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<2017 July>

by Maureen A. Taylor

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# 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]
    # Monday, 28 December 2015
    A Year's Worth of Photos: 2015
    Posted by Maureen

    This was another amazing year of photo columns.  Thank you for sharing your family pictures and for re-posting your favorite photo detective blog posts on social media. Can't wait to see what 2016 will bring!

    Here's a month by month overview of your favorites. Please click links to see the full stories.

    Imagine moving and leaving photographs behind. It happens more often than you'd think possible. January's first post featured a portrait of a man found in a house. He's still a mystery.

    February's post on photo jewelry explained how you can read the clues both in the photos and the settings to discover when a piece of jewelry containing a picture was made and/or worn.  Sometimes pictures were replaced in jewelry settings.

    Comparing faces whether you do it using software or just using your eyes can be tricky. Family resemblances can lead to misidentified pictures. Here's what you need to know to sort out the twenty plus points in a person's face. 

    In April a Gold Rush town picture yielded clues for one family. If you had family living in Shaw's Flats, California, you might spot a relative in this group picture.

    DNA is this year's most talked about genealogical topic but inherited traits can show up in pictures too.  A six-fingered ancestor in one family collection was full of identification clues. 

    June brought clues to help you spot a blue-eyed ancestor in a picture.  Try these tips with your photos.

    It took Michael Boyce to make the right connections to solve his family photo mystery. Here's how he did it.

    One of the most challenging clues in a picture are military uniforms. There were no standardized uniforms in the nineteenth century, but August's column lays out three techniques to sort through the evidence. 

    The clues in September's graveside photo fit together to tell a story of one family's funeral, just not the one the family was expecting. Read all about it.

    Our ancestors dressed like their favorite popular icons from politicians to performers. See how this one young woman dressed like Annie Oakley and see if you can spot these clues in your own collection.

    November focused on facial hair. Imagine writing today's Presidential candidates to influence their facial hair fashions. That's exactly what one little girl did. The true story of Abraham Lincoln's beard is noteworthy.

    Nineteenth century brides didn't usually wear white. They wore nice clothes and so did their grooms which means that wedding pictures are often overlooked in family collections. In Wedding Clues: 1855 Peter Whitmer and his bride Lucy Jane McDonald dressed to the nines for their nuptials.

    1840s photos | 1850s photos | 1860s photos | 1900-1910 photos | Abraham Lincoln | Annie Oakley | beards | daguerreotype | facial resemblances | Gold Rush | group photos | jewelry | men | Military photos | mourning photos | photo jewelry | photo-research tips | wedding | women
    Monday, 28 December 2015 17:00:44 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 06 September 2015
    Labor Day: Work Clothes in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    The first Labor Day was held Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City, sponsored by the Central Labor Union. You can read more about the history of Labor Day here.

    In honor of Labor Day, let's take a look at an occupational portrait of a latch maker in the collection of the Library of Congress.

    Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-3597

    It's a gorgeous daguerreotype taken between the late 1840s and 1860. The key dating clues in this image are the style of the mat and the case that holds the image (not visible here).  

    Did you notice that this man is wearing a vest? He likely wore a jacket on his way home. Men generally dressed in shirts, vests and jackets.  He's rolled up the sleeves on his collarless work shirt. I've even seen photos of farmers plowing fields in full dress with a hat on their heads.

    He's posed with one of his lock mechanisms. Bringing an object into a photo helps the viewer identify his trade. Without the lock, it would be a mystery work picture. He's even demonstrating how the lock works with the key. 

    As soon as I enlarged the digital image, I realized that the daguerreotypist colored his cheeks and slightly tinted his lips for a more realistic look. 

    While his hair isn't visible in this picture, that's an interesting clue. Many men in the 1850s wore their hair longer than this man does. Perhaps it's short so that it doesn't interfere with his work by getting in his eyes?

    The hat looks like it's a heavy fabric rather than felt.  It's seen some use, fraying at the edges.

    If you have a work related picture of an ancestor, please email it to me using these submission guidelines. The last time I asked for images, there were enough for weeks' worth of blog posts.

    1850s photos | daguerreotype | hats | occupational
    Sunday, 06 September 2015 23:03:32 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 19 October 2014
    The Ring Brothers: Triplets in the 1850s
    Posted by Maureen

    Multiple births aren't uncommon today, but they were rarer in the 19th century. Four years ago I wrote about Judy Linnebach's photo of an unidentified set of triplets. This week, it's the adorable Ring brothers.

    Image copyright: David Levy. Not to be used without permission

    Meet Charles, Eleazer and Millard Ring! David Levy bought this lovely daguerreotype. A daguerreotype is an image on a highly reflective, silver-coated copper plate, a photographic method introduced to the United States in 1839. This image dates from the early 1850s.  

    A quick search of the 1860 census found the three 11-year-olds living with their mother, a sibling, and possibly their grandmother in Lubec, Washington County, Maine. Beside their names, the enumerator wrote "of one birth."

    A source for the Linnebach article, Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George Milby Gould and Walter Lytle Pyle (published in 1904 and available on Google Books) states that most multiple births in the 19th century were to women in the age range of 30 to 34, and heredity was a factor.

    Their mother Margaret gave birth to her daughter Lucy at age 23, and then two years later in 1849, to the boys. The Rings weren't the only multiple birth in town: Just a page earlier in the census, Job and Almira Goodwin had a set of fraternal twins, Otis and Emily.

    Charles, Eleazer and Millard were obviously doted upon by their mother. The identical tunics and broad-brimmed, decorated hats in this photo attest to that. Because of the fancy hats, David initially believed he'd bought an image of three girls.

    Little boys in this period typically wore caps or broad-brimmed hats with wide hat bands. In this case, what looks like flowers could be a cluster of feathers—not an unusual hat decoration for a set of very well-dressed boys. The photo studio enhanced their buttons with gold paint.

    Lubec, the easternmost town in the United States, sits on the border of Maine and New Brunswick. In the 1850s, it was an economically stable community of farmers and fishermen. According to Wikipedia, in 1859, the town had a tannery, a gristmill and nine sawmills. While I didn't see a photographer listed in the 1860 census for the town, it's possible that this thriving town had a daguerreotypist in 1850s.

    Thank you to David for pointing out that another daguerreotype of the Ring triplets is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA. You can view it here.

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

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

  • 1850s photos | children | daguerreotype | unusual photos
    Sunday, 19 October 2014 16:26:55 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # 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]
    # Monday, 21 October 2013
    Clues in an Old Photo Copy: Who Is She?
    Posted by Maureen

    Two weeks ago I wrote about Shirley Dunkle's image, a copy of an earlier photo. The clues added up to suggest the photo was copied about 1900, but that this woman in the image sat for the original portrait in the mid 1850s.

    Dunkle - Moores family - About 1860.jpg

    Shirley has a possible identification for this woman based on the date: She young woman could be Mary Jane Smethurst. She was born May 24, 1839, in Middleton, Lancashire, England. She married James Roberts March 31, 1861, in St. Mark's, Dukinfeld, Cheshire, England. 

    After the death of her husband in 1885, Mary Jane and many of her children immigrated to Massachusetts in 1888. She died in 1916.

    If this is Mary Jane,she was approximately 17 years of age and living in England when she sat for this portrait.

    I have one last question. What type of photograph was the original?

    In the United States, photographs taken in the mid-1850s were primarily daguerreotypes. These are shiny and reflective, and quite distinctive in their appearance. But when I looked at photographs at the Who Do You Think You Are Live show in London, it was quite apparent that the English didn't embrace the daguerreotype. 

    William Henry Fox Talbot, an English photographic inventor, introduced a type of paper print that was popular in the 1850s: the salted paper print, produced from paper negatives.

    Frederick Archer invented photographs on glass in 1851. His ambrotype process competed with both the salt paper print and the daguerreotype. The Ambrotype didn't become popular in the United States until the mid-1850s. 

    Shirley's family no longer owns the original photograph. I'm hoping another of Mary Jane's descendants still does and can shed some light on just what type of picture their ancestor posed for.

    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 | ambrotype | daguerreotype | salt paper print
    Monday, 21 October 2013 15:07:05 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 13 October 2013
    Spotting a Copy of an Old Family Photo: Part 2
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week, I discussed photographic copies. It's a big topic. I used Shirley Dunkle's photo as an example. In the case of her photo, it was the context and the costume of the image that clued me into it being a copy.

    I've received several questions about the topic this week, so I'm going to delay discussing the identity of the woman in Shirley's photo until next week to focus more on copies.

    So, how can you spot a copy? Sometimes it's a little thing and other times it's pretty obvious.

    Here's a photo from my research collection:

    It's a little fellow from the mid-19th century. Can you see the scalloped mat visible in this copy? The original in this case was a daguerreotype.  The reflective nature of a daguerreotype made it difficult to photograph.  It's a great example of an obvious copy. The rest of the evidence in the image added to the identification of it not being an original.

    The copy is a real-photo postcard of the type that dates to the early 20th century. Real-photo postcards are introduced circa 1900. Someone (perhaps the little boy all grown up) wrote on the card that the original image was taken 52 years in the past. Too bad there are no other identifiers on the card, like a name, date or location.

    There were photographic copies in the early days of photography as well. The only way to make an identical daguerreotype was to either duplicate the pose or make a copy of the original.

    Photographers' imprints often include a statement about their ability to provide copies. Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, paper prints and tintypes were all copied in photo studios when an owner needed another one.

    One person asked about remounting of pictures. Theoretically it's possible to remount an older image on newer card stock, but I've never seen an example of this from the 19th century. It was far easier for a photographer to re-photograph the original.

    I'm still working on Shirley's mystery. She's added another image to the mix. Tune in next week!

    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 | daguerreotype
    Sunday, 13 October 2013 23:43:51 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]