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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, March 13, 2016
Which Grandmother is It?
Posted by Maureen

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

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



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

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

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

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

There are other things to consider, as well.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


  • 1900-1910 photos | Drawings | enhanced images | women
    Sunday, March 13, 2016 6:11:14 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, October 01, 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, October 01, 2012 12:56:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Friday, July 01, 2011
    Identifying an Old Crayon Portrait
    Posted by Diane

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


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



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

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

  • 1850s photos | men | women | Drawings
    Friday, July 01, 2011 6:51:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]