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<2017 June>

by Maureen A. Taylor

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# 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]
    # Sunday, 06 September 2015
    Labor Day: Work Clothes in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1850s photos | daguerreotype | hats | occupational
    Sunday, 06 September 2015 23:03:32 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 06 July 2015
    Triple Tintype Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    Most of us feel lucky to have one picture of an ancestor, but imagine finding three images of an identical person in family photos and not knowing who he is. Obviously this man was important to someone in Kyndahl Carlson's family. This triple mystery appears in a family photo album.

    Here are the three pictures:

    In this image, he's posed between two men. The two men each rest a hand on his shoulder showing a close relationship. Kyndahl has no idea who they are. One could be the young man's father and the other a brother or they could be other relatives. 

    The young man wears a suit from the 1860s, with a velvet collar and wide lapels. The other two men also wear suits from the 1860s, but the tie on the man on the right suggests a date of circa 1870. There was a market for second-hand clothing, so it's possible that the young man's suit is a hand-me-down.

    He wears the same watch fob in both images.

    The man on the left has light blue eyes. A few weeks ago I wrote about Spotting Light Colored Eyes. This could be an identification clue if there are family stories about this man and his blue eyes.

    The final tintype is very interesting!

    In this image, the same young man is posed with pants tucked into boots, no jacket, a fiddle, a pipe and an old hat. He's ready to perform. Is he really a performer, or was this arranged by the photographer? Fiddlers often tucked their pants into their boots and wore hats, but not necessarily this style.

    When faced with three images of the same person, it's helpful to arrange them in a timeline. In this case, that's difficult since all three images were taken around the same time. He doesn't age from picture to picture.  Here's the order that I think makes sense:

    A side-by-side timeline of images often reveals details overlooked when examining the images individually. What's apparent from this collage is the expression on his face. He's a solemn person with no smile and sad eyes. 

    Carlson's family lived in Maine, Wisconsin, Montana, South Dakota, Oregon and Idaho. The young man's identification depends in part on his branch of the family. At this point, that's unclear. I'd start by figuring out the following:
    • He's a teen. Who in Carlson's tree was in his mid-teens around 1870?
    • Does he look like anyone else in family photos? There could be another picture of him at an older age. He has a slim nose, a small mouth with narrow eyes and thin brows. Watch for men with similar features and facial shape.

    I'm hoping these additional details help Carlson figure out an identity.

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

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

  • 1860s photos | 1870s photos | hats | men | unusual clothing | unusual photos
    Monday, 06 July 2015 18:05:40 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 15 March 2015
    Adding up the Clues to Identify an Old Mystery Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I wrote about the importance of knowing the lineage of your photos. The key details of provenance can keep you from making a photo identification mistake.

    Kimble DaCosta knows a lot about the photos she inherited. Her ancestor Ella Seamands identified most of the images in a chest that Kimble inherited, but there were a few that she didn't name. 

    In this picture, both the woman and the man look uncomfortable in front of the camera. Their discomfort could be due to the reason they posed for the picture or because sitting for a photograph was an unusual event in their lives.

    When identifying the photographic method used to create a 19th-century print, examine clues such as cardstock and the hue of the print. Trained photographic conservators use a microscope at 30X magnification will reveal in detail what an original print looks like at the fiber level. They also look at the surface character of the photo by viewing it flat at eye level.

    The purplish hue of this print suggests it could be either a gelatin or collodion printing-out paper, first available in 1885 and in use until 1920. 

    The clothing clues in this image date it to the late 1890s, when flat, pie plate-shaped hats with high trim were common. All the lace trim on this woman's hat suggests it was meant to be worn in summer. 

    This young woman wears fingerless gloves and carries an umbrella and a fan. While the gloves and hat are likely part of her wardrobe, I wonder if the photographer has supplied the umbrella and fan. She looks awkward holding them. 

    Let's say this picture was taken about 1897, and the man and woman are close to 20 years of age. This is a hypothesis that could help Kimble find the right people in her family tree. They would've been born in the late 1870s, with a little wiggle room on either side of the date.   

    I'm hoping this information leads to an identification. Next week I'll look at two of her other images.

    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 | hats
    Sunday, 15 March 2015 14:34:45 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 01 February 2015
    Big Hats in Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Ronnie O'Rourke's great aunt Mary (Mamie) Smith (b. 1892) wears an enormous hat in this family portrait. Her grandson identified her in the image, but now the family wants to know who's standing with her.

    Her hat and dress are quite stylish for this outdoor event. The presence of the mandolin suggests that this group was likely singing and maybe dancing along with the tunes played by the family musician.

    Ronnie specifically wants to know if the man standing next to Mamie is her father, John Smith (b. 1865).  The family knows he died somewhere between 1905 and 1920, but they can't find the death record. It's the curse of the common name. She's been trying to narrow down just which John Smith is her relative.

    She wonders if Mamie's cousins, the Nevins siblings Frank (b. 1887), Catherine (b. 1888), Thomas (b. 1892) and Louise (b. 1897) are in the photo.  

    Each photo generates a series of questions. In this case, I'd love to know:
    • Why Mamie is visiting her cousins?
    • Are they all cousins, or did she have siblings?
    • Where was it taken?
    • Who took the picture?  It's a snapshot and someone owned an amateur camera, but who?  There could be other candid shots taken on the same day. 
    • Could the man be the father of the other people in the picture?

    Ronnie wonders about that gorgeous hat. Turns out that Louise was a milliner and it's possible she made it.

    The hat offers a few clues as to when the image was taken.

    In the circa 1910 period large turban style hats became fashionable. French fashion magazines like the Journal Des Demoiselles. Click here to see a fashion plate from 1909. You'll see some similarities between these hats and the one worn by Mamie.

    Fashion savvy Americans knew what the current styles were overseas. Here's the 1909 Spring Sears Catalog showing similar turban shaped hats.

    By 1913, smaller hats were in vogue. The hat is one clue that suggests a time frame. 

    Is it Mamie's father?  Perhaps.  If so, then he was still living after 1905.

    Love looking at hats, check out the styles worn in the nineteenth century in Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900.

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

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

  • 1900-1910 photos | hats | summer | women
    Sunday, 01 February 2015 15:34:27 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Tuesday, 02 September 2014
    North of the Border Old-Photo Mystery
    Posted by Diane

    Jane Smith owns this lovely photo of a young girl  and an older man. She hopes it depicts her great-grandfather Patrick Hughes, born in 1836 in County Down, Ireland. He died in 1899 in Toronto, Canada, after a successful career as a merchant.

    The picture was found in a box of other photographs of the same family. The box also includes an earlier image of Patrick and a photograph of his house. Location and provenance (history of ownership) are just two of the clues that help identify photos.

    In this case, the girl's clothing is significant. Here's how the head-to-toe clues add up.

    Broad-brimmed hats and spread collars appear in the World War I period, but not at the turn of the century, during Patrick Hughes' lifetime. Around 1910, hat brims drooped down over the forehead. They remained fashionable until the early 1920s. 

    Another big detail in the girl's dress is the dropped waist. That particular detail didn't become fashionable until circa 1912, and it lasted until the early 1920s—a likely time frame for this photo. Waistlines dropped to the hips in the 1920s. I'm leaning toward a more-specific date of the late 1910s for this picture. 

    A possible identity for the girl will help narrow the time frame even further.

    Knee socks were common in warmer weather, usually paired with short boots or even flat shoes. In this photo, the tops of the girl's boots would be visible if she were wearing them.

    Unfortunately, this date means the man isn't Jane's great-grandfather.  Now she has two mysteries to solve instead of one. 


    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

  • 1910s photos | 1920s photos | children | hats | men
    Tuesday, 02 September 2014 23:33:00 (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, 08 June 2014
    Western Pastimes: Billiards Buddies Follow-Up
    Posted by Maureen

    In the May/June 2014 issue of Family Tree Magazine is a photo of six men standing with billiard cues.

    Two of the men are Charlotte Flock's maternal and paternal grandfathers. Instead of a formal portrait, Flock's ancestors posed during a pause in their favorite pastime.

    On the far left is Ira Willard Mayfield (born Feb. 4, 1872)

    Next to him is Flock's paternal grandfather Michael Schmitt (born Sept. 12, 1871)

    Their clothing provides possible clues to their occupations. Mayfield and Schmitt were farmers. The man in the center wears dress pants and a necktie. He could be a storekeeper. 

    The man to the far right appears to be a laborer, while the man with the cigarette wears very clean chinos and a shirt.

    Their identity is currently unknown. But the man in the chaps provides a clue to his name—there are initials on his chaps, J.T.

    A search of the 1910 federal census for Mulhall Twp, Logan County, Okla., turned up a possibility. It's a really small town, so browsing the census returns using HeritageQuest online (a ProQuest database available through many libraries) didn't take very long.

    The only man with the initials J.T. was John Thompson, a grocery store owner.

    Next week I'll share new information about where that billiard hall was located.

    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 | hats | men | occupational
    Sunday, 08 June 2014 14:12:23 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 16 February 2014
    New England House History Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    There are photos that get stuck in my mind. Those are persistent mysteries that defy strategies to solve them. Bergetta Monroe's photo of a large farm is one of those images.

    I first wrote about it in 2009 in an article called Raising the Roof: Architectural Images. On a cold winter day about 1870, a photographer climbed the roof of a building and took this picture. It's a detailed look at a family's rich agricultural landholdings. Wood smoke comes out of the chimney in the foreground and the possible owner of the property stands at the gate.

    monroe house 2.jpg

    That was five years ago, and web searching has changed a bit since then.  When I first wrote about this image, I discussed the following identification details. Here they are with some updates.

    This is key information. Knowing who owned this image before Bergetta's father can help solve the mystery. Her father told her that her grandfather Sidney Hinman Monroe was born in Jericho, Vt., in 1843, and then moved to Wisconsin. 

    Who's Who
    There may only be three generations between the people who posed for this picture and its current owner—Bergetta's grandfather, her father and her.  There appears to be an older generation sitting on a bench on the side of the house.

    monroe house 3.jpg

    Bergetta's ancestors lived in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Wisconsin. I suggested making a list of all the specific towns in which they lived. 
    • Search census records for the people. It's possible that the man at the gate is the owner or manager and the older couple lives there. The older couple would've been born in the early years of the 19th century. There might be an extended family living there.
    • The owner of this property would stand out due to his wealth.  It's a very large farm with many outbuildings. Tax records and deeds would also supply details on her ancestors' holdings.

    • Show the image to realtors in the towns in which her ancestors lived. This farm and its next-door building (the photographer stood on the roof to capture this picture) would be significant. I spent time today looking online at historical houses in Jericho with no matches.

    • Check with historical societies and historic preservation groups as well. It's possible the house is now gone.

    • I tried using Google Images for matches using Bergetta's photo for comparison by uploading it into the search engine. Nothing turned up.

    Tax Stamp

    Back in 2009, I spoke with revenue stamp expert Michael E. Aldrich.  He stated that this stamp on the back of the photo is significant due to its light blue color. A darker blue stamp was issued in 1864, but this one wasn't available until 1870, providing a date for the image. Because this stamp doesn't fall within the traditional revenue stamp period of August 1864 to August 1866, Aldrich thought it was placed there later.  If you'd like to see what other revenue stamps look like click here.  To learn more about a particular stamp, click the image. 

    I encourage you to go to the original article to see more pictures of the property. The house has gorgeous Doric columns and the barn is of Italianate design.  This was owned by someone who would've been very well known in his community.

    I'd follow the land evidence first to narrow down possible locations. Look for relatives that combine wealth and property. The 1870 Agricultural Census could offer clues once you have a list of towns. This non-population census exists for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. You can learn more about them from the National Archives. It took awhile to build a farm like this.

    Next step is to check in with realtors, historical societies and preservationists.

    Bergetta has already tried social media using her FaceBook page, but she should also look for pages for the towns in which her ancestor's lived.

    I remain convinced that this is a picture mystery that can be solved!  It's all about connecting with the right pieces of information and following the bread crumbs.

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

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

  • 1860s photos | hats | house/building photos
    Sunday, 16 February 2014 19:40:47 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # 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, 22 September 2013
    "Reading" a Family Photo Album
    Posted by Maureen

    I love a good story, don't you? Every photo album tells one if you know where to look. The arrangement of the images is a key part of unraveling the threads of the tale.

    If you're like Daniel Gwinn, you probably inherited a family photo album with few (if any) identified photos. Here's how to approach this very common photographic brick wall.
    • Start with provenance. Who owned the album before you? Who owned it before them? The ownership of the album can help you determine from which branch of the family it descends.

    • Who's on the first page? OK, so you might not immediately know the answer to this question, but this person can unlock the whole album. The person in the number one spot is a very important person to the creator of the album. It could be a mother, a father, a husband, a child or in a few instances, it's the creator of the album. Place this photo in a time frame by studying photographic format, clothing and any other clues that are in the image.
    • Who's next? The individuals closest to the front are also very important to the person who laid out the album. Generally, husbands and wives are grouped together on adjacent pages.

    • Not everyone in the album is necessarily family. Nineteenth-century individuals collected photographs of family, friends, neighbors and even famous persons. Your album might be a mix of these.

    Each album starts with good intentions. The person placing the photos in the book likely had a plan for at least the first half of it. I've seen a lot of family photo albums and they have those good intentions in common—but by the end of the album, images are usually jumbled.

    Like any good book, it's best to begin at the beginning. Don't jump around or rush to the ending. Each page needs to be studied and placed in a time frame and a place. Photographer's imprints can help you place an image geographically. Every little detail can assist in the identification.

    In Daniel's case, the album came to him through his great aunt Elsie Hornberger. It belonged to her grandmother. He knows that most of the individuals in it are members of the Rock family, with origins in Lancaster County, Pa. He's submitted two tintypes that are complete mysteries. 

    Tintypes were patented in 1856 and remained common until the 1930s.


    A few details in this picture place it in a time frame:

    • The fringed velvet chair. This is a photographer's prop. Chairs like it appear in photographs taken all over the United States.  I've never seen it in a photo taken before the late 1860s.

    • The woman wears a bodice called a polanaise with long ends that drape down over the skirt. In many cases, the skirt has ruffles and ruching. This woman's skirt is plain.

    • This photo dates from approximately 1869 to 1875.

    • Dan thinks the woman could be Caroline Rock Cooper, born in 1828. That would make this woman's age in her 40s

    I love the little book on her lap. It appears to have a plush cover and a round medallion on it.

    rock book.jpg

    There's something else that's interesting. Did you notice that the picture is reversed? Unless a photographer used a reversal lens, early images are mirrored. Here's the book with the reversal fixed.

    book reversed.jpg

    Here's the whole image with the reversal fixed.


    She holds the book with her right hand and her left arm rests on the chair.

    Dan's second photo show a little girl smiling for the photographer sitting in the same chair.

    Girl Rock  002.jpg

    It's obviously the same studio because it's an identical rug and chair. The hat is great! It has a wide brim, mid-size crown and features feathers and a velvet ribbon and bow. In the late 1860s, little girls wore dresses similar to those worn by their mothers. The yoked bodice and small ruffled collar point to this image being taken around the same time as the first picture, of the woman. The big question is, "Who is she?"

    • She's probably around 10 years of age.

    • She's not Caroline's daughter, Mary Ann, who was born in 1852. Mary Ann would be 18 in 1870

    While the older woman could be Caroline Rock Cooper, it also could be someone else in the family. It's unlikely that the girl is Caroline's daughter. 

    In order to solve this mystery, Dan needs to examine his family tree for a girl born in approximately 1860. These two photos could be mother and daughter, so locating a girl born in that year could solve both of his photo mysteries.

    For more information on solving family photo album puzzles, see my book Family Photo Detective.

    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 | children | hats | women
    Sunday, 22 September 2013 16:17:44 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 19 August 2013
    Looking for a Pennsylvania Connection
    Posted by Diane

    Every week I search the submissions for this column looking for a mystery photo. Each photo is accompanied by some basic information and usually a story. My next steps are to contact the person who sent in the photo either by phone or email, then start digging for more information. This picture is very intriguing. 

    Only one person in Patti Stafford's group portrait is identified. It's her great grandfather Ralph Reinhardt Marsteller (born 1887 in Center Valley, Pa.). The rest of the people are unknown.

    But even having one name is a start. Patti hopes to find other Marsteller or Reinhard relatives who recognize people in this picture.

    StaffordFamily photo Ralph Reinhardt Marsteller_edited-1.jpg

    Ralph's father William Hillegass Marsteller died suddenly at age 40 in 1896, Allentown, Pa, without a will. T he courts appointed a Mr. Snyder as Ralph's guardian. Patti believes the 9-year-old and his sister, Estella, continued to live with their mother. It's possible that court records hold additional details.

    I'm working with Patti to piece together the story of this image.
    • Could the little boy on the left be her grandfather Ralph George Marsteller?
    • Could the older woman in the front be her great-great aunt?
    • Why is her great-grandfather in this picture, but not her great- grandmother and their other son?

    Patti's taking another look at her family history to see if she can find a family with several girls. There are three girls in the picture as well as the little boy in the sailor suit on the left. The gender of the child being held by the man in the back row isn't clear. 

    So how do the clues add up?  I'll be back next week with the rest of the story. I love a good mystery—don't you?

    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 | children | hats | men
    Monday, 19 August 2013 02:00:17 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 11 August 2013
    Old Family Photos: Fraternal Organizations
    Posted by Maureen

    Blanch Flanigan owns not one but two images of family in dress that identifies them as members of a fraternal organization. These secret societies were very popular in the 19th century. They offered men brotherhood, work opportunities and a shared mission.

    Symbolism varied. The three interconnecting rings of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows signifies friendship, love and truth. Masonic aprons and compasses are also distinctive.

    These groups were primarily for men, but at least one fraternal organization allowed both male and female members: the Order of the Eastern Star. Boston lawyer and educator Rob Morris established this group in 1850. It was represented by a single star.

    Could these individuals be members of this organization?


    This couple posed in the 1870s for this portrait. Mary Ellen and Henry Watson wear a fraternal collar with just one star.

    The Watsons were both born in Ontario, but their son was born in Quebec, Canada. It is unknown if this picture was taken in Ontario or Quebec. It's a solemn formal tintype portrait.

    I've seen pictures of men in fraternal regalia, but not a picture of both a man and a woman in this attire from this period.


    Members of fraternal organizations were supposed to be respectful of their attire, so the second image is puzzling.

    The men are clowning for the camera with their legs crossed, collars askew and with cigars in their mouths. The man on the right is Henry Watson. Seated next to him is his son James.

    The son wears a wide brimmed youthful style while his father wears his work cap. I love the hat on the father. I'll be in touch with Blanch to see if she knows more about Henry's occupation.

    There are a few questions relating to this image:
    • Is James a member as well?  Most groups had age requirements. Is he old enough to be a member.
    • Is the son wearing his mother's collar, or vice versa?
    • Why are they clowning for the camera? Could the collars be photographer's props?

    The basic identification facts of this photo are known, but there's a bigger story.

    I'd start by studying the local history of the town in which the family lived. This will help determine which fraternal organizations were in the area in the 1870s. This is a Masonic-related group, but which one?

    This isn't the first time I've written about fraternal groups. Here are three columns on the Independent Order of Odd Fellows:

    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

  • 1870s photos | fraternal | hats | occupational
    Sunday, 11 August 2013 15:57:11 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 04 August 2013
    Foreign Photos in the Family Album
    Posted by Maureen

    This week I'm at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference. It's a huge event with folks attending from all over the globe. I love the international atmosphere and especially like looking at photographs taken around the world.

    Photos taken in foreign lands can be particularly challenging. Instead of showing you this week's photo immediately, I'm first going to break it down into clues. The image is one I purchase for my personal photo collection.


    The style of this woman's hair and the square-necked bodice and the fit of the dress identify a time frame of the early 20th century. Women who followed the current Parisian fashions and who lived in urban areas generally adopted western style dress. Even fashion-conscious women in rural areas might follow trends while others adopted the local cultural dress.


    Her hat rests on a chair. This additional detail narrows the time frame. Hats about 1910 featured wide brims and tall crowns with lots of trim.


    Men didn't always wear western dress. The style of this man's coat and even his mustache suggest a photo taken abroad (or one showing an immigrant in the United States). The insignia on his lapels are military.


    I could use a little help with the imprint. The photographer's information on a photo usually includes a name and address. Is there anyone who can read the Cyrillic on this image? 


    Here's the whole photo. The couple to the right are very fashionable folks for the second decade of the 20th century. The man on the far left and the young man in front draw attention because of their different clothing.  Photo studio props and backdrops vary around the world, but they usually include some basic similarities: a chair, something on the floor (in this case it's hay) and a painted backdrop.


    At their feet are the hats worn by members of this party. Two straw hats with wide bands and one military cap. That likely belongs to the man on the far left (see enlargement above). 

    Photos taken in foreign lands need careful study of every detail. You'll find more help in my book Family Photo Detective.

    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 | hats | Military photos | women | World War I
    Sunday, 04 August 2013 19:07:06 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Monday, 13 May 2013
    Part 2 of an Italian Photo Mystery
    Posted by Diane

    Last week I introduced Eileen Poulin's mysterious photos on tin and showed you one of the two images of her Italian relatives.

    Frank LoRusso with a Martinelliedit.jpg

    Poulin's mother left her the pair with a note regarding the identity of the individuals in the photos—but the details are confusing: On the paper with the above image, a confirmation photo, Eileen's mother wrote: "Frank (my grandfather) with a Martinelli boy." The Martinellis are related to Eileen through her great grandmother on her grandmother's side of the family.

    The note stored with the second image, below, read, "brother of above." 

    The family is confused. Is the man in uniform Frank's brother, or the brother of the boy?

    I emailed Eileen for more information about when the family immigrated to the United States and how the Martinelli family was related to them. She called a relative, who identified the boy as her brother Frank Martinelli.

    Eileen's grandfather immigrated in 1916. You can view Francesco Antonio LoRusso's passenger details (or search for your own ancestor) on the Ellis Island website or click this link.

    The boy's suit and the style of the confirmation photo suggest it was taken around the year of immigration. One relative thinks it was in Italy, but Martinelli's sister thinks her brother was born in the United States. 

    The final factors about where the image was taken are the answers to two questions: Where was the Martinelli boy born? When did that family immigrate?

    The military photo was definitely taken in Italy. It depicts a man in an Italian military uniform from the WWI period.  I love that his headgear resembles women's hats of the early 20th century. 

    Military images are full of head-to-toe clues. The headgear, uniform style, insignia and even the leg wraps are evidence. The man may be a Bersaglieri, a corporal in the Italian army. For more information on Italian military uniforms see Italian Armies of World War I by David Nicolle and Raffaele Ruggeri in the Men in Arms series (Osprey, 2003). 

    Now that Eileen has a time period and additional family information, it's possible another relative can identify the soldier.

    Only a few days left to enter Family Tree Magazine's National Photo Month giveaway. The deadline is May 20th.

    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 | hats | men | Military photos
    Monday, 13 May 2013 15:46:29 (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, 07 January 2013
    "Downton Abbey" and Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    I can't resist the pull of a period piece be it a television series or a movie, so it's no surprise that last night I sat down to watch the first episode of Season 3 of PBS' "Downton Abbey." There were a lot of moments relevant to both family history and photography.

    The 1920s were a time of transition. Women's hairstyles changed and dresses became less form-fitting. Compare the styles worn by the Dowager Countess of Grantham and the attire of the American Martha Levinson for instance. You can view their attire on the PBS Character Hub.

    The Dowager Countess is conservative and clings to tradition. Her dress and hair support that; she wears dresses from the early 20th century and her hair pulled back. The hourglass figure is the shape attained with corsets and fitted dresses. 

    Martha Levinson is all about being modern. She dresses like a contemporary woman of 1920 with her waved colored hair and shorter, loose dresses. The opening sequence of her appearance says it all. She steps out to greet the staff in a wide-collared brocade coat and a rakish hat with a plume.

    If these women were members of your family and you had a photo of them taken individually against a simple background, then dating the photo based on the Countess' clothing could be misleading. Her appearance suggests a date earlier than 1920.

    Both women's fashion choices also reveal their personalities. I'll be watching to see if the Dowager Countess changes her style as the series progresses or if she remains tied to her long dresses.

    Personally, I love checking out their hats—wide-brimmed summer hats for the wedding of Matthew and Mary, as well as the everyday ones worn by staff and family. You can learn more about women's hats in Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900. I've included several English photos of women "in the service." It's a reference to their occupation of working for families.

    Photo identification and dating an image relies on information. What a person wears is helpful, but not the whole story. Pictorial context is important--where was it taken, who took the image and what else is visible. Adding up the clues can solve the mystery, date the image and identify the person.

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

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

  • 1900-1910 photos | 1920s photos | hairstyles | hats
    Monday, 07 January 2013 16:21:56 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 31 December 2012
    Twelve Months of the Photo Detective
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Happy New Year!

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

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

  • 1860s photos | 1870s photos | 1880s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | 1920s photos | candid photos | cased images | children | Civil War | group photos | hairstyles | hats | holiday | house/building photos | photo backgrounds | preserving photos | props in photos |
    Monday, 31 December 2012 16:07:01 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 20 August 2012
    Genealogy Fashions: Is Your Ancestor's Hat Back in Style?
    Posted by Maureen

    Fashion is looking back not merely to the 1970s, but all the way to the 1920s and even 1880s, at least as far as hats are concerned.

    Last Sunday's New York Times fashion supplement featured advertisements showing old-fashioned-looking hats by designers Louis Vuitton and Donna Karan. Even the Bloomingdale's ad featured a model in a vintage style hat.

    I can't show you the Louis Vuitton ad, but I can show you hats that resemble the ones worn by the models in the New York Times ads. It was a fashion spread for handbags, but the head wear looked liked these workmen's hats from the 1850s. I'm serious! Vuitton added a grosgrain band above the brim, but the shape is very similar.

    Donna Karan's ad is online. The hat on the woman in the video strongly resembles those worn in the 1880s. In fact, I featured a similar looking hat in Photo Contest Submissions: Shirley Jenks Jacobs submitted this photo of a woman in a rolled brimmed hat with trim and a high crown.

    Shirley Jenks Jacobs2.jpg

    One more blast from the past was the Bloomingdale's ad of a young model wearing a plush hat with a very wide brim and a plume of animal fur. It looked something like this image I own of a wedding from circa 1920.  Don't you love his hair? It helps date this image.


    So which hat style will you wear this season? I'll be looking through the photos in my Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900 for more matches.

    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

  • 1850s photos | 1880s photos | 1920s photos | hairstyles | hats | | unusual photos
    Monday, 20 August 2012 15:55:13 (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, 11 June 2012
    Jean-ealogy: Ancestors in Blue Jeans
    Posted by Diane

    When I was working on my book Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album, I spent a lot of time looking for all sorts of clothing examples.

    As one of the photo shows, I found this picture of a man wearing what looks like blue jeans. Today jeans are an American export, possibly our most popular clothing style overseas.

    The ancestor of the jeans we wear today dates back to 1873. Levi Strauss, an 1840s German immigrant, immigrant is responsible for our blue jean obsession. He sold canvas pants reinforced with copper rivets, which were strong enough to withstand the rigors of mining. You can learn more about the history of these pants online.

    During the Civil War, there was a cotton twill called jean cloth. The man in this late-1860s image wears an overcoat and trousers that look like they are the predecessors of the canvas jeans. 

    In his right hand, the man holds what I think is a divining rod for looking for water.

    Got a picture of an ancestral family member in blue jeans? I'll feature it here in a timeline of the pants in family photos. Email me your picture with a brief description.

    1860s photos | Civil War | hats | men | occupational | props in photos | unusual clothing
    Monday, 11 June 2012 18:23:32 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Wednesday, 28 March 2012
    Graduation Caps
    Posted by Diane

    It's the last week for hats. It's also your last chance this month to save 10% on Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900. Use HAT10 as the coupon code when ordering from

    I've blogged about a lady in a fancy hat, a young man in a felt hat and two men wearing work hats. You're probably wondering what's next.

    A graduation cap!

    graduation caps.jpg

    This image, from the collection of the Library of Congress, is from about 1860. I love the young man's blue bow tie and red tassel. He's smiling for the camera with a toothy grin. That's something you don't usually see in a 19th century picture.

    Notice the stripe down his pant's leg? He wears military style trousers. It's possible he's a cadet.

    ehow credits the contemporary mortarboard to 15th-century France and Italy. The term "mortarboard" comes from its shape—it looks like a piece of equipment that a bricklayer uses for mortar. Today's graduates wear tassels that reflect their school colors. Some students personalize their caps, too.

    I hope you've enjoyed this month's worth of hats. I'll be back with other caps, hats and bonnets this 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

  • 1850s photos | 1860s photos | hats | men | unusual clothing
    Wednesday, 28 March 2012 12:59:53 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 19 March 2012
    Hats Off to the Men
    Posted by Maureen

    First it was work hats, then fancy hats for ladies, but what about everyday hats for men?


    Go ahead. Take a guess: When do you think this young man posed for this image? 

    My mother has an expression, "what's old is new." It's all about how fashion repeats itself. This little tintype is a perfect example.

    Go into any hat shop and you'll find hats for men that resemble this soft felt one with the wide ribbon band. He's a young man wearing a jaunty everyday hat.

    This image is likely from the late 1870s. There were all sorts of hats for men in the 1860s and 70s, but the paper mat for this tintype helps date the image.

    Don't forget the promotion for Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900 is only good through the end of March.  Enter HAT10 as a coupon code to receive 10% off that title.

    The book is part of another deal, too: Spend $30 on these products and receive a free book download of the Family Tree Problem Solver.

    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 | hats | men
    Monday, 19 March 2012 14:23:01 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 12 March 2012
    Hats and Hair
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week the focus was work hats for men. This week it's all about the ladies.

    When I go photo shopping, I love to find more than one image of the same person.  I have two images of this woman—one in a hat and one without her hat and jacket.  They show the relationship between hairstyles and hat trends.  The shape and style of women's hats were influenced by the current hair and vice versa.

    woman in hat.jpg
    There is something intriguing about hats from the 1880s.  They can feature high crowns, small brims and lots of trim.  In this case it's a plush fabric decorated with feathers and botanical elements.  It's not unusual to see stuffed birds on them as well. Women raised these birds at home to sell them to the hat industry for stuffing.

    In the second image, the same woman has taken off her hat and sits for the photographer without her jacket as well.
    woman no hat.jpg

    She wears the same drop earrings and ruffled collar so it's likely she posed for both on the same day.  Her frizzy bangs stuck out from under her front brimmed hat.

    Both images were taken by Alman, a photographer with studios in New York and Newport. The affluent families of New York City built mansions in the city by the sea, in Rhode Island so it makes business sense for Alman to maintain his customers in both locations.

    If you want to learn more about hats or hairstyles from different periods check out my Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900 or Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles, 1840-1900.  There is a special offer this month in  Enter HAT10 as a coupon code for 10 percent off the Bonnets and Hats title.

    It's also part of the deal of the month: Spend $30 on these select products and receive a free Family Tree Problem Solver book download!

    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

  • 1880s photos | hats | unusual clothing | women
    Monday, 12 March 2012 14:02:42 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 05 March 2012
    A Month's Worth of Hats
    Posted by Maureen

    It's almost spring! So let's celebrate with a look at different styles of hats.  Last fall, I finished my book Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900 and it's available in the store with 10% off this month if you use the coupon code HAT10 when you check out.

    Plus, it's part of the deal of the month: Spend more than $30 on these products and receive a free Family Tree Problem Solver book download.

    So let's kick off the month with some very interesting men's work hats from the Library of Congress:


    This photo, dating from the late 1840s to early 1850s, is a daguerreotype, a shiny reflective image on a silver plate.

    These men posed in their work clothes—plain shirts, work pants and, of course, their hats. Can a hat reflects a man's personality?  I think so. One man wears his at a rakish angle.

    The tools in their hands are floor rammers and foundry tools, used for packing sand against molds.

    In the 19th century, there were a wide variety of hats, including those that reflected your political leanings. In the coming weeks I'll show you some dress hats for both men and women.

    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

  • 1840s photos | hats
    Monday, 05 March 2012 13:44:58 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Wednesday, 29 February 2012
    British vs. American: Readers Weigh In
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I posted two photos. One was an American and the other a British one.  

    Photo 1

    Photo 2

    I asked all of you to vote on which one was which. There is no stumping this audience. The majority voted for photo 1 being the American man and photo 2 being the English gent. You're right!

    I looked at hundreds of photos in London last week. All this picture analysis confirmed by belief that while women's clothing in America vs. Britain are very similar, the same is not necessarily true for men's clothing.  In England you're more likely to see men wearing specific work clothes. 

    In photo 2, several folks mentioned the walking stick (also adapted by upper-class Americans), the cut of his pants and the fabric of his suit.  Looks like a tweed to me too. The background is also key. You're unlikely to see a backdrop like this in an American photo.

    The American in photo 1 wears untidy clothes, stands on an oilcloth floor covering and stands in front of a plain wall, with drapery and a post. Notice the wooden photo prop at his feet. This would be clasped around him to hold the man still.

    Great job!! Thank you for adding your comments. March is all about hats. See you next week.

    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 | hats | men | photo backgrounds | props in photos
    Wednesday, 29 February 2012 13:34:31 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [5]
    # Monday, 13 December 2010
    Immigrant Clues and Family Stories
    Posted by Maureen

    Poorescan0002 edit.jpg

    Terri Poore and her cousin have a lot of questions about this photo. Who, what, when and where is just the beginning.

    Unfortunately, the original owner of the picture is currently unknown. Terri's cousin received a copy of it years ago and can't remember who gave him the print.

    Terri and her cousin believe the folks in the picture are Felix Horvat (1884-1952), his first wife Sophie (1890-1918) and their daughter Anna 1909-1997).  I agree with this identification.

    There is a long complicated story about this couple. It's very important to write down the oral history of your family because you never know when all the pieces will link up. This photo is a perfect example of how stories and pictures are a natural match.

    First the facts: Sophie's hat in this picture and her coat date the picture. She is very well-dressed in a heavy wool coat, fur collar and an oversize hat known as a toque. Her hat and clothing combined with the birth date of their daughter date this picture to circa 1910. Toques were all the rage at the end of the first decade of the 20th century.

    Her husband wears ethnic dress that identifies him as a resident of Croatia. The family lived in Ljubljujana, Croatia.

    Now here's where it gets interesting. Family stories relate how this couple met. He was a country boy who worked as a coach driver for a wealthy family—the Bahuneks. Their daughter ran away with the coachman!  Sophie, her husband Felix and their daughter Anna immigrated to the United States in 1911 and lived in West Virginia for a time. The Bahuneks followed their daughter and also immigrated. 

    There is a sad twist to this tale. According to family lore, when Sophie gave birth to Terri's grandfather Nicholas in 1912, Sophie's mother was present for the birth. Her mother and the midwife decided she shouldn't have any more children with that "awful man" so they tried to perform a gynecological procedure to prevent more children. 

    The Horvat family moved to Michigan, but Sophie was so ill after the childbirth procedure that Felix allowed her family to move her back to West Virginia so they could care for her. He retained the children. In 1918, Sophie likely died from complications related to that botched procedure.

    Family stories also relate how immediately following her death, her husband Felix and her father had a knife fight to determine the custody of the children. Felix won. He took the children back to Michigan and eventually married the children's caretaker, also named Sophie.

    This photo is the gateway to an amazing family tale. Present in the image is pictorial evidence of the economic difference between the husband and wife. She's very fashionably dressed while he still wears his native dress. She's the city dweller and he's from the country.

    Now Terri is trying to piece together the family history and try to locate living relatives.

    1900-1910 photos | children | hats | Immigrant Photos
    Monday, 13 December 2010 16:47:53 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 29 November 2010
    Shipboard Clues
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week in A Photo Mystery, A Clue at a Time, I introduced you to a wonderful group picture of folks on a ship.

    Joseph Jacoby2.jpg

    The Ship
    What I didn't show you is the caption that runs along the bottom edge of the picture. Unfortunately, part of the cardboard is broken off, leaving us to guess at the rest of the information.  I can't make out the first word, but there is a "....noon" or "roon" followed by "on board German Ship Baltimore." According to the owner of the photo, below the caption and cut off in the scan of the photo is "Capt. Hillr..." The rest of his last name is missing.  So far, no luck in finding a man with a last name starting with those letters.

    When you're faced with incomplete caption information, it's best to start with what you know.  In this instance, I Googled Ship Baltimore. On, I found a description. There was a German ship, Baltimore. It was built in 1868 for the North German Lloyd of Bremen and traveled from Bremen to Baltimore until 1872. In 1881, she was then used for the Bremen to South America service. The big problem with this ship being the one in the photo is the final date of service. This particular Baltimore was scrapped in 1894. 

    In the first column I dated the photo from 1896 to 1899. 

    There was another ship, the City of Baltimore that operated as part of the Baltimore Mail Line, but its dates of service are too late. It traveled from Baltimore to Hamburg in the 1930s. Not all information is online and I'm still looking for a good off-line resource. 

    There must be another ship with the same name that operated in the late 1890s. Just haven't found it yet.

    The Location
    Jake Jacoby's grandfather lived his whole life in either Mobile, Ala., or Pensacola, Fla. There is a BIG question about where this photo was taken. Mobile was a busy port and many immigrants arrived there, but right now we lack proof.

    If you had an ancestor arrive at Mobile, the National Archives has an Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Ports in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, 1890-1924 (T517).

    There is another possibility. The Sept. 1, 1904, Canebrake Herald (Uniontown, Ala.) mentioned Joseph Jacoby. He was a traveling salesman for his brother's business, Jacoby Grocery Co.. Since in the 1900 federal census, Jacoby lists his occupation as a salesman, perhaps he traveled, and this photo might have been taken on a trip during the last years of the 1890s.

    While I've been able to date the photo and work with the owner to sort through clues, the final answer is elusive. Jake Jacoby thinks the photo was taken in Mobile rather than Pensacola. It's a good assumption. His grandfather had business and family connections in Mobile.

    A single name of an immigrant depicted in this photo would help solve the mystery, but unfortunately no one's name appears on the photo.

    Got a mystery photo? Demystify it with help from Maureen A. Taylor's book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs.

    hats | Immigrant Photos | men | unusual photos | women
    Monday, 29 November 2010 21:52:32 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # 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]
    # Tuesday, 14 September 2010
    Home Sweet Homestead
    Posted by Diane

    I just love this picture!  It's got a lot of family history layers.

    Terry Sargent sent in this photo asking if it was a Civil War-era picture. On the back is written, "Mrs. and Mrs. E.H. Sargent Strawberry." The "Strawberry" refers to Strawberry Point, Iowa, where the family had a farm.

    Terry is hoping the photo depicts Emery Holden Sargent, his wife Louisa (Turner) Sargent, and their two children: Harriet (born 1857) and Emery Harford (born 1860). Emery was Terry's grandfather. Let's look at a few things first.

    This refers to the history of ownership of the photo. In this case, this photo was originally owned by Terry's aunt Lavera Fink, and then by one of Fink's nieces. That niece gave Terry a copy of the photo.

    I examined the photo and enlarged it to view the details of what the folks were wearing. One detail stood out: the woman's hat. I know it's blurry, but you can see the small brim and the high crown of the hat. In the 1860s, women wore bonnets or very small hats, nothing with a crown of this height. This style hat was worn in the 1880s. Would the other details in the photo and family history support this theory?


    C. H. Hunt of Strawberry Point, Iowa, has his imprint on this cabinet card. According to Biographies of Western Photographers by Carl Mautz (Carl Mautz Publishing, 1997), Hunt was active in 1885. That puts the photo well outside the Civil War period. The decorative elements of the imprint reinforce the 1880s period.

    Family History
    There were two E.H. Sargents, father and son. So who is depicted in this photo? In the 1880 census, Emery Holden, his wife Louisa, son Emery as well as son Ora and his wife are living on the farm (US Census, Clayton County, Iowa, Caso Township, p. 289). 

    There are no children listed with the family. Since there is no 1890 census for Iowa, I checked the family again in the 1900 census. This time, the farm is occupied by the younger Emery, his wife and all of their children, several of whom were born in the 1880s ( US Census, Clayton County, Iowa, Caso Township, sheet 18).

    There is another bit of family history: Terry told me that according to Emery Holden Sargent's obituary in the Strawberry Point Press Journal (1905), Emery left the farm in 1886.

    It's likely that this picture was taken around the time when the younger Emery took ownership of the family farm.

    There is one odd thing about this picture: its appearance. It is a cabinet card, but the image of the farm is either a copy of another picture (notice the wide black border around it) or the photographer took a different-size negative to shoot the scene. The image itself is blurry when enlarged, while the photographer's imprint is clear. This could mean it's a copy. It's a square image, while most cabinet card-size photos are rectangular. I'd love to see other outdoor shots by this photographer.  In either case, the final date for the picture doesn't change. It's from the 1880s.

    Have you inherited mystery photos from relatives? Demystify them them with help from Maureen A. Taylor's book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs.

    1880s photos | hats | house/building photos
    Tuesday, 14 September 2010 14:40:40 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]