melanie Ohm's mother and aunt wrote that this image depicts Martha Ann Noland Hammond (1843-1870), George Hammond and Mary Hammond as well as a statement: "This would be the Noland family background." Melanie recognized their handwriting.  It's a good idea to include your name and date when labeling images so that future generations will know who wrote them.

    Melanie suspects her aunt was guessing. If this photo dates from circa 1860, then it could be an image of her Noland ancestors who had three siblings.

    Unfortunately it's not from the 1860s.  Here are three fashion clues that help pinpoint a time frame.  The size and format of the photo are not typical for the 1860s either.

    The neck scarves worn by the women date from the late 1870s to the early 1880s.  The man's tie is also typical for that period. 

    That places the photo around ten years after the death of Martha Ann. It's obvious that Melanie's aunt believed that this photo represented the Noland family.  There must have been something about the image that led her to that conclusion.

    I can't wait to hear from Melanie to see if this new date identifies the folks in this family portrait. The 1880 census might offer clues to their identity. It's searchable on and

    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 | men | women
    Monday, 13 April 2015 15:15:48 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 23 March 2015
    Using Women's Collars to Date Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    The last two images blog reader Kimble DaCosta sent me are from the same period, but show off two different collar styles: one from the mid- to late 1870s and the other from the late 1870s to early 1880s. Both photos are tintypes.

    You can read the first two installments of DaCosta's photo story: Adding Up the Clues to Identify an Old Mystery Photo and Tips to Trace the Lineage of Your Photos.

    Here are this week's two images:



    The collar clues help determine the time period.

    Every year brought many fashion choices. Women were inventive when adapting their current clothing to fit the trends. When dating clothing in old photos, it's important to watch for the details and to add up all the clothing clues. 

    In the first photo, the dress features a high neckline with a scarf tied around the neck. This was common during the late 1870s. The long bodice, called a polonaise, is paired with a shirred skirt.

    We can't see the skirt in the second image, but the woman wears a lovely ruffled tubular collar, common in the early 1880s. Her fitted bodice features a single line of center buttons. Her skirt would've had some trim as well.

    Another type of collar popular in the early 1880s was called a fichu. It was usually lace and extended to the shoulders.

    Both women in these photos are young, likely in their late teens or early 20s.  These ages and the date ranges for the photos give DaCosta a starting point to search her family tree for possible identities.

    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 | 1880s photos | women
    Monday, 23 March 2015 18:15:22 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 21 July 2014
    Solving Old-Photo Mysteries: Clues in Tintypes
    Posted by Maureen

    Our ancestors didn't document every second of their lives with photography. Instead, they saved their pennies and visited the studio for a variety of special milestones.


    At 3-1/2 X 2-1/4 inches, this tintype is a popular size called a "bon-ton." It was buried in a family trunk with other unidentified, undated images. Leona Humphrey knows it's up to her to figure it out. As she wrote in her email, "Except for one cousin of my dad's, I'm pretty much the only living person with any idea of the possible family." 

    I've felt this way about a family mystery and I'm sure that many of you have as well.

    Here's how the photo clues and family history details line up:
    humphry collage2.jpg

    I've created a collage of the picture and some interesting details in this photo of a mother and her four children. Where's Dad? For some reason, he's not in this image.
    1. The fichu collar on the mom's dress was popular in the circa-1880 period.
    2. Painted backdrops in the 1880s often looked like living rooms. In this case, the large piece of "furniture" angles towards the group, looking like it's going to fall on them.
    3. Both girls wear pinafores and wide collars. The wide collars were also popular in the late 1870s to early 1880s.  Pinafores stayed in fashion for decades. Flip through any 19th-century women's magazine and you'll find instructions on how to make a pinafore.

    Mom's hair is a variation of the frizzy bangs of the 1880s. She's arranged her bangs in oiled curls on her forehead. This particular look appeared in the early 1880s. View more examples of hairstyles for men and women in my book Hairstyles, 1840-1900.

    Leona wonders if this could be her great-grandmother Guro Sannes and her four children. Guro (born 1845) had Jergen (born 1866), Arne (born 1869), Tilda (born 1874 and Leona's grandmother) and Gunhild (born in 1882). All the children except for Gunhild were born in Valle, Norway. The family immigrated in 1882, and Guro gave birth to Gunhild in Grand Forks County, ND. 

    It's clear that this image could have been taken in the early 1880s, a time frame that coincides with immigration data.  The biggest problem is that the ages of the children don't match the other details. 

    It's possible that Guro continued to dress in older-style clothes in the late 1880s, but even rural women followed fashion trends and adjusted some of their attire.

    If this picture were taken in 1882, Jergen would be 16; Arne, 13; and Tilda, 8; Gunhild wasn't born yet. The oldest boy in this picture is definitely not in his mid teens.  If the photo was taken later to include the fourth sibling, the other children would be much older.  The four siblings in this image are fairly close in age.
    • Could this tintype represent other family in Norway?
    • Is it possible that this woman was a close friend of Guro's and wanted her to have a memento before she moved to America?

    I'd start by looking at family history data for collateral lines to see if there is a family with four children close in age.

    It's also possible that this photo is someone Humphrey's relatives knew. It wasn't unusual to have multiple tintypes made of the same image to give copies to both friends and family. 

    The backdrop in this image could be a clue to where it was taken.  I'd also contact historical societies in the Grand Forks area to see if they have a photo collection and have images by a photographer that used that backdrop. Start with the Grand Forks Historical Society.  

    If Leona is on social media, it's definitely worth posting this photograph online, too.

    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

  • 1880s photos | children | | Tintypes | unusual clothing | unusual photos | women
    Monday, 21 July 2014 15:39:04 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 29 September 2013
    A Photo Identification Home Run
    Posted by Diane

    The little girl in last week's column has a name! She's Lydia Rock.

    Girl Rock  002.jpg

    It only took a few hours of research by Dan Gwinn. I'd suggested that he look for a child born in the early 1860s. He began by re-examining his Rock family history. I was thrilled to get an email that started, "I think I may have found something." His third-great-grandmother Mary Ann Cooper Hornberger was the originator of the album. In it, she collected pictures of her aunts and uncles. Her uncle Allen and his wife Mary had a daughter Lydia, born in 1861.

    In the back of the album was a labeled picture of Lydia from circa 1880. Take a close look at her smile and features.They match the little girl in the fringed chair! Don't you love the marcel wave in her hair?

    Lydia Rock1.jpg

    The little girl, whom we now know as Lydia, and the older woman had their picture taken in the same studio. Allen's wife, Mary, was born in 1839. The older woman is quite possibly her.


    Dan's third-great-grandmother arranged the photos in the album. On the first page is an unidentified man. In the second and third spots are Mary (the woman above) and Lydia. Could the man be Allen?  It's very possible.  The revenue stamp on the back of this photo dates it to between Aug. 1, 1864, and Aug. 1, 1866. This man is the right age to be Allen. Generally, family members are kept together in an album's arrangement.

    CDV Allen Rock (2).jpg

    The first person in an album is someone that an album's arranger knew very well. There was a close family relationship between Allen and his niece (Dan's third-great-grandmother). She admired him enough to name one of her own children after him.

    Dan wonders if the little girl's boots are prominently displayed to show off her father's wares. Uncle Allen Rock was an well-known boot and shoe store owner in Lancaster City, Pa.


    The clues led Dan to identify not one, but three family photos. It's equivalent to a home run hit.

    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

  • 1860s photos | 1880s photos | children | Civil War | photo albums | women
    Sunday, 29 September 2013 21:35:51 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 28 July 2013
    A Family Portrait Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    Lauren Hamilton submitted this photo with a few questions, but as soon as I saw it I thought, "uh oh, this might not be who Lauren and her cousin think it is."


    The cousins' great-great-grandfather John McCauley was a Mennonite minister in Ontario, and later an Evangelical minister in Iowa. Born about 1840 in Dunfermline, Scotland, he and his family immigrated to Markham, Ontario approximately two years later. 

    McCauley moved to Iowa in 1872 and died there in 1899.

    Lauren's first question was about the approximate date of this photo.

    Women wore dress styles like this in the late 1880s. This woman's dress has a bodice that ends at the hip and a skirt with straight pleats. She wears her hair in a simple bun.

    Her husband wears a typical suit for the period. It consists of a slightly fitted jacket, likely with a vest underneath, and a tie with a wide knot at the neck. Lauren wondered if this man wearing a minister's collar, but he's not; rather, he's wearing a patterned silk tie. His trimmed mustache and neat hair cut also suggest this photo was taken very late in the 1880s.


    This date conflicts with family information on McCauley. In the 1880 Census for Montgomery County, Iowa, the 40 year old McCauley has seven children aged six months to 16. The two youngest children are girls.

    Lauren also wanted to know if the child standing in the skirt is a boy. That could be. In the 1880s, boys up to age 5 wore skirts, sometimes with pants underneath. Plaid was a popular patterned fabric throughout the decade. Lauren thought that child might be a McCauley son born in 1864, but the 1880s date rules out that identification.


    Lauren really wants to know if the photo was taken in Ontario or Iowa. Unfortunately, this 3.5x5-inch photograph appears trimmed, instead of mounted on cardstock, as for most 19th century images. Such mounts often provide the photographer's name and location, a valuable clues for identifying a picture. That and the color of the cardstock, also a telling clue, are missing in this instance.

    The photographic backdrop might help in identifying who took the image. In order to look for studios that match this setup, Lauren needs to know a location.

    So who's in the picture?  McCauley would be close to 50 years old in the late 1880s, and his youngest child would be 7 or 8. This husband and wife look younger. 

    Instead of confirming Lauren's identification, I've deepened the mystery. Hopefully this new information will match someone on her family tree. 

    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

  • 1880s photos | children | hairstyles | men | women
    Sunday, 28 July 2013 19:57:28 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 31 December 2012
    Twelve Months of the Photo Detective
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time to look back at the year. Every week I write a Photo Detective blog post—that's 52 columns in 12 months. It's a lot of free photographic advice and tips. Here are my month-by-month 2012 favorites.

    Last New Year's I offered advice on sharing images online, tackled a photo mystery about the identity of the mother in a picture, and discussed a Scottish picture.

    I got into the planning for my trip to WDYTYA Live in London by comparing British and American fashion. 

    Hat's off to spring! Last March I featured toppers for men, graduation caps, and talked about the relationships between hairstyles and hat design. If you want to learn more about hats or hair, my books, Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900 and Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900, will help.

    The whole month of April focused on identifying photographs of children. Study the clues to add names to those pictures of tykes.

    A trip to the National Genealogical Society inspired a series of columns on the Jeffers Family photo.

    You can view the entries in the Family Tree Magazine photo contest, study a photo of ancestral blue jeans or be awed by the images of wheat threshing.

    With the world watching the Olympics, I deciphered the clues in a picture from the 1908 Olympics.

    I revealed the winner of the Family Tree Magazine Photo Contest. That photo mystery now appears in my new book, The Family Photo Detective. It's now available in the store.

    Have you considered the relationship between photography and genealogy? I took a look at the types of records that help solve a picture mystery.

    This month was all about preservation. A badly damaged image encouraged me to talk about ways to save family pictures. There is more information on storage and labeling images in Preserving Your Family Photographs.

    A picture of a giant mechanical grasshopper appeared in my Photo Detective column in Family Tree Magazine, and some readers stepped forward to tell the story of their ancestors' fascination with creating these creatures.

    I shared the story of a woman who found a family picture after three decades and explained how old-time photographers could alter pictures long before the development of Photoshop.

    Have you ever posed for a multi-generation photo? It's not a new phenomena. Our ancestors did, too. Mary Lutz sent me several images of her family. It turned into a series on identifying who's who in a group picture.

    I love snapshots! They are spontaneous and often capture bits of everyday life. Follow this series on a picture of a man standing in his backyard.

    Thank you for reading this column and for submitting your family photos. If you'd like to participate, there is a link, "How to Submit Your Photo," in the left-hand margin. I can't wait to see your pictures!

    Happy New 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

  • 1860s photos | 1870s photos | 1880s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | 1920s photos | candid photos | cased images | children | Civil War | group photos | hairstyles | hats | holiday | house/building photos | photo backgrounds | preserving photos | props in photos |
    Monday, 31 December 2012 16:07:01 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 01 October 2012
    Photo Restoration of Which Man is It
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I discussed the details in Lois O'Malley's photo of a crayon portrait and asked if someone could try to digitally restore it.  I love the genealogy community!  A woman named Shirley volunteered to see if she could restore the picture. 

    Here's version three of the process. You can see the before and after in this photo. On the right is the damaged side of the picture and on the left is the restored side.
    left collar tieedit3  Simmons (2).jpg

    This poor photo is covered in mold and has visible water-damage and abrasive damage.  A project like this requires time and patience.

    Shirley and I have discussed the clothing details. In a photo as badly damaged as this one, it's easy to interpret certain details incorrectly. Shirley is being very careful.

    She asked whether or not this man's shirt has a collar. I replied that his shirt has a collar and that the tie is wrapped around the neck under it.

    There is a lot of shading around his mouth. It doesn't look like a mustache or does it? I think it's either shading or some sort of paper deterioration.  We'll know more as the restoration proceeds.

    A big thank you to Shirley for tackling this picture! 

    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

  • 1880s photos | 1890s photos | Drawings | men | preserving photos
    Monday, 01 October 2012 12:56:34 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 24 September 2012
    Family Resemblances in Old Photos: Who Is This Man?
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I discussed how to care for a badly damaged photograph, and showed an image Lois O'Malley photographed back in 2005. Lois wrote: "As soon as I saw the man in the photo he minded me of my grandfather, William Alexander Simmons (1873-1934)." He's seen here:

    Wm  Alex Simmons edit.jpg

    Her Dad's family all had blue eyes like the unknown man in the damaged picture:

    unknown  Simmons edit.jpg

    Now Lois is wondering if this mystery man is her great-grandfather, Hiram Simmons (1833-1911). 

    Facial comparison relies on looking at approximately 80 different points in a face, including eyes, noses, mouths, ears and the spacing between them.

    Photo identification is about adding up all the facts and coming up with a hypothesis. Here's what I'm looking at in this case:
    • Provenance: Though this man looks like Louis' grandfather, she thinks it might be her great-grandfather because the photo is owned by her dad's eldest sister's son. The process of inheriting photos is complicated. Lois thinks that this cousin ended up with the photo because their grandmother lived with her eldest daughter. However, it is also possible that the image depicts Lois's grandfather.
    • Format:  This is a crayon portrait. It's a photo outlined and colored in with artist materials. This type of picture was very popular in the late 19th century. The problem with crayon portraits is that an artist/photographer's assistant drew in the details. There could be a little artistic embellishment here.
    • Clothing: Due to the condition of this picture, it's difficult to see all the clothing details, but it appears the man wears a wide tie and a jacket with a narrow collar and a wide notch in the lapel. His hair is very short.
    Men wore a variety of ties in the late 19th century. There were wide ties in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. In the 1890s, men's neckware usually had a pattern. In the 1880s, lapels were narrow and short.

    In the 1870s, men wore their hair longer and not as neatly combed as this fellow.
    • Facial clues: The man in the portrait has a wider jaw than Lois' grandfather, but they have similar ears, eyes and even the same wide forehead. 
    Does anyone want to try cleaning up the deteriorated picture in a photo editing software? You can email me the results or post them on the Family Tree Magazine Facebook page. Please include details about the program you used and what tools you used in the software.

    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

  • 1870s photos | 1880s photos | 1890s photos | enhanced images | hairstyles | men
    Monday, 24 September 2012 02:02:34 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 20 August 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, 20 August 2012 15:55:13 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 25 June 2012
    Photo Contest Submissions
    Posted by Maureen

    A big thank you to everyone that submitted photos to our contest.  The deadline has now passed and I'm gradually working my way through all the images to pick the winning image. The winner will receive a copy of my book, The Family Photo Detective, and the image may even be featured inside. Watch this space for news!

    Here are three of the pictures folks uploaded to the Family Tree Magazine Facebook page. 

    Jen Baldwin.jpg

    Jen Baldwin uploaded this cute pair of siblings—William W. and his sister Bessie Brown. It was taken in Colfax County, Neb., circa 1880. Don't you just love her pantalettes and his long curls.

    Shirley Jenks Jacobs2.jpg 
    Shirley Jenks Jacobs uploaded this photo of her great-grandmother. I love the hat. In the 1880s, hats had tall crowns and lots of trim on the front. You can't see it, but women in this period also wore large bustles. 

    Suzanne Whetzel2.jpg

    Suzanne Whetzel submitted this family portrait of her maternal great-grandparents Mary Ethel (Wade) and Henry Clark Yost with their son (Suzanne's grandfather) James Meryl Yost. James was born in 1908 and this toddler helps date the photo to about 1910.

    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

  • 1870s photos | 1880s photos | children | group photos | hats
    Monday, 25 June 2012 15:18:25 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 03 June 2012
    Westward Bound! Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree
    Posted by Maureen

    This week I'm off to the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree and a meeting of the California Genealogical Society. I hope to see you there! Please stop by my booth at the Jamboree to say hello.

    All this California travel makes me think about western American style clothing worn in family photos—in particular Stetson hats, jeans and frontier bonnets. Do you have a photo of someone dressed for the West?  I'd love to see it. You can email me.

    I love the story of the Stetson hat. It's an example of American ingenuity. John B. Stetson, son of a Philadelphia hat manufacturer, took a trip West to recover from consumption. He showed his companions how to make felted fabric and created a hat from that material.

    In 1865, Stetson founded his hat company. He called his hat the "Boss of the Plains." It wasn't a new design: Similar style hats were worn by Army units, and wide-brimmed hats were also popular on plantations because they offered shade.

    It was Stetson's marketing efforts that made his hat a success. He wore his hat everywhere and each hat bore a gold leaf Stetson on the inside to mark it as authentic.


    Wearers could use them to retrieve water for washing or drinking, earning them the nickname, "10 gallon hat."

    You'll find more information on Stetsons and other types of western hats in my book Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900.

    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

  • 1880s photos | men | unusual clothing
    Sunday, 03 June 2012 17:39:02 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 30 April 2012
    Ancestor Mystery Photos: Unidentified Kids
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you for all the pictures of your ancestors' cute kids!

    prichard21-A- Josie Powell  Nannie Wilsonedit.jpg
    These little girls are named Josie Powell and Nannie Wilson. Don't you love their identical outfits? They are in a photo album owned by Gwen Prichard. She's trying to establish a relationship between them. Perhaps their mothers were friends? The two girls are even the same height.


    Candace Buchanan emailed this lovely trio dressed for winter. The boy in the middle wears attire from his family's cultural background. Buchanan bought the image at an auction and only knows that it was taken in Waynesburg, Pa. Is the dog real or a stuffed prop? It looks a bit unnatural to me.


    This unhappy little fellow (look at that expression) posed with hat in hand in the 1860s. Bonnie Bybee-Bolster isn't sure if he from her Young or her Brown family line. The families lived in Baraboo/Delton, Wis.

    Another 1860s pose.  You can see the brace at this girl's feet. I love the fact that she holds a parasol. Rachel Pierce bought this image because of the little girl's shoes. Unfortunately, the photo is completely unidentified.

    cute kids1edit.jpg
    Shelley Baumeister isn't sure who the child is wearing an oversized collar in this photo. She thinks the child is a girl. I think she's right because of the center part in her hairstyle. This photo was passed down through Shelley's maternal line. This child posed in 1887 in Dubuque, Iowa.

    I'll be back next week with more photos of children. My inbox is full of gorgeous images.

    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

  • 1860s photos | 1880s photos | children
    Monday, 30 April 2012 15:16:20 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 23 April 2012
    Identifying Old Photos of Children
    Posted by Diane

    Genealogists need a sense of humor. You never know what you're going to find. Loretta Gillespie, author of the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree, submitted this photo of two children. Last week I dated it to the mid to late 1880s.


    To try to solve this mystery, Loretta sent me a link to her family tree. Her ancestor Isabelle Pierce Wright had 11 children. Loretta is hoping this tintype depicts the two youngest children, Charles Pearl Marion Wright (b. 1877) and Geneva "Neb" Wright (b. 1880). Loretta sees the "Wright ears and weak chin."

    This is a possible identification. Having other photos of the children taken later in their lives would help verify it.

    Loretta's great-grandfather (and Neb's nephew) William Gillespie wrote a poem about Neb:
    Aunt Neb was the youngest, about 16 years old. Her learning was slight, if not zero.
    She'd chew her tobacco and fight for her share,
    And woe to the hombre that got in her hair.
    She could swim like a seahorse and dive like bear,
    And frighten the fish as she came up for air!"
    Next week is all about cute kids. Thank you for submitting all those pictures! (And if you have one to submit, click the "How to Submit Your Photo" link on the left.)

    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

  • 1880s photos | children
    Monday, 23 April 2012 14:58:47 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 16 April 2012
    Sorting Out Children's Clothing
    Posted by Maureen

    It's been awhile since I've put out a call for photos from your collections. If you have a photo of a child wearing interesting clothing, please send it to me. I'd love to run a series on what kinds of clothing children wore, and when.

    This week's photo came from Loretta Gillespie. She asks, "With men's clothing being more difficult to date and [this girl's] clothing being a little unconventional, how do I narrow down the time frame?" Great question.

    Studying clothing clues is all about the details—collars, cuffs, sleeves, trim and accessories.  


    In this case, the clothing suggests that this tintype was taken in the mid-to-late 1880s. 


    The horizontal bands with prominent buttons combined with horizontal contrasting fabric was a key feature of girl's clothing during the mid-1880s. Her dress was likely made at home. It's a printed cotton fabric.

    The high collar with the slight ruffle and the cuffs also help date the photo.

    Joan Severa's Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion (Kent State University Press, 1995) is wonderful resource for clothing styles.

    I'll be back next week with another installment of this photo mystery. 

    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

  • 1880s photos | children | men
    Monday, 16 April 2012 13:27:20 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Monday, 09 April 2012
    A Double Mystery: Twins in the Family
    Posted by Maureen


    This cute-as-a-button toddler duo is a big family history problem for Laura Cook. Who are they?

    The cabinet card was once owned by her paternal grandmother—a trail of ownership that at least eliminates her mother's family from consideration.

    Laura asked her father if he could remember any twins in his family, and he didn't. However, in his confirmation Bible appeared a mention to his cousins Catherine and Dorothy Scheuerman.

    Laura asked me, "Could this photograph depict the Scheuerman girls, born in 1918?" Here's how the evidence stacks up.

    Dark-colored cabinet card mats—brown and green—were usually common in the 1880s, not in the early 20th century. In the circa-1920 period, photographs usually appear in an enclosure. 

    Props can also help date an image. In this case, the grass on the floor and the faux wall that the children are posed with could be from the 1880s as well.

    The style of the interlocking initials of this photographer's imprint also suggests a time frame. The presence of gold stamped letters on an image can place the picture in the late 1880s to early 1890s.


    Laura can use city directories and census records to research the business dates for the photographer, who according to this imprint, was based in Baltimore, Md. She also can type the name of the photographer and the city into Google to see if any hits pop up. An alternative would be to see if the Baltimore Public Library has a directory of photographers.

    The identically dressed pair are likely twins, but sometimes cousins would dress their similarly aged children alike and pose them for a picture. 

    There is a lot more research to be done. I'd start with the photographer's work dates and then focus on children born in the family at the time, likely during the 1880s. 

    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

  • 1880s photos | children
    Monday, 09 April 2012 19:02:06 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, 02 April 2012
    Census Taking in Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

    My fingers are itching to start searching through the 1940 census. I've read that the National Archives website crashed due to the number of folks online doing the same thing.  I'll wait a bit and try again. 

    In the meantime, take a peek at some census-related images.


    This image from the Library of Congress is a poster advertising that it was a patriotic duty to provide information for the census.


    In another photo from the Library of Congress, two women operate a new census machine.  The "unit tabulator" on the left is being operated by Ann Oliver. On the right is Virginia Balinger, Assistant Supervisor of the Inquiry section. (Love those shoes!)

    According to the caption, in 1870 it took seven years to compile statistics from the census, but this machine invented by Herman Hollerith fed census cards at the rate of 400 per minute. This machine was going to compile those stats in 2-1/2 years.  Each written bit of information was translated into codes that were punched on cards then fed into this machine.

    Enjoy your searching!

    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

  • 1880s photos | 1940s photos | occupational | props in photos
    Monday, 02 April 2012 19:16:34 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 12 March 2012
    Hats and Hair
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week the focus was work hats for men. This week it's all about the ladies.

    When I go photo shopping, I love to find more than one image of the same person.  I have two images of this woman—one in a hat and one without her hat and jacket.  They show the relationship between hairstyles and hat trends.  The shape and style of women's hats were influenced by the current hair and vice versa.

    woman in hat.jpg
    There is something intriguing about hats from the 1880s.  They can feature high crowns, small brims and lots of trim.  In this case it's a plush fabric decorated with feathers and botanical elements.  It's not unusual to see stuffed birds on them as well. Women raised these birds at home to sell them to the hat industry for stuffing.

    In the second image, the same woman has taken off her hat and sits for the photographer without her jacket as well.
    woman no hat.jpg

    She wears the same drop earrings and ruffled collar so it's likely she posed for both on the same day.  Her frizzy bangs stuck out from under her front brimmed hat.

    Both images were taken by Alman, a photographer with studios in New York and Newport. The affluent families of New York City built mansions in the city by the sea, in Rhode Island so it makes business sense for Alman to maintain his customers in both locations.

    If you want to learn more about hats or hairstyles from different periods check out my Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900 or Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles, 1840-1900.  There is a special offer this month in  Enter HAT10 as a coupon code for 10 percent off the Bonnets and Hats title.

    It's also part of the deal of the month: Spend $30 on these select products and receive a free Family Tree Problem Solver book download!

    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

  • 1880s photos | hats | unusual clothing | women
    Monday, 12 March 2012 14:02:42 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 16 January 2012
    Scottish Photographers
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week, I discussed Winston Cochrane's family photo taken in Dumfries, Scotland.

    Late in the week he emailed me to say he had new information.

    The image of Mary Jane Rae was taken at a photo studio in the Jubilee Buildings at the Queen's Photo Co. According to Richard Torrance's Scottish Studio Photographers to 1914 (Scottish Record Societies, 2011), Thomas A. Moryson operated the Queen's Photo Co. in the Jubilee Buildings from 1893 to 1900.  The building opened in 1887. 

    Now Winston thinks the photo was taken to commemorate an engagement. Mary married on Aug. 7, 1894.

    The clothing clues are the epitome of the late 1880s. Clothing from the early 1890s usually features fuller upper sleeves, so I have questions regarding this image being taken in the early 1890s.

    Not everyone kept up with the current fashion. When I look in my own closet, I see clothing I wore several seasons ago. Perhaps Mary didn't have the means to buy a new dress or this one was her favorite.

    I'm not sure of the source used to establish the work dates for Thomas Moryson. He bought his photo business from a James Rae, who might be a relative of Mary Jane's. It's possible that Rae also called his business the Queen's Photo Co. and that Moryson bought the name and the equipment.

    This photo remains a little bit of a mystery.

    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

  • 1880s photos | 1890s photos | women
    Monday, 16 January 2012 16:36:09 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 09 January 2012
    Mother or Daughter?
    Posted by Maureen

    cochraneAssumed Mother of Rae James Gedit (2).jpg

    Winston Cochrane sent in this lovely portrait of a young woman. Her hairstyle and dress date from the mid to late 1880s. He wanted to know if the item on the studio prop to our left is a hat. It is! It's a tiny topper that would rest on the top of her head. I love that's covered with spring flowers.
     cochrane hat.jpg

    On her left wrist is a ribbon bracelet.

    cochrane bracelet.jpg

    His big question was about her identity  Could this be Elizabeth (Gourlay) Rae (1840-1921) or her daughter Mary Jane (Rae) Bell (1869-1934)? The woman depicted here is probably only in her 20s, so it's likely the daughter. Mary Jane's brother James immigrated from Scotland to the United States in 1886. 

    It's the back of the image that made me think about who and where.

    CochraneBack of Photo edit (2).jpg

    This imprint reinforces my belief that being quick to judge can lead to mistakes. When I first glanced at it, the "N.B." stood out. Could it stand for New Brunswick? Many immigrants to the United States first stopped in Canada, but Dumfries, New Brunswick is a rural community even today and it's not near the coast. So what does the N.B. represent?

    I called Fred Farrell, the photo archivist at the New Brunswick Provincial Archives for a little clarification. He confirmed that it was unlikely taken in Dumfries, New Brunswick. Turns out that Scotland was often referred to as North Britain even into the 20th century.

    This photo was definitely taken in Scotland. 

    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

  • 1880s photos | Immigrant Photos | women
    Monday, 09 January 2012 16:36:04 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, 12 September 2011
    Friendship, Love and Truth in the Family Album
    Posted by Maureen

    Pam Rolland is working her way through family albums in the possession of her aunt. She reports that she's been able to date and identify many of the pictures in them, but still has a few mysteries.  

    This is one of them. It was in an album with members of the Roberts family.


    That particular branch of the family moved from North Carolina to Virginia then to Missouri, Arkansas and finally to Oregon.

    Look closely at the man's accessory.  The clasp holding it on is three interconnecting rings.

    That is a symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a group I've written about in previous columns.  You can see these rings in Fraternal Membership Clues and in Fraternal Insignia. They stand for Friendship, Love and Truth.

    The Odd Fellows are a fraternal organization that believes in charitable pursuits. You can read more about the history of the group and their mission on Wikipedia.

    Photos of men in fraternal symbolism can be difficult to decipher. There is no comprehensive guide to these symbols.  Unless the accessories are easy to identify, tracking down what your ancestor is wearing requires extensive research into their lives. 
    • Obituaries often reveal membership in these "secret" groups. 
    • In the 19th century, a majority of men belonged to a fraternal organization. They were professional networks and offered support for members in need.
    • City directories are a great resource when trying to determine which groups had chapters in the area in which your ancestor lived. There is usually a list of local organizations in directories.
    • Many of these nineteenth century groups still exist so a quick Google search can provide you with contact information. 
    Complicating Rolland's search for this man's identity is the number of places the family lived. In order to narrow down the possibilities she'll have to identify where this man might have lived in the 1880s (based on his attire and the card stock) and who in the family tree might be the right age to be him.

    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

  • 1880s photos | beards | organizations | unusual clothing
    Monday, 12 September 2011 15:03:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 01 August 2011
    A Possible Identity for the Lady
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I wrote about Jay Kruizenga's photo of a woman with long hair.


    He read the column and quickly wrote back to say thank you. It appears that the lovely woman with the long locks has a name!

    He believe that this picture was taken 1883-85 because the cardstock and other details match another photo in his family collection. The other image depicts Jacob Derk Kruizenga's only living son, Derek Jacobs, who was born in 1879. 

    Jay then wondered "who was living with Jacob Derk Kruizenga (1830-1906) and his wife Jennie (1837-1905) in the same time frame?"

    According to the 1880 federal census, the couple had two daughters living at home—Nettie (born 1861) and Frances (born in 1866). Jay doesn't think Nettie is the woman in this photo because she married and moved away from home around the time of the census. 

    Could this photo be Frances? Perhaps. She was the only living daughter of Jacob and his second wife Gezina Rotmans VanBraak. She didn't marry until 1885, so she would still be single in this photo.

    Now all Jay has to do is find another photo of Frances for comparison. She was well known in Michigan. Frances was elected President of the Michigan Chapter for the Independent Order of Foresters, a fraternal organization, and gave speeches at conventions. 

    Jay wrote to the Foresters but the person who replied said that all their historical information is boxed and unorganized, thus making it difficult to find anything. 

    I'm hopeful that someone has a photo of Frances in her capacity of president of that organization.

    Thank you to the person who commented on last week's story. If you've ever wondered why all these young women posed with their long hair down, there is a simple answer: They wanted to look like the famous Barnum and Bailey Circus act, the Seven Sutherland sisters. The sisters concluded their musical performance by letting down their hair for the audience. It was sensational!

    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

  • 1880s photos | hairstyles | photo-research tips
    Monday, 01 August 2011 14:57:09 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 25 July 2011
    Mysterious Woman with Wavy Hair
    Posted by Maureen

    Jay Kruizenga of sent in this photo of his family's mystery woman. Her long, flowing hair definitely makes an impression. She has really long full hair that must have created an enormous braid when pinned up.


    The photo was given to Jay by the daughter of his grandfather's brother. Now the family wants to know who's in the picture. Is she Jacob Derk Kruizenga's third wife, Jennie? Jennie was born Dec. 1, 1836 and married Jacob in 1876. This was her third wedding.

    There are several problems with that identification.
    • The studio arrangement of rug, chair and drapery dates from the 1880s.
    • The long pleats in her skirt, accessorized by what appears to be a very full overskirt in the same fabric as the rest of the dress, and the high collar and large buttons are characteristic of the 1880s.
    • This woman is much younger than Jennie would be in the mid-1880s. Born in 1836, Jennie would be 50 by 1886. I estimate that this young woman is only in her late teens or her 20s. She has a very young face, plus it's rare to see an older woman posed with her hair down.
    Tracking down the identity of this woman starts with the ownership of the image. It once belonged to Jay's grandfather's brother. Jay has a family history website. It's lovely with lots of information, stories and pictures.   

    So the question is: Who's the right age to be the young woman in this picture? If she's 20 here and the picture was taken circa 1886 then she was born in the 1860s. While she's not Jacob's third wife, might she be one of his children, or a friend of the family?

    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

  • 1880s photos | hairstyles | Immigrant Photos
    Monday, 25 July 2011 19:05:52 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 20 June 2011
    Men's Neckwear in Old Photos (From My Mailbag)
    Posted by Maureen

    In this era of digital imaging, it seems like everyone has a scanner.  That's not entirely true, which is why the submission guidelines for this column, "How to Submit Your Photo" includes a mailing address. You can send me a letter and a copy of a photograph (NO originals, please) and possibly see your photo featured in this space.

    Barbie Clements sent in this picture.


    She found it in her great-grandmother's photos. There's no caption on the back. Her question: "Can you tell me the approximate time period and if he is wearing a preacher's collar?"

    In the 1880s, men wore their ties under their shirt collars.  Tight fitting jackets were the style for men in that decade. While this man's neckwear has the appearance of a clerical collar, you can see part of his tie right above the top button of his jacket.

    Next week, I'll be back with another photo from my mailbag.

    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

  • 1880s photos | men
    Monday, 20 June 2011 18:54:17 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Thursday, 09 June 2011
    The Family Home as Backdrop in Old Pictures
    Posted by Diane

    Before flash photography, candles and lamplight couldn't provide sufficient illumination to take a photograph of a large group indoors. Families often chose to be photographed outdoors, with the family home as a backdrop.

    Photo Detective Maureen A. Taylor analyzes two such images on

    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

  • 1880s photos | group photos | photo backgrounds
    Thursday, 09 June 2011 21:47:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, 31 May 2011
    And the Winner Is? And a Runner-up
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you to everyone that contributed pictures to the Family Tree Magazine Photo Contest.   So many great was a tough decision.  I'll be featuring many of your pictures in future columns.

    The winner is (drum roll please):
    contest winneredit.jpg
    Congratulations to J. Hansen!  I'll write more about this picture as soon as I have more details. Here's what I know.  It was found covered in dust in a storage area in her father's company that dates back to 1886.  Can't wait to unravel this one!

    In the meantime, here's another photo submitted for the contest.
    Patricia Manwell thinks that this lovely girl depicts someone in her Gawne family.  They immigrated from the Isle of Man to Australia.   A date for this picture would help Patricia figure out who she is.

    • Reddish brown card stock was extremely popular in the 1880s.
    • The design of her dress is a clue. All those vertical pleats were common in the late 1880s.
    • In the mid-late 1880s, studios invested in props to make settings mimic the outdoors. In this case, fake greenery and a "rock" chair.  
    • This little girl sports short hair.  Perhaps it's a clue to a recent illness. Families often cut off long hair when children were very ill.  Long hair was thought to be physically draining.
    There are family history details that I don't have such as when the family moved to Australia.  This could be very helpful.  I wonder if the photographer Vanheems was related to William Henry Vanheems, who taught optics in Australia. Optics is related to photographic lens. 

    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

  • 1880s photos | children | hairstyles | Immigrant Photos
    Tuesday, 31 May 2011 16:17:08 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Wednesday, 25 May 2011
    Clothing Clues in Photos of Male Ancestors
    Posted by Diane

    Women's fashion changes seem dramatic when compared to the subtle differences in men's clothing over time. That's one of the challenges when assigning a date to a man's portrait.

    In this article, Maureen A. Taylor points out costume clues to look for in photographs of your male ancestors.

    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

  • 1880s photos | men
    Wednesday, 25 May 2011 19:56:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 11 April 2011
    Bad Hair Day Winner!
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you for voting in the Bad Hair Day Contest and for sending in all those great hair photos. There is a winner!

    Here's how the votes stacked up.

    83.7 % of the voters selected this photo. Congratulations go to Pat Daughtery for winning the contest and a copy of Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900.


    The runner up is ...
    editSophie Bentley.jpg
    71 % voted for this photo.

    I promised a few more photos this week so here goes.


    Rachel Peirce sent in this before-and-after picture of her ancestor Hunter Carson White at 9-1/2 years old during the Civil War. She owns a picture of the boy's father with his hair standing up on his head and wonders whether the second photo was taken to make the boy look more like his father.


    Photo collector David Chase sent me this photo. It proves that man's best friend also can have bad hair. <smile>.

    Last weekend I was at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference. I met Janine Penfield who showed me this unusual photo in her family album.


    It depicts a female performer known as Illavaro at age 14. She was photographed at several different times by Charles Eisenman of New York City. She would have been very comfortable in the late 1960s when this hairstyle was a fashion statement.

    Hope you've enjoyed this look back at 19th-century hairstyles!

    1860s photos | 1870s photos | 1880s photos | african american | children | Civil War | hairstyles | unusual photos
    Monday, 11 April 2011 17:08:38 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 04 April 2011
    Vote for Your Favorite Bad Hair Day
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time to vote! My inbox is full of photos from readers and and Facebook followers. So which photo will win? You decide. I've create a survey form on Click here to see the photos I selected for the survey and to vote for your favorite. The person who submitted the winning photo will receive a signed copy of my Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900. Photos 1 and 2 are from the 1870s, 3 and 4 from the 1880s and photo 5 dates from 1900.

    Drum roll please...the finalists are:

    editSanders Sylvia (pix found in album of DHSaunders).jpg
    Linda Greff submitted this photo of Sylvia Sanders sporting a combination of extremely curly hair and the full hair styles of the 1870s, making an extreme fashion statement. 

    editSophie Bentley.jpg
    Another 1870s full head of hair. Sophie Bentley was born Dec. 6, 1849. Thank you to Katherine Maddox for sending in this image.

    Oh, those flat greased hairstyles of the 1880s were a dramatic contrast to the previous decade's look. Molly (Mary) E. Banning Ross (born 1867) was an older teenager in this photo, submitted by Pat Daugherty.

    Carol Jacobs Norwood sent in this unidentified family photo. It's a variation of that earlier 1880s picture.

    editdavisonMinnie  Everell Dutton Smith.jpg

    It's not the woman in this picture that has the hair problem. It's her companion. His natural wave and longish hair combine to make the style standout from the top and sides of his head. This circa 1900 image is lovely. He was a teacher in Kansas. The couple is Anne Davison's great grand aunt and uncle.

    O.K...Please vote for your favorite here.

    Next week I'll be back with some other photos -- a before and after hairstyle and proof that not just humans can have a bad hair day.

    1870s photos | 1880s photos | 1890s photos | hairstyles
    Monday, 04 April 2011 21:27:57 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 14 March 2011
    Mom, Dad and Baby
    Posted by Maureen

    Marla Hathhorn sent in this picture with a simple question. On the back someone wrote, "Ann Hicks." Is Ann Hicks the baby or the mother?
    Ann Hicks2.jpg

    Marla knows that her ancestor Anna Foley Hicks was born in Canada in 1844 and died in Oklahoma in 1914. 

    A lot of people ask me, "What do I look at first in a photo?" The answer depends on the image. In this case, I read Marla's e-mail and quickly glanced at the photographer's imprint at the bottom of the card to see where the picture was taken. Then I examined their clothing.

    The woman's dress is from the circa 1880 period. The bodice extends over the hips, extra fabric drapes over her upper legs and there are two layers of pleats. Her choice of jewelry is also typical for the time -- a thick chain with a charm was very popular. In the early 1880s, women wore their hair pulled back with short bangs. This young mother is very stylish in an understated way. Dad's clothing agrees with this time frame. 

    The baby is very cute in it's long dress, thick tights and buttoned boots.  Around it's neck is a lovely bib.

    Could the mother be Anna? In 1880 she'd be 36 years of age, a likely fit. 

    T.R. Colpitts took this photo. The Rock Lake Herald of 1881 featured a short bit of news about him. It stated that he was taking a trip into southern Manitoba to take scenic views for resale. It appears from this photograph that he also found employment with the Hudsons Bay Parlors, a photographic establishment possibly connected with the Hudson Bay Company. I'm looking for that link.

    1880s photos | men | women
    Monday, 14 March 2011 14:08:38 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Monday, 14 February 2011
    Back to the Double Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    Two weeks ago, in my Double Mystery post, I began dissecting the evidence in a photo owned by Sandy Forest. A couple of readers asked about the hat worn by the man on the right. It's a big clue.


    sandyforestcropped hat2.jpg

    It's difficult to read the hat, but it says "Asst. Engineer" with letters beneath it. The first letter is "H,"  followed by what I think is an "E" and maybe a "D." Initially, I thought the second letter was an R, but there seems to be a bottom line to the letter. So what does it stand for? That's the big question.

    He's holding a spike and is an engineer. That suggests a railway connection. But I'm not sure it's a locomotive railway line. It could be a street railway. Perhaps they are celebrating the inauguration of the first tracks being placed where Felix lived.

    Railroad spikes come in different shapes, but the ones used to lay the rails have an off-set head. I've spent time researching spikes and so has Sandy. Something doesn't seem to quite add up.
    I'm looking for an expert on railroads and think I've found one. Hopefully, I'll be back next week with an answer. 

    1880s photos
    Monday, 14 February 2011 16:59:56 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Tuesday, 14 September 2010
    Home Sweet Homestead
    Posted by Diane

    I just love this picture!  It's got a lot of family history layers.

    Terry Sargent sent in this photo asking if it was a Civil War-era picture. On the back is written, "Mrs. and Mrs. E.H. Sargent Strawberry." The "Strawberry" refers to Strawberry Point, Iowa, where the family had a farm.

    Terry is hoping the photo depicts Emery Holden Sargent, his wife Louisa (Turner) Sargent, and their two children: Harriet (born 1857) and Emery Harford (born 1860). Emery was Terry's grandfather. Let's look at a few things first.

    This refers to the history of ownership of the photo. In this case, this photo was originally owned by Terry's aunt Lavera Fink, and then by one of Fink's nieces. That niece gave Terry a copy of the photo.

    I examined the photo and enlarged it to view the details of what the folks were wearing. One detail stood out: the woman's hat. I know it's blurry, but you can see the small brim and the high crown of the hat. In the 1860s, women wore bonnets or very small hats, nothing with a crown of this height. This style hat was worn in the 1880s. Would the other details in the photo and family history support this theory?


    C. H. Hunt of Strawberry Point, Iowa, has his imprint on this cabinet card. According to Biographies of Western Photographers by Carl Mautz (Carl Mautz Publishing, 1997), Hunt was active in 1885. That puts the photo well outside the Civil War period. The decorative elements of the imprint reinforce the 1880s period.

    Family History
    There were two E.H. Sargents, father and son. So who is depicted in this photo? In the 1880 census, Emery Holden, his wife Louisa, son Emery as well as son Ora and his wife are living on the farm (US Census, Clayton County, Iowa, Caso Township, p. 289). 

    There are no children listed with the family. Since there is no 1890 census for Iowa, I checked the family again in the 1900 census. This time, the farm is occupied by the younger Emery, his wife and all of their children, several of whom were born in the 1880s ( US Census, Clayton County, Iowa, Caso Township, sheet 18).

    There is another bit of family history: Terry told me that according to Emery Holden Sargent's obituary in the Strawberry Point Press Journal (1905), Emery left the farm in 1886.

    It's likely that this picture was taken around the time when the younger Emery took ownership of the family farm.

    There is one odd thing about this picture: its appearance. It is a cabinet card, but the image of the farm is either a copy of another picture (notice the wide black border around it) or the photographer took a different-size negative to shoot the scene. The image itself is blurry when enlarged, while the photographer's imprint is clear. This could mean it's a copy. It's a square image, while most cabinet card-size photos are rectangular. I'd love to see other outdoor shots by this photographer.  In either case, the final date for the picture doesn't change. It's from the 1880s.

    Have you inherited mystery photos from relatives? Demystify them them with help from Maureen A. Taylor's book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs.

    1880s photos | hats | house/building photos
    Tuesday, 14 September 2010 14:40:40 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 19 July 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, 19 July 2010 15:47:35 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 21 June 2010
    Spotting a Wedding Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Irene Powell sent me this lovely wedding photo of her great-grandfather Joseph Kapler and his wife, Theresa. They were married in December, 1888.

    Their clothing is perfect for the late 1880s. Theresa's dress features a fitted bodice and her sleeves have vertical puffs at the shoulder seam. Her skirt has knife pleats at the side. Joseph wears a fitted 1880s jacket, a shirt with an upturned collar, vest and tie. He has short hair and a trimmed mustache.

    This photo is a perfect example of how a bride would often wear a very nice dress, rather than the Victorian ideal of a white ensemble. In this case, Theresa has accessorized her attire with wedding white in the bow at her neckline and a tiny headpiece. She doesn't carry a bouquet, but Joseph wears a large corsage pinned to his jacket. These tiny clues identify this as a wedding photo, even though neither one wears a wedding ring.

    kapler  sonnkalb old 019.jpg

    You might have wedding images in your collection and not recognize them. Watch for accessories that suggest a wedding—headpieces, corsages, flowers, bows and even sashes. Match up the family history information with a date for a photo, and you might be surprised that you have a wedding image or two. Getting married was a significant family milestone, and one that couples often commemorated with photos.  

    I've never seen the item that stands between them. It appears to be a small table, but it has unusual filigree legs and a support under the drum. Can anyone identify it?

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

    1880s photos | wedding | women
    Monday, 21 June 2010 16:48:49 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [6]
    # Monday, 12 April 2010
    Final Words on the Triplets
    Posted by Diane

    For the last two weeks I've written about a photo owned by Judy Linnebach. It depicts a couple and their three triplets. In the first installment, Motherhood Times Three, I discussed multiple births in the 19th century. They were a lot more common than I thought! 

    In last week's installment, Mother Hubbard, I provided information on the family and their attire. I forgot to mention that in the 19th century it was common practice to obtain photos of deceased children. In this instance, the family asked an experienced photographer to take a photo of their babies even though one of them was deceased.

    Additional research on the family added a mystery. There were two surviving infants, but only one lived to be an adult. I wondered what happened to George Boll. Judy was able to send me a funeral card for him.

    Boll Georg death013 (2).jpg
    I don't read German, so if a reader could translate the text and enter it in the comments, I'd really appreciate it.

    If you want to know more about funeral cards, genealogist Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens has an online article on the topic. Geneablogger Dee Welborn has a great blog on these cards, Funeral Cards and Genealogy.  Fascinating stuff!  If you thought they were just death announcements, check out Dee's site. You can learn a lot about your family from these seemingly simple cards. 

    Judy Linnebach also sent me a photo of an unidentified dead ancestor and a picture of a child who died from hydroencephalitis. If you want to see them, leave me a comment and I'll post them.

    In the meantime, please e-mail me photos of multiple births before 1900.

    1880s photos | children | unusual photos
    Monday, 12 April 2010 16:42:14 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [6]
    # Monday, 05 April 2010
    Mother Hubbard
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I featured Judy Linnebach's picture of a 19th-century couple and their triplets. If you have a photo of a pre-1900 set of triplets, I'd love to post it in this space. Just about everyone who commented mentioned a multiple birth in their family. I can't wait to see the photos—you can e-mail them to me

    Here's the rest of the story about Judy's photo.


    When she wrote to me, she asked if this could be John Basilius Boll, his wife Barbara Platzer Boll and their children. According to her research, the couple married in 1879 and had two children before they had a set of twins in 1883. Is it possible that one of the triplets died and the death went unrecorded? Let's examine the evidence.

    The picture is a card photograph measuring 2.5x4 inches. It's the size of a carte de visite. These small card photos were first introduced into the United States in 1859 and remained popular for decades. The thin red line border was first common in the late 1860s.

    Tobias and Co. took this photo. On the back of the image is the name of the company and key details about their location and practice.

    triplets2 back.jpg

    What I find interesting is the first sentence of the second paragraph: "To Mothers and heads of Families, we wish to call their attention to the frequent trouble of obtaining good and permanent Pictures of Babies." Tobias & Co. had a patented process to guarantee success.

    To locate more information on Tobias, I contacted the St. Louis Public Library and spoke with librarians in both the local history collection and in fine arts. The company appeared in 1878 and later city directories, but by the mid-1880s Henry Tobias was a printer.  It was unclear from census data if this was the same man who ran the photo studio.

    This photo was found in a Bible once owned by Judy's father's maternal grandmother, Lena Wilhelms. Given that it wasn't directly connected to the Boll family, I asked Judy to research all the branches of the family to see if there was another multiple birth. Last week, we learned that multiple births were hereditary, so it's quite possible that this could depict someone else in her family. No luck! 

    There was another possibility though: Lena's daughter Emma was a genealogist and collected information on the Boll family. It's likely that she placed the pictures in the Bible for safe-keeping.

    The clothing clues in this picture are fascinating. The husband wears a simple work shirt (the Bolls were farmers). The wife's dress is barely visible except for a plain neckline and lace-trimmed cuffs. My grandmother always wore a "house dress" when she was home, and I wondered if the same wasn't true in the 1880s. While this woman's dress isn't the current 1880s dress that you see if fashion encyclopedias, there was a wide variety of dresses for women. 

    In the 1880s, a new style of dress became popular for pregnant women. It was called a Mother Hubbard. Loose-fitting and comfortable, these cotton dresses could be made with a pattern available from a catalog. The mother in this photo had likely just given birth—these are very small infants. With three babies to breast-feed, a comfortable dress like a Mother Hubbard would be perfect attire. They often featured trim at the cuffs, just like you see here.

    They were so comfy that many other women wore them belted in summer to stay cool. It was a controversial choice. In the Oct. 26, 1884, New York Times, an article titled, "The Mother Hubbard in Chicago" talked about variations of the dress being worn by women in one neighborhood and how one particular woman had been arrested for it. It ended on a reassuring note: "Ladies who wear Mother Hubbard dresses on the street need not be alarmed. There is no ordinance in Chicago against the wearing of them, although such an ordinance is in vogue in the town of Morris, Ill."

    According to Joan Severa in Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent State University Press), these dresses were meant for indoor use. They were house dresses, not to be worn outdoors.

    So could this picture depict the Bolls and their children in 1883?  The evidence is conflicting.
    • In late December 1883, the Bolls had twin boys baptized—Charles and George.
    • In the 1900 census, the family is listed except for George. I have to double-check with Judy on his whereabouts. When asked, Barbara said she'd given birth to six children but that only five were still living. Could this refer to a deceased George? There were five children currently living with the parents. Why not mention another child if one of the triplets died?
    • Could another multiple birth in the family have gone unrecorded? It's possible.
    Right now it appears that this photo documents the Boll family.
    • The mother's dress dates from the 1880s.
    • The photographer could still be taking images in his printing business (if, of course, it's the same man)
    • There are no other documented multiple births in the family. 
    • Judy has one documented multiple birth—the twin boys.
    If this is the Bolls and their babies, then one of these triplets is likely deceased. This was a complicated case.

    It's a haunting image.  Next week I'll be back with some other unusual pictures from Judy's family!

    1880s photos | children | unusual photos | women
    Monday, 05 April 2010 17:40:39 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 23 November 2009
    It's a Family Tree Magazine Reunion!
    Posted by Maureen

    In July, I wrote a column, Which Immigrant Is It, on a photo submitted by Jeannette Bias.

    Last week, another woman contacted me to say that she's related to Jeanette and is the great-great-granddaughter of Simon (1843-1892) and Mary (1850-1932) Dulas, the couple possibly depicted in this portrait.

    Bias Unknown Dulas.jpg

    Except that this "new" relative doesn't think the man is Simon. She thinks he could be their son Joseph with whom Mary lived after the death of her husband. Oh boy!  The facts in this case make my head hurt. 

    Here's the line-up of details.  I didn't originally assign a date to this image because I was hoping for a little more photographic evidence.
    • Simon Dulas dies in 1892 when Mary is only 42.  This couple looks a lot older than their early to late 40s.
    • There is another picture of Mary for comparison.
    Dulas Mary (2)crop.jpg Unknown Dulas (2)close-up.jpg 

    The image on the left was taken in the early 20th century, probably not long before her death. It is definitely Mary.

    On the right is a close-up of the photo from above. Both of these photos appear to be of the same woman, but I wonder. There's a slight difference around the eyes.

    There is yet another positively identified photo of Mary, only this time, she's posed with her children behind her.

    Dulas Simon 1901 .jpg

    That's certainly Mary in the front row. Standing directly behind her is her son Joseph (b. 1880).  This picture of him confirms that it's not Joseph in the very first photo in this column. The baby on Mary's lap is her first grandchild. 

    So the mystery remains. If the woman in that first photo is Mary then who's the man standing next to her?
    • It's not a brother.  All of her brother's were still-born infants.
    • Could it be Simon's nephew John (1856-1918)?  There are no known pictures of him. 
    • Could it be Mary's parents? Johan Glowik (1822-1896) and Elizabeth Staloch (1823-1884) Her father immigrates after his wife's death.
    • Or is it a very old looking Simon?
    If only Jeanette had the original of the first photo. Unfortunately, she doesn't. She obtained a copy from a relative who had gotten a copy from a now unknown other relative. The location of the original cabinet card is now completely a mystery.  That's unfortunate.  A photographer's imprint on the back could tell us where the picture was taken and help date the photo,  perhaps clearing up the identity of the folks in it.

    At this point I'm leaning towards the couple in the first column and in the first photo in this column being Mary's parents. That would account for the strong resemblance of the women in all the photos. If that's the case then the couple posed for a picture around the time of Mary's mother Elizabeth's death in 1884.  Photos in this time frame could certainly be on white card stock and often featured elaborate painted backdrops of interior scenes.

    I'm not completely certain and neither is Jeanette, but it does clear up the age issue.  If this couple were Mary's parents and they posed for a portrait in 1884 then Johan would be 62 and Elizabeth 61. Seems likely.

    Any one have any aspirin? This case gave me a headache <smile>.

    1880s photos | 1900-1910 photos | Immigrant Photos
    Monday, 23 November 2009 17:46:03 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, 31 August 2009
    Funny Ancestral Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

    Roxanne Turpin sent me a photo that made me think about the transition in photo poses. In most of the images from the 1840s, 1850s and even 1860s technology and our ancestors' discomfort with being photographed combine to make folks look like they're in pain. Then suddenly, people started to relax in front of the camera. They had fun with photography. Photo studio props and poses caught sitters in action.

    I own a picture of a man with a curious expression on his face. It's a little odd:


    Turning over the image gave me the answer. The photographer's imprint says the following: "Caricatures, (patented) Ask to see those Funny Pictures taken only at... Theo. F. Chase, Photographer."  The pose was intentional! It was taken about 1880. 

    Now let's look at Turpin's image taken around 1900 (I'm still refining the date) in Fergus Falls, Minn.


    It depicts five men playing poker. Their cards and money are on the table. It's a friendly group of men all smoking cigars. The man in the middle moved a bit and blurred—I wish he hadn't moved so I could see his odd hat. 

    In the July 1909 issue of Photographic Topics (published by the Obrig Camera Company) is a brief news item about how amateur photographers could take funny images of their friends:
    Freako-Shutter for Funny Photographs. Fits any camera. The Freako-Shutter is a simple, amusing attachment, and everyone who used a camera should have one. It can be fitted to any camera in a few seconds, after the first adjustment. It will cause no end of amusement in making funny pictures of friends, etc. ...
    Basically, the Freako-Shutter allowed the user to shoot two exposures on the same negative. It first became available in 1903. Users could also shoot stereo images with the attachment.

    Taking "funny pictures" is still going strong today. Think about the times you put rabbit ears behind someone's head. <grin> If you have a funny ancestral photo in your family album, send it to me. I'll feature in an upcoming post.

    1880s photos | 1900-1910 photos | men | Photo fun
    Monday, 31 August 2009 17:16:32 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Tuesday, 10 February 2009
    Pets in the Family on YouTube
    Posted by Maureen

    It's not hard to believe that the three installments of this blog on ancestors' adorable pets were among the most read. After all, it's family history from a different perspective—pets in the family. Since this week is the Westminster Dog Show, I thought I'd try a different presentation method for the photos.

    I've received a few more pictures for this album, but instead of posting them individually, I incorporated them into a video.

    I'm going to tweak it some more and see if I can boost the quality. I produced it in high definition but uploading it to YouTube compressed the files resulting in some blurring.

    Just in case you missed the series: 

    Pets in Pictures

    An Album of Ancestors' Family Pets

    Pet Photos: Our Ancestors Loved Their Dogs, Too!

    I'd like to thank everyone who sent in pictures! 

    (For more genealogy videos, see the Family Tree Magazine YouTube channel.)

    BTW—I have a new e-newsletter that lists my speaking schedule,and contains a link to the Photo Detective video podcast. It's absolutely free. Sign up is on my Web site.

    1870s photos | 1880s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | 1920s photos | candid photos | children | men | Pets | Videos | women
    Tuesday, 10 February 2009 14:13:17 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Friday, 01 August 2008
    Medical Conditions and Family History
    Posted by Maureen

    Two weeks ago I put out a call for photos showing medical conditions. There are three images and one blog link in this post so be sure to read all the way to the end.

    The inspiration for that request was a photo that Elizabeth Vollrath emailed me in May.
    080108vollrath.jpg   080108vollrath2.jpg
    It's a lovely 1880s photograph showing an unusual feature in her right ear.  While not a medical condition, it made me think about details in photos. 

    Vollrath's dad inherited the split in the earlobe, showing a relationship to this unknown woman. I wondered whether she was his grandmother. I was close. A cousin later positively identified this woman as Ida Sophia Hass (b. 1866). Ida's sister Pauline Hass was Vollrath's great-great-grandmother, and her dad's great grandmother.

    Diedra March sent me this photo of her great-grandfather's family.
    Norberg oval photo copied to cd.jpg   080108MarchNorberg2 .jpg
    She thinks her dad has inherited macular degeneration from this man, his mother's father. Anders Norberg appears to have something wrong with his eyes. According to March, Macular Degeneration causes blindness in your center vision, and people with the condition often look out of the corners of their eyes.

    Rachel McPherson shared a photo of a school group that shows her grandmother in a leg brace (front row, fourth from right) due to polio.

    Patricia School Picture.jpg  schoolpolio.jpg

    She was born in 1933, before a vaccine was available.

    Bloggers like to share through their online postings. The Footnote Maven posted a medically related photo on her blog, Shades of the Departed, on "Health Issues and Women Wearing Glasses." 

    Thank you to everyone who sent images in response to my request! 

    1880s photos | group photos | men | photo-research tips | women
    Friday, 01 August 2008 16:23:52 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, 10 March 2008
    Multi-generational Portraits
    Posted by Maureen

    There's something special about seeing a grandmother and grandchild posed together in a photograph. This little tyke is the spitting image of her grandma.


    Emma Dempster-Greenbaum owns this picture. It's labeled "Grandmother & Sarah Ann."  The photographer was J.C. Cone and Sons of Farmington.

    Emma dated this photo based on family information. At 11 months old, Sarah Ann Jackson immigrated to the United States with her parents in November, 1886.

    The clothing details support this time frame. Sarah wears a typical baby dress while her grandmother's conservative pleated skirt and fitted bodice are from the 1880s. Her dress lacks the bustle typically worn by younger women. Her eye-catching hat accessorizes her outfit—it's tied with a wide ribbon at the chin, and the high crown features what looks like leaves and small berries. She holds a handkerchief, ready for a drooling baby.

    The photographer also fits the time frame. Emma researched J.C. Cone and found he lived in Farmington, Ill. I double-checked and found Joseph C. Cone in both the 1900 census for Farmington and in a biographical encylopedia, Portrait Biographical Album of Fulton County, Illinois (1890).

    There's a bit of bragging in his business name. Cone was 58 in 1900, and his son, 27. When he printed the photographic card bearing this photo, his son was still a teenager just learning his father's business.

    It's the grandmother's presence that confuses the picture evidence. While Emma found an immigration record for Sarah Ann and her parents, she's unable to verify that grandmother Catherine Dempster came with them. Catherine was the baby's only living grandmother in the 1880s.

    Emma wonders if this picture is a copy of one taken in England. That's possible, but it's also likely his is an original.

    So, how old is Sarah Ann in this picture? She's still a baby, based on her short hair and long dress. The length of the dress indicates she's not walking yet—otherwise, the dress would be shorter to accomodate her steps. Since most children's first steps occurring around a year to 15 months of age, Sarah Ann is probably less than a year old here.

    Unfortunately, this data doesn't help determine whether the photo was taken in Illinois shortly after arrival, or in England before she left.

    I'll be back next week with a follow-up.

    1880s photos | children | photographers imprints | women
    Monday, 10 March 2008 21:56:31 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Wednesday, 17 October 2007
    Crayon-Enhanced Portrait of a Child
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I wrote about Carolanne’s portraits of her relatives Laura Gilman and her husband James Wyatt Weed. Here’s a third, unidentified, picture.

    Behind each picture is a story, and Caroleann's three portraits are no different. Photo identification techniques can tell you when a person sat for a picture, but it’s the historical and genealogical research that fills in the details of their lives. In this case, Carolanne knows the birth dates of Laura, James and their four children, Flora (b. 1874), Alvah (b. 1879), Wyatt James (b. 1881) and Addie (1883). The family folklore and her research reveal a tragic tale you’d never guess by looking at their lovely pictures.

    First, let’s identify the baby in this crayon portrait. I’d estimate this child is around 2 years old.  The child is wearing a dress, but the outfit and short hair confirm the sex and dates.  During the 1880s, little boys wore “masculine” dresses like this one, featuring less trim than by girls’ dresses. Wide lace collars were in vogue, too. The short hair could be due the toddler’s age or because his mother cut it short to mimic men’s styles.

    Notice the ball in his right hand. It’s either a photographer’s trick to help him sit still, or a treasured possession.

    The artist or photographer who enhanced the image with charcoal did a good job around the face but didn’t accurately draw the hands and feet. Since the artistic style is similar to that of his parent’s pictures, the work was probably done by the same studio.

    Therefore, if this portrait depicts Alvah, it was created around 1881, and if it’s his brother, it dates from about 1883. Either identification is possible.

    There is also an emotional story to this image. Around 1910, Wyatt moved to California with a friend to “hook up electricity.” The next year, his mother received a telegram that “Wyatt J Weed accidentally killed eighty dollars in bank wire instructions."  

    In a second missive from Wyatt’s friend, his mother learned he died when he “took hold of a drop light in a dark cellar” and that the embalmer wanted seventy-five dollars for a metal-lined box and casket. The friend offered to arrange transportation home. His sister Addie remembered it cost $172 to bring Wyatt back to Maine and that the loss of her son changed Laura forever. Carolanne thinks that's why the grief-stricken mother would’ve kept this portrait of Wyatt, rather than another son, but the clothing clues suggest it could be either boy.

    A picture is sometimes just an icon for the greater tale of your family. Take time to research the life of each person to fit their photograph into their life story. Carolanne has.

    1880s photos | children | enhanced images
    Wednesday, 17 October 2007 17:37:51 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 13 August 2007
    Clues Your Old Photo Was Taken in Summer
    Posted by Maureen

    Here in New England where winters are long, we embrace summer and often carry cameras to capture moments in the sunshine. When you think about  picture-taking patterns in your family, don’t disregard the seasons. This week I’m revisiting some of my older columns to show you how to spot scenes of summer in your family photo collection.

    Last year, Judy Miller sent this photo of a family in front of a seashore backdrop, a clue that perhaps the group lived near the shore or visited on holidays. The children's lightweight white dresses indicate warm weather. The mother’s hat actually suggested a season, too—a similar hat appeared in the August 1885 Peterson’s Magazine.

    Clothes also indicate a summer get-together in this photo—the women’s dresses look like lawn, a light fabric, while the men shed their jackets and rolled up their sleeves. Counting stars in the flag provided a time frame of 1908 to 1912. (Find out how the stars helped.) Patriotic decorations could show up for events at various times of year, but combined with the summer attire, they suggest this is an Independence Day celebration.

    The dresses on the four girls sitting near the railroad tracks in this candid snapshot date it to about 1900. The lush foliage on the trees across the tracks narrows the time of year to summer.

    This similar group portrait, also taken by an amateur photographer, is clearly another summer snapshot—you can tell from the white dresses and leaves on the young trees in the background.

    Go through your photos to find women and children in white, men and boys in straw boaters (a popular summer accessory) and trees and gardens in full bloom. Add them to the Photo Detective Forum and I'll put together an online album to celebrate the end of the season.

    1880s photos | 1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | photo backgrounds
    Monday, 13 August 2007 19:47:32 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 04 June 2007
    Porcelain Complexion (Literally!)
    Posted by Maureen

    I own a pillow case with a photograph of my grandmother taken in about 1910. You’re probably thinking it’s an unusual picture format, but it’s actually not.

    In the early days of photography, daguerreotype buttons and jewelry were common. Once paper prints and light-sensitive chemicals became readily available, photographers could develop pictures on anything you could apply the chemicals to: leather, wood, paper, cloth and like this week’s photo submission, a piece of porcelain.

    This photo’s size, 3 x 4 inches, and hand coloring give it the appearance of an 18th century painted portrait miniature. It’s really a photo enhanced with color to make it look like a painting. When Diana Truxell showed this picture to a friend who likes old photographs, the friends didn’t recognize it either, and suggested Truxell send it to me. Thank you! I’m always on the lookout for photographs on items other than cardboard.

    Truxell is also trying to figure out who’s in the picture. This is one of those queries that make me feel like I’m playing a game show with a choice of answers. Is it her husband’s grandmother Mary Ditner (Martin) Truxell (born 1891)? Or Mary’s mother (born 1863)?

    The woman’s high-necked dress, prominent buttons and contrasting trim date the picture to about 1883 to 1888. This is likely Mary’s mother, who would be between 20 and 25 years old in this picture. Oral traditions and provenance (the chain of ownership) can confirm the ID.

    Truxell had one final question: Does the unique surface indicate this woman lived anywhere in particular? No, photographers across the country, even in rural areas, had access to materials that allowed them to creatively present family pictures. The careful coloring of this photo wasn’t done by an amateur though. Professional photographers often employed artists to handle such intricate jobs.

    Case solved!

    unusual surfaces | women | 1880s photos
    Monday, 04 June 2007 19:26:52 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]