Free Updates

Let us tell you when new posts are added!



July, 2017 (5)
June, 2017 (4)
May, 2017 (4)
April, 2017 (5)
March, 2017 (4)
February, 2017 (4)
January, 2017 (5)
December, 2016 (4)
November, 2016 (4)
October, 2016 (5)
September, 2016 (4)
August, 2016 (4)
July, 2016 (5)
June, 2016 (4)
May, 2016 (5)
April, 2016 (4)
March, 2016 (4)
February, 2016 (4)
January, 2016 (5)
December, 2015 (4)
November, 2015 (5)
October, 2015 (4)
September, 2015 (4)
August, 2015 (5)
July, 2015 (4)
June, 2015 (5)
May, 2015 (4)
April, 2015 (4)
March, 2015 (5)
February, 2015 (4)
January, 2015 (4)
December, 2014 (4)
November, 2014 (5)
October, 2014 (4)
September, 2014 (5)
August, 2014 (4)
July, 2014 (4)
June, 2014 (5)
May, 2014 (4)
April, 2014 (4)
March, 2014 (5)
February, 2014 (4)
January, 2014 (4)
December, 2013 (5)
November, 2013 (4)
October, 2013 (4)
September, 2013 (5)
August, 2013 (4)
July, 2013 (4)
June, 2013 (5)
May, 2013 (4)
April, 2013 (5)
March, 2013 (4)
February, 2013 (4)
January, 2013 (4)
December, 2012 (5)
November, 2012 (4)
October, 2012 (5)
September, 2012 (4)
August, 2012 (5)
July, 2012 (5)
June, 2012 (4)
May, 2012 (4)
April, 2012 (5)
March, 2012 (4)
February, 2012 (4)
January, 2012 (5)
December, 2011 (5)
November, 2011 (4)
October, 2011 (5)
September, 2011 (4)
August, 2011 (5)
July, 2011 (5)
June, 2011 (6)
May, 2011 (7)
April, 2011 (4)
March, 2011 (5)
February, 2011 (3)
January, 2011 (5)
December, 2010 (4)
November, 2010 (5)
October, 2010 (4)
September, 2010 (4)
August, 2010 (5)
July, 2010 (4)
June, 2010 (5)
May, 2010 (4)
April, 2010 (4)
March, 2010 (5)
February, 2010 (4)
January, 2010 (4)
December, 2009 (3)
November, 2009 (5)
October, 2009 (4)
September, 2009 (4)
August, 2009 (5)
July, 2009 (4)
June, 2009 (5)
May, 2009 (4)
April, 2009 (5)
March, 2009 (6)
February, 2009 (5)
January, 2009 (5)
December, 2008 (4)
November, 2008 (4)
October, 2008 (6)
September, 2008 (5)
August, 2008 (5)
July, 2008 (4)
June, 2008 (6)
May, 2008 (5)
April, 2008 (5)
March, 2008 (4)
February, 2008 (4)
January, 2008 (5)
December, 2007 (4)
November, 2007 (4)
October, 2007 (6)
September, 2007 (4)
August, 2007 (4)
July, 2007 (5)
June, 2007 (4)
May, 2007 (3)
April, 2007 (2)
March, 2007 (1)



<2017 July>

by Maureen A. Taylor

More Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 1890s photos | Immigrant Photos
    Sunday, 17 April 2016 16:41:45 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # 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]
    # Monday, 27 July 2015
    5 Clues to Solve an Old-Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    Every old mystery photo is full of clues if you know where to look. Let's break this one down into five steps:

    1. Consider the provenance.
    Phyllis Reakes' first cousin gave her this photograph. Phyllis knows the man sitting on the far right is her great-grandfather, born in 1839. That chain of ownership of this photo helps confirm the man's identity.

    2. Look at the faces.

    I love looking at these two faces. It appears to be a father and son, who share everything from the shape of their noses to the tilt of their heads when they pose for a picture. 

    3. Add up the genealogical clues.
    Which son is it? Phyllis told me that her great-grandfather had several wives and children. I'd date this photo to the early part of the 20th century based on the women's dresses, circa 1900-1910. A tentative time frame for the image helps determine which son is depicted and allows for possible identities for the rest of the individuals. The woman seated next to the son to our left could be his wife or his father's.

    It's important not to jump to quick conclusions about this picture. Depending on when great-grandfather was married for the last time and the age of his wife, those children could be his. Each identity has to be proven.

    4. Study the clothing details.
    The three young women in the back row wear interesting accessories.

    Two have decorated their dresses with ribbons. This could just be a simple way of accessorizing their outfits, without other significance. The woman in the middle wears a long beaded chain around her neck. This was generally worn with either a watch or a pair of pince nez glasses. Either could be tucked into a waistline pocket.

    5. Study the location.
    Phyllis believes this image was taken in Keiv, Volh, Russia. The studio name isn't on this image, but by reaching out through social media, she might be able to locate other pictures taken in the same area.  It's worth the search to see what turns up.  Photographs have a way of bringing families together. Each of the individuals in the picture likely had descendants. As families grow, these connections are lost. This image might re-connect them.

    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 | eyeglasses | Immigrant Photos | men
    Monday, 27 July 2015 20:41:06 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 21 April 2014
    Foreign Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    This damaged image depicts one family line of Julie Townsend Gontarek's husband. Julie knows the image shows relatives in Poland, but not their identities. There are three possibilities: The Gontareks, Klamsky and Otrasek families all lived there.

    Before she can delve deeper, Julie wants to know when the picture was taken.

    It's a really interesting image. When I view pictures, my eyes dart over all the clues from sleeves to doorways.

    Look at the detail in this exterior doorway. It's lovely: 


    This young woman's sleeves suggest a date of the late 1890s, when there was fullness on the upper arm. The addition of plackets of contrasting fabric on the bodice and the cuffs shows off the skill of the person who made the dress.  I think she's pregnant: The longer bodice shows off what appears to be a baby bump.


    Mom wears a head scarf commonly seen on women in rural regions of Poland and other European countries. Her dress has detailing on the upper arm as well. Her long bodice is a little out of date for the late 1890s.

    Her little girl's clothing is typical for children: hair bows and short sleeves, which suggests warmer weather. I've seen a variety of clothes worn in rural regions both in the United States and overseas. Sometimes women would make clothes using older patterns, reusing older clothes and updating their fashions by adding sleeves or collars.  All the clothing worn here looks to be in excellent condition. 

    Both the mother and the girl shown above photo wear necklaces bearing crosses, which indicates their faith.

    The clothing clues in this image were confusing until I took a closer look at the men. Their collars date this image: Those starched, high-necked collars were popular about 1905. In particular, the man on the left wears a rounded-edge collar, common from about 1905 to at least 1915. 

    Men wore a wide variety of ties in the early 20th century, from long, thin knit ties to wide silk ties, as well as bow ties.

    This photo is full of family history clues:
    • The young girl leaning toward her mother appears to be around five years of age. If the picture dates between 1905 and 1915, then she was born between 1900 and 1910. I'm leaning toward the earlier end of this time frame.

    • The young pregnant bride looks like she'll be having a baby within a few months.

    • All of the individuals depicted could be relatives, but they also could be a collection of friends and family.

    • Who's not depicted?  Did someone in the family own a camera or did a professional take this image?
    I'd love to know the occasion for this photo.  Everyone is dressed up for a special event.  I'm hoping that these details help Julie figure out who's who and a reason this image was taken. 

    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

  • 1900-1910 photos | children | Immigrant Photos | men | unusual clothing | women
    Monday, 21 April 2014 19:08:40 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 02 March 2014
    Sweden to the U.S. and Back Again
    Posted by Maureen

    Do you have photographs in your collection that were taken overseas? That's Maria Benini's problem. Only she lives in Stockholm, Sweden. and her mystery photo was taken in Illinois. 

    Benini found this boy's picture in a little brown box that her mother had in her family home in southern Sweden.

     mariabeniniJohn Doe Swedish boy.jpg
    mariabenini backohn Doe Swedish boy.jpg
    This little lad sat for his photo about 1870.  This date is based on the shape and style of the card photograph, the style of his suit and tie as well as the presence of the chair.

    Edgar Codding was a successful photographer in Knoxville, Illinois.
    1870 census codding.jpg
    1870 Federal Census record from National Archive microfilm M593, roll 241, p.87 digitized image from Heritage Quest, a Proquest database.

    In 1888, Maria's great-grandfather, Anders Nilsson, immigrated to Sioux City, Iowa. He wrote letters home about his time in the United States and stayed until 1933 to 1935. He signed his letters from America with the name Andrew.

    Benini thinks this photo might be proof that other family members also immigrated. A quick search of the census shows 38 Nilsons living in Illinois in 1870. The name could be a variant spelling of Nilsson.

    This information is a start. I'll post an update if Benini has any new information.

    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

  • 1870s photos | children | Immigrant Photos
    Sunday, 02 March 2014 17:30:41 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 16 December 2013
    A Gleasure Family Story
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I wrote about Ben Naylor's letters from the Gleasure Family in Ireland and the photos in the collection. Here's more of the story.

    When Frank Gleasure emigrated to Natick, Mass., about 1900, he left behind a number of younger siblings.

    For several years, his brother Joseph wrote letters imploring his big brother to let him move to America, too. He told of studying so he'd be ready for an office job. His dream was to move closer to his brother and seek his fortune in Massachusetts.

    Joseph Gleasure Litowel2.jpg
    Joseph Gleasure, circa 1905
    On Dec. 13, 1905, Joseph wrote: "I expect you will take me out to America about next March or April. I would not stop here any longer, I am totally sick of it.  If I stopped here any longer I would be getting too old nearly to be taken in an office. I am always thinking of what kind of a job I would get after landing. I would like to be in the Excise or Customs or some job you would be sure of. I think it is easy to get into the Excise or any Government position. Any how, I must till I get over first and then I would know what would be best."
    Two years later, Frank finally agreed that his brother could join him in America. The 21-year-old Joseph arrived in Boston May 10, 1907. He didn't find his dream job in Customs or Excise.  He ended up working on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in Boston.

    Not every American dream brought fortune and happiness. Often, immigrants found economic disappointments and tragedy. Only a few months later, Frank had to write to his family and provide sad news. While coupling cars at Boston's South Station on Dec. 19, 1907, Joseph was caught between two cars that collided, killing him instantly.  The newspapers reported that his death was one of two similar incidents that day.

    You can read more about the incident on Ben's blog.

    By searching the letters, Ben found the first mention of a camera. Joseph took the candid pictures featured in last week's posting. In his Dec. 13, 1905, letter he sent his brother Christmas greetings and enclosed a few pictures.

    You can search the Gleasure Letters by using the Blogger search box in the upper left hand corner of the screen.

    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

  • 1900-1910 photos | Immigrant Photos | Photos from abroad
    Monday, 16 December 2013 17:52:24 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 09 December 2013
    The Old Man
    Posted by Maureen

    Two years ago, Ben Naylor discovered this photograph of a older gent. Ben is stumped about the man's identity. 

    naylor2The Old Man (2).jpg

    Every photo tells a story and this one is no different. Ben's great-great-grandfather, Irish immigrant George Gleasure (1858-1921), had five children and raised them in Natick, Mass. 

    Frank was the oldest child (born in 1882). In 1896, George's wife suffered a fall and died. George immediately moved his whole family back to Kerry County, Ireland. Frank stayed in Ireland for five years until he was 18, and moved back to Natick in about 1900.

    For the next 60 years, Frank exchanged letters and photographs with his family in Listowel, Kerry County, Ireland. Ben's family didn't know about the letters and images until they were discovered in a trunk when his mother's uncle passed away. You can read these letters on Ben's blog The Gleasure Letters.

    Now back to the photo mystery: There were other images in the trunk including this one captioned "My brother George."

    naylorMy Brother George (2).jpg

    The appearance of the two photos leads me to believe that one of young George's siblings owned a camera.  Both are candid images on roughly cut photo paper glued to heavy paper. Fingerprints are visible on the prints. Perhaps this sibling had a darkroom.

    naylorMy Brother George fingerprint (2).jpg

    The younger George was Frank's younger brother (born 1894).  If he was approximately 10 to 12 years old in the above candid photo, it would've been taken between 1904 and 1906.  There's also a photo of Annie Gleasure, Frank and George's sister (born 1884), taken at about the same time.

    So who's the older man? If the photographer was one of Frank's siblings, the man could be their father, the Irish immigrant George Gleasure. In 1906, he would have been 58. Or it could be Ben's third-great-grandfather Francis Gleasure (1825-1911). In 1906, he was 81. 

    I don't think the man in the first photograph is old enough to be 81, suggesting the image is George Gleasure born 1858. 

    Love his muttonchops! This type of facial hair was very common in the 1880s. Men tended to retain the facial hair of their younger years.

    Ben's family has left him quite a legacy of letters and images to reveal the lives of the people on his 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

  • 1900-1910 photos | beards | Immigrant Photos
    Monday, 09 December 2013 17:27:13 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 28 January 2013
    Confirming Identities in Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    I'm working on a photo mystery that is making my eyes hurt and my brain spin. With any luck I'll be able to present it here next week. 

    In the meantime, Milah Goler Pasto contacted me through Facebook to ask about a couple of her family photos. She was hoping for confirmation that the mother and the child in this picture were who she was told they were.


    Their dress styles, the wicker chair and the painted backdrop all suggest a date of circa 1900. In that period, women's sleeves could have a slight fullness at the shoulder and bodices were pouched and full at the waist. Wicker chairs were a popular studio accessory in the 1890s and in the early 20th century. While painted backdrops were common throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, at the turn of the century they often featured household scenes.

    So who's in this lovely picture?  Irish immigrant Margaret (Mahoney) Sullivan (born 1873) and her daughter Margaret (born 1892).

    John Nathan Sullivan (born 1848), a "free person of color" married Margaret Mahoney and they had two daughters. He was a coachman for Dr. Hubbard of Taunton, Mass., and according to Milah, his obituary said "he was well and favorably known throughout the vicinity."

    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

  • 1900-1910 photos | african american | children | Immigrant Photos | women
    Monday, 28 January 2013 16:50:29 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, 04 September 2012
    The Story Behind Unknown Faces in Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week, I featured Julie Magerka's genealogical photo mystery. As you know, I believe that every photo tells a story.  By piecing together the clues present in a photo—photographer's imprint, props, faces, clothing and photographic format—you can let that photo talk.  Even if you can't identify who's in an image, those basic elements may eventually lead to new discoveries.


    Julie's photo encouraged her to investigate her Romanian roots. While the photo seems like a simple group portrait, the story represented in the image is anything but ordinary.


    Julie's grandmother's name appeared on her son Rudolph's birth record as Julia Magierka. The record was marked that the baby was "illegitimate." Julie's Dad always used the spelling of Magerka for his surname, without the i in the surname used by his mother.

    Julia Magierka met John Turansky/Turiansky supposedly when he was a prisoner of war during World War I, and she was a translator. The couple married and had a daughter. John immigrated to Canada first, then about a year later, Julia and Rudolph's half-sister, Anne, followed.

    Rudolph didn't immigrate to Canada for another decade. Family story-tellers used to have a lot of theories about the fact that Jullia left him alone. Perhaps he lived with the family depicted in this photo.

    Julie is hoping that further research will reveal the names of the other people in this people. All she knows at this point is that there is definitely more to this photo story. 

    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor, all available in

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

  • 1910s photos | group photos | Immigrant Photos | photo-research tips | Photos from abroad
    Tuesday, 04 September 2012 15:14:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 27 August 2012
    Identifying Unknown Faces in Old Photos
    Posted by Diane

    Over the years, a lot of you have sent me emails talking about a "picture moment." Genealogists are taught to look at census records, city directories and vital records, but if you read this column then you know that a photo can trigger a genealogical response. Gazing at an ancestral face suddenly makes you want to know more about the person.


    That's what happened to Julie Magerka of Ontario, Canada. This photo is the image that encouraged her to start researching her family tree. It's a nice image of an older woman surrounded by her descendants. In her email, Julie told me that her paternal roots "are in dark and mysterious Romania in a small village (now part of Ukraine) in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains."

    Julie's great-grandmother Catherine is the woman seated in the middle. Her dad is the boy on the right, with his mother behind him. Only her grandmother immigrated to Canada and sadly, never talked about her family. She's surrounded by her siblings in this picture, but no one in the family knows their names. Julie's father saved other photos of his aunts, but unfortunately, they are a mystery.

    This picture, taken circa 1916, generates some other questions:
    • Why was it taken?  
    Individuals often posed for a family picture before moving away. That could the reason for this picture.
    • Where is Catherine's husband?
    It's difficult to tell the color of Catherine's head scarf, but if her husband was deceased, she'd be wearing a dark-colored scarf. So why isn't he in this photo?
    The persistent mystery in this picture are putting names with the faces of the siblings. I'm hoping that by posting this picture online that someone will recognize them. 

    If you have a blog can you re-post this column to spread the word. Let's see if we can get the online community of genealogists to participate.

    Catherine and her sisters were aware of the fashions being worn in the circa 1916 period. Skirts were at the ankle and blouses featured the variety of collars worn by these women.

    The date for this image is based on the subjects' clothing but also on the birth date of Julie's father. He was born in 1911, and could be at least 5 years old in this photo.

    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

  • 1910s photos | group photos | Immigrant Photos | women
    Monday, 27 August 2012 15:11:56 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, 20 February 2012
    Foreign vs. American Fashion
    Posted by Maureen

    My mind is focused on packing for Who Do You Think You Are? Live! in London.  I'll be at this dynamic trade show for three days and I'll be presenting two lectures—one about online picture research and the other on writing your family memoir.  Can't wait!!

    While I'm in London looking at pictures I thought it would be a good time for a quiz. I've been to WDYTYA three years in a row looking at pictures.   It's been a learning experience.  The number one question folks ask me when I'm there is "what's the difference between American and English fashion?" 

    No, not all Americans dressed in Western style hats. 

    Photographic methods vary just a bit. Daguerreotypes weren't as common in England as America, but early paper photographs were available from 1839 on. The American invention, the tintype, also wasn't as popular in England. 

    Clothing is a little more difficult. The differences can be subtle or dramatic.  Everyday dress is about the same, but occupational dress has several distinctions. are two pictures.  Vote in the comment section below and tell me which is a British man and which is American.  I'll weigh in when I return. 

    Photo one

    Photo two


    (If you like these hats you should see the ones in my new Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900. It's available in the ShopFamilyTree store. Click the link below.)

    If you happen to be in London, stop by the Who Do You Think You Are? Live! photo gallery and say hello.

    Thank you for participating in my Silly Old Photo contest on my website. It's not too late to vote.  I've extended the deadline until the day I return.

    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

  • Immigrant Photos | men | unusual clothing
    Monday, 20 February 2012 14:03:04 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [32]
    # 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, 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]
    # Tuesday, 12 July 2011
    Who's That Girl?
    Posted by Maureen

    Do you want a chance to win a trip for two to Belgium and a $1000 shopping trip to fashion icon Diane Von Furstenberg's boutique? 

    All you have to do is register on the Red Star Line blog and solve a mystery. Anyone know the identity of this girl?

    Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Canada

    The online photo caption is "Young Galician immigrant holding envelope labelled 'Red Star Line.' Saint John, NB. May, 1905."

    Journalist Gretchen Kelly recently interviewed me for the Red Star Line blog, which focuses on this picture. Each week she investigates another angle to the story. By reading her blog, you'll learn about Galician immigration to Canada, the history of the Red Star Line and how Gretchen is trying to solve this picture puzzle.

    She asked how I'd go about determining this girl's identity. As you might expect, I have a few ideas. I'll write a follow-up account once I've tracked down the leads. However, the rules of photo identification are clear whether they're applied to this photo or to your unidentified family image:
    • Never assume:  I haven't seen the original photo, so I can't determine the truthfulness of the caption. The first rule of photo identification combines "never assume" and "don't jump to conclusions."

    • Who wrote the caption? So who wrote this caption and when?  Was it the original photographer or an archivist years later? Believe it or not, handwriting will help you place a caption in a time frame.  Handwriting can vary from generation to generation. What type of pencil or pen was used to write the caption?  If it's in ballpoint, then this caption was probably written after this style of pen became widely available in 1945.

    • Is the date correct? The clues in the caption will help determine if the date could be correct. Read handwriting carefully; it's easy to misinterpret numbers. In this case, there were no Red Star Line ships leaving for New Brunswick in May, 1905, so something is wrong. Is the month wrong or the year incorrect? Or perhaps the whole scene is a promotional setup—the girl came in on a different ship and the photographer gave her a Red Star Line ticket to hold. That's a provocative theory (gasp!).

    • Why was the photograph taken? Photographs were taken of recent immigrants to New Brunswick to promote immigration to western Canada. There's another story behind this picture—the reason for the portrait.

    • Who is she? In addition to this photograph documenting one girl's journey to America, she's someone's relative. Until the picture proof adds up, I wonder about the truthfulness of the whole caption. Could she be an immigrant from a different part of Europe?
    • Where was the picture taken? There isn't much information in the background to place this photo, however there's another photo online of a group arriving in New Brunswick:
    group red
    Notice the wall behind them in this photo from the National Archives of Canada. It's the same as in the first photo. Both images are identified as having been taken in New Brunswick.
    OK, so now you know that I'm the type of person who has to see the proof. However, there are clear clues in the image. The background helps verify where it was taken. 

    The little girl is probably around 6 to 10 years old. Her face still has a very young appearance. She wears her hair back in a neat braid. On the seat beside her is a packet of clothes.

    She has a tidy appearance. Her dress and coat are appropriate for the early 20th century. She has a pinafore over the top of her dress, stockings and well-polished boots. It's an interesting appearance for a young immigrant. 

    Other questions come to mind. Did she immigrate alone? It wasn't that unusual an occurrence. Or did she come with family and the photographer singled her out from the group?

    Genealogists all over the world are hunting for her identity trying to find her in passenger lists. The contest is open to all. 

    I'll let you know what happens and if I discover any new clues. 

    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

  • children | group photos | hairstyles | Immigrant Photos | unusual photos
    Tuesday, 12 July 2011 15:49:53 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # 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]
    # Monday, 13 December 2010
    Immigrant Clues and Family Stories
    Posted by Maureen

    Poorescan0002 edit.jpg

    Terri Poore and her cousin have a lot of questions about this photo. Who, what, when and where is just the beginning.

    Unfortunately, the original owner of the picture is currently unknown. Terri's cousin received a copy of it years ago and can't remember who gave him the print.

    Terri and her cousin believe the folks in the picture are Felix Horvat (1884-1952), his first wife Sophie (1890-1918) and their daughter Anna 1909-1997).  I agree with this identification.

    There is a long complicated story about this couple. It's very important to write down the oral history of your family because you never know when all the pieces will link up. This photo is a perfect example of how stories and pictures are a natural match.

    First the facts: Sophie's hat in this picture and her coat date the picture. She is very well-dressed in a heavy wool coat, fur collar and an oversize hat known as a toque. Her hat and clothing combined with the birth date of their daughter date this picture to circa 1910. Toques were all the rage at the end of the first decade of the 20th century.

    Her husband wears ethnic dress that identifies him as a resident of Croatia. The family lived in Ljubljujana, Croatia.

    Now here's where it gets interesting. Family stories relate how this couple met. He was a country boy who worked as a coach driver for a wealthy family—the Bahuneks. Their daughter ran away with the coachman!  Sophie, her husband Felix and their daughter Anna immigrated to the United States in 1911 and lived in West Virginia for a time. The Bahuneks followed their daughter and also immigrated. 

    There is a sad twist to this tale. According to family lore, when Sophie gave birth to Terri's grandfather Nicholas in 1912, Sophie's mother was present for the birth. Her mother and the midwife decided she shouldn't have any more children with that "awful man" so they tried to perform a gynecological procedure to prevent more children. 

    The Horvat family moved to Michigan, but Sophie was so ill after the childbirth procedure that Felix allowed her family to move her back to West Virginia so they could care for her. He retained the children. In 1918, Sophie likely died from complications related to that botched procedure.

    Family stories also relate how immediately following her death, her husband Felix and her father had a knife fight to determine the custody of the children. Felix won. He took the children back to Michigan and eventually married the children's caretaker, also named Sophie.

    This photo is the gateway to an amazing family tale. Present in the image is pictorial evidence of the economic difference between the husband and wife. She's very fashionably dressed while he still wears his native dress. She's the city dweller and he's from the country.

    Now Terri is trying to piece together the family history and try to locate living relatives.

    1900-1910 photos | children | hats | Immigrant Photos
    Monday, 13 December 2010 16:47:53 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 06 December 2010
    Shipboard Clues, Part 3
    Posted by Maureen

    This week is another installment of Jake Jacoby's photo of a group in his collection. Two weeks ago in Photo Mysteries, A Clue at a Time, I discussed clothing clues.  Last week in Shipboard Clues, I told you what I knew about the caption and the ship.

    Photo mysteries take time to solve. I feel like I'm getting closer. After another conversation with Jake, we came to the conclusion that his grandfather might not be greeting a group of immigrants. It could be another occasion.

    I've spent a lot of time calling folks knowledgeable about local history in both Mobile, Ala. and Pensacola, Fla., to learn more about the ship. I'm waiting for news.

    Two readers of this column wrote to me:

    Genealogist Drew Smith also used the search terms german ship baltimore and found a mention of a German ship named the Baltimore that sank at sea Jan. 24, 1897, en route from London to New York. Thank you, Drew!  I followed this lead and discovered a couple of news stories about it. One was in the New York Times and the other is available through the Kentuckiana Digital Library's database of the Daily Evening Bulletin (Maysville, Ky.). 

    That Baltimore was commanded by a Capt. Hillman, but as far as I know, it didn't carry passengers. It sank with its cargo of chalk aboard. I'm excited to find a captain with that surname. Perhaps he also commanded a different ship at some time prior to the sinking. Hillman could be the name in the partially missing caption in Jake's picture.

    Rachel Peirce's great-grandfather was a ship's captain, and she still has his books. There was a ship Baltimore listed in List of the Merchant Vessels in the United States, 1896 (p. 217). It appears to have been in Mobile, Ala.

    I'm also researching packet steam boats that might have operated between Mobile and Pensacola. Quite a few of these boats used Mobile as a port.

    I'll end this week with another picture of Jake's grandfather:

    GrandpaJacoby copy.jpg

    This was a New Year's Eve affair at the Progress Club in Pensacola. The image was taken in 1894. From  left to right are Charles Levy (seated), Lep Hirshman (standing), Joe Jacoby (seated with cane), Nathan Forcheimer (standing) and Ike Hirshman (seated).

    Share your family photo stories with future generations in the book Family Tree Legacies: Preserving Memories Throughout Time. Given with printed photos or a family photo CD, it'll be a treasured holiday gift.

    1890s photos | group photos | Immigrant Photos | unusual photos
    Monday, 06 December 2010 16:43:37 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 29 November 2010
    Shipboard Clues
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week in A Photo Mystery, A Clue at a Time, I introduced you to a wonderful group picture of folks on a ship.

    Joseph Jacoby2.jpg

    The Ship
    What I didn't show you is the caption that runs along the bottom edge of the picture. Unfortunately, part of the cardboard is broken off, leaving us to guess at the rest of the information.  I can't make out the first word, but there is a "....noon" or "roon" followed by "on board German Ship Baltimore." According to the owner of the photo, below the caption and cut off in the scan of the photo is "Capt. Hillr..." The rest of his last name is missing.  So far, no luck in finding a man with a last name starting with those letters.

    When you're faced with incomplete caption information, it's best to start with what you know.  In this instance, I Googled Ship Baltimore. On, I found a description. There was a German ship, Baltimore. It was built in 1868 for the North German Lloyd of Bremen and traveled from Bremen to Baltimore until 1872. In 1881, she was then used for the Bremen to South America service. The big problem with this ship being the one in the photo is the final date of service. This particular Baltimore was scrapped in 1894. 

    In the first column I dated the photo from 1896 to 1899. 

    There was another ship, the City of Baltimore that operated as part of the Baltimore Mail Line, but its dates of service are too late. It traveled from Baltimore to Hamburg in the 1930s. Not all information is online and I'm still looking for a good off-line resource. 

    There must be another ship with the same name that operated in the late 1890s. Just haven't found it yet.

    The Location
    Jake Jacoby's grandfather lived his whole life in either Mobile, Ala., or Pensacola, Fla. There is a BIG question about where this photo was taken. Mobile was a busy port and many immigrants arrived there, but right now we lack proof.

    If you had an ancestor arrive at Mobile, the National Archives has an Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Ports in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, 1890-1924 (T517).

    There is another possibility. The Sept. 1, 1904, Canebrake Herald (Uniontown, Ala.) mentioned Joseph Jacoby. He was a traveling salesman for his brother's business, Jacoby Grocery Co.. Since in the 1900 federal census, Jacoby lists his occupation as a salesman, perhaps he traveled, and this photo might have been taken on a trip during the last years of the 1890s.

    While I've been able to date the photo and work with the owner to sort through clues, the final answer is elusive. Jake Jacoby thinks the photo was taken in Mobile rather than Pensacola. It's a good assumption. His grandfather had business and family connections in Mobile.

    A single name of an immigrant depicted in this photo would help solve the mystery, but unfortunately no one's name appears on the photo.

    Got a mystery photo? Demystify it with help from Maureen A. Taylor's book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs.

    hats | Immigrant Photos | men | unusual photos | women
    Monday, 29 November 2010 21:52:32 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 22 November 2010
    A Photo Mystery, A Clue at a Time
    Posted by Maureen

    Complex image identification often requires examining each piece of a photo story—historical context, family history, and costume history along with a bit of common sense.

    Jake Jacoby owns this wonderful image of a group of people onboard a ship. There is a caption, but I'll share that next week. I'm still working on it.

    Joseph Jacoby3.jpg

    Jake knows that his grandfather, Joseph M. Jacoby is seated on the far right in the front.

    Joseph Jacobyedit.jpg

    What's he doing on a ship? Jake thinks he's welcoming a group of Jewish immigrants from Germany. 

    I can date the photograph by the hats and other costume clues. The width of this woman's sleeve and the birds and feathers in the women's hats suggest that it was taken about 1896 to 1899.

    Joseph Jacobyhat.jpg

    This is the woman standing directly behind Joseph Jacoby.

    Joseph's life is well-documented. He was born in Mobile, Ala. in 1865, and in the 1885 Pensacola, Fla., city directory, he's working as a clerk at P. Stone. During the period of this photograph, Joseph still lived in Pensacola. He married Esther Myerson on Jan. 4, 1896.

    Despite living in Florida, Joseph maintained his ties with family and friends in Mobile. He actually attended temple there. Approximately 60 miles separate the two cities. Jake knows his grandfather traveled between Mobile and Pensacola via wagon.

    The big question regarding this photo is, where was it taken? Next week, I'll be back with some information on the caption and some tips for researching late-19th century passenger lists.

    I'm planning a special column for the end of the year. Please send in your photos of family celebrating the holidays in the past.  You can email them to me. 

    Happy Thanksgiving!!

    1890s photos | group photos | hats | Immigrant Photos | unusual photos
    Monday, 22 November 2010 17:31:19 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 08 November 2010
    Family Across the Border
    Posted by Maureen

    Like so many French-Canadians and Acadians, some of Marie-Josee Binette's family left Quebec in the 1890s to seek jobs in the United States. She owns a lovely photo album that documents this move in pictures, but she has no idea who the people are.

    Marie-Josee knows that her great-grandmother Elina (Aline) Beaudoin spent several years in Lowell, Mass. with her husband Onesime Deblois. Both worked in area factories. After several years, some relatives stayed in the United States while others returned to Quebec. It's a familiar story to those of us with French-Canadian ancestry.

    From the imprint on this photo, it also appears that someone either lived in or visited the nearby city of Lawrence, Mass. Its nickname is the Immigrant City.


    In the album is this beautiful image of a young couple. The style of her sleeves and dress date the photo to the last years of the 1890s. The photographer, Amos Morrill Bean, appears in Chris Steele and Ron Polito's A Directory of Massachusetts Photographers 1839-1900 (Picton Press, 1993). He was in business from 1868-1900.

    It's a great picture and I've seen poses like this before. While the couple's hands aren't touching, it suggestive of a wedding picture. Both the man and the woman wear very nice clothing. On their hands are brand new rings. The light glints off them. The woman wears her ring on the traditional left hand while her "husband" wears his on the right.  It's interesting.


    My favorite part of this picture is the props. Both the man and the woman hold photographs on the table between them. Could this symbolize family that couldn't be there for the wedding? It's possible. There are any number of reasons to include photographs as props.

    Marie-Josee might find she still has cousins living in this country. Two organizations worth contacting are the American Canadian Genealogical Society and the American-French Genealogical Society. Both organizations have extensive resources on families that moved here, as well as those in Quebec.

    Got a mystery photo? Demystify it with help from Maureen A. Taylor's book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs.

    1890s photos | Immigrant Photos | men | wedding | women
    Monday, 08 November 2010 16:44:17 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 08 February 2010
    The Search for Annie Moore
    Posted by Maureen

    If you don't know who Annie Moore is, you haven't been following Megan Smolenyak's research on her.  For several years, Megan has been intrigued by her. Annie Moore was the first person to step foot on Ellis Island when it opened Jan. 1, 1892—a pretty significant first. There wasn't much known about her until Megan started digging. 

    You know how research can lead to one thing and another? Well, that's what happened with Annie. Before long, Megan found two of Annie's relatives with images purported to show this mysterious woman. They claimed they had seen a photo of her at Ellis Island.

    It's a long story. I've featured the research done so far on both Annie and the pictures on my own blog last week. Megan and I have been trying to verify the identity of the image of three children and figure out where it was taken.

    There are folks on both sides of this photo problem. Megan and I have to do more research, and we'd love to see the original picture.

    Rather than link to all the research in this column, you can view the image and click through the links provided in my blog. It's a complicated piece of photo research.

    Comments are graciously accepted! 

    1890s photos | children | Immigrant Photos | photo-research tips
    Monday, 08 February 2010 19:01:23 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 14 December 2009
    Finding the Story, Part Three
    Posted by Maureen

    If you've been following the last two weeks' worth of Joan Lee's search for her husband's grandfather, you know how complicated this story is. In week one, I looked at a photograph reputed to be Fred Klingbeil and in week two, I explained some additional problems with the Lee/Klingeil family tree.

    Here are the basics: The Canadian branch of the Klingbeil family told Joan that Fred's father, Julius, immigrated to join his brother Louis in Canada. Joan had documentation but thought it would be fun to confirm the relationship with DNA. Her husband (descended from Julius) and the man in Canada (descended from Louis) sent off their cheek samples for a 33-marker test from's DNA testing service and waited.

    Joan couldn't believe there was yet another twist in the story—the DNA didn't match. At all! Not a single marker.

    According to Bennett Greenspan of Family Tree DNA, this is almost an impossibility and shows that the two men aren't related. They didn't even share a haplogroup. Joan's husband is R1a and his Canadian cousin is J2. They took the test again, with the same results. The brother of the Canadian cousin also sent in a DNA test and that matched his sibling exactly.

    So where does this leave Joan's husband and her research? The documentary evidence clearly shows that Fred was Melvin's father on the birth register, but if the DNA doesn't match, then Melvin wasn't genetically matched to the Canadian family, or was he?

    This raises a question about a non-paternity event in the family. Was Fred the genetic father of Melvin? Were Louis and Julius Klingbeil natural brothers? Greenspan suggested that the family needs a tie-breaker, another direct male descendant to see where this issue occurs. In order to find the "break" in the family tree, Joan needs to locate another male descendant to see if the non-paternity is on Louis or Julius's line, and when it happened.

    Just when you think you've see it all, Joan discovered another factor: Her husband had an exact match in the Y-DNA database. This individual's family immigrated through Ellis Island from Kalix, Sweden, in the early 20th century, and eventually settled in Minnesota. That man's family appears to have German origins.

    But here's the trouble: Joan has never found any link to this man in her research and their paper trails don't match. It's no wonder that Joan and her husband and his Canadian kin are shaking their heads.

    From a simple photo and an ordinary question, a set of family history complexities have caused a lot of confusion. This is one heck of a family history mystery. For now, it's unsolved.

    Got a family photo of the holidays to share? Send it to me and I'll feature it next week (or post it to your blog and I'll link to it here).

    Immigrant Photos
    Monday, 14 December 2009 15:40:19 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [6]
    # 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, 13 July 2009
    Which Immigrant is It?
    Posted by Maureen

    I've been asked to determine which wife is in a picture or which child, but this is the first inquiry that referred to an immigrant-ancestor mystery.

    Jeanette Bias told me that "she knows everything about her family," just not who's in this picture. It's a scan of a cousin's original. This ardent genealogist has written two books on her family and is coordinating a reunion for late summer. She really wants to know who's in this image! 

    Bias Unknown Dulas.jpg

    This elderly couple's portrait makes a great example of an immigrant portrait. First, their clothing isn't current to the late 19th century; they're wearing simple clothing from their homeland. His high boots and her bonnet are clearly not fashionable, but rather, functional and cultural. 

    Bias knows that all of her family immigrated from a small village in Silesia (now part of southwest Poland).

    In order to help Jeannette date the picture and identify the couple, I need a couple of other details.

    • Color of the card stock of the original: Different color photographic mounts were popular at different times.

    • A photographer's name: I'm hopeful that either the bottom margin of the card or the back contains the name of a photographer.

    The backdrop isn't unusual enough to jump to conclusion, but could this be a couple who remained in Silesia? The additional information will help.

    Jeannette originally thought this was Simon (1843-1892) and Mary Dulas (1850-1932). She owns several pictures of Mary, but none of Simon. The couple immigrated on Nov. 1, 1884.  When Simon died at 55, Mary was only 42. This couple is much older than that.

    So who's in the image?  I'm working with Jeannette to figure out this puzzle in time for her family reunion. The card stock, photographer's info. and perhaps even geography will help solve this one. Stay tuned!

    Immigrant Photos
    Monday, 13 July 2009 21:06:10 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]