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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, 18 December 2016
Dating Old Family Photos: Clues Under the Christmas Tree
Posted by Maureen



There are heaps of clues in this charming old picture of two children admiring their Christmas tree. It's an image from the Library of Congress, whose cataloging record dates it to between 1910 and 1935. That's a pretty big 25-year time frame. 

Can you spot the clues in this picture? They include:
  • tree ornaments and trimmings
  • children's clothing
  • vintage train set
  • household decorations

Keep reading for a little more about each clue.

Tree Trimmings

 

The glass tree topper in this picture looks a lot like the one my mother always put on our tree. F.W. Woolworth's led the American market by first selling glass ornaments made in Germany and later, ones made in the United States. There is a good chance your ancestors bought their tree trimmings at Woolworth's.

Tinsel has a long history that dates back to Germany in 1610. By the 20th century, artificial, aluminum-based tree trimmings had replaced natural garland made from cranberries and popcorn. Some were lead-based. The FDA didn't restrict the sales of lead-based tree materials until 1971. 

Clothing



Bobbed hairstyles for girls became popular about 1915 and remained in style throughout the estimated time frame for this picture. Dropped-waist dresses for little girls debuted at about the same time, but this outfit has a scalloped hemline. Those were common in the early 1920s.

Vintage Train Set



A whole village with "snow"-frosted foliage rests under this tree. It's an electric train set with real street lights. It could belong to the children's father or be a gift for the Christmas shown.

If you have a toy train collector in your family, show him or her this photo and let's see if they can date the era of this set. The National Toy Train Museum is another resource. Weigh in on this train set on our Facebook page.

Household Decor

Similar household decorations could be found in the Sears Catalog, which is digitized on Ancestry.com. (I'll look there for the train, too.) Dating photos based household items is difficult, because families would keep themse items for years. The rug in this house is well-worn with a big spot near the train track, so the curtains and carpet also could be several years old.

Dating this picture relies on all the clues. The train could be key.

Count The Clues in Your Own Images

This image is a good example of how to break a picture down into clues. Establishing the dates for specific clues will not only help you verify the time frame for a picture, it'll also help you tell a holiday tale.


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

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

  • Save
    children | Christmas
    Sunday, 18 December 2016 18:53:02 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Sunday, 11 December 2016
    Old-Photo Problem Solving: A Man Named "Christmas"
    Posted by Maureen

    Genealogists groan when they find a Smith, Brown or Taylor (don't I know it!) on their family trees.

    Common-name woes abound, but what about a name that triggers too many search results for a different reason: It's also a holiday. Take the surname Christmas, for instance.

    In searching for holiday-themed photos, I went to the Library of Congress website and started looking for pictures featuring Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas.

    That last one caused the problem. There were plenty of images relating to Dec. 25th but mixed in was a man's portrait titled "Christmas, Joseph." But is this Joseph?



    Let's start with the facts. According to the LOC cataloging record, the C.M. Bell studio of Washington, D.C., made this picture between February 1894 and February 1901. The studio was in business from 1873 to 1916. You can view more images by Bell on the Library of Congress website.

    Along the top left edge of this photo is a negative number:
     


    This young man in a striped silk bowtie has a sparse mustache, suggesting he might be in his late teens or early 20s. The bad areas on the right of the photo are damaged areas of the original negative.

    Now here's where the problem comes in. "Joseph Christmas" is written on the negative envelope. But that label doesn't specify if that's the name of the person pictured, or if this picture was taken for a client named Joseph Christmas. So is this Joseph Christmas or someone else?

    City directories for Washington, D.C., for this period list one Joseph Christmas. A quick Ancestry.com search for the name in 1898 plus or minus five years turns up a few possibilities, but none are a good match to the age of the man in this image. 

    In the 1900 census, there is a Joseph Christmas living in Washington, D.C., and born in Germany in 1838. Could he be a relative if the man pictured?

    It might take a Christmas miracle to solve this mystery, or at least a LOT more searching.

    Have you encountered problems like this in researching your own surname?



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

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

  • Save
    1900-1910 photos | Christmas | men
    Sunday, 11 December 2016 21:28:51 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [8]
    # Monday, 21 December 2015
    Santa Claus Through the Years
    Posted by Maureen

    The depiction of Santa has changed a lot over the years from a thin person with variously shaped beards to the icon we recognize today. He didn't always wear red. According to Holiday Symbols by Sue Ellen Thompson (2000)the modern depiction of him is a combination of the English Father Christmas, the German St. Nicholas and the Dutch Sinter Klaas.  Technology brought kids a new way to imagine Santa by giving them new fictional interpretations and ways to listen to him.  Here's an overview of this loved Christmas character.

    In 1843, Charles Dickens featured him as "the ghost of Christmas present" in a green robe with a wreath on his head in the original Christmas Carol.

    Wikipedia "Santa Claus" accessed December 21, 2015

    By 1868 children no longer had to dream of sugar plums, their parents could buy them. The United States Confection Company used an illustration of a white-bearded Santa wearing a tasseled hat standing astride a reindeer led sleigh as an advertisement for a sweet treat. 

    Library of Congress

    The twentieth century solidified Santa's look as a full figured, white bearded fellow. The Christmas 1901 Puck magazine featured an angry looking Santa with children and a baby.  Toys and books were popular gifts.  Notice the Victrola held by the bespectacled boy.  The National Jukebox project of the Library of Congress allows us to listen to Gilbert Girard aka Santa Claus tell us about his toy shop (1918).




    L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz, wrote a new Christmas classic in 1902, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus which is available on the Internet Archive.  It was adapted for a film of the same name in 1985.

    The new century brought Santa to the movies too. You can find a list of him in early films on Wikipedia. Who can forget the first time they saw, Miracle of 34th street? 

    This holiday, have fun gazing at these old depictions of Santa, listening to his voice and sitting down with family to watch a classic film.

    Happy Holidays!


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

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


  • 1840s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | Christmas | Santa Claus
    Monday, 21 December 2015 14:53:27 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 08 December 2014
    Holiday Generosity and Christmas Clues in an Old Photo
    Posted by Maureen



    This little gem of a holiday picture comes from the Library of Congress collection. Researching the clues in this picture took a little time and involved studying the caption, the history of the image and the clues in photo. It's a lot more than a holiday-themed image. This one picture tells the story of a family's charity in a very wealthy community. It's the perfect Christmas story.


    This picture is half of a stereograph: two nearly identical photographs mounted side-by-side on cardstock. Viewing it through a stereopticon makes the image appear three-dimensional.

    The best place to start untangling the clues was the caption: "LYNDHURST—A Happy Christmas at "Woody Crest," December 1905. Copyright 1906 by Underwood & Underwood."

    Ben Underwood and his older brother Elmer were just 18 and 20 years old when they established their stereo view company, Underwood and Underwood, in 1880. Within a few years they had offices in Baltimore and Liverpool, England. According to Stereo Views by William Culp Darrah (Times and News Publishing), by 1901 the pair produced more than 7 million cards per year. They revolutionized the sale of cards by producing them in sets.

    A quick Google search for Lyndhurst led me to a page about the house of that name in Tarrytown, NY. You can see gorgeous images of this Gothic Revival style estate and read about it's history. 

    The Library of Congress cataloging record said the image was taken at the Lyndhurst School. There was no mention of the school on the site for the estate, so further research was necessary.

    Only three families owned the house before it was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1961. "Lyndhurst" was likely a keyword chosen by the Underwoods to draw attention to the image. The public was fascinated by the lives of these incredibly wealthy individuals. 

    In 1905, Miss Helen Miller Gould owned Lyndhurst.  Her father was Jay Gould, a railroad entrepreneur who had a reputation as a robber baron profiting off the less fortunate. He made millions. His daughter, one of six children, was a very wealthy young woman. Helen briefly attended law school but decided against a public life. Instead, she focused on philanthropy.

    Helen cared for and educated poor crippled children from the inner city at Woody Crest, a home at Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. She had a reputation as a caring and intelligent woman. Volume 25 of Munsey's Magazine (April to September 1901) featured a story on her charitable pursuits.

    Every year at Christmas she provided a turkey dinner for Woody Crest residents. Dec. 25, 1905, the children turned the tables on their hostess and cooked her a dinner from food produced on the estate. They gave her a gift of a holly and evergreen wreath. You can see her presents to the boys in this picture.



    She gave each of the 16 boys at Woody Crest a chest of "tools," a miniature store, books, and Indian and police costumes. A Dec. 26, 1905, article in the Baltimore American reported details of the event in "Helen Gould's Boys." The writer compared her generosity to that of John D. Rockefeller. While he gave telephone and telegraph operators in Tarrytown $5 each, Gould gave them $10 each.

    The center image shows off the paper bell hanging from the chandelier, the glass ornaments and trimmings on the tree.

    Even Helen Gould's millions had limits. In 1908, she had to decide which projects to continue. According to the Grand Forks Daily Herald, April 5, 1908, in "Helen Retrenches," it was reported that she was going to stop summer outings for poor children at Woody Crest.



    In 1913 at 45, Helen Miller Gould married Finley Johnson Shepard. The couple adopted three children, one of whom was a baby abandoned on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, and had one foster child. 

    It's a heartwarming story just in time for the holidays. 


    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

  • 1900-1910 photos | adoption | children | Christmas
    Monday, 08 December 2014 16:06:01 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]