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<2017 June>

by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, 16 October 2016
How to Identify an Old Tintype Photo
Posted by Maureen

In part three of genealogist Darlene Sampley's mystery photos, it's time to take a look at another tintype.

The first post explored the identity of a blue-eyed blonde girl in a painted tintype. Last week, we looked at a pair of crayon portraits.

Preservation Note
A tintype is an image created on a thin sheet of metal. If you don't know whether you have a tintype, here's a trick: A magnet will be attracted to a tintype.

As you can see on the edges of this photo, the emulsion (image layer) has a tendency to flake off. When you have an image with this type of damage, scan it immediately to digitally preserve it. It should be kept in an acid- and lignin-free envelope for storage. 

Dating the Image
Created with a process patented in 1856, tintypes remained popular into the 20th century. This tintype was once in a case—you can see the mark of the original brass mat that framed the image. If the mat were present, it would be possible to study the design on the brass. But all we can see are the rounded corners of the opening.

In this instance, the clothing helps determine a time frame for the image.

This middle-aged couple posed for a solemn portrait in good clothes. The husband chose a wool checked shawl-collared vest. He tied his neck scarf in the horizontal style popular in the 1850s. He has a neck beard extending from near his ears to beneath the chin.

His wife wears a cap on her head. A single brooch decorates her collar. While her clothes appear dark in this portrait, they may not be. Even bright colors like orange looked black in photos. She could be wearing a red dress or other dark shade.

You can see that both members of this couple have blue eyes.

There is one more clue in this picture.

The man's hands show that he works without gloves. On his wife's hand is a wedding ring. Yes, in the picture it appears that it's on her right hand, but this is because the image is reversed—common for early photographic processes. Not all photographers used reversal lens to make portraits look natural.

Let's estimate that this man is in his late 50s. If the picture was taken circa 1858, then he was born circa 1810. Darlene should examine her research for a man born about that time. I'm hoping these details help Darlene identify this couple.

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

  • SaveSaveSaveSave
    1850s photos | cased images | men | Tintypes | women
    Sunday, 16 October 2016 19:07:01 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 12 June 2016
    Daguerreotype, Ambrotype and Tintype: Telling Them Apart
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week's post discussed Jay Kruizenga's ancestor James Pennington's dreamy blue eyes and trendy 1850s fashion.

    When an individual visited a photo studio in the late 1850s, he could choose the style of portrait—shiny reflective daguerreotype, glass ambrotype, metal tintype or a paper card photo. 

    This is a key part of identifying a photo from the mid-19th century. If an image was taken before 1854, then it's a daguerreotype, but if it was taken after that point, then it could be one of the others. 

    Daguerreotypes, introduced in 1839, have a distinctive appearance. Because they're reflective, you have to tilt them at a 45-degree angle in order to view the image. Otherwise, the silver-coated copper plate is often so shiny you just see yourself in the plate.

    Ambrotypes, patented in 1854, are on glass. Backed with a dark substance (such as varnish or paper) they look positive, but when the backing starts to deteriorate, you can often see through the glass. This gives the image a ghostly appearance.

    Tintypes, patented in 1856, are actually on iron, not tin. Unlike a daguerreotype, tintypes are not reflective. While you can find them in cases (like the previous two image types), most tintypes found in collections aren't in any type of protective sleeve or case.

    Card photographs (introduced in the United States about 1859) are on cardstock and instantly recognizable.

    So James posed about 1857, which means his portrait could be a daguerreotype, ambrotype or tintype. Jay's cousin sent him the pictures digitally. When she photographed the images, she propped them on a dark surface to decrease the reflection. Plus, the image has a type of deterioration known as a halo, usually found on daguerreotypes.
    I'm leaning toward it being a daguerreotype, but sometimes a digital image can be deceiving. We're waiting for verification of the appearance of the original.

    Photo Milestone
    After reading Jay's family history website, it's pretty clear when James posed for this image. He married his wife Esther Inwood in 1857. Both James and his bride are dressed for the occasion. 

    Mysteries usually come in twos. The picture of James came with another. The woman is Esther, an ID based on other photos of her. The mystery is the identity of the girl.

    Esther's attire also suggests the photo was taken circa 1857 for her wedding. The wide collar and dress design are appropriate for the time period. You can even see the outline of her corset.

    So who's the girl?  The couple didn't have children at this point. I wonder if she could be a flower girl? 

    Esther's brother had a daughter Sarah, but in 1857, she'd only be 4, and this girl is older. She could be the daughter of one of the witnesses at the wedding.

    If you'd like to see a wonderful example of how to present your family history on the web, take a few minutes to look at Jay's site on James Pennington.  You'll find everything from narrative to documents and DNA. 

    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 | cased images | daguerreotype | wedding
    Sunday, 12 June 2016 20:27:46 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 08 November 2015
    The True Story of Abraham Lincoln's Beard
    Posted by Maureen

    Abraham Lincoln, 1858, Library of Congress

    The story of Abraham Lincoln's beard is a sweet one. In 1860, a young girl named Grace Bedell wrote to the then-presidential candidate, advising him to grow a beard to aid his campaign and his appearance.

    "I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. "

    Lincoln responded that he wouldn't make any promises yet a few months later he's photographed with the beginnings of his trademark facial hair.

    1860, Library of Congress

    Lincoln was the first President to have a beard. 

    1863 at Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner's studio, Library of Congress.

    It's a remarkable tale of how a preteen may have influenced a political candidate's appearance (and perhaps his career). Lincoln's beard made his a fashion icon of the 19th century and led many men to follow his lead. You can see more male fashion trendsetters in Hairstyles 1840-1900.

    Many books are written about Lincoln, but two of my favorites focus on photographs of him:
    • Lincoln Photographs: A Complete Album by Lloyd Ostendorf (Rockwood Press, 1998)
    • Lincoln Life-Size by Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt and Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009). 
    Online sources of pictures of Lincoln include the Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division and the Allen County Public Library's Lincoln Collection.

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

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

  • 1860s photos | Abraham Lincoln | beards | cased images | children
    Sunday, 08 November 2015 16:09:19 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 10 February 2014
    Photo Album Mystery: Whose Granddad is It?
    Posted by Maureen

    Photo albums are always interesting to look at.  You can find almost anything tucked into a album: I've seen locks of hair, swatches of fabric, colorful scraps of paper, postcards, family photos, and images of friends and famous folk. Most times it isn't clear as to who's who.

    Art Parker calls himself a "Kodak kid" from Rochester who grew up in the Pocket Instamatic generation. He's fascinated with photographs but is stumped by this image.


    At some point, a well-meaning relative of this man wrote on the page, "Grand Dad Armstrong."  I bet you know the problem.  The big question is, whose granddad is Mr. Armstrong?

    This is a question of provenance. The history of ownership of this image is very important. This album is currently owned by Art's cousin. To verify the identity of this gent, it's important to know who owned the album all the way back to when it was put together. Of course, it's possible someone added that image later, but it's also likely that the person who placed the images in the album put it there.

    Some 19th-century albums have patent numbers in the front that can suggest when a relative bought it. Researching patents is really easy at Google's Patent Search. Art can enter a patent number into the search box and find the patent relating to the album. Nineteenth century patents included an illustration of the item.

    GrandDadArmstrong close up.jpg

    The general appearance of this image suggests that it's a copy of a daguerreotype. Here are some tips on spotting a copy in your album. A daguerreotype is a shiny, reflective image on a silver-coated copper plate that needs to be held at a angle to view. You can read more about daguerreotypes in the January/February 2014 Family Tree Magazine.

    Art believes there are two possibilities: This man is either Isaac Armstrong (1779-1855) or his son Alfred B. Armstrong (1819-1902). 

    The knotted tie worn by this man looks like those worn in the mid-19th century. Combine this detail with his age and the fact that it's a copy, and it appears this man could be Isaac Armstrong. His picture was likely taken in the early 1850s.

    Now I want to know ... where is the original daguerreotype? Descendants of the Armstrong family still live in New York State's Southern Tier. I'm hoping the original is still in the family.

    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

  • 1850s photos | cased images | daguerreotype | Revolutionary War
    Monday, 10 February 2014 22:07:58 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 03 March 2013
    WDYTYA London and a Launch
    Posted by Maureen

    What a busy week! Last week at this time, I was walking through Shakespeare's birthplace recovering from two action-packed days of looking at photos at Who Do You Think You Are? Live! in London.  I have some pictures to share.

    As soon as I came home a new project launched: The Last Muster series of books that focus on images of Revolutionary War era folks is becoming a documentary. Genealogy Insider Diane Haddad shared the news. 

    If you're curious about what it's about, watch the trailer in Diane's post and read Judy Russell's blog post at The Legal Genealogist.

    Back to London.

    Guess who I saw when I was there?  Lisa Louise Cooke of the Genealogy Gems and Family Tree Magazine podcasts AND Janet Horvoka of Family Chart Masters, aka the Chart Chick. It was cold in London, thus my fleece jacket and scarf.


    English genealogists love a certain American product too. Couldn't miss this booth:


    Love to Learn, an English company specializing in online education, gave us a nice place to work with photographs. James Morley of What's That and I met with folks on Friday and Saturday. The lines were long again this year. People waited up to two hours to show us their photos.



    We saw some amazing pictures, such as the pair of painted daguerreotypes held by these women.


    This year I decided to count the number of pictures we saw. The total for the two days was over 500!

    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

  • cased images | Photos from abroad | Revolutionary War | unusual clothing | women
    Sunday, 03 March 2013 18:40:38 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 31 December 2012
    Twelve Months of the Photo Detective
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Happy New Year!

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

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

  • 1860s photos | 1870s photos | 1880s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | 1920s photos | candid photos | cased images | children | Civil War | group photos | hairstyles | hats | holiday | house/building photos | photo backgrounds | preserving photos | props in photos |
    Monday, 31 December 2012 16:07:01 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 05 July 2010
    Uncovering Your Revolutionary War Ancestor
    Posted by Diane


    This carte de visite of Daniel Frederick Bakeman commemorates his status as the last living Revolutionary War soldier in 1868. Bakeman died the following year. This image was widely available in the 19th century and Bakeman is generally accepted as the last living Revolutionary War soldier, but there is one problem: Other lesser-known men outlived him and were photographed. One such man was John Kitts of Baltimore, who died in September 1870.

    Photographs of other members of the Revolutionary War generation exist in public, private and family collections. While I've collected 70 images of men, women and children who lived during the war, I know that additional images are still undiscovered. I'm hoping that by studying your family photograph collections that you'll find images that meet the following criteria: 
    • Men who lived during the war and who were alive after 1839 when photography was introduced in the United States would be at least 80 years of age. These individuals could be patriots, soldiers, loyalists or non-participants in the war.
    • Women may be wives or widows. Locating pictures of these women means looking at pictures taken anywhere from the advent of photography to the early 1900s. The last Revolutionary War widow died in 1906, according to this New York Times article.
    Please contact me if you think you've located a picture of a Revolutionary War ancestor.

    If you're interested in seeing my first collection of images, they appear in my new book, The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation (Kent State University Press, $45)

    Taylor cover (2).jpg

    Revolutionary War research resources from Family Tree Magazine and

    1840s photos | 1850s photos | 1860s photos | cased images | men
    Monday, 05 July 2010 20:46:08 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, 08 July 2008
    Is This the Same Man?
    Posted by Maureen

    Charles Blyth found this handsome daguerreotype in a group of identified family photographs. He thinks the man might be a colleague of his great uncle, but isn't really sure. It's beautiful and in pristine condition, so I couldn't resist this challenge.


    It's important to remember daguerreotypes are reversed. Before comparing this gentleman to any family photographs, it's necessary to flip the image to see his natural appearance. Faces can look quite different when reversed.


    Blyth doesn't think this man is his great uncle Henry Blyth, born in 1831, but the evidence suggests it could be. Here is the quartet of facts I've considered.
    1) This man appears to be in his 20s and the clothing (wide cravat, slicked back hair and long sideburns) suggests the photo was taken in the 1850s. This man is the right age to be Blyth.
    2) The equipment on the table identifies this man as a surveyor.  As far as I can tell, the device is a Wye level, used for long- distance surveying. I found a similar-looking piece on Larry and Carol Meeker's Web site Antiques of a Mechanical Nature. Blyth was a surveyor in New York State before leaving home at 22 for Chile. He returned home with a beard in 1858 and posed for a portrait with his family; a few years later, he was in the card photograph (below). If the daguerreotype is Blyth, it was taken before his travels in 1853—a date that fits the clothing clues.
    3) Even though Blyth's hairline is receding in this known picture, you can see the similarities between him and the unidentified portrait. Besides a similar hairline, their face shapes are close. It's not outside the realm of possibility to conclude Blyth posed for the daguerreotype before traveling to South America. This card photo shows he aged a bit from his frontier experience, but it's likely both pictures depict the same man.
    4) One other feature in the daguerreotype suggests it could show Blyth: the cross. According to Charles Blyth, members of the family often posed wearing a cross.
    I think the evidence strongly suggests this unidentified picture is Henry Blyth—the tools identify his trade, his age is right, facial similiarities suggest a relationship and then there's the cross and the fact the image was found with family artifacts.  I think it's Blyth, but I'm not sure I've convinced the owner.

    Got an opinion? Sound off in the Comments section! Let's create a dialogue.

    1850s photos | cased images | props in photos
    Tuesday, 08 July 2008 20:37:59 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [7]
    # Monday, 07 April 2008
    Family Travels and Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Every family has significant events documented in photographs. For immigrant families, that usually meant taking a group picture before a loved one left home. The immigrant also often sent pictures home to show he'd arrived in one piece and was happy.

    In some families, photographs don't actually document the travels, they become the icon for the retelling of a family story. Carole Hayden owns two images of women with a baby. She found them in a box of newspaper clippings saved by her great-great-grandmother, Catherine Lavinia Denison (born in 1848). 

    When Catherine was a mere 2 years old, her parents took her to Oregon. In those days, that meant boarding a ship and sailing around the tip of South America. Approximately 6,000 other people also made that trip. If you've got an ancestor who decided to settle in Oregon in 1850, you can check his or her name against this online list of pioneers. It's not comprehensive and the Denison family doesn't appear there, but you might get lucky.

    Now Catherine's descendant wants to know the significance of these two tintype images. Do they show the same woman?

    040708Belieu1.jpg     040708Belieu2.jpg    

    Definitely! These images depict the same mother, but is the baby the same?  That depends how many children Catherine Denison had with her husband Asbury Belieu. They married in 1863, and judging from her clothing, these two pictures were taken in the year or two after their marriage. Family history research would provide information on when their children were born and the sex of the babies. The babies in both images appear to be female.

    I need to do a little more research before I can answer the rest of Carole's questions. Back next week with more!

    By the way, thank you to everyone who added comments about last week's column. You'll have to look at the column and the comments to see my response :)

    1860s photos | cased images | children | women
    Monday, 07 April 2008 23:22:32 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Monday, 02 July 2007
    Tracking Down a Famous Relative
    Posted by Maureen

    Attached to the inside velvet of this cased photo is a cryptic note, “may be great-grandfather Swale author of Geometric Amusements.” It’s a mystery to the photo's owner, Susan Wellington, who can’t imagine how Swale might be related to her. Is this a family photo or a 19th-century collectible?

    I looked for Swale and his book in all the usual places, such as Google and public library databases (including the Boston Public Library’s), but couldn’t find a trace of either. Since every good genealogist knows not everything is online or online and publicly available, I contacted the BPL’s general reference department. Within a few minutes the librarian obtained Swale’s first name and the correct title.

    The caption contained an error: John Henry Swale (1775-1837) wrote Geometrical Amusements in the early 19th century. By searching his name in Google Books, I found his book and several brief biographies, including an introduction to a volume written by T.T. Wilkinson, An Account of the Life and Writing of John Henry Swale (1858).  

    Wellington’s photo is a copy of an early 1800s sketch of Swale placed in a daguerreotype case from the 1850s or early 1860s—long after Swale’s death. It’s a curious mystery. Obviously someone in the family thought highly enough of Swale to have the copy made and placed in a case.

    The only ways for Wellington to figure out if Swale is related to her is to either trace her own ancestry or look for his descendants. I’d start by trying to find Swale’s family information in Wilkinson’s book and by searching databases such as and

    In the 1825 Directory of Lancaster (available on, Swale appears as a professor of mathematics living at 12 Epworth St., Liverpool. These details give Wellington a few facts to start her search.

    cased images | men
    Monday, 02 July 2007 21:31:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]