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<2016 December>

by Maureen A. Taylor

More Links

# Sunday, 06 November 2016
Clues in a 1900s Mystery Photo of the Old Family Farm
Posted by Maureen

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Planning a menu for that important family meal makes me think about how all that food ended up on my grandmother's table. There are no farmers in my family history, so I love to see reader's photos of rural life. 

Darlene Sampley has this lovely picture of an unidentified farm family. Dad sits on horse-drawn sickle mower, pointing at something.[Thank you to reader Jim TeVogt for identifying the mower.] He's in the front yard with a team of horses. The barns—it looks like there are two—are in front of him. Anyone recognize the farm equipment?

A Google Image search for farming equipment 1900 (about when the photo was taken—see below) turned up plows with similar wide metal wheels.

The house has three chimneys. The attached building on the left could be the kitchen.

What else do you see?

This is a poor-quality image. I've enhanced this copy by playing with contrast and sharpening features in Adobe PhotoShop Elements. It looks better with these variations of color than a pure grayscale version did.

Did you spot the boy and his dog in the foreground?

How many children are on the porch?

(Left to right) Mom stands holding an older baby/toddler, an older sister stands to the right and next to her a little girl.

We know several things about this family: There are four children (at least one boy) ranging in age from about 1 year to preteen. They live on a farm. I've estimated that this picture was taken about 1900. It's hard to see the details, but from the scant clothing clues this could fit the time frame.

A next step would be examining the 1900 census for any matches in Darlene's family tree. There's a statistical table for agriculture with the 1900 census but it lacks the specific details, including farm owners' names, present in earlier agricultural censuses.

I'm hoping Darlene can put names with these fuzzy faces. Can you add anything to this story?

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

  • Save
    1900-1910 photos | enhanced images | farming | group photos
    Sunday, 06 November 2016 21:35:53 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 09 October 2016
    A Pair of Photo Mysteries: Charcoal-Enhanced 1840s Portraits
    Posted by Maureen

    Darlene Sampley isn't sure who the young woman is in the painted tintype featured in last week's column, but she working on figuring out the mystery. But that tintype isn't the only problem photo in Darlene's collection. This week it's a pair of portraits, of a mysterious man and woman. Ladies first:


    There are several clues in this picture.

    First, it's a copy. It's a charcoal enhanced photograph on paper, as is the next image.

    The vertical pleats in this woman's bodice suggest that her dress dates from the 1840s. This means the original was a daguerreotype.

    Additional clues include:
    • Narrow lace collars were common in this period, then re-appear in the 1860s.

    • There are streaks of gray in her hair.
    • Married women often wore daycaps covering their hair in the mid-19th century. It's a conservative cap, plain with small ruffles on the sides of her head.
    • Her nose is narrow with a triangle shaped tip. Together with her small mouth, these two features can be used to identify her in other images.

    The second portrait could be her husband.

    Look at the width of those lapels on his coat! Combined with the knotted tie with upturned shirt collar, this suggests the 1840s.

    There are wisps of gray in the long sideburns and hair, but it's his eyes that dominate the portrait. They are deep-set and likely blue. Unlike last week's picture, the photographer didn't color them. Those eyes, his wide straight mouth and narrow chin could help identify him in later pictures.

    If this couple were in their 40s or early 50s, then they were born around 1800. 

    There is a possibility on Darlene's family tree: William Noyes (b.1789 -d.1878) and his wife "Polly" Huestis (b.1800 -d.1863). There are other couples on her tree born in this general time frame as well. To sort them out, she needs to do the following:
    • Follow the history of ownership of these portraits to verify they come from the Noyes line.  

    • Find other images. Since they live past mid-century, I'm hoping someone else in her family have other images of them for comparison. 
    Fingers crossed! I'm also hoping that someone in the family has the original daguerreotypes.

    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

  • 1840s photos | enhanced images | women
    Sunday, 09 October 2016 15:45:01 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 13 March 2016
    Which Grandmother is It?
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

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

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

    There are other things to consider, as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 1900-1910 photos | Drawings | enhanced images | women
    Sunday, 13 March 2016 18:11:14 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 07 July 2013
    Clues, Cousins and Contacts: Three Ways to Solve a Photo Mystery
    Posted by Diane

    What does it take to solve a picture mystery? In this case it's clues, cousins and contacts.

    ThomazinTintype Tintededit.jpg

    June Thomazin is determined to solve this tintype mystery! I featured it in my Photo Detective column in the September 2010 Family Tree Magazine (you can get a download of that Photo Detective column or the full issue at

    She was hoping someone would come forward with more information, but no one did. Here's how the story evolved.

    Back in 2010, June submitted two painted tintypes. I studied them and suggested they were taken in the late 1860s. Tintypes, patented in 1856, remained popular until the mid-20th century. The wide lapels on the man's jacket and the woman's belted dress fit the period.

    In June's tireless search for an answer, she discovered three other copies of this picture owned by various cousins. At some point, a descendant of this couple took the image to a studio to be copied and had different versions of it made. Of the four existing images, two are tintypes and two are crayon portraits (photos enhanced with charcoal and artist's materials).

    One cousin owns the tintype above. His mother wrote on the back "Grandma Dunaway's parents." June and her cousin thought this meant Wesley and Elizabeth (Close) Newman.

    In another cousin's collection is this tintype:

    Thomazin2TinType painted (5).jpg

    In the 1860s, photographers had reversal lens. Some tintypes are reversed images, while others are corrected. Two of the cousins' four images have the husband seated on the viewer's right; in the other two, he's seated on the viewer's left.

    The other two versions of the photo are paper prints.

    This four-fold mystery raises a lot of questions:
    • Who had the copies made?
    • Is one an original, or is the original image missing?
    • Are there other copies?

    Three of the four images are owned by cousins who descended from James William "Harvey" Dunaway (1829-1880) and his wife Treasy Humphress Bateman (1820-1901). Could this be the link that June's been hoping to find? 

    June created this graphic to illustrate who owns what.


    In May 2010, I'd posted about June's detective work trying to identify a cabinet card. That post disproved a caption identifying the couple.


    A distant relative saw that blog post and sent June a copy of the exact cabinet card. This couple turned out to be the Newmans. The tintypes above show some other couple. It was an online Family Tree photo reunion

    She had such good luck with the last photo posted here, that she's crossing her fingers that a Dunaway descendant will be able to figure out who is in the tintypes. 

    I hope so too!  I'd love to write another reunion story.

    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

  • 1860s photos | enhanced images | Tintypes
    Sunday, 07 July 2013 20:30:06 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 24 September 2012
    Family Resemblances in Old Photos: Who Is This Man?
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I discussed how to care for a badly damaged photograph, and showed an image Lois O'Malley photographed back in 2005. Lois wrote: "As soon as I saw the man in the photo he minded me of my grandfather, William Alexander Simmons (1873-1934)." He's seen here:

    Wm  Alex Simmons edit.jpg

    Her Dad's family all had blue eyes like the unknown man in the damaged picture:

    unknown  Simmons edit.jpg

    Now Lois is wondering if this mystery man is her great-grandfather, Hiram Simmons (1833-1911). 

    Facial comparison relies on looking at approximately 80 different points in a face, including eyes, noses, mouths, ears and the spacing between them.

    Photo identification is about adding up all the facts and coming up with a hypothesis. Here's what I'm looking at in this case:
    • Provenance: Though this man looks like Louis' grandfather, she thinks it might be her great-grandfather because the photo is owned by her dad's eldest sister's son. The process of inheriting photos is complicated. Lois thinks that this cousin ended up with the photo because their grandmother lived with her eldest daughter. However, it is also possible that the image depicts Lois's grandfather.
    • Format:  This is a crayon portrait. It's a photo outlined and colored in with artist materials. This type of picture was very popular in the late 19th century. The problem with crayon portraits is that an artist/photographer's assistant drew in the details. There could be a little artistic embellishment here.
    • Clothing: Due to the condition of this picture, it's difficult to see all the clothing details, but it appears the man wears a wide tie and a jacket with a narrow collar and a wide notch in the lapel. His hair is very short.
    Men wore a variety of ties in the late 19th century. There were wide ties in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. In the 1890s, men's neckware usually had a pattern. In the 1880s, lapels were narrow and short.

    In the 1870s, men wore their hair longer and not as neatly combed as this fellow.
    • Facial clues: The man in the portrait has a wider jaw than Lois' grandfather, but they have similar ears, eyes and even the same wide forehead. 
    Does anyone want to try cleaning up the deteriorated picture in a photo editing software? You can email me the results or post them on the Family Tree Magazine Facebook page. Please include details about the program you used and what tools you used in the software.

    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

  • 1870s photos | 1880s photos | 1890s photos | enhanced images | hairstyles | men
    Monday, 24 September 2012 02:02:34 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 30 March 2009
    Picture Origins: Overseas or in America?
    Posted by Maureen

    In response to last week's column on tinted pictures, Barbara Stone sent in this oversize hand colored photo of a young woman.


    It's on canvas and framed in a gorgeous gold setting. According to Stone is was found in a collection of pictures of her father's Irish relatives who lived in Ansonia, Conn. The problem is: Where was it taken and who is it?

    I own a similar type image of my great-grandfather. His picture and the one owned by Stone are charcoal-enhanced photographs. Each is likely based on a much smaller original photograph.

    In the late 19th century, photographers advertised that they could produce this enhanced enlargements. The wide upper sleeves on her dress, the design of the bodice and her hairstyle all provide a time frame for the image of the late 1890s. Stone wrote that it might depict Jane (Lomasney) Coppinger from Kilworth, County Cork, and wondered if it was made it the United States or in Ireland.

    Figuring out if this is Jane is a matter of finding out her birth date to see if she's a young woman in the late 1890s. If that's the case, verifying her immigration year could identify the place of origin for this picture. It's a case of adding up the facts. Do the details of her life (i.e. her age) and immigration information support Stone's hypothesis? I'll let you know if I find out.

    BTW, there is a new Web site for English photo reunions. You can watch my YouTube video about it. If one of your ancestors lived in Hull, England, you'll definitely want to take the Hull Challenge.

    1890s photos | enhanced images | women
    Monday, 30 March 2009 14:15:39 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 29 March 2009
    Picture Origins: Overseas or in America
    Posted by Maureen

    In response to last week's column on tinted pictures, Barbara Stone sent in this oversize hand colored photo of a young woman.  It's on canvas and framed in a gorgeous gold setting.  According to Stone is was found in a collection of pictures of her father's Irish relatives who lived in Ansonia, Connecticut. The problem is: Where was it taken and who is it?

    # Monday, 23 March 2009
    Hand-Colored Photographs
    Posted by Maureen

    Do you own any photographs that are hand-colored?

    These tinted enhancements range from delicately shaded pink lips and gold jewelry to elaborate coloring that obscures the image and transforms a photograph into a painting.

    Powders, paints, crayons and pastels were all used to make photographs look more lifelike. Some photographers hired artists to apply the color, while others attempted to do the job themselves. The final results were mixed based on the skill of the person laying down the color.

    The history of photography is full of examples of hand-colored images from the early daguerreotype period to the digitally colored images of today.


    Here's an example from the Library of Congress. It's three men from the Phoenix Fire Company and Mechanic Fire Company of Charleston, SC.  Isn't it beautiful? The photographer tinted their jackets, but the red color most attracts the eye.  

    It was taken c. 1855 by Tyler & Co. Additional information on Tyler can be found in Craig's Daguerreian Registry.

    In John Comstock's A System of Natural Philosphy (1852), there are details about how this tint might've been added and a bit of background on coloring in general:
    Coloring daguerreotype pictures is an American invention, and has been considered a secret, though at the present time it is done with more or less success by most artists. 
    The color consists of the oxyds of several metals, ground to an impalpable powder. They are laid on in a dry state, with soft camel-hair pencils, after the process of gilding. The plate is then heated by which they are fixed. This is a very delicate part of the art, and should not be undertaken by those who have not a good eye, and a light hand.
    Comstock received these details from a Mr. N.G. Burgess of 192 Broadway, NY, and claimed that "he was an experienced and expert artist in this line." Nathan Burgess also is in Craig's Daguerreian Registry. It appears he was one of the earliest daguerreotypists in this country.

    Note: If you were looking at the original of this image, you'd have to view the image at an angle. This is a key characteristic of a daguerreotype. They were also reversed.

    If you have a hand-colored image you'd like to share, see the photo submission guidelines.

    1850s photos | enhanced images | men
    Monday, 23 March 2009 14:07:20 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Wednesday, 17 October 2007
    Crayon-Enhanced Portrait of a Child
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I wrote about Carolanne’s portraits of her relatives Laura Gilman and her husband James Wyatt Weed. Here’s a third, unidentified, picture.

    Behind each picture is a story, and Caroleann's three portraits are no different. Photo identification techniques can tell you when a person sat for a picture, but it’s the historical and genealogical research that fills in the details of their lives. In this case, Carolanne knows the birth dates of Laura, James and their four children, Flora (b. 1874), Alvah (b. 1879), Wyatt James (b. 1881) and Addie (1883). The family folklore and her research reveal a tragic tale you’d never guess by looking at their lovely pictures.

    First, let’s identify the baby in this crayon portrait. I’d estimate this child is around 2 years old.  The child is wearing a dress, but the outfit and short hair confirm the sex and dates.  During the 1880s, little boys wore “masculine” dresses like this one, featuring less trim than by girls’ dresses. Wide lace collars were in vogue, too. The short hair could be due the toddler’s age or because his mother cut it short to mimic men’s styles.

    Notice the ball in his right hand. It’s either a photographer’s trick to help him sit still, or a treasured possession.

    The artist or photographer who enhanced the image with charcoal did a good job around the face but didn’t accurately draw the hands and feet. Since the artistic style is similar to that of his parent’s pictures, the work was probably done by the same studio.

    Therefore, if this portrait depicts Alvah, it was created around 1881, and if it’s his brother, it dates from about 1883. Either identification is possible.

    There is also an emotional story to this image. Around 1910, Wyatt moved to California with a friend to “hook up electricity.” The next year, his mother received a telegram that “Wyatt J Weed accidentally killed eighty dollars in bank wire instructions."  

    In a second missive from Wyatt’s friend, his mother learned he died when he “took hold of a drop light in a dark cellar” and that the embalmer wanted seventy-five dollars for a metal-lined box and casket. The friend offered to arrange transportation home. His sister Addie remembered it cost $172 to bring Wyatt back to Maine and that the loss of her son changed Laura forever. Carolanne thinks that's why the grief-stricken mother would’ve kept this portrait of Wyatt, rather than another son, but the clothing clues suggest it could be either boy.

    A picture is sometimes just an icon for the greater tale of your family. Take time to research the life of each person to fit their photograph into their life story. Carolanne has.

    1880s photos | children | enhanced images
    Wednesday, 17 October 2007 17:37:51 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Wednesday, 10 October 2007
    Could this happen to your family history treasures?
    Posted by Maureen

    Before diving into this week’s identification, I have a question for you: Have you specified in your will who’ll receive your heritage photos after you’re no longer here? If not, your relatives could find themselves in a battle.

    Carolanne, the owner of this week’s photo, has spent 17 years trying to gain ownership of her great-aunt’s pictures and family history materials. When Addie Mattilda Weed died in 1990 at age 106, the tenants in her house gave her manuscripts to a university and kept her photos.

    Carolanne, Addie’s closest living relative, finally got the photos, but she’s still battling the university—which currently expects her to pay even to copy the papers. So, make sure you’ve planned for the future of your genealogy collection.

    On to Carolanne’s question: Who are these people?
    She hopes they’re Addie’s mother, Laura Gilman (1844-1926), and father, James Wyatt Weed (1839-1888). 

    I think Carolanne’s right. Addie lived her whole life in one house—birth to death. Since these photos were in that house among her belongings, they’re likely her close relatives. Also, this couple is the right age to be her parents.

    That’s easy, but as usual, there are other questions: When were these images created, and what format are they?  

    Both are photographs enhanced with charcoal. Photographers generally took pictures first, then enlarged and enhanced them—turning an ordinary cabinet-style picture into a piece of art. I happen own a similar-style image in a large gilt frame. The frames for these images are missing, and if there were smaller photos, those are unfortunately lost as well.
    From about 1869 to 1875 women wore high, ruffled collars, long curls and ties at the neckline just as in this portrait. Notice her neck ribbon. Since Gilman and Weed married in 1873, it’s possible this is an engagement or wedding portrait.  

    It’s much more difficult to date the picture of her husband, due to the sparse costume details in his picture. If his picture was done at the same time as Addie’s, he’d be 34 years old. His beard resembles the untrimmed facial hair men wore in the mid-1870s. Unlike his wife’s unwrinkled face, he has lines around his eyes, suggesting hard work that required he squint into the sun. According to the 1880 US census, James Weed worked in a mill, but I imagine he also spent time outdoors in his native Maine.

    Caroleann sent a third family photo. I’ll tackle that next week, with a few more things to say about the three images. ‘Til then…

    1860s photos | 1870s photos | enhanced images | men | women
    Wednesday, 10 October 2007 19:50:43 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]