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<2017 July>

by Maureen A. Taylor

More Links

# Sunday, 30 July 2017
Too Few Photo Clues: What to Do
Posted by Maureen

This image comes from my mailbag.  If you don't have a scanner you can still submit images for analysis. Follow the instructions here. Barbara Rivers sent me a black and white print of her mystery photo. 

Barbara's aunt found this picture in her belongings.  There were no names on the back. No one else in the family is able to help with the ID either.  As the family genealogist, it's left to Barbara.

Let's start with a date to establish a time frame.

Those sleeves make it easy.  The woman in the back has the most fashionable puff at the shoulder. Her fashion dates the picture to circa 1897.

Armed with a tentative date, Barbara can start to work on the problem. She thinks it might depict the Findlay Family of Iowa. I'm hoping she has a specific town.

The closest census to the date of this image is the one taken in 1900. Using the advanced search feature on you can look for people without knowing their names.

I'd start by entering Findlay and Iowa (with a specific town). In this group portrait there are three boys, two sisters and their parents.  Of course it's possible that there are husbands/wives in this picture, but for now assume that they are all related.

It's a big family, but it's also possible that not all of the children are depicted. 

I'd use the advanced search to see if Barbara can find familiar Findlay names in the 1900 census, then I'd look for them in the 1880 census.  Match up the families to see if there is overlap with her family history.  

She might find the right family on the first try or have to work her way through several searches.

It's a start. Solving those completely unidentified family photos is challenging but it can happen.

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 | 1900-1910 photos | group photos
    Sunday, 30 July 2017 16:54:27 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, 26 December 2016
    A Year of Passionate Photo Detecting: What Did You Miss?
    Posted by Maureen

    On this Photo Detective blog, 2016 was a year of early color (and colorized) photos, photo-ID tips and crowd-sourcing. 

    If you missed the most-popular posts, don't worry. The links in this 2016 wrap-up will take you them.

    Photo Identification Tips

    We started the year off right with a big tip. Newspapers solved one woman's photo mystery—they might help with your pictures too. The King family case study shows you how to apply those tips.

    I made a breakthrough in my own family history this year. Google helped me locate images of all the ships on which my Civil War ancestor served. Can you say jackpot? Follow my tips and see what you discover.

    Group Picture Mysteries
    My favorite old photo this year was the group portrait with the girl sleeping (or blinking?) in the second row. Can you spot the clues in this Old Family Gathering photo?

    Foreign Images
    Captions in a foreign language or pictures taken in an unfamiliar-sounding place can be a research problem. In two columns, Foreign Caption Mystery and Caption Mystery, you can learn more about how how tackle this photo-identification trouble.

    Can You Help Solve This Mystery?
    Two high school- or college-aged girls are in this picture. The date is about 1910, but who are these young ladies, and where are they?  Read about the clues and see if you can help. 

    Coloring the Past
    Wherever you stand on the colorizing of photos, you'll find the images pretty neat to look at.

    See how the details pop in a Thanksgiving tablescape colorized using Algorithma, an online coloring tool.

    The Library of Congress has a very large collection of period color images called Photochroms. They're amazing!  The real scenes of ancestral hometowns will keep you mesmerized for hours.

    Thank you for another fantastic year of family photo mysteries! Here's where to find instructions on how to share your mystery photos for possible free analysis on this blog. Can't wait to see what you'll share in 2017!

    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 | 1910s photos | enhanced images | family reunion | group photos | Photo fun | unusual photos
    Monday, 26 December 2016 20:32:34 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 27 November 2016
    Clues in a Curious Old Family Photo: The First Mannequin Challenge?
    Posted by Maureen

    It's not the first time a family photo begs the question "What were they thinking?" That's the case with this image of family sitting as though they're doing a mannequin challenge.

    The story behind this clowning for the camera has been lost, and the picture lacks identification. It was found in the collection of Sherry Yates' great-grandmother. Sherry and her mother wonder if the older woman in the middle could be Mary S. Veal Parker (1834-1908).

    Approximating Ages

    Mary was Sherry's great-great-grandmother, who lived in Glassboro, Gloucester County, NJ, and died in 1908. Whether this is Mary depends on the date of the image. The clothing clues suggest a date from just before 1908, so it's quite possible this is Mary. 

    If it is her, then identifying the rest of the folks may fall into place. A family group sheet of who's living and their ages in about 1905 should help with that task. The little boy in the front, for example, is around 5 years of age. 

    Interior Views
    When you find an indoor photo in your collection, take a good look around. It's a glimpse into the everyday life of your ancestors.

    In the days before HGTV, decorating ideas came from magazines, which included instructions on how to make table scarves and wall hangings.  Sometimes you can spot photos of other family members hanging on the wall.

    Have you spotted the frame on the left side?

    Unfortunately we can't enlarge it to see the picture itself. It looks like a group portrait—there are multiple heads.

    My favorite part of this picture is this duo (father and son?) staring into each others eyes in the foreground. So cute!

    Family group portraits are a challenge worth trying to solve.

    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

  • SaveSaveSave
    1900-1910 photos | group photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, 27 November 2016 20:30:56 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # 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, 23 October 2016
    How to ID Strange Faces in Six Kinds of Old Group Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Whether an old family photo has two or 20 people (or more), it's considered a group portrait. When you find one in your collection, it may generate a groan rather than a cheer. Solving those types of picture mysteries is a challenge and a some might say a curse. You have to figure out the identity of all of those people!

    Let's look at several types of group portraits.

    Sporting Groups

    This group of tennis players posed between 1870 and 1880. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

    Our ancestors participated in sports: tennis, baseball, basketball and football, to name a few. When you see an ancestor with equipment or in uniforms, you might need help figuring out what sport was being played.  Start by looking at city directory listings for clubs and organizations in your ancestor's hometown.

    Family Reunions and Gatherings

    Family group portraits cover everything from picnics to weddings to family reunions.

    Joseph Martin's family gathered at Belle Island Park outside Detroit. In my  Four Tips to Identify Group Portraits, you'll find techniques to sort out who's who in a family gathering photo. Figuring out time and place and matching up faces are just parts of the puzzle. Use a chart to track how old people were in relevant years, then use the picture as bait to get cousins involved in the search.

    School Pictures
    I have one and you might, too—a class photo. While you might not remember all the names of your classmates, posting the image on social media can help you renew friendships and connections. If it's a class photo from an earlier generation, social media is still a good option. Photographers sold copies, so it's likely you're not the only one with the picture. 

    Work Photos
    A group portrait might be several people posed at work. Use your family history research to determine where your ancestor found employment.  Census documents and city directories are a good beginning.

    Organizational Dinners
    Fraternal organizations and social groups often gathered for dinners in hotels. These yard-long pictures are often rolled up in a box. You don't necessarily need to know the names of everyone in those pictures, but it would be great to find your relatives. Looking for their faces in the crowd requires patience and a good magnifying glass.

    Military Images
    Men and women in uniform often posed for big group pictures of the people they served with. Some are informal snapshots taken by one of the group while others are formal pictures to document their unit.

    I'm still trying to identify these women. If you know of any women who served in the transportation corp at Montgomery Air Force base in World War II, let me know. This is one of five snapshots I have of these women.

    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
    group photos | women | World War II
    Sunday, 23 October 2016 18:09:04 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 28 August 2016
    School Days in Old Photos
    Posted by Diane

    September means schools are in session for another year of reading, writing and arithmetic. Today's students learn a lot more than the basic three subjects. Topics taught and student life bear little resemblance to your ancestor's school year.

    It's a good thing many families documented school days in pictures. We can compare the pictures of the past with those taken today. There are similarities, of course: A little kid going off to his very first day of grade school has always been a milestone moment.

    You'll find class portraits. Your great-grandfather might sit in the crowd with an x above his head to identify him, leaving you wondering about the names of other students. Those photographs tell the story of your ancestor's education.

    Turns out mystery school pictures aren't that unusual. Here's an assortment of past Photo Detective blog posts featuring students and teachers:

    This group of mystery pics still lacks identification. The College Girls in an Old Mystery Photo sit on a step engraved with "Class of 1910." Anyone recognize the location?

    If you find a picture of a relative posed holding a rolled up document, it might be proof of graduation. Find a list of what to look for to identify graduates in family pictures in Finding Your Ancestors Graduation Photos.

    The post A Yard-Long Old Photo Brick Wall depicts students at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. It was found in a reader's grandfather's collection. He didn't attend Hendrix, so why did he own the picture?

    Did your ancestor attend a technical school during World War II?  I'd love to learn more about these schools from folks who participated in them. You can learn more in the post World War II Victory Corps.

    Fall and Back to School features one of my favorite photos from my own collection. Without the caption, you'd think the young girl posed with her mother, not her teacher.

    British Schoolboy Uniforms Or The Bluecoats are Coming shares a mystery still waiting to be solved. British school uniforms are very specific, but so far no one has come forward to name the location or the school in this picture. Can you help?

    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

  • group photos | school photos | students
    Sunday, 28 August 2016 15:06:46 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 31 July 2016
    4 Tips to Identify Faces in Old Group Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Joseph Martin has a great photo, a big group portrait. You guessed the problem: figuring out who's who. He knows the identity of three of these individuals, but the rest he's not sure about.

    Here are four tips you can apply to group portraits in your family collection.

    1. Estimate time and place.
    Once you know these things, you can figure out who in your family was around at the time.

    The place in this case isn't a problem. The group posed in front of the Belle Isle Conservatory. The Conservatory is part of Belle Island Park, a popular 982-acre island park in the middle of the Detroit River, Mich.

    Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

    Joseph thinks they posed about 1930. The cloche hats and dropped waist dresses look more like the late 1920s, but then again, not everyone wore the latest styles the moment the new looks were in the stores.

    2. Match faces.

    Joseph knows the woman in the black hat is Marcyanna Skibinski Kaptur and the man behind her is her husband, Nicholas Kaptur.

    To their left in a light-colored hat is their daughter Emily Kaptur.

    But who are the rest of the folks?  By looking at facial features, he thinks they could be a mix of Skibinski and Kaptur relatives, but isn't sure.

    So who's in Detroit in this time period and what's are their age? Those details can solve this mystery.

    3. Make a chart!

    When faced with a problem like this, create a chart and a collage of faces to make studying single faces easier.

    Identify those who could be possibly be in this picture and using a word processing table or Excel, create a chart of how old they would be in 1930. For example: Person's name, birth year, age in 1930. 

    Next, use a free photo editor like create a collage. Digitally crop each of the faces out of the picture using the adjustment feature, and put them in separate boxes in the collage. You also can use this technique to do a side-by-side comparison of faces you think look alike as well.

    Now armed with the table, the collage and the big picture, study the faces.
    Who are relatives of the husband or wife and who's an in-law?

    Start with the youngest and oldest individuals. Look at the group portrait to see if there are husbands and wives as well as clusters of their children. Family members tend to stand together in household groupings. 

    Doing this will accomplish two things: First, you'll be able to narrow the time frame for the picture based on the ages of the children and the others. It might be 1927 or 1930, for instance, and the children will help you pinpoint when. There are several children in the 4-7 age bracket. Identify them first. Their parents are probably in the picture.

    4. Look for other pictures.
    Joseph didn't say if this is the only picture of the Kapur/Skibinskis in his collection. If he has others, those pictures give more chances to match faces to the group portrait. If he doesn't, it's time to try to find other pictures of the people in this scene. Searching genealogy databases for photos is one avenue. Many people attach photographs to their online trees.

    Group portraits take time to solve. Go slow. Consider all the possibilities. Put the puzzle down for a bit and then go back to the problem. You might see something you missed the first time around.

    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

  • 1920s photos | 1930s photos | facial resemblances | group photos | hats | summer
    Sunday, 31 July 2016 21:50:32 (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, 27 March 2016
    Who's Who in an Old Family Gathering Photo?
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week's column explored some of the identification clues in this family gathering. Heidi Thibodeau thinks it depicts members of the Tibbetts and Hodgson family of Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.

    Bessie Mabel Hodgdon, born in 1877, owned the picture, and it was handed down to her granddaughter (Heidi's first cousin once removed). This photo dates from July 6, 1890. If Bessie were in this picture, she'd be approximately 13 years of age. Only two young women in this picture appear the right age to be Bessie.

    They flank this older man who sits in the center of the group. That's a place of prominence. I wonder if they're his daughters or granddaughters. Bessie had a sister Ella, born 1881, who became Heidi's great-grandmother. Their mother died in 1886. Their father, Albert, born in 1856, would be only 34 at the time of this photo, far too young to be the man shown above.

    The sisters' maternal grandfather, Noah Lord, born in 1830, would be 60 years of age at the time of this picture. Heidi sent me photos of him (from a private source so I can't reproduce them here). The man in this picture doesn't look like Noah Lord.

    Could this man be the sisters' paternal grandfather? Perhaps. I'm going to ask Heidi if she has any photos of him.

    Heidi has another picture of Bessie and Ella from 1905, depicting the Tibbetts Family. Bessie sits on the left in the center row, and her sister Ella Hodgdon Tibbitts is on the right.

    Let's look at the girls and women side by side. The images pixelate when enlarged due to low resolution.

    It looks like the girl with her eyes closed could be either Bessie or Ella. The girl on the lower left is hard to see for comparison purposes.

    Given the history of ownership of this picture, the group on the porch in 1890 could be either the Lord family or the Hodgsons. One of the only ways to determine who's who is to compare other photos of any members of those families alive in 1890 to those faces in the big group picture.  It's a process of elimination.

    This photo mystery isn't solved but with a little time and research the answer may be clearer. I'm hoping Heidi and her cousins have more pictures for another blog post.

    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 | 1900-1910 photos | family reunion | group photos
    Sunday, 27 March 2016 18:57:20 (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, 18 October 2015
    Teasing the Clues Out of An Old Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Larry Calhoun thinks this is a gathering of either the Benfield or the Calhoun family in western North Carolina. Last week, I discussed how Annie Oakley influenced frontier dress for women. This week, let's study the other clues in the same image and see if they help Larry figure out who's who.

    A big group portrait generates a LOT of questions and this image is no different. My eye roams over the family members trying to see patterns. I like to start with simple questions and see if those answers lead up to the big question of why the group posed for the image:

    When was the photo taken?
    The clothing worn by the young women in this picture can help provide a time frame.

    The neck scarves on the young women above suggest a date of the mid- to late 1880s.

    Who's the oldest person?
    In this case it's a woman. Generally the oldest person is someone important like a mother, grandmother or even great-grandmother. Look to see who sits next to that person. It's usually his or her children.

    The oldest woman is seated in the middle of the group. Estimating an age for her can help Larry fit her into either the Calhouns' or the Benfields' genealogy. Let's say she's 75 and this picture was taken in 1885. That suggests a birth date for her of circa 1810. There doesn't appear to be a man about the same age in this photo, so it's possible her husband has died.

    Who's the youngest person?
    See the baby in the front row leaning against a middle-aged woman?   There's also a baby in the arms of the woman in the back. The birth dates of those two children can pinpoint an exact year for this gathering.

    Think about the last time you posed for a family group portrait. Spouses and older children stand near each other, while younger children are allowed to sit in front of all the adults. In this image, study the men and women standing next to each other. There are a few couples in the back row. Matching them up with all those children is going to be a challenge.  But Larry can use his family history research to create a two-column table of names and ages of the Calhoun and Benfield family members about 1885. It will give him a quick overview of the family to compare to the picture.  

    The next step is to compare any other related family photos taken around the same time to this picture. If those aren't available, he can try locating photographs of Benfields and Calhouns in the hands of his cousins. This is a great picture to post on social media to see if anyone else in the family recognizes anyone. I'd also reach out to historical and genealogical societies in the area of North Carolina where these folks lived.  

    The big unknown in this picture is why it was taken. Is it a family reunion or does it document a family gathering for an event like a death or marriage?

    Identifying one or two people in this picture may reveal the answer and lead to a lot of other folks being identified as well.

    Knowing when all of these family members posed for this picture is the first step in the long process of identifying who's who. 

    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 | beards | group photos | women
    Sunday, 18 October 2015 17:15:36 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 23 August 2015
    Proud Mamas in Old Photos: Finding the Clues
    Posted by Maureen

    What's the first thing you see when you look at this picture?  My eye immediately gravitates to the woman and her slight smile.  She's one proud Mama seated with her two children and her husband. 

    Your eye might be drawn to the wicker chairs, the animal skin rug or Dad's crooked tie.  When we look at a family photo our eyes become focused on one detail and then dart all over the image. 

    Clues. There are many types of evidence in an image from props to people but it's the sum total of them that often results in an identification. In this picture the following details provide a time frame.
    • The wicker chairs.  They were popular props in the 1890s and in the early 20th century.

    • Animal skin rugs. Also common in pictures in the 1890s and persist into the early 20th century and beyond. We have pictures of endless bare-bottomed babies in our family photographed on animal skinned rugs in the mid-20th century.

    • Clothing clues:

    In the 1890s men wore their hair short, their mustaches trimmed and waxed and their collars up.  In the first decade of the 20th century, the majority of young men were clean-shaven.
    Mom's puffy sleeves date from the late 1890s. Her pompadour style puffy hair looks more like the circa 1905 period but this could be a personal preference rather than the current style.  Additional genealogical information is needed to narrowly date this image.
    • The photo imprint. J.W. Sires of Tidioute, Pennsylvania took this picture. Unfortunately, he's not listed in this location in Directory of Pennsylvania Photographers, 1839-1900 by Linda A. Ries and Jay W. Ruby (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1999). He appears only as of 1890-91, and in a different location.
    Donna Bowman thinks that the father in this photograph is one of her great-grandfather's brothers, but isn't sure. There's one way to narrow down the possibilities: Find the family in the 1900 census. Let's hope her great-grandfather didn't have 12 brothers! 

    The ages of the children in the census would pinpoint a more-specific year for the picture. The babies in this image are 1 to 3 years old. 

    I can't wait to hear back from Donna!

    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 | children | group photos | hairstyles | men | women
    Sunday, 23 August 2015 15:23:14 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 02 August 2015
    Double-Checking Photo Clues to Solve a Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    James Dinan and his wife solved their photo mystery using the resources of the Photo Detective blog archive. You can access it using the navigation on the left.

    Here's the photo they submitted:

    It's a group of men gathered for an outing. They call themselves The Fatal Nine Spot, and the event is a clambake. These types of social occasions were quite popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I actually own a photo of some members of my family posed with watermelons at a clambake circa 1900.

    The Fatal Nine Spot is likely the name of a social organization. Based on the number of men in the image, it was a popular one. There may be a listing for the group in a city directory or a newspaper.


    At some point in the 20th century (based on the ink form a ballpoint pen ink, which wasn't available until mid-20th century), a family member circled this man's head and wrote "Grandpa Davis." 

    It's great to have an identity for the person in a photo, but James Dinan's problem was simple: Which Grandpa Davis was depicted? It could be either Robert Washington Davis (b. 1835) or his son William Francis Davis (b.1863).

    For this man to be Robert, he'd need to look like a man in his 60s, so William makes more sense. James thought the picture was taken in the 1890s, when William would be 27 to 37 years of age.

    The clothing clues in this image, such as the shapes of the men's ties and jackets and the hair on their heads and faces, determine a time frame of the late 19th century.

    In the late 1890s, the fashion for men was to be clean-shaven. While older men lagged behind the times, young men generally followed the current fashion. Just about every man in this image sports facial hair. Most wear large mustaches, which were popular in the 1880s. I'd date this photograph to the early 1890s based on that fact. 

    Their jacket lapels and ties are a better match to this era as well. Of course there are varieties of facial hair in every generation. There were mustache- related clubs in the late 19th century as well. We have no idea at this point if these men wore this facial hair as part of their club rules, or if they were just being fashionable.

    The format of the photo also is a clue. Large group portraits mounted on cardstock of this color and size date from the late-19th century as well.

    I'd love to know more about the Fatal Nine Spot club. Here are some tips for researching the group:
    • Use family history information to study resources local to where Grandpa Davis lived.

    • City directories often include information on organizations in the back, near business listings.

    • Newspapers usually include short news bits about events held by local groups.

    • The local historical society may have other photographs of these event or this group. It's possible the clambake was an annual event.

    • Utilize social media by asking followers if they recognize anyone in the photo. There are a LOT of men in this picture. Photographers would photograph the group then offer them the option of purchasing copies. Grandpa Davis did and it's likely other men did as well.

    It's a fabulous summer-time mystery.

    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 | group photos | men
    Sunday, 02 August 2015 14:42:11 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 17 August 2014
    The Well-Dressed Couple Again and Solving a Group Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I showed you a picture of an unknown well-dressed couple circa 1905.

    Where there's one unidentified photo there are usually more. That's true for Amir Evenchik's collection of images. He owns several other pictures of the same couple taken a few years later. Unfortunately, no one can identify them.

    This one has a caption on it, "Henrik with Feige (a nickname for bird in Hebrew) taken in Baden-Baden." Henrik's gained a few pounds since the first image. The woman's suit and hat date this photo closer to 1910. Having a first name for the husband is a great clue, but it doesn't bring Amir any closer to figuring out their identity.  

    Since most of his ancestors lived in Poland or Belarus, then why are they in Baden-Baden, Germany? It was a popular tourist location, so perhaps the couple is on vacation, or they may be visiting relatives.

    His other unidentified photograph is a group portrait without a single person named.

    Figuring out who's in a big portrait can unlock other photo mysteries in the family. It's likely that there are other images of these 13 people taken later on. This image dates from the early 1900s. 

    • The matriarch of the family is front and center. She's an elderly woman. She wears an older style dress.

    • Are the two men flanking her her sons, or did the photographer place them on either side of her? At least one of them is likely her son, but it's possible that both of them are.

    • Working with that assumption, then the women sitting next to those men would be their wives.
    • Are the three women in the back row her daughters? If so, then there are five of her children in this portrait, two men and three women. The woman standing in the center is dressed very fashionably for the circa 1906 period.

    • The children in the picture are the matriarch's grandchildren.

    Solving a picture mystery like this is about breaking the image down into family groups (which children go with which parents), coming up with a series of assumptions, then testing them by looking at your family tree for possibilities. For instance, the youngest grandson sits on the left.  He's likely 8 to 10 years of age. If this picture was taken in 1906, then he was born in approximately 1896 to 1898. 

    There are plenty of variables in dating fashion from economic status to where the image was taken. The assumptions give you place to start.

    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

  • group photos | hats | Jewish | men
    Sunday, 17 August 2014 17:23:51 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 26 January 2014
    Who's Who in a Photo? Strategies for Finding Out
    Posted by Diane

    Last week I discussed Karen Perry's unidentified photo

    Today I called her to chat about what she's learned about it since she submitted the image last summer.

    She told me showed it to a distant relative, who said he recognized the man in the center but couldn't remember his name.


    Since this relative descends from her paternal grandmother's side of the family, Karen thought maybe these folks were McClures who lived in northwestern Ohio.  

    Karen decided to take the picture to her class reunion. The Grover Hill school has a reunion where graduates from all classes gather in one place.  Unfortunately, no one recognized anyone in the picture.

    She then tried to upload the photos to an Allen County, Ohio, genealogy page, but doesn't remember which one. The Allen County Genealogy group has a Facebook page that she could join. That's a good next step. She'd then be able to post the photo.

    Members of her Stout, McClure, Parker and Stratton families lived all over northwestern Ohio in Allen, Van Wert, Paulding and Hancock counties. The Ohio Genealogical Society is an active group with an annual conference and chapter meetings. Karen could reach out to chapters in those areas and see if they could show the photo at meetings. 

    While connecting with someone locally could be helpful in her quest to identify these folks, she could also try posting it on sites such as and In the description, she can list all the possible surnames and locations.

    Her mother identified all the other family pictures except this one. Why didn't she recognize any of these people? That's a big part of this puzzle. Since this photo dates from circa 1920 and there are likely individuals in their 20s in this picture, several of them could have lived long enough for Karen to meet them as a child.

    • Were they distant cousins who didn't remain in contact with Karen's family?
    • Did they live further away and thus weren't part of the larger family circle for gatherings? 

    Karen says the man in the middle looks familiar but can't think why he does. It's possible he resembles someone else in the family. She wants to figure out who they are and wished she'd asked her mother more about family history. Her sentiment is a common one.  

    Of course, there is no guarantee that these individuals are family. Our ancestors often sent photos of themselves to friends. Until this mystery is solved, she won't know if they are relatives or acquaintances. 

    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

  • 1920s photos | Genealogy events | group photos
    Sunday, 26 January 2014 18:40:08 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 19 January 2014
    Figuring Out Who's Family in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Do you own one of those photos that nags you with unanswered questions?  Karen Perry does. 

    Perry unidentified1.jpg

    Unlike the rest of the photos in her collection, this lovely family group is completely unidentified. She's asked relatives, but no one knows who they are.

    Mom and Dad are in the center surrounded by their children. Two sons flank their parents with the other son stands center back.  Of course there could be in-laws in the photo, too. 

    Karen wrote that her "close-in" relatives lived in Ohio. More distant relatives lived in Virginia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The problem with photo collections is that they're often a combination of family, friends and neighbors. These individuals might not be direct relatives.

    She thinks the older man looks very familiar and thought he might be one of her famous relatives. They have links to two presidential families, the Harrisons and the McKinleys. She's looked online for pictures of the famous folk, but didn't see any obvious connections.

    Thankfully, Karen supplied full contact information with her submission so I'm calling her this week to see if there are any other clues in the family photo collection that would help with this identification. <smile>

    Right now, I can estimate when the image was taken based on their attire. The round eyeglasses of the man on the left, the loose-fitting dresses of the women and those short hairstyles pinpoint this to circa 1920. 


    Here's a fun Flickr page for you with images of people wearing eyeglasses. Click an image for more information about the photo and the glasses.

    I'm hopeful that Karen will have some other details to share.  Once I've spoken with her I'll share some additional tips on how to share this photo.

    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

  • 1920s photos | group photos | men | women | eyeglasses
    Sunday, 19 January 2014 15:21:44 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 23 December 2013
    A Look Back at Photo Detecting in 2013
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time for the end of the year round-up just in case you missed one of these columns.  Here are some of my favorites from 2013.


    The Inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. On March 4, 1865, Lincoln began his second term in office. Photographers were there to capture the crowds standing in the rain.  Perhaps your ancestor was there? 

    I'm a huge fan of Downton Abbey so it was a natural choice to write about the fashions worn on the show in Downton Abbey and Your Family Photos.  The new season starts this January and I can't wait!


    If you've ever walked into an antique shop, spotted an identified photo and thought I'd like to help reunite it with family then you're not alone. Here are some tips on how to do just that in Reuniting Orphan Photos With Family.


    I came back from Who Do You Think You Are Live! in London with a tip for smart phone users.  You can use your phone to look at negatives.  It's an amazing use for the device we all have. Here's how you can do it too.

    How can a husband and wife from unrelated families end up with the same photo of a supposed relative?   Same photo with different identifications. It's a mind-bending mystery in two parts.  Part One and Part Two.

    Two part mysteries are so much fun to work on that I featured another one. This time it was two Italian family photos found in a box with a note. You'll have to read parts one and two to see who's who.

     The nation honored the 150th anniversary of the Battle at Gettysburg.  Burns was 69 at the time he fought as a civilian.  You can read about his remarkable story in John L. Burns, Civil War Sharpshooter.

    A lovely handcolored carte de visite from Charleston, South Carolina is the subject of A Southern Photo Mystery.  Is it Cornelius Webb?  Follow the genealogical bread crumbs to see how it adds up.

    Don't you love when a ancestor puts a name over the head of someone on the front of a photo? The problem in the Marsteller family is that only one person in the group portrait is identified. The rest of the folks are unidentified. Is this a photo of Pennsylvania relatives?  Are they the relatives of the man's father who died suddenly as a young man?  It's another two part mystery.  Looking for a Pennsylvania Connection and The Marsteller Old Photo Mystery

    Photo albums tell a story of friends and family. Here are some tips on how to read your family album. Adding up all the clues in this man's family album led to a photo identification home run--ID's for all three images.

    Spotting a copy in your family collection can be a challenge. In part one I showed how I identified a picture as a copy of an earlier photo and in part two there are tips on what to look for in your own photos.

    A lot of former switchboard operators wrote to me after a picture of women switchboard operators appeared in this space. Ask the women in your family if they worked and interview them about their jobs.  You might be surprised by the stories they tell.

    Here's a classic Irish tale of love and loss in two parts with a few letters and photos too. When a man's wife dies leaving him with several small children. He returns home to Ireland.  The oldest son decides he'd rather live in America and moves back.  His younger brother writes persuasive letters trying to convince his big brother to let him follow him to Massachusetts.  I won't tell you how it ends.  It's a heartbreaking Christmas story.

    Happy Holidays!  Watch this space for new family photo stories in 2014.  It's easy to submit your own photo mystery. Just click the link on the left, How To Submit Your Photo.

    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 | 1860s photos | 1900-1910 photos | Civil War | group photos | hats | men | Military photos | occupational | photo albums
    Monday, 23 December 2013 15:25:32 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 24 November 2013
    Photo Storytelling on the Holidays
    Posted by Maureen

    This week I took another look at all my family photos and was suddenly struck by a realization. My family takes pictures in the spring and summer. There are few images of autumn and fewer still of winter snow.  We're warm weather photographers. 

    Documenting This Year's Thanksgiving/Hanukkah

    This year I aim to turn that tide by taking a few pictures. In documenting the present I'm preserving it for future generations.  While I'll be busy in the kitchen, I'm going to assign a shot list to someone in the family. I'll start with the following:
    •  A picture of family members arriving
    • An image of the kitchen preparations.
    • The family gathered around the turkey and trimmings
    • Pictures of attendees in small groups--parents, children and cousins.

    I'm thinking of buying a prop or two for fun.  How about a Pilgrim style hat or bonnet?  I might be able to encourage everyone to pose wearing it. Then again...maybe not.

    • What are you going to take pictures of this Thanksgiving/Hanukkah? 

    Documenting the Past

    A shared meal is a great time to share stories and photo. Armed with my iPad "Voice Recorder" app, I'm going to record those tales. (Of course, it's possible to do this recording using my phone too, but I like my iPad.)

    I'm thinking of decorating the table with baby or childhood photos of the family in attendance.  This ought to get them talking <smile>. 

    Photo storytelling starts with questions. Back when I was in elementary school, I had an English teacher who drilled into us the five basic questions to use to build a story: who, what, where, when and how.  

    I'll bring out some other old family photos and see what happens.

    • Do you have any tips for getting family members to share family history? 

    I'll let you know what happens.  

    Happy Thanksgiving!  Happy Hanukkah!

    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

  • group photos | holiday | preserving photos
    Sunday, 24 November 2013 19:44:58 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 16 September 2013
    More Ancestors at Work: Early 1900s Meat-Cutting Plant
    Posted by Maureen

    If you've ever read The Jungle (available free on Project Gutenberg), author Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel describing Chicago's meatpacking industry, then you may have tried to imagine what it was like to work in that industry in the early 20th century. Roxanne Munn's photos provide an glimpse into how meat made it to our ancestors' dinner tables.


    Above, Munn's great-grandfather Frank Woletz stands with his hands on the counter, furthest forward on the right.  His supervisor stands on the other side of the table. He's the man in the coat, tie and hat.  The rest of the workers wear leather aprons to protect their clothes while preparing meat for market.  In the background are carcasses. Woletz worked at Drummond's Meat Cutting Plant in Eau Claire, Wis.

    Canadian immigrant David Drummond established his meat packing business in 1873. Forty years later it was the largest plant of its type in northwestern Wisconsin.


    In this image, Marie Woletz, Roxanne's great-aunt, sits second from the right in the sausage preparation room. On the left is a ranch full of hanging sausages. Typical outfits for women working in this industry were leather aprons and white muslin caps.  

    Roxanne is trying to find out who else is in the photos. She's also posted them on the Wisconsin GenWeb site hoping for more identifications. If you had an ancestor who worked at Drummond's, you might recognize one of the faces.

    These images are not your typical family photo. It's the type of photo taken by factory owners, labor activists and government investigators. I'd love to know who took the images and for what purpose. I'm looking for additional images taken at the plant. 

    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

  • group photos | men | occupational | women
    Monday, 16 September 2013 16:17:01 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 25 August 2013
    The Marsteller Old-Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I outlined the mystery of the Ralph Marsteller photo.  This week I'm back with more details.
    StaffordFamily photo Ralph Reinhardt Marsteller_edited-1.jpg
    Let's start with some basics.

    What are they wearing?
    Clothing clues can be very helpful, BUT it's important to remember that there were lots of different styles every season and people didn't automatically wear the most current fashion. I look for details that help create a time frame. In this image, the most fashionably dressed woman is standing in the back on the far left.


    Fashion research suggests that this woman posed for this picture in 1918.  The lightweight fabric worn by everyone in the picture suggests a warm weather month. These little details could help pinpoint when Ralph Marsteller met his family or friends.

    In 1918, broad-brimmed hats with an upturned edge returned. You could buy a similar hat in the Sears Catalog for that year. Widespread collars were very popular on dresses in this period as well.

    stafford boy.jpg

    These lightweight suits for little boys appeared in mail-order catalogs circa 1914 and were still popular four years later. They were recommended for boys 2 to 6 years of age and cost approximately 70 cents. So this boy's attire places him in an age group.

    Who's Not in the Picture?
    Patti Stafford knows that Ralph's wife Eva isn't in the photo, and it doesn't look like their teenage son is here either—none of the children are the right age to be him. Nor is their daughter Arlene in this picture; these girls look too young.

    Who's Who?
    If this picture was taken about 1918, then Ralph's son Ralph could be the little boy in the military style suit. He'd be 5 years old.

    It's also possible that Ralph's sister is in the picture along with her husband and their children. More research into this angle could result in an identification.

    The older woman is not Ralph's mother. She was deceased by this time, but this woman could be an aunt who resembles some of the people in the photo.

    stafford older woman.jpg

    Ralph's mother Dianna Jane Rumfeld/Rumfield had sisters with small children at the time of this picture. This could be a gathering of the Rumfeld/Rumfields, rather than the Marstellers.

    Ralph's brother Henry is still living, so Patti's next step is to show him this photo to see if he can identify anyone in it.

    Research often turns up overlooked information. When Ralph's father William died, a Mr. Snyder was appointed guardian for him. While going through all the family paperwork looking for a connection, Patti found an interesting detail. Dianna Jane's marriage certificate states that her last name was Rumfeld/Rumfield. Her death certificate states that Dianna's mother was Louisa Snyder. This detail suggests that Snyder was a family member.

    I'm hopeful that Henry can put names with the rest of faces, but for now it looks like Patti has a picture of her grandfather and his father taken in about 1918.

    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

  • 1910s photos | group photos | men | snapshots | women | World War I
    Sunday, 25 August 2013 16:30:43 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 21 January 2013
    Lincoln's Inauguration and Your Family
    Posted by Maureen

    From movies to today's inauguration, all things Lincoln are in the spotlight. On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln participated in his second inauguration. Thousands of individuals came to Washington, DC, to witness it. The news media of the time were present, reporting on the events of the day.

    Photographs of inaugurals usually focus on the President, but in 1865, at least one photographer captured the crowds. This rainy inaugural photo is from the Library of Congress collection and captures Washington, DC, at a key moment. The Civil War was drawing to a close, and Lincoln spoke to that in his address:

    "With malice toward none, with charity for all ... let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds ..."


    A reporter for the Sunday Mercury published in Philadelphia on March 5, 1865, wrote about the weather:

    "Rain had been falling all yesterday and last night, making the proverbially filthy streets of the political metropolis filthier and more unpleasant than ever. (page 3)"

    If you look closely at this photo you'll see people dressed for inclement weather, wearing heavy overcoats and hats, standing in deep puddles. There are a few children in the foreground. Somewhere in this group are African-American troops who marched in the Inaugural Parade.


    A crowd scene like this allows a peek into the past. There is a wide variety of clothing, from wool coats to hoop skirts, worn by these individuals. Take a close look at the hats worn by the men in the crowd. Only one man is wearing a stovepipe hat; the rest are in smaller hats and caps. The man in the tall hat is dressed formally for the occasion. Men of means or who had significant jobs usually dressed the part. In the 1860s, the hat a man wore could tell you a lot about their occupation or fashion habits. For more information on men's hats, see Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900.


    Do you know about the political leanings of your ancestors?

    • There may be images of women bearing suffragette banners or men wearing political memorabilia such as pins.
    • Even if your ancestor wasn't politically active, study the history of your ancestors' lives to see how political decisions influenced their everyday experiences.
    • Take a close look at the pictures in your family, set them in a time frame and investigate the history in your genealogy. There may be images relating to immigration, military service and even social events—all a result of the political situation of the country in which they lived. 

    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 | Civil War | group photos | hats | men
    Monday, 21 January 2013 15:26:59 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # 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]
    # 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]
    # Thursday, 09 August 2012
    And the Winner is...
    Posted by Maureen

    Several weeks ago we put out a call for images for inclusion in my new book, Family Photo Detective (available for preorder in Pictures poured into my inbox and the Family Tree Magazine inbox, and many were posted on the Family Tree Magazine Facebook page.

    Congratulations to Michael Hanrahan, who sent in the winning image and will receive a copy of the book!

    You'll have to wait for the book for the full story of his photograph, but I thought you'd like to see the picture:

    And a closer look:

    It's a really fun picture of a group of women at a party. Here's what Mike says about it: "These ladies include my great-grandmother, grandmother, and numerous great-aunts. I'm thinking the picture was taken around 1910 in Elmira, NY."

    I'll tell you more about this photo in the future.

    You can view the other entries in our slideshow on Flickr. I'll be featuring many of these images in future blog posts.

    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

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

    1900-1910 photos | group photos | unusual photos | women
    Thursday, 09 August 2012 01:44:18 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 25 June 2012
    Photo Contest Submissions
    Posted by Maureen

    A big thank you to everyone that submitted photos to our contest.  The deadline has now passed and I'm gradually working my way through all the images to pick the winning image. The winner will receive a copy of my book, The Family Photo Detective, and the image may even be featured inside. Watch this space for news!

    Here are three of the pictures folks uploaded to the Family Tree Magazine Facebook page. 

    Jen Baldwin.jpg

    Jen Baldwin uploaded this cute pair of siblings—William W. and his sister Bessie Brown. It was taken in Colfax County, Neb., circa 1880. Don't you just love her pantalettes and his long curls.

    Shirley Jenks Jacobs2.jpg 
    Shirley Jenks Jacobs uploaded this photo of her great-grandmother. I love the hat. In the 1880s, hats had tall crowns and lots of trim on the front. You can't see it, but women in this period also wore large bustles. 

    Suzanne Whetzel2.jpg

    Suzanne Whetzel submitted this family portrait of her maternal great-grandparents Mary Ethel (Wade) and Henry Clark Yost with their son (Suzanne's grandfather) James Meryl Yost. James was born in 1908 and this toddler helps date the photo to about 1910.

    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 | children | group photos | hats
    Monday, 25 June 2012 15:18:25 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 21 May 2012
    NGS Photo Spotlight
    Posted by Maureen

    The owner of last week's photo, Larae Schraeder, sent me some additional information on her family. I love the connection between family history and photography! That's no surprise to all the readers of this space.


    Last week, I showed details giving evidence that this picture was taken by an itinerant photographer. One correction to that post. The photo was found in Schraeder's great-grandparents' collection of images. It depicts Caleb and Eliza C. (Jeffers) Coon/Kuhn.  

    If you're wondering about the alternate spelling of the Coon/Kuhn name, Caleb's Civil War pension file contains information on his formal name change.

    What's the most unusual detail you've found in a Civil War pension file?  Add it to the Comments section below. I discovered that my great-grandfather had red hair. No one in the family since has had red hair.


    Caleb was born in Washington County, Ohio, in 1846. He died in 1927 in Vernon, Mo. His wife, Eliza, was born in Gallia County, Ohio, in 1847, and she died in Vernon in 1929.  

    Caleb's family moved to Gallia County and their farm adjoined Eliza's family farm. Caleb didn't farm; he worked in coal mining.

    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

  • 1890s photos | Civil War | group photos
    Monday, 21 May 2012 13:52:46 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 14 May 2012
    What I Saw at the National Genealogical Society Conference
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you to everyone who stopped by my booth at the National Genealogical Society Conference last week! I looked at a lot of photos and many people promised to send in submissions for this column.

    Larae Schraeder showed me two photos. Here's one of them (I'm still working on the other):


    It's a portrait of the Jeffers Family of Missouri. There is so much to like about this picture.

    It was taken circa 1890, based on the women's peaked shoulder seams.


    This was the style for a few years from 1889 to 1892.

    The whole family dressed up for this group portrait, likely taken by an itinerant photographer. Look closely at these two details:
    • You can see the temporary wall set up and the edge of the backdrop.
    • In the second closeup, you can see that the backdrop stands on legs and the grass beneath the family's feet.

    The family took their excursion to the photographer very seriously by dressing up for the portrait and posing with solemn expressions.

    This photo from the Ralph M. and Nettie Finley Jeffers collection is a family history treasure.

    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

  • 1890s photos | group photos | hairstyles | unusual photos
    Monday, 14 May 2012 15:45:39 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 05 December 2011
    Storytelling Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

    You never know what you're going to find in a family photo collection.  If you have an odd picture, please send it along. You can email it to me.

    Dario X. Musso sent me a lovely family photo:

    Seated on the right side is Nikita Radionov. Dario's grandmother is next to him. This photo of the Radionov family was taken circa 1919. 

    The curious part of Dario's family collection isn't this image, it's the series of photos taken of Nikita's funeral in 1929. He was dragged to death by a horse. 



    I've shown you two of the four images Dario submitted.  From the size of the crowds at this funeral, it appears that both family and townspeople attended this event. 

    Photos like this are an opportunity: I'd scan the faces to find other relatives. It might end up being the only known image of a particular person.
    1. Start with the front row and the pallbearers. Those individuals are likely family members or close friends.

    2. Compare the faces in the family group portrait with the individuals at the funeral. 
    If you had relatives living near the Radionov family in Russia, then you might find your family represented as well. I'll double-check the location with Dario and publish that next week. 

    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

  • 1910s photos | 1920s photos | group photos | mourning photos
    Monday, 05 December 2011 16:45:32 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, 15 November 2011
    Painted Woods Mystery: Part Two
    Posted by Maureen

    Yesterday morning, I called Richard Levine to discuss his photograph of a family group possibly posed at Painted Woods, ND.

    I featured the photo and the mystery in last week’s column.

    Levine has known about this photo for only a few months. His cousin Sally showed it to him and told him that her mother said it was taken at Painted Woods. There are a few inconsistencies in this identification, though.

    Richard’s ancestors, Joseph and Anna Confeld, immigrated from Kishinev, Bessarabia in 1885, and settled in Painted Woods.

    Another set of Richard’s ancestors, Barouk and Hannah Dorfman, also lived in Painted Woods. The Dorfmans were among the first settlers to the area in 1882.

    Both families lived there only for a few years and then moved to Minnesota.

    Richard and Sally thought that since family said the picture was taken in Painted Woods, it must date from the 1880s. Last week, I looked at the clothing details and determined the original image dates to circa 1900. This generates some questions.

    The photo might not be of the Painted Woods community. In fact, by 1900, most of the Jewish settlers had moved elsewhere. The 1900 federal census for the community enumerates a number of Scandinavian families living in the area. 

    If this picture was taken in Painted Woods, Richard needs to determine why the family would return to the area. Could it be a family reunion, a wedding, or a funeral?

    One of the big problems is a lack of comparison photographs. I suggested comparing the faces in the group portrait with other photographs in the family. Unfortunately, Richard lacks images of family members. He’s hoping that someone will read this column and either have photographs of Painted Woods or of the Confelds or Dorfmans.

    Richard’s research turned up a first-person account of life in the community. Joseph Steinman (related to the Dorfmans) wrote about the hardships of life on the North Dakota frontier. It’s at the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest.

    Another resource worth investigating is William Sherman’s Jewish Settlement in North Dakota Collection at the Institute for Regional Studies & University Archives at the North Dakota State University Libraries. (Click here to download a PDF finding aid for the collection.) 

    If anyone is interested in reading about daily life on the northern frontier, I suggest Rachel Calof’s Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains (Indiana State University, 1995). It’s an amazing true story.

    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

  • 1900-1910 photos | group photos | Jewish
    Tuesday, 15 November 2011 14:03:21 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 07 November 2011
    Is this Painted Woods, North Dakota?
    Posted by Maureen

    Photographs and history go hand in hand. Take this photo for instance. It likely represents a bit of North Dakota history.

    PaintedWoodsNorthDakota (2).JPG

    Richard Levine's cousin Sally sent him this photo. Her mother had given it to her. The mother always thought it depicted a group at the Painted Woods settlement in North Dakota. 

    Levine's Jewish ancestors (Joseph and Anna Confeld) immigrated in 1885 from Kishinev, Bessarabia (now Moldova or Romania), which was a Russian territory. His grandmother Rose was born in North Dakota near Bismarck and lived in Painted Woods.  The harsh living conditions led many settlers to move elsewhere. In fact, Richard's family ended up in Minneapolis, Minn. 

    The big question in the family is about this photo. Does it depict a gathering at Painted Woods? And when was it taken?

    Richard reached out to the Jewish community through the JewishGen website and posted the photo there.

    The scalloped edge of this snapshot, as well as its size and format, identify this as a copy of an earlier picture. It was definitely photographed in the first half of the 20th century. In the lower left-hand corner you can see that the original photo had a tear.

    Let's look at the clothing clues.

    Richard thought it might be from the 1880s, but look closely at the women's dress sleeves.


    The shape and style of the sleeve dates this photo to circa 1900.  The children's play clothes are also consistent with this date.

    I'll be back next week with another installment of this story.

    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

  • 1920s photos | group photos | Jewish
    Monday, 07 November 2011 15:17:24 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # 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]
    # Thursday, 09 June 2011
    The Family Home as Backdrop in Old Pictures
    Posted by Diane

    Before flash photography, candles and lamplight couldn't provide sufficient illumination to take a photograph of a large group indoors. Families often chose to be photographed outdoors, with the family home as a backdrop.

    Photo Detective Maureen A. Taylor analyzes two such images on

    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 | group photos | photo backgrounds
    Thursday, 09 June 2011 21:47:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 06 June 2011
    Contest Winner Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    contest winneredit.jpg

    This is quite the photo problem. Contest winner Juliann Hansen and her family have tried for years to figure out the details in this photo.

    This week I'm going to outline what we know.
    • It was found covered in dust at the Cincinnati Butchers' Supply Co. (CBS) at Elmwood Place in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hansen's great grandfather, Carl/Charles G. Schmidt (1851-1930) established the company in 1886. CBS moved to Elmwood Place in the 1940s. It was a new building, so the image didn't belong to the previous owners of the structure.
    • There were generations of both family- and company-related material stored at the site.
    • Hansen's cousin contacted the Cincinnati Historical Society for help deciphering the picture clues.
    • Last week I mentioned that the card stock dated from the late 1890s to early 20th century, circa 1900.
    • I asked Hansen if anyone in her family was once a member of a fraternal organization. She told me that her father and uncle were Masons, but didn't know about her grandfather or his father.
    The big question is why is a group of late-19th-century men posing bare-chested and in some cases dressed only in loin cloth? 

    An article in Queen City Heritage, a now-defunct publication of the Cincinnati Historical Society, by Susan Labry Meyn, " Mutual Infatuation: Rosebud Sioux and Cincinnatians," (Queen City Heritage, Spring/Summer 1994 issue, 30-48, available online through the Cincinnati Historical Society) sheds some light on the matter.
    • In 1895, the Cincinnati Zoo brought a Cree village to the area complete with actual members of the tribe. They also had a section of the zoo devoted to Arabian, Kurdish, Egyptian  and Armenian families. These living displays were very popular. 
    • Buffalo Bill's frontier show visited Cincinnati in the Spring of 1895.
    • In the summer of 1896, the Cincinnati Zoological Society transported 89 Sicangu Sioux for a display and had them offer western reenactments of famous battles and stagecoach attacks. 
    • Also the summer of 1896, Mayor Gordon Lilly, known as "Pawnee Bill," planned a frontier show with a program called "Cincinnati One Hundred Years Ago" that competed with the Zoo's "Historical Cincinnati" show. 
    cincinnati close-up.jpg

    Look at this close-up of the photo. The men have painted their faces. You can see some light-colored lids in the crowd.  Some of their accessories look like the duplicates you could purchase in dime stores at the time.

    Perhaps this group is just one of the performances held in Cincinnati in the late 1890s.  Photos of the Cree village and the Sioux display are available in Meyn's article, but these men aren't wearing the same tribal clothing.

    It's also possible that this is just a group of Cincinnati men dressed in imitation of the "Indian" craze that swept through the area.

    The final answer has yet to be determined.

    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

  • 1890s photos | group photos | men | unusual photos
    Monday, 06 June 2011 14:48:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 23 May 2011
    Scenic Assistance
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you to everyone that attended last week's Photo Detective Live! webinar. Don't worry if you missed it. You can still watch and listen to it online. There's even a free PDF download to go with it.

    This week's photo was submitted as part of our call for images for the contest that accompanies the webinar. (The Photo Mysteries contest concludes this Friday, May 27—here's how to enter.) I'll be featuring these photos and questions in the next few weeks.

    Sharon Woodsum sent in a great set of images. Her family called this photo "Roberts on the Cliff" and believed that it was taken in Wales, home to her husband's grandfather of that surname.

    That's until Sharon spotted this postcard of the exact location.

    Notice the similarities in the background. You can see the lighthouse and the other buildings on the cliff. Now Sharon thinks the family is actually the Emersons of Portland, Maine. It's possible that her grandfather Anthony E. Roberts is in the picture. I'll fill you in on that comparison next week.

    So why did the family go to Nubble Light? It's a beautiful lighthouse and has been in that location since 1879. If this is the Emerson family, they could be on a day-trip to York, Maine, but since it's more than 40 miles from Portland to York and the lighthouse, perhaps the family is on vacation in the area. The date for the photo of this group on the rocks is circa 1900.

    Sharon was lucky to find a postcard view that confirmed the location of the first photo. It yielded a clue that is helping her sort out the evidence in the group portrait.

    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

  • 1900-1910 photos | group photos | photo backgrounds | unusual surfaces
    Monday, 23 May 2011 18:56:22 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Friday, 13 May 2011
    Aging Well
    Posted by Diane

    Dating a photograph of an older person presents a unique dilemma: Is the subject wearing contemporary fashion, or an older style that he or she was hanging on to?

    On, Photo Detective Maureen A. Taylor addresses this question as she analyzes these two photos that might show the same woman at different ages.

    Click here to see what clues Taylor finds.

    Got a photo mystery of your own? Enter it into our Photo Mysteries Contest.

    And remember to sign up for the free Photo Detective Live! webinar taking place May 18. 

    1890s photos | 1910s photos | group photos | men | women
    Friday, 13 May 2011 17:01:49 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 25 April 2011
    A Picture Pile-up
    Posted by Maureen

    I love unusual surnames. It's probably because my last name and many of my ancestral surnames often end up on those top 10 lists of popular names.

    Laurie Clement has a great chance to identify the folks in her unidentified image. She thinks this large family group shares the surname of Burkepile.

    All she needs is a date and she's on her way.


    I think this could be an impromptu itinerant photo studio shot. The whole family is standing in front of a white backdrop that looks suspiciously like a sheet. Mom, Dad and seven children stare directly at the camera. There's a single boy in the back row. Finding this family in the census should be possible. 

    The tight dress sleeves and hairstyles suggest a date of circa 1900.  It's a great picture of a family caught on the cusp of a new century. 

    A quick look at the 1900 federal census using HeritageQuest Online (available through many libraries) found families of Burkepiles living in Kansas, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania.  I didn't find any obvious matches, but Laurie and her distant cousins are working on a solution.

    My fingers are crossed!

    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

  • 1900-1910 photos | children | group photos
    Monday, 25 April 2011 20:39:36 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # 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, 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, 26 July 2010
    Prize Catch
    Posted by Maureen

    No doubt about it, I've looked at a lot of family photos. Every so often there's an image that not only depicts an ancestor, but also documents a bit of local history. Take this photo, for instance:

    Otis Shepardson family  cougar edit.jpg

    Pamela Fisher sent me this photo owned by her cousin Lorrie Glover. The women thinks the man on the right (with the dog) is their great-grandfather Otis Shepardson.

      Otis Shepardson family  cougargrandfather.jpg

    Not everyone in the family agrees.  Shepardson was born in 1880 in Home Valley (Cowlitz County), Wash. 

    This picture is mounted to a gray piece of card stock. It can be difficult to date a group photo where no one is wearing very fashionable clothes. Men's clothing is particularly challenging because the fashion changes are subtle. The style of men's hats suggests that it was taken circa 1900.  If that's true then it could be Otis.

    There is one woman in the picture. She wears a frontier-style bonnet that protects her face from the sun. Perhaps one of the boys is her son. 

    Otis Shepardson family  cougar bonnet.jpg

    Also in the photo is a man in the background who looks like he just stepped off his horse. He wears a cowboy hat and a kerchief around his neck.

    Otis Shepardson family  cougarman.jpg

    This photo just begs the viewer to fill in the details and answer these questions.
    • Who shot the mountain lion?
    • Why are the men gathered around? (It could be the day the lion was placed there.)
    I think I know why a taxidermied mountain lion is on display in the town. It's quite possible that this animal threatened the town. Once it was shot, the town mounted it on tree stump (notice the wooden post to keep its head up). Whoever shot it must have been the town hero.

    My husband's ancestral hometown of Peru, Vt., once had a bear on display in the town center. I have photographic proof in an early 20th century postcard.


    You'll find help identifying the mystery photos in your family albums in Maureen A. Taylor's book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs.

    1900-1910 photos | group photos | unusual photos
    Monday, 26 July 2010 18:37:36 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]
    # Monday, 22 February 2010
    A Success Story: A Graduation Class Identified
    Posted by Maureen

    Months ago, I wrote a Photo Detective column for the March 2010 issue of Family Tree Magazine called "The Graduates." It was about the chance discovery of a photograph stuck behind the lath in a bathroom wall in Sandi Alex's house in Camas, Washington.   This story has a happy ending!
    Mott Camas WA Pic (2).jpg
    Sandi told an elderly neighbor who'd lived on their street her whole life about the photo. That neighbor thought maybe the picture once belonged to the Mott Family who'd built Sandi's house.

    Being a genealogist, Sandi wanted to reunite the picture with a member of that family so she posted a query on genealogy message boards including the Mott surname forum on Judy Strong saw that posting and contacted Sandi. Judy's paternal relatives were the Mott's. They'd lived in that house until 1959.

    I knew from their attire, props and pose that it was a graduation picture and I worked with Sandi and Judy to try to figure out the names of the students and the teacher.  We also tried to discover why the image was in the house since it didn't appear to feature any of the Mott's. We had a couple of ideas, but nothing definite.

    The final identification came from a Family Tree Magazine subscriber. Janet Cosgrove of Yamhill, Oregon wrote to the editors. "Today I received the March 2010 issue in the mail and was flipping thru the pages, when I saw "The Graduates" picture and was shocked to see my maternal grandmother in it."  We were equally surprised. 

    Janet not only knew her grandmother, she had a date and the names of the people in the image. Amazing! Her great-uncle had listed all their names on the back of a copy of the original picture.

    From left to right are Harold Peterson, Esther Jones, Marie Schrohe, Mabel Nielsen, and Edith Anderson (the teacher).  Janet's maternal grandmother taught this small class at the Constance School in Green Valley, Waupaca, Wisconsin. This is the graduating class of 1915.

    It's so interesting when photos are suddenly identified. I wonder if the family living in the house ever missed the picture. It didn't depict any of the Mott's but Janet thought that perhaps Esther Jones was the daughter of the widow Sarah Rodwell Jones that I mentioned in the magazine article. She was related to Mrs. Emma Mott.

    This photo is a great story--it's about youth, young love and family. Turns out that the teacher ended up teaching for only two years. She married the older brother of her student Harold Peterson.

    Case Closed!

    1910s photos | children | group photos
    Monday, 22 February 2010 19:09:43 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 25 January 2010
    Photo Fun with Friends
    Posted by Maureen

    Way back in August, I asked for photos of people smiling. In response to that request Teri Colglazier sent me this photo.

    ColglazierHOBO 8 1880 a (2).jpg
    The woman in the back left has a toothy grin, probably because this group of friends has decided to have fun in front of the camera. No costumes were necessary—instead, a hand-painted board on the feet of the men proclaims: "The Hobo 8."  (There are eight young people in this photo.)

    Teri thought that underneath the word hobo was a number 80. I'm not sure. It looks like it could be Ho with Bo beneath it. If it's a number, it's not a year.

    While older folks often posed for pictures in their Sunday best, it wasn't unusual for young people to go to the studio dressed in casual clothes. The two men on the right wear big sweaters that could be worn today. In the back row, all four young women wear white blouses paired with dark skirts, belted at the waist. The little details in this photo provide a time frame:
    • The straw hat worn by one of the young men. It has a narrow brim and and wide ribbon.  The shape and style of hat brims and ribbons change from decade to decade in the early 20th century. He could work in an office.
    • The fellow on the far right has a flat-topped cap—all the rage in the second decade of the 20th century

    • The other two men wear a type of sports cap and a fedora style hat also in style in that period.

    • The smiling woman arranged her hair so that it forms a ridge on the top of her head. The woman next to her has her hair pulled back casually in a bow.

    • The woman on the far right is the most conservatively dressed with a Gibson girl-style high-neck blouse and full hairstyle.
    The detail that clinches the date is the mob cap worn by the woman second from the right. I've seen photos of this type of hat on women working around the house in the period just prior to World War I. 

    The facts add up to the photo being taken between 1910 and 1916.

    Teri now has to figure out who's in the picture. In her e-mail, she mentioned that her family kept every photo ever taken or given to them by family and friends. She thinks the man third from the left could be a family member, but she's not positive.

    Anyone out there recognize these people, photographed in McLean County, Ill.?

    1910s photos | group photos | hairstyles
    Monday, 25 January 2010 23:08:44 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 18 January 2010
    Head Toppers
    Posted by Maureen

    As you know I love hairstyles, but I'm also a hat person. No, I don't wear one, but I wish I did.  Given this fascination with brimmed accessories, is it any wonder I couldn't pass up Bro. Joseph F. Martin's challenge?

    This photo depicts his great-grandparents Nicholas and Marcyanna Kaptur in front of their home in Detroit. Standing next to them are their daughters Emily and Constance.


    It's a wonderful snapshot.  Bro. Martin would like to know when the picture was taken but can't identify the hats.

    I've spent the morning studying their hats. From left to right, there's a wonderful array of chapeaus. Dating and identifying a hat relies on a few things such as size and shape of the crown, size and shape of the brim, decorations (if any) and then the other details in the picture.  The final bit is important because very often, historic hat styles return to current fashion. If you don't look at the context of the hat you could have the wrong decade or even century.  

    Great-grandmother Maryanna has a fascinating hat with a narrow brim and puffy mushroom looking crown. Her warm-weather straw hat is accented by a wide ribbon. Her husband wears a soft felt hat with a boxy crown and a wide brim. Next to him is one of their daughters, looking quite fashionable in a soft brimmed cloche hat. Her sister wears a smaller hat with what looks like a folded-back brim. 

    Maryanna's dress with its drop waist and sailor-style collar is much older than the photo; I think from circa 1920. Older folks in photos tend to wear older styles rather than the current trends, but there are exceptions. The daughter standing second from left wears a lovely summer dress with narrow sleeves topped with full caps, and belted at the natural waist. It's the most fashionable outfit in the photo, stylish around 1925-1929.  Her sister wears a drop-waist dress from about 1925.

    In this case, the dress styles and dates vary, but it appears that everyone's hat is contemporary to the late 1920s. The family is in the 1930 federal census as Nicholas, 68; Mary, 67; Constance, 26; Joseph, 26; and Emily, 23.  So where's Joseph in this snapshot? I don't have proof, but he's probably the one behind the camera.

    1920s photos | group photos
    Monday, 18 January 2010 16:53:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 02 November 2009
    Family Stories: A Photo at a Time
    Posted by Maureen

    Sharon Pike wrote to me with a question about the clothing on the children in this photo, "Do you think the photographer brought clothing as props for the children?" 

    It's a really common query. In her e-mail, along with her question, was the story of this family. Since I believe every photo tells a story. I couldn't resist sharing this lovely bit of family history.


    Thomas "Tom" Schuler and his wife Matilda "Tilly" Mueller (Miller) sit on the stoop of their Louisville, Ky., house with their first four children. The two children flanking the parents are Leo Thomas Schuler on the left and his twin sister Verena Marie Schuler on the far right. The little boy on Dad's lap is Edward Joseph Schuler, and the baby is Louise Matilda Schuler. The presence of Louise dates the picture to the summer of 1899; she was born May 19 of that year. 

    To answer Sharon's question, I don't think the photographer brought their clothes with him. Photographers often carried props and some accessories, but not a wagon full of clothes.

    The kids and their parents are dressed in typical fashion for the turn of the century. Leo's wide-collared shirt and tie were worn by boys across the United States. None of the children is dressed for play; they're all wearing clothes for a special occasion—the family photo. Dad's the informal one: In this time frame, men wore coats in all types of weather, so it's a bit unusual that he's not wearing a jacket for this formal portrait. It was probably taken on a really hot summer day.

    Each photo also tells the "backstory" of the folks depicted. A picture becomes a symbol to remember these family members. According to Sharon, Tom Schuler was born in Switzerland and immigrated with his family in 1870. As a young man, Tom and all the men in the family went back to Switzerland for a visit. It was a timely event. On the return trip to the United States, a young woman named Tilly Mueller was also en route to America with a work contract for a job as a maid. 

    This shipboard romance has a happy ending. Sharon told me that Tom went to the house where Tilly worked and helped her climb out the window so they could elope. They eventually had seven children.

    Telling the story of a picture and a family requires digging for names and dates, but family history and oral tradition fit together with the visual elements of a picture to tell the tale. Next week I'll be back with some tips on how to write your own photo story.

    Thank you, Sharon, for sharing!

    1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | children | group photos
    Monday, 02 November 2009 16:06:57 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 14 September 2009
    One More Time: Funny Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

    I have another album of funny pictures to share with you. This time, there's even an entry from faraway Chile. Thanks to the Web, this column has readers around the globe.

    Cook6 Jul 1913 Mt  Washington 001.jpg
    Laura Cook sent me several images of her grandmother Marie Schultheis clowning with friends in the summer of 1913. This is my favorite (above). I love the pained expression of the guy on the bottom.

    caponeLadies with dresses pulled up (2).jpg

    Barbara Capone sent in a family mystery. It was taken in Scotland County, Mo., at what she thinks was Minnie and Joseph Cook Walker's house, but she has no idea who these people are. The Walkers were her Capone's grandparents.

    PeelEarlMarionNeil (3).jpg

    Here's a fun snapshot of Faith Peel's father, aunt and uncle. She doesn't know the names of the rest of the folks.

    sebaskyunidmen275 (4).jpg

    Marlys Sebasky thought this picture and the next one looked very similar to the original posting of the card players in Fergus Falls, Minn. What do you think?


    Gonzalo A. Luengo O. of Chile sent the image below. It's a postcard sent from Sestri Ponente (near Genoa, Italy) to Luengo's great-great-grandfather Antonio De Filippi Montaldo. It's a bit of a mystery. The banner reads "Premio Beneficenza, 28 febbraio 1903" which translates to "Charity Prize, February 28, 1903."  Does anyone have any information on the tradition shown? E-mail me if you do.
    GonzalesANTONIO DE FILIPPI 1.jpg

    1920s photos | 1930s photos | candid photos | group photos | Photo fun | photo postcards
    Monday, 14 September 2009 16:16:12 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 07 September 2009
    An Album of Funny Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I asked readers to submit funny pictures. Thank you to everyone who sent images. I've been laughing all week. So here they images that leave you wondering, "What were they thinking?"

    EdminsterWill Samels Robt Shane and others.jpg
    Sue Edminster sent in this photo (above) of men with numbers on the soles of their shoes. Why?  Who knows!  The men are, bottom to top, Will Samels, Bob Shane (Edminster's grandfather) and Will Young. The photo was taken circa 1890.

    mcclenahan2kirk brothers.jpg

    Here's a card-playing group courtesy of Merna McClenathen. With her grandfather, Milton "Tom" Kirk (2nd from right), are his brothers, William McCready "Crede" Kirk (3rd from right) and Alfred "Alf" Kirk (far right). The man holding all the cards on the far left is unknown. McClenathen thinks this photo was taken circa 1890 in the Black Hills of South Dakota near Lead, SD,when the Kirk brothers were working as carpenters at the Homestake Mine.

    McClenathenGeo Alford.jpg

    Merna sent in two images. Above, you can see what a double exposure looked like taken with either the real Freako-Shutter mentioned last week, or a similar device. Your eyes aren't playing tricks. It's the same man, George P. Alford.


    The earliest funny picture I received came from Rachel Peirce. This one (sbove) dates between Aug. 1, 1864 and Aug. 1, 1866. I know this because on the back is a tax revenue stamp. One can only wonder why this man posed feeding a doll. The doll probably has a china head and cloth body, and could be an imported model. The man is "feeding" it from the dish on the table. The photographer hand-colored the doll's dress a light pink.

    PikePoker girls.jpg

    Sharon Pike sent the most recent image in this set. It dates from c. 1900. I've seen other images from this time frame of women dressed like men in funny pictures. Here, it's Belle and Fanny Curtis. Belle was born in 1882. Their father, Asaph Curtis, owned the Hotel Rockford on Long Lake in Washburn Co., Wis.

    Come back next week, when I reveal an unusual coincidence in a reader's picture.

    1860s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | group photos | men | Photo fun | props in photos | women
    Monday, 07 September 2009 20:59:22 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Friday, 17 April 2009
    Cars in Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    I'm taking a break from the house photo this week to give you time to receive copies of the print version of Family Tree Magazine and read about the other clues in that image. I have one more short installment to post.

    In the meantime, I pulled out a different type of photo mystery. It's all about a car. I live with two gear-heads who can talk about engines and car design for hours. It runs in the male line of the family—every one of them has an antique automobile.

    Naturally I was really happy to receive this photo in my inbox:

    Chuck Baker3.jpg

    This is Chuck Baker's dad's family. His question is about the car on the left. Could it help date the image?

    Absolutely. He thought the picture was taken pre-World War II and that's likely. Here's why.

    Chuck Baker2.jpgThe car definitely provides a beginning year for a time frame.  It appears to be a 1938 Dodge touring sedan. According to The Ultimate Auto Album: An Illustrated History of the Automobile by Tad Burness (Krause, $16.95) approximately 73,417 of these vehicles were produced. It sold for $898. 

    The double-rear window is what led me to that identification.  The 1937 Chrysler Airflow also had two windows in the rear, but a different trunk design. There might be more automobiles out there with a double-rear window. If so, please let me know.

    This identification was based on all the details visible in the back of the car. Ah ... if only I could see the front.

    You're probably wondering if the license plate helped. It would have if I could've enhanced the image enough to see it clearly. It's quite blurry when I enlarge the image.

    However, Chuck's family lived in southwest Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania first issued license plates in 1906, and every year a car owner had to get a new set of plates. That practice ended in the 1950s.

    In 1956, license plates became a standard 6x12 inches.  If you want to read more about plates in Pennsylvania and see examples of late 20th-century versions, consult Vehicle Registration Plates of Pennsylvania on Wikipedia.

    As for when this picture was taken, 1938 is the earliest everyone could have posed for this family gathering. The clothing suggests a time frame of late 1930s to early 1940s. Chuck Baker was right—the picture was taken before World War II.

    1930s photos | candid photos | group photos | Vehicles in photos
    Friday, 17 April 2009 19:13:42 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Tuesday, 17 February 2009
    Two-Sided Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    This photo will have to be covered in several installments. It's a complex mystery that involves dating the picture, figuring out where it was taken and deciding who's in it. What's on the back of the image is a whole other story.

    Let's tackle the simple part this week—assigning a date.

    The 15 people in the photo wear everyday clothing. Only one man (on the far right) wears a jacket; the rest are attired in work shirts and pants with wide-brimmed hats to shield their faces from the sun. The little boys wear short pants and wide-collared shirts.

    The outfits on two of the women suggest an initial time frame for this group portrait. The smiling woman on the far left wears a dress with full sleeves, a pouched bodice and a wide double collar. Her skirt has fitted tucks at the hips.

    The woman on the right in the back row wears a loose tie around her neck with a pouched front blouse and full sleeves.

    Their topknot hairstyles clinch the time frame: The group probably posed for this portrait circa 1900 to 1906.

    Next week I'll be back to discuss how the rest of the facts add up.

    BTW, the creases on the image suggest that this image was folded and unfolded multiple times. The paper has actually worn away at the center. The staining you see is due to the glue used to adhere it to the paper.

    1900-1910 photos | group photos | hairstyles
    Tuesday, 17 February 2009 15:16:12 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 19 January 2009
    An Album of Ancestors' Family Pets
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you to everyone who sent a photo of a pet in the family! This week, I'd like to share what was e-mailed to me. I'm so glad that each picture came with a story, too. This was a lot of fun!

    Jim Musso wrote "First, this is my mom with her family's pet pig, Spud. Mom grew up on a farm in Sheboygan, Wis.; she was born in 1925, so this photo must be from the early 1930s."


    He continued, "according to Mom, Spud would only eat from the hands of family members, and preferred standing on a chair with his front hooves while being fed. She recalls Spud walking under the kitchen table and carrying the table on his back as he walked away. My grandparents, Vincent and Hattie Fee, obviously liked animals.

    In the foreground is the family's dog, Jigs, no doubt waiting for a morsel to fall his way. Jigs preferred travelling in a wheelbarrow, as can be seen in the second photo."


    Bethany Klus wrote that the photo below is "a cabinet card-style photo from an album of photos taken in Alpena, Michigan from the late 1800s. Most of the photos are unlabeled, including the one I'm sending to you. The dog in my photo could be siblings with the one in the blog photo, they look that similar."


    I have to agree that it definitely is a Terrier, possibly a Cairn Terrier although they tend to have darker fur (I'm a veterinarian when I'm not a genealogist!).

    "The second photo," she added, "is my great-grandfather Royal Frederick Flock who was born in 1892 in Edenville, Mich. It was probably taken in the early 1920s when he lived in Detroit. With him is the pet cat."


    Not all the pet pictures submitted show a real, live pet. Kathy Amoroso wrote that the photo below is, "my grandmother and her family. She's the one on the fake pig. They are in Germany in 1913 and this is from one of those postcard photos."


    I'll be back next column with a couple more!

    children | group photos | men | Pets
    Monday, 19 January 2009 16:46:12 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 01 December 2008
    Photo Clones: Duplicates in the Family
    Posted by Maureen

    Hunter sisters-six of themEMAIL SIZE-circa after 1892.jpg

    This photo's owner Diane Gould Hall knows these six women are the Hunter Sisters. In the back row (left to right) are Grace Hunter (1874-1946), Daisy Hunter (1876-1948), and Ada Emily Hunter (1865-1949). In the front row are Estelle M. Hunter (1867-1947), Florence Hunter (1869-1946), and Myra Hunter (1859-1938). Florence is Diane's great-grandmother.

    Diane knows this was taken after 1892 because another sister died that year, and she's not present. The sisters' beautiful, diaphanous blouses appear in fashion catalogs for the period 1910 to about 1915. If this picture was taken about 1915, the sisters would range in age from 39 to 56.

    In the course of our email correspondence, Diane mentioned two  interesting facts:
    • Grace Hunter's husband Charles Fenner and his brothers owned a photo studio in Lima, Ohio. That's where this picture was taken.

    • When she posted this image on her family tree, a cousin contacted her. Turns out, that cousin owned a picture from this same studio sitting. Diane was amazed. In the second image, the sisters are seated in a different order!
    How often have you considered that a photo in your collection might not be the only copy? Our ancestors went to the photo studio to acquire a picture, but "package deals" offered the opportunity to obtain multiple copies of the same image. Duplicates made it easy to share pictures to relatives. 

    Since professional photographers usually took several different poses to make sure all parties were happy with the final image, the extra prints might be slightly different.

    Diane's discovery is proof that you should ask to see the photo collections in the hands of distant cousins. Who knows what you'll uncover!  You could solve that photo identification mystery or find new pictures.

    The latter happened to me recently. A distant cousin posted online pictures of my great-great grandparents. My mother and I had no idea that these images even existed.

    1910s photos | group photos | photo-research tips | women
    Monday, 01 December 2008 15:14:24 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 27 October 2008
    Final Installment: One-Glove Mystery Solved!
    Posted by Maureen

    I'm doing the happy dance right now! I finally contacted Sue Anderson, the owner of the photo of the four men—two wearing one glove each—featured in two blog posts. Turns out she was on vacation and hadn't imagined the fuss being made over this photo. All she wanted to know was the date of the image and why the one glove. 

    In the first post, I dated the image using the postcard back to a time frame of 1904 to 1918. That was the only sure information in the picture.

    In the second installment, I reported readers' theories and focused on the gloves. Well, the pieces have finally fallen into place. You're not going to believe it!

    While Sue's older relatives were sure two of the men were Lance and Elmore Melson, she wasn't positive because these elderly relatives have been wrong before. They said the two men in the front were Melsons and the men in the back were Wingfields.

    Those two in the front are definitely Melsons. Sue sent me several other family photographs that confirm the resemblance. The ears are a giveaway.

    Elmore Melson (b. 1896) had two other brothers: Joel (b.1894) and Bertram (b. 1892). I think Sue's family was partially right. Lance Melson would be too young to be in the group photo, but Joel is old enough. It's actually his presence (right front in the group image and below) and age that specifically date the image and solve the one glove detail!

    Joel Melson.jpg

    Notice the rolled up pants <smile>.

    So here goes...
    • Joel dies in 1918 in Oklahoma of pneumonia. The group portrait is likely the last image taken of the 24-year-old. It fits the 1918 period. His brother Elmore would be 22 in that image.
    • Melson and his brothers worked as farmers and weren't very well-off. In Joel's spare time, he also worked as a bronco rider. In the first blog post on this mystery, I suggested the glove was work-related. Since bronco riding isn't something I'm pfamiliar with, I contacted a colleague, Kathy Hinckley (known as the Family Detective), who grew up on a ranch in South Dakota and participated in riding events. She confirmed my theory that bronco riders wear one glove on the dominant hand! Mystery solved.
    The men's ties are very Western in style. Kathy made one other comment about something I pondered: Why dress in suits and wear the riding glove? She thought this picture probably commemorated a special event, such as winning at the rodeo. I have no proof of this detail, but the explanation makes sense.
    • There's one more detail Sue helped with—the rolled pants. In the group picture those rolls look like cuffs, but it turns out Joel wasn't very tall, and instead of having his pants hemmed, just rolled them up.  
    Sue is amazed at the number of comments and emails about her photo. Thank you to everyone who posted remarks or sent comments. I'm glad we can put the artifical hand theory to rest; Joel had both of his hands at the time of his death.

    1910s photos | group photos | men | props in photos
    Monday, 27 October 2008 15:28:18 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 13 October 2008
    Postal Clues and a One-Glove Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    In honor of an upcoming article in the print Family Tree Magazine, this week's photo mystery is a postcard.

    In the January 2009 issue, I wrote a piece called Getting the Message on the ways our ancestors communicated and the types of records they left behind. One of the methods highlighted was postcards. (The issue mails to subscribers near the end of October and goes on sale Nov. 11.)

    Sue Stevenson sent me this postcard of four men:

    Lance and Elmore Melson.jpg

    In the front row are supposedly
    (left to right) Lance Melson (1907-1988) and Elmore Melson (1896-1938). It's a real-photo postcard—a photograph with a postcard back.

    Sue's big question doesn't concern the men's identities, but the mysterious single glove on each man in the front row. Before looking at that puzzle, let's backtrack and look at the other clues.

    Let's start with the postcard back. One of my favorite postcard sites is Playle's Auction Site. It has an online directory that details the stamp box designs.

    According to this site, the AZO box with upright triangles in the corners appeared from 1904 to 1918. Uh oh—if Lance Melson was born in 1908, he'd have to be 10 in this photo. That doesn't add up.

    The men's clothing is a bit odd. Are their pants legs rolled up, or do they just have very wide cuffs? Cuffed pants were common on casual clothes in the early 20th century, but the cuffs on these pants are a bit extreme.

    Neckties are the other interesting clothing detail. The man on the right in the front row wears a soft polka dot tie, a pattern that first appeared in the late 19th century. This style may be unique to his area, since it's not the type of tie you'd see in most of the country in the early 20th century.

    Based on a working date for this image between 1904 and 1918, it may depict Lance's and Elmore's fathers, rather than the boys. More family history information would be necessary to verify that conclusion. 

    As to the one glove? It's curious that one man wears a glove on his right hand and the other on his left. This could indicate their dominant hands. I haven't found other images like this, but I suspect these heavy leather gloves were worn for work. Or perhaps the men were just clowning for the camera.

    Sue's right about their ears, though. This facial similarity indicates the men are likely related.

    If anyone else has a photo of men wearing one glove—decades before Michael Jackson made it fashionable—send it along to me.

    1910s photos | group photos | men | photo postcards
    Monday, 13 October 2008 16:44:33 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [6]
    # Monday, 15 September 2008
    Photos Handed Down in the Family
    Posted by Maureen

    Raise your hand if you've discovered a cache of family photos you didn't know about after the death of a relative.

    I'm sure if I asked an audience of hundreds, few hands would remain down.  You'd think there wouldn't be any surprise photos in my family, but no ... Even my Dad squirreled away a few I didn't know about. I think he forgot he had them. Now I'm trying to figure out the significance of those long-lost pictures.

    Bobbi Borbas is in a similar situation. She found these three images in a box of photos that once belonged to her mother.

    In the first (below), a family sits for a group portrait. Look closely—only the father gazes at the lens, the rest of the family's eyes aren't on the camera, but on the person who stands to our left, near the photographer. It makes you wonder what's happening on the other side of the camera. Was the assistant trying to distract the children or making last-minute suggestions?


    The clothing (note the mother's full upper sleeves) and the decorative embossing on the mat date the picture between the late 1890s to about 1905. That gives Bobbi a starting point.

    When she wrote, she thought the picture might depict her great-grandfather.I called her today and asked her to send me a family chart. She's looking for a family that fits the following details around the turn of the century:
    • Six children (three girls and two boys, plus a baby less than a year old)
    • The oldest boy and girl (behind their parents) close to their early teen years.
    • A boy (standing between his parents) around school age. 
    Borbas' second image (below) is a tintype of a young girl. This is a gorgeous image without any of the darkening varnish so often seen in early tintypes.


    The photographer added gold leaf to the girl's jewelry to make it stand out. She's probably an older toddler, not yet school age, and sits with a hand in a pocket of her cotton dress.

    The dress style dates the image to the early 1860s; Wide necklines like this for young girls are seen in photos of the 1850s and 1860s. The identification clue is clearly her ears—Bobbi needs to watch for similarly shaped ears in other family pictures.

    The third image is very interesting. It's set in a tiny piece of photo jewelry, only 3/8 inch wide by 1/2 inch high. The photo itself is only a quarter inch. You'll have to wait until next week to see it—I'm still working on a couple of the details. With any luck, I'll be able to report success in identifying the individuals in these two images. Stay posted!

    1860s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | group photos | women
    Monday, 15 September 2008 20:55:39 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Friday, 01 August 2008
    Medical Conditions and Family History
    Posted by Maureen

    Two weeks ago I put out a call for photos showing medical conditions. There are three images and one blog link in this post so be sure to read all the way to the end.

    The inspiration for that request was a photo that Elizabeth Vollrath emailed me in May.
    080108vollrath.jpg   080108vollrath2.jpg
    It's a lovely 1880s photograph showing an unusual feature in her right ear.  While not a medical condition, it made me think about details in photos. 

    Vollrath's dad inherited the split in the earlobe, showing a relationship to this unknown woman. I wondered whether she was his grandmother. I was close. A cousin later positively identified this woman as Ida Sophia Hass (b. 1866). Ida's sister Pauline Hass was Vollrath's great-great-grandmother, and her dad's great grandmother.

    Diedra March sent me this photo of her great-grandfather's family.
    Norberg oval photo copied to cd.jpg   080108MarchNorberg2 .jpg
    She thinks her dad has inherited macular degeneration from this man, his mother's father. Anders Norberg appears to have something wrong with his eyes. According to March, Macular Degeneration causes blindness in your center vision, and people with the condition often look out of the corners of their eyes.

    Rachel McPherson shared a photo of a school group that shows her grandmother in a leg brace (front row, fourth from right) due to polio.

    Patricia School Picture.jpg  schoolpolio.jpg

    She was born in 1933, before a vaccine was available.

    Bloggers like to share through their online postings. The Footnote Maven posted a medically related photo on her blog, Shades of the Departed, on "Health Issues and Women Wearing Glasses." 

    Thank you to everyone who sent images in response to my request! 

    1880s photos | group photos | men | photo-research tips | women
    Friday, 01 August 2008 16:23:52 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, 05 May 2008
    Curly Locks: A Trend Revealed
    Posted by Maureen

    I asked for it. I posted a request for images of curly-headed tots and now I've got several. Thank you!!

    They confirm my hypothesis about boys and hair. It appears that in the early 20th century, there was a trend—little boys with long hair and hair bows. They look just like their sisters. What's a genealogist to do to tell them apart? 

    Family traditions, oral histories and good old-fashioned genealogical research are the only ways to tell the boys from the girls in these cases. Don't jump to conclusions when you see a bow in this period—you might be wrong. Add up the kids in the family, ask older relatives if they know who's who, and try to match up their ages to kids in the photo using census returns and other documents.

    Here's an image Esther Thompson sent me: 

    Her emails says it all "This is a picture of my great-grandparents William and Ida Johnson, and the boy in the front with the curls (and bow in his hair) is my grandfather Andrew Clyde Johnson, born in 1897. I got this picture from my Dad's sister and when I asked her who the little girl was, she said, 'that little girl is your grandfather.' I couldn't believe it."

    Here's a close-up. Enjoy!

    050608 child.jpg

    1900-1910 photos | children | group photos
    Monday, 05 May 2008 16:26:17 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 28 April 2008
    Family Portraits: Boy or Girl?
    Posted by Maureen

    Elva Martin sent me this picture to help settle a family reunion disagreement.


    See the child in the second row on the far right? The one with a bow in the hair? Do you think this is a boy or a girl?

    The picture is an example of confusing details even when you know the name of everyone in a photo.

    Martin's clan is clear about this being the Peter Mower family. They even have a date for the picture, 1910.

    It's that troublesome child causing the disagreement. "Petter" Mower, his wife and their nine children appear in the 1910 census for Saugerties, NY. Their oldest, Harry (age 16) stands proudly in the back. Leona (3) sits on her father's lap while baby Marion is with Mom.

    The rest of the boys are Leory (15), Arnold (13), Adelbert (11), Orie (10), Louis (7) and Everett (5). Orie is supposed to be the child with the bow, but did boys wear bows in the their hair and long curls?  The answer is, sometimes!

    I know I've written columns about the ways boys and girls wore their hair parted—boys on the side and girls down the center—but there are always exceptions. Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1886 book, Little Lord Fauntleroy, featured a main character named Cedric whose mother dressed him in a "black velvet suit, with a lace collar, and with love-locks."  You can read the whole text for free on the Project Gutenberg site.  But Burnett didn't start the trend, she only popularized it.

    Throughout the centuries, there have been mothers who couldn't bear to cut the gorgeous curls from their little boys' heads. It appears Orie's mom couldn't either. Of all the children in the portrait, Orie resembles her the most.

    He has her mouth, eyes, nose and even the same-shape face. Perhaps he was her favorite. It's impossible to know, unless there's a family story about Orie's place in his mother's affections.

    Despite the family disagreement about his sex, this child is a boy.

    E-mail me your old pictures of boys in curls and I'll feature them in a future blog. For now, this is another picture puzzle solved.

    1910s photos | children | group photos
    Monday, 28 April 2008 22:51:33 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 28 January 2008
    Oklahoma Family Problems
    Posted by Maureen

    Debbie Deaton sent me a photo hoping I could confirm the identity of this family. She thinks this portrait depicts the Deaton family: Franklin Deaton, his wife, Mahalia Mae Archer Deaton, and their children. Standing next to Mahalia is her son and Franklin’s step-son, Harley. The other boy is Arthur Lee Deaton, Debbie’s husband’s grandfather. The girl is supposedly Zelda.

    The clothing in this picture is the first thing I looked at, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The full sleeves on the women’s dresses suggest a time frame of the mid 1890s. That’s the easy part. I know I’ve said it before, but costume is only one clue. In this picture’s case, the family history and genealogy can solve the mystery. 

    Debbie knows little about the individuals in this picture. They lived in Oklahoma, and Mahalia was supposedly a full-blood Cherokee Indian. Franklin worked as a Sheriff. He died delivering a tax bill; as he got to the door, the man shot Franklin dead.

    I searched GenealogyBank for newspaper stories relating to Franklin, but didn’t have any luck. Then I tried the Oklahoma Historical Society Web site, where you can search citations for Oklahoma newspaper articles. Unfortunately, Franklin didn’t appear in the index.

    I decided to search the Federal Census using HeritageQuest Online (I have access with my Boston Public Library card—see if your public library system provides access to HeritageQuest). I didn’t find Franklin, but there was a 1900 census record for Mahalia (below). 

    She’s living with an Archer family. Her relationship to the head of the household is "step daughter;" Mahalia's children are "step grandchildren."  Both Arthur and Zildy (Zelda) appear, but no Harley. The census states Mahala’s race as "Ind." and she reported having given birth to three children. 

    That led me to some possibilities:

    • If this picture shows Arthur (b. August 1894) and Zildy (b. January 1900), it certainly wasn’t taken in the mid- 1890s.  The children are too old and their ages reversed. The girl in this photo is older thn both boys. I’d estimate she's around 10 years old. The boy on the right is 7 or 8 and the other is even younger.
    • Where’s Harley in the census? He may have died. This is a key piece of information that requires additional research. Perhaps the photo shows Mahala and two boys from a third marriage, though I think this is the least likely scenario.
    • Instead of depicting Mahala and her husband, could this image feature the Archer family from the census: Earl, his wife, their daughter and two youngest sons?   

    There are a lot of unanswered questions about the Deaton family and this picture, but it’s a solvable problem. I’d continue to look for a death notice or news story about Franklin’s death, which appears to have occurred about 1900. I also suggest Debbie look at her family tree for other families with children the right ages for this image. Other research that can help includes the Dawes Rolls of Five Civilized Tribe enrollments.  

    I have to admit all the questions around this picture make my head hurt. If you have a suggestion for these Oklahoma research woes, please post a comment.

    1890s photos | group photos
    Monday, 28 January 2008 17:53:58 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Tuesday, 22 January 2008
    Backgrounds in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    In mid-December, I asked readers to submit photos with interesting backgrounds. Thank you for images.

    I'm conducting an informal study of the different types of backgrounds in photos—it's a vastly understudied area of photo history. Here's an overview:

    In the 1840s and 1850s daguerreotypists really didn't use backgrounds. Their focus was capturing a likeness of a person, not making the pictures look like they were taken outdoors.

    In the 1860s, suddenly you start seeing the wall behind the sitter. You can see the blank wall and the moulding at the base. At some point in the late 1850s photographers began offering handpainted copies of images with gorgeous backgrounds painted in. Many of you probably have these and wonder if they're photographs or paintings. They're actually both.

    In the late 19th century, photographers began paying artists to create backdrops. You've seen some of them in past columns. The backdrop and the architectural elements create a stage setting for the portrait. In photos taken at tourist resorts, you're likely to see seaside scenes.  In next few weeks I'll share some interesting backgrounds I've purchased as examples.

    One of the photographs I received was from Alissa Booth. These three boys were born in the period from 1911 to 1915. Notice the delicately painted backdrop. It's professionally done and creates a nature scene so the boys look like they posed outdoors.

    Keep sending me the interesting backgrounds

    1910s photos | 1920s photos | children | group photos | photo backgrounds
    Tuesday, 22 January 2008 16:11:07 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 12 November 2007
    Ancestral Vacations
    Posted by Maureen

    Two things drew me to this picture. First, the owner sent me wonderful background information to tell the story. Second, it’s proof this blog has an international following: Kathryn Larcher submitted this photo from her home in France.

    There's no mystery about the relative depicted. Kathryn knows the last woman in the middle row is her maternal great-grandmother, “Mom Battle” (Mary Clement Crawford Battle). When Mary’s husband died in September 1909, instead of staying home, she traveled in Europe.


    Here, she poses for the camera in the Gap of Dunloe, Ireland. This photo comes from a family scrapbook—one probably created by Mom Battle herself. 

    Kathryn would like to know when the picture was taken. The numbers on the lower right side of the picture,, elaborate that detail. I believe the first number is the photographer’s notation for his 51st picture, but the last three digits are clearly the date.

    Using the European method of notation, Mom Battle had her picture taken on the second day of August, 1910. Her black attire, including hat and coat, supports this date. Victorian mourning standards required widows to wear black for the first year after a husband's death.

    Centuries of visitors have marveled over the natural beauty of the Gap. You can read more about it in Black’s Guide to Ireland (1902), available through Google Books.

    A documentary, Trip Through the Gap of Dunloe (1903), probably boosted tourism in the area. A key stop on the immortalized tour was Kate Kearney’s Cottage, with its legendary history of spells cast by Kate herself, followed by food and drink. Visitors could then hire a horse-drawn conveyance to take them through the Gap and back. Today the cottage still offers refreshments and tourists can still take a horse and buggy.

    Kathryn also wondered who else is in this picture. I have a question for her, “Did Mom Battle travel alone or with a companion?” A traveling companion would've been along for this ride. The rest of the folks are just fellow travelers, such as the young honeymoon (perhaps) couple cuddled up in the second row.

    This is a great photo of a woman who decided to enter the next phase of her life with a sense of adventure!

    1910s photos | group photos
    Monday, 12 November 2007 17:00:54 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 05 November 2007
    The Plane Truth Revisited
    Posted by Maureen

    Last year I wrote about Jacqui Marcella's photo of two couples standing in front of an airplane in The Plane Truth. I'm revisiting a few of my older columns to see if I can discover anything new about those pictures. When I looked at this 1920s image I thought, "Why not?"  Imagine my surprise when a closer look at some of the details revealed that this simple family picture was a historically significant photo!

    The couple on the left are Jacqui Marcella's grandparents, Arthur and Theresa Henschel, but the couple on the right are a mystery. I initially assigned a timeframe of 1926 to 1930, but this "fresh look" narrowed that even further. Take a close look at the T to the right of the second couple. It holds the key to this image.

    I searched some of the links I recommended in the original article, and found an exact match! The T is part of the name of the plane, the Smiling Thru. If you look closely, you can see part of a G behind the man on the right. Compare this photo to the photo I found on the Wichita Photo Archives site—the plane's name in that picture is the same font as the T in Jacqui's picture.

    The Smiling Thru was the first corporate aircraft in America, owned by the Automatic Washer Company. The name came from the company slogan, "Buy an automatic washer on Monday and you will be smiling through the rest of the week." 

    For company president H.L. Ogg, it was a corporate office in the sky with dictaphone, telephone and lavatory. His secretary typed letters while they flew around the country. Strip out the office equipment and the company could use it to deliver washing machines.

    The Automatic Washer Company bought this plane from Travel Air in 1929,  then sold it in 1934. Based on the clothing here and the aircraft's history, Jacqui's grandparents probably posed for this portrait in about 1929. The history of the plane also suggests the other couple might be associated with the Automatic Washer Company. I know the man isn't Ogg, but perhaps its another representative.

    Jacqui thought of this  portrait as a family picture, but its actually a piece of American history, since very few pictures of the Smiling Thru still exist. You can read more about it in an article in the Newton (Iowa) Daily News.

    By the way, Jacqui, please send me your new email address. I was unable to contact you to provide this update on your photo.

    1920s photos | group photos | men | photo backgrounds | women
    Monday, 05 November 2007 14:51:49 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, 02 October 2007
    Women's Sleeves Are Clues to Photo Dates
    Posted by Maureen

    Bill Dodge thinks one of these young women is his paternal grandmother because he found the picture in his father’s belongings. He wonders if it’s a graduation photo and if the girl on the lower right holds a nurses cap. I truly believe each family portrait tells a story about a person, place or occasion, so let’s deconstruct this image into its pieces and see what’s what.

    Each of these women dressed in one of her best dresses. It’s relatively easy to tell when that was—all wear sleeve styles common in the 1890s. I’d date this picture to about 1897. That’s when tight lower sleeves accented by puffy upper sleeves began to get fashionable, yet you still see evidence of an earlier style.


    The two girls on the right in the back row wear the full fabric sleeve popular from 1893 to 1896. The dress on the young woman on the lower right features an uncomfortable-looking high starched collar and attached scarf. It’s that extra cloth that resembles the shape of a nurse’s cap. If this were a nursing school graduation class, all the girls would have posed in uniform with caps on their heads.

    If you have a photographer’s imprint with a surname and address, but don’t know the first name, try looking more closely. Photographers often included their intertwined initials as a decorative element. In this case, W. T. is for William Teush.

    By researching him in US census records, I learned Teush worked as a photographer for several decades in New York and New Jersey, but by 1900 he had become a hotel proprietor.

    Dodge was probably right in guessing this image was a school picture. In the late 19th century, portraits like this were quite common. I’ve even written about other class pictures of this period. What’s  a mystery is whether this image represents all the girls in the class or a group of friends.

    Who’s Who?
    Dodge needs another picture of his grandmother to find her here. By comparing the shape of her eyes, nose, mouth and other features with this image, he should be able to pick her out of the crowd. I hope to do a follow-up to this piece identifying exactly which one is his grandmother. Stay tuned!

    1890s photos | group photos | photographers imprints | women
    Tuesday, 02 October 2007 20:36:59 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, 04 September 2007
    Photos of Summer
    Posted by Maureen

    Two weeks ago I asked readers to submit their summer photos. I received a wide variety of mystery photos and one that fit my request. Sandi Gill e-mailed this lovely photo of a group of children, one of whom is her mother.

    Even though Gill doesn't know the names of the other children or where this photo was taken, she thought it made a good example for my Labor Day summer album. She's right. All the children wear the bobbed hair of the 1920s and light summer garments. Her mom is one of the smaller children, being only around kindergarten age.

    Gill knows the family lived in Bayside, NY, but isn't sure if this photo was taken in her mother's backyard or elsewhere in the neighborhood. The large lilac hedge is a clue worth researching in other family photos or those of her mother's childhood friends. 

    It's definitely a summertime shot, with the lilacs long past their bloom.

    Thank you, Sandi, for sharing your picture!

    1920s photos | children | group photos
    Tuesday, 04 September 2007 00:50:39 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, 28 August 2007
    Clues from Hats and Backgrounds
    Posted by Maureen

    These four are dressed for an evening out. Everyday male attire in this period didn’t include silk top hats and shawl-collared vests, unless you were quite affluent.

    Sandra Guynn believes the man in the center of this photo is Charles Anthony Doyle (born 1867), and the women, his daughters (born in 1891 and 1892). She can’t identify the man on the left.

    Let’s answer the simple question first—when was it taken?

    The women’s hats provide a time frame of 1904 to 1908. Large hats and pouched front bodices gave women a then-fashionable S-shaped figure. (Read more about women’s headgear history in Jonathan Walford’s online article on Vintage Fashion Guild.)

    However, this date somewhat disagrees with Guynn’s tentative date. Doyle’s daughters would be young children at the beginning of that time frame and teens by 1908. So let’s look at other evidence:
    • Hindering this investigation is the lack of a photographer’s imprint. Guyunn’s photo is a copy and doesn’t know where the original is. Since a house’s clapboards and window sash are visible, likely this is an amateur snapshot rather than a professional studio photo. Guynn could examine her own and relatives' pictures for a house with similar construction. 
    • Also in the background are two screens. One is a fabric divider commonly found in houses of the era, while on the right is a large divider with attached photographs. They’re blurry, but Guynn should enlarge this photo and try to see if any of the images match other family pictures.

    • One man stares directly into the camera while the women look to our left (probably at another person), and the other man looks in the opposite direction. The man with the top hat is the significant figure based on how they’re posed.
    That man is Charles Anthony Doyle, according to Guynn’s tentative identification. He’d be about 40, the right age for this photo. The pose and attire indicate he’s a man of authority. 
    The questions remain about the women. Further research using census records could help sort it out.

    I’ll be back soon, hopefully with more information and an ID. 

    1900-1910 photos | candid photos | group photos | men | photo backgrounds | women
    Tuesday, 28 August 2007 21:35:24 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, 17 July 2007
    British Schoolboy Uniforms (or, the Bluecoats Are Coming!)
    Posted by Maureen

    It’s only fitting this week’s photo is a British one—after all, the final installment of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books comes out July 21. Catherine Hamilton submitted this photograph of her grandfather John Porter with his schoolmates and tutor.

    Here's a close-up of Porter; he’s the one in the back row standing sideways with his hand in pocket and no cap.

    Just like the boys and girls at Hogwarts, British students wear distinctive uniforms and caps. You can identify the school by the color and design of its outfit, as well as the badges worn on students’ blazers. Take a look at some of them.

    There’s some minor variation in caps depending on which house (a kind of division) a student belonged to, or which level of school he attended (such as grammar school, or what Americans call high school). That’s right—the competitive houses of the Harry Potter books are based on the real thing. In English private schools, students belong to houses and compete against each other in sports just as Harry, Hermoine and Ron do.

    Hamilton knows that John Porter (1881-1937) attended school in Manchester, England, and she thinks this image was taken at Chetham’s School (now Chetham’s School of Music). This photo was taken in the early 1890s, based on Porter’s age and appearance.

    A search for photos of the school using Google Image Search suggests these boys aren’t students there. Chetham’s is historically a “bluecoat school.” During Porter’s student days, the school's pupils wore long, cassock-like blue uniform coats, a tradition dating back centuries.

    So where did Porter go to school? I’m still looking. If anyone has knowledge of late 19th-century school uniforms in the Manchester area, post a comment here. Maybe we can wrap this up in time to stand in line for J.K. Rowling’s latest opus.

    1890s photos | children | group photos
    Tuesday, 17 July 2007 21:35:59 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]