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<2017 July>

by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, 18 May 2014
Cousin Connections Through Old Pictures
Posted by Diane

Never underestimate the power of a picture.  A single photo can connect you with a missing piece of evidence, point you in a new direction or help you meet "new" relatives. 

Last week's picture brought two women closer together and solved a more than 60-year-old mystery.


Alice Broderick and her cousin Mary Ellen Gillespie arrived at Ellis Island in June 1906.

At one time the Gillespie relatives were very close, but as often happens, new generations create distance between cousins. Everyone means to keep in touch, but time and circumstances interfere.

Anne Hanlon has spent years researching her mother's family history. A few years ago, Anne's sister gave her a letter the family found in their mother's belongings when she died in 1949.  It was from a Mary Rupp, signed "your cousin."  Anne didn't know exactly how her mother was connected to Mrs. Rupp.

Anne periodically Googled the name "Mary Rupp" to see if any new information came to light. One of these searches led her to Maureen Petrilli's page. She sent Maureen a message.  One query answered family history mysteries for both women.

Mary Ellen Gillespie Donelan Rupp

Anne, who owns the above photograph of the two women, thought one of the women on the postcard might be Maureen's grandmother. The details in last week's column verified when the picture was taken. There's a striking resemblance between the woman in Maureen's picture of her grandmother and the seated woman in the postcard.

Maureen's paternal great-grandmother, Mary Rupp, wrote that letter to Anne's mother. No one knows if Mary received a reply from her cousin.

Mary Ellen Gillespie Rupp's first husband, Michael Joseph Donelan, (Maureen's paternal grandfather) was crushed to death in a mining accident in Pennsylvania in 1921, just four months before Maureen's father was born. Mary became a widow with four children to support and another one on the way. Once she remarried, the family didn't really talk about her first husband.  However, in the letter to her cousin, Mary mentioned that Michael was born in Galway, Ireland, a fact that Maureen didn't know.

Anne, related to Maureen through Mary's first cousin, sent her newly rediscovered cousin both the letter and the photo. There may yet another connection between Anne and Maureen: Anne's father's brothers married sisters with the same surname as Maureen's grandfather! 

Online reunions happen everyday. Do you have one to share?

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 | photo-research tips | Reunions
    Sunday, 18 May 2014 16:36:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 28 October 2013
    Photo Reunions after Hurricane Sandy
    Posted by Maureen

    A year ago, Hurricane Sandy stormed into the East Coast of the United States destroying property and taking lives. Generations of family photographs were blown or washed out of destroyed and damaged houses. In the midst of the aftermath and chaos, one woman began focusing on images she found scattered along the shoreline and roads of her community of Union Beach, NJ.

    Jeannette von Houten found thousands of images scattered all over the place covered in mud and mold. This rescue effort took time and money. Personal historian Mary Danielsen pitched in to help and the Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner Co. provided scanners.

    A conservator colleague of mine suggested the team wear gloves for handling the very dirty images and masks to prevent them from inhaling chemicals and mold. Instead of distilled water, cold tap water sufficed to wash the images. This is a delicate task. Immersion in water could destroy the pictures, but with the damage they'd already experienced due to exposure to the elements and water-borne debris, it was worth the risk. Do not attempt this type of rescue without professional advice.

    Today, Jeannette and her cousin Joseph Larnaitis continue the task. Out of the approximately 25,000 images found, about 5,000 have been saved. Anyone who lost pictures during the storm should consult the project website, Union Beach Memories.

    union beach.jpg

    Not all of the photos are online. The Union Beach Library has 60 binders of images waiting to be claimed.

    According to Jeannette, many families are just finding out about this photo rescue. Let's help her reconnect families with their photos by spreading the word.

    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

  • Hurricane Sandy | Photo-sharing sites | preserving photos | Reunions
    Monday, 28 October 2013 14:43:19 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 04 February 2013
    Reuniting Orphan Photos With Family
    Posted by Maureen

    Have you ever walked into an antique store and found a photo with a name on it? This is known as an orphan photo. 

    At some point in its photographic lifespan, it became separated from its family. Photos are rarely mentioned in probate records, their inheritance often a matter of serendipity. When family members die and no one steps forward to claim pictures, they end up in tag sales, antique shops and on eBay.

    The next time you see one of these pictures, consider purchasing it. Using your genealogical research skills, you might be able to reunite it with family members that "lost" a piece of the past. They'll be glad you found it.

    I'm working on two such images, but haven't solved the ownership mystery yet. Here's what I've done to research the images.

    1) Date the Image
    Unless the name on the image is unusual, it's necessary to have a time frame. Photographer's work dates, clothing details, props and photographic format can place the image within a range of dates. Next, I estimate the age of the person in the image.

    2) Consult the Census
    Using information in the photographer's imprint, such as geographic location, can help narrow down the search parameters. I start by searching the census using full names. Since the name on the image might be a nickname, also try wildcard searching. If the photo was taken in a small town, it's sometimes useful to browse through the census for that area to locate others with a similar surname.

    3) Use City Directories, and local libraries and historical societies often have city directories. Search for the photographer and for the surname of the person pictured.

    4) Survey the News
    Since it was common for family to visit photo studios when they were on vacation or visiting relatives, it's a good idea to see if there are any newspaper stories about special events or advertisements for the photographer. Each resource provides you with an opportunity to verify the information in the caption.

    5) Check Genealogical Databases
    Search a variety of genealogical databases such as and On Ancestry, click the box "Family Trees" at the bottom of the search screen to search for matches. On, use the Search People box on the top right.

    In addition to these tips, I also analyze the handwriting to determine if someone living within the lifetime of the person depicted wrote the caption, or a descendant did it later. For instance, ballpoint pen is a 20th-century invention.

    Sometimes success is just a few clicks away, while other times the answer seems out of reach.

    This month, I'll also blog about other ways to reconnect with your "missing" family photos.

    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

  • Photo fun | photo-research tips | Photo-sharing sites | Reunions
    Monday, 04 February 2013 20:13:50 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 03 December 2012
    Reader-Submitted Multi-Generational Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

    I've been thinking about holiday cards. On Thanksgiving all 14 members of my husband's family—three generations of relatives—stood in the yard and posed for a group portrait. 

    I find the thought of having even more generations represented in a single image amazing. Yet that's just what a reader submitted when I asked for multi-generation pictures.

    Kay Haden sent me two five-generation images from her family. There is no duplication of people in the two pictures.

    In the first, someone used a ballpoint pen to write the names on the people. I wish they'd written on the back with a soft pencil, but there are lots of family photos with inked IDs.

    While the image states a date of 1907, Kay knows that it was actually taken two years later in 1909. This is based on the birth year of the baby.
    The baby is Graydon Earl Comstock (1908-1983). He's sitting on his father's lap—Kenney Marcus Comstock (1887-1958). Kenney's father, James Monroe Comstock (1860-1928), stands behind him. Next to James is his mother, Miranda Jane (Brown) Comstock (1842-1912). The oldest person in the image is the 2x great grandmother of the baby, Rebekah Poindexter (Jones) Brown (1822-1912).

    Five Generations edit.jpg

    In this 1961 image, Kay is the young woman in the back row. Her mother stands next to her. The baby is her oldest son. In the front row is the baby's great-grandmother and his 2x great grandmother. I don't usually publish images of living individuals, so I've withheld their names. 

    There is so much family history in these photos! If you pose for one, please take time to also sit with the family members and reminisce about their lives. Bring along a voice recorder/video capture device so that you can relive the moment later on—as well as save a piece of your family history.

    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 | Reunions | women
    Monday, 03 December 2012 00:52:55 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 06 August 2012
    It's a Family Reunion
    Posted by Maureen

    Have you ever been to a family reunion? I'm writing this from my husband's reunion. It's an every-other-year event that's been held since the mid-20th century. There's a lot of debate about when the first one was held. 

    Here are two observations:

    • The coordinator is an energetic cousin who plans activities and dinners.  She's also become involved with creating a family website. What's interesting is that she doesn't consider herself a genealogist. I disagree: iPad in hand, she's busy interviewing family members about past generations to put the information online. Yup ... you guessed it, she's collecting photos, too. The site isn't live yet, but based on her enthusiasm, it will be soon. Can't wait to see what she's created!
    • Family history is everywhere. Whether it's a wedding that happened two weeks ago or figuring out when everyone first got together, there's a lot of history being collected.  It's also being made everyday.  Another cousin chronicles each reunion. She creates an album for every event with the photographs sent to her afterward. Each album is a time capsule.

    If you've been to a reunion (or are planning one) can you comment below and share with readers ideas for photo-related activities to incorporate? We take a family photo at each reunion and snap lots of pictures. What have you done at your reunion? 

    Reunions magazine has a great website. Click any tab and you'll find suggestions for planning a reunion, activities for young and old, and details on sharing the pictures later. The resort where our event is held has a Pinterest site so guests can share photos they've posted. Reunions magazine also has a Pinterest page with dozens of boards. There are family history related t-shirt ideas, invitations, illustrated family trees and more.

    I'm off to fill biodegradable water balloons for the traditional water balloon fight. Back next week with a family history photo mystery!

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

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

  • Want to improve your genealogical skills and connect with other family historians—all from the convenience of home? Check out Family Tree University's Fall 2012 Virtual Genealogy Conference, happening Sept. 14-16. Early bird registration ends Friday, Aug. 10 at 11:59 p.m.—enter code FTUVCEARLY at checkout to save $50!

    Photo-sharing sites | preserving photos | Reunions
    Monday, 06 August 2012 15:52:19 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]