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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, April 07, 2014
Next Steps After Solving a Photo Mystery
Posted by Maureen

What do you do after solving an old-photo mystery? I'm hoping you label the picture on the back using a soft graphite pencil. I'm also hoping you let that photograph take you to a new level of genealogy research.

While the group portrait featured in last week's blog didn't end up being Yvette LaGonterie's relatives, she used the identification of the Reverend Miller's family to circle back to her own family research.

Yvonne2.jpg

She used Google to locate information on the house her ancestors lived in at 86 Vanderbilt Ave., Brooklyn. It's a fun research twist to use real estate sites to learn more about the places your ancestors lived. The house was new when Anna and Edward Powers raised their family. Today it's worth nearly $1.5 million.

Real estate sites can provide:
  • current value of an ancestral home
  • the date of construction
  • photographs of the building

Once I have an address for an ancestor, I often use sites like Zillow  and Google Maps to locate places where my family lived.

annapowers1921edit.jpg

Yvette also sent along a photograph of her grandmother, posed to show off her oversize coat, taken in 1921. It's a great fashion 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 | african american | house/building photos | women
    Monday, April 07, 2014 3:19:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, February 16, 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.

    Provenance
    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

    Location
    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.

    Strategy
    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, February 16, 2014 7:40:47 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, April 22, 2013
    A Piece of Connecticut History
    Posted by Maureen

    FreemanHouselibrary(2).jpg
    Photo courtesy of Derby (CT) Public Library

    Could this woman be Nancy Freeman, widow of  Roswell Freeman, who was one of Connecticut's "Black Governors"? That's the big question, and this query has a lot of pieces.

    Janet Woodruff, an archaeologist with the Archaeology Laboratory for African & African Diaspora Studies at Central Connecticut State University, sent me this photo for analysis. Dr. Warren Perry, Prof. Gerald Sawyer, Woodruff, and students and volunteers have been conducting archaeological excavations at this homesite since 2010.

    Photographs lie at the intersection of history, genealogy, family history and even archaeology.

    The tradition of the Black Governors dates back to Colonial Connecticut. These individuals were elected by members of their communities. The Connecticut State Library has an interesting online article and bibliography.

    Roswell and his father Quash were both Black Governors. This property may have been willed to Roswell when his father died. Roswell married Nancy (possibly Thompson) in 1826 and they had 13 children, although records have been found for only nine.

    The elderly woman pictured stands in her front yard (the front door is next to the ladder). Behind her is a shed. Archaeologists aren't sure of the purpose of that building. 

    I'm trying to answer several questions about this image. Next week, we'll look at a few of the details. There is more research to be done, so watch for updates to this story.


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

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

  • african american | house/building photos | unusual photos | women
    Monday, April 22, 2013 9:40:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, December 31, 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.

    January
    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.

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

    March
    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.

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

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

    June
    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.

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

    August
    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 ShopFamilyTree.com 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.

    September
    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.

    October
    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.

    November
    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.

    December
    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 | ShopFamilyTree.com
    Monday, December 31, 2012 4:07:01 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, October 22, 2012
    Photos and Family History Vacations
    Posted by Maureen

    Last weekend I spoke at a meeting of the Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia (GRIVA). My last lecture of the day covered family history vacations and discussed ways to use photos of homes, cemteries and other places to create an itinerary. I talked about visiting old family homes in person and virtually (using Google Earth).

    I also mentioned what to do with those vacation photos afterwards. I suggested posting them on sites like Historypin.com and Whatwasthere.com.

    Then I turned the meeting into a forum and let folks share their family history vacation tips. They asked if I would share their suggestions with the readers of this blog and I said YES! So if you're planning a family heritage tour, here are a few things they recommended.
    • Don't forget to visit the courthouse. One woman stressed the importance of looking for legal documents.

    • If you know the name of the cemetery where your ancestors are buried, but you can't find it, try calling the local funeral homes. A man said that a quick phone call helped him find the cemetery.

    • Take pictures of gravestones in the vicinity of your ancestors' monuments. Those folks might be relatives and you don't know it yet.

    • If your ancestors lived along a waterway, try consulting old nautical maps. They often show docks and can help you pinpoint a residence.

    • Look at church windows. Your ancestor may have paid for a memorial window.

    • Call the local public library to see if they have a history/genealogy collection. Verify the hours, too—websites don't always have up-to-date information.

    The GRIVA attendees also shared some general travel tips:

    • One woman loves to take Grayline tours of a city to orient herself.

    • If you go to Europe, take a small suitcase. Larger cases are too much work to lug around.

    • Another woman says she travels with old clothes and shoes. At the end of the trip she throws them away, leaving plenty of room for all the trip treasures she's collected.

    If you have a family history trip tip, please share it in a comment (below).  


    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

  • candid photos | house/building photos | Photos from abroad | Web sites
    Monday, October 22, 2012 5:38:36 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [14]
    # Tuesday, September 14, 2010
    Home Sweet Homestead
    Posted by Diane

    Homestead2.jpg
    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.

    Provenance
    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.

    Costume
    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?

    Homesteadhat.jpg

    Photographer
    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, September 14, 2010 2:40:40 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, February 15, 2010
    Friends and Neighbors
    Posted by Maureen

    A couple of weeks ago, I presented several lectures at the San Luis Obispo Genealogical Society conference.  I had great time and got to look at some interesting pictures. Roma Miller showed me this snapshot.

    RomaMillerCaroline.jpg

    This was in Roma's box of photos from her step-grandfather's family mixed in with other family photos. On the back it says, "Caroline 1927." But who's Caroline and where was it taken?

    Look carefully at this image. See the shadow of the photographer at the bottom? It's a great shot of someone taking a picture of this woman. his or her arms are raised, holding the camera. 

    Next look to the right of Caroline—there is a child. This little kid wears overalls and has his head bowed down. The short pants signify a boy, as does the haircut. This "baby cut" was similar to what we'd call a bowl cut—ear-length on the sides and bangs.

    Caroline wears a simple daytime dress. She's probably busy taking care of the her child and the housework. The style of this dress makes me wonder if she could be pregnant. It's very loose-fitting. Her hair is one of the short cuts popular in the 1920s. I think it looks a lot like either something called the "Senorita" or the "Broadway."

    The house is a two-story dwelling with a bow window in the style of the late 19th century. It's a Victorian-style house with a tall picket fence in the front and a wrought iron gate. In the background, a latticework wall surrounds a doorway with stairs.

    Roma and I talked about ways to identify this woman.
    • Ask the owner: The child is about the right age to be her step-grandfather—could this be him and his mother? Nope. He doesn't recognize the woman.
    • Post it online: I'm helping out by featuring it in this column. Roma has also uploaded the picture to DeadFred.com 
    • Contact extended family: Roma sent out a mass e-mail to all her relatives. Success!
    A cousin identified the woman and the location. It was a neighbor of Roma's maternal great-aunt when they lived in Oakdale, Calif. A quick check of the 1930 federal census should result in a last name (as long as Caroline remained in the area). Roma may never know who took this picture, but it could be someone related to her great-aunt.

    On the surface it's such a simple portrait of a young mother, but when you add in the child, the house and the photographer, it's the beginning of a story and evidence of a friendship between neighbors.

    There is one other reason I love this picture. It's a perfect example of how family collections of photos contain more than just blood relatives. There are usually friends and neighbors mixed in as well.


    1920s photos | children | house/building photos | women
    Monday, February 15, 2010 4:03:53 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, August 17, 2009
    Spotlight: Denver Public Library Picture Collection
    Posted by Maureen

    It's over 90 degrees in my town today. The heat and humidity make me start thinking about winter.

    With months to go before the snow, I did the next best thing. I looked at pictures of cooler temperatures I found on the Denver Public Library Web site.

    All right. Not all of the images depict winter scenes, but if you have any family in the Denver area, this is one collection you have to consult. The library has about a 100,000 images online and that's just the tip of their very large collection.

    The National Endowment for the Humanities gave the Denver Public Library a grant in 1997, and since then, the library has been quickly adding material to this gorgeous digital archive. To bring the "chill" of winter into my office, I began by browsing through images of the 10th Mountain Division, then wandered over to the picture galleries of children and scenes of the Denver area. It's armchair traveling at it's best.

    While you're exploring the site, check out the links to the electronic finding aids. They're fully searchable.

    The Denver Public Library isn't the only library with such collections. Public libraries all over the country usually have picture and manuscript collections. Their librarians are custodians of local history. I strongly advise you to ask about the holdings of your local library.

    I'd also like to send a big thank you to James Jeffreys of the Western History and Genealogy Department of the Denver Public Library for his help with an Photo Detective article slated for the December 2009 Family Tree Magazine.


    children | house/building photos | Military photos | photo-research tips
    Monday, August 17, 2009 7:38:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, April 27, 2009
    House History Help: My Favorite Books
    Posted by Diane

    My bookshelves are an eclectic mix of volumes on everything from forensic identification of facial features to button history. Any book I think might help analyze a picture ends up in my library.

    This diversity of titles includes several tomes on house history. If you find yourself with an architecture problem, these books should help you tell the differences among styles:
    • Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia McAlester and Lee McAlester (Knopf, $45.00).  This is a classic. Full of illustrations and easy to understand diagrams.
    • Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms: 1600-1945 by John J. G. Blumenson (W.W. Norton, $15.95). This is a pocket size guide to house details.
    • The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture by Rachel Carley (Holt, $27.00). Extensive text accompanies the drawings in this reference volume.
    Don't forget to check out the architecture problem in my most recent Photo Detective column in Family Tree Magazine (July 2009). The second installment of that column appeared in this space.

    If you're looking for a social history of early American architecture, my favorite is Where We Lived: Discovering the Places We Once Called Home, The American Home from 1775 to 1840 by Jack Larkin (Taunton, $40).

    It covers everything from outhouses to mansions. Once you start reading Larkin's book you'll be hooked. I couldn't put it down. Fascinating first person accounts make it so much more than a reference tool.


    house/building photos
    Monday, April 27, 2009 2:50:25 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, April 13, 2009
    Raising the Roof: Architectural Images
    Posted by Maureen

    This week's blog column is actually the second part of a photo mystery.  The first installment appears in my Photo Detective article in the July 2009 Family Tree Magazine. That issue should be in your mail boxes starting this week.

    Here's a synopsis of the problem: Bergetta Monroe has a mystery photo (of course!) of a farm. She doesn't know where it was taken or when, but she has a list of possible surnames for folks that could have owned the property. 


    In the article, I offer tips to solve this family mystery and promise to discuss the architectural details in this blog.

    I've taken this picture apart section by section, looking for elements that could help identify this mid-19th century farm. The main house appears to be in the Greek Revival style, which is characterized by Doric columns on the front porch and a pitched roof. The windows feature six-over-six panes of glass. Greek Revival design was popular from 1825 to 1860.

    Other features are visible when you enlarge the front yard of the house:
    BergettaDSC_4511 NEFposts.jpg

    Look closely. You can see the simple Doric columns, but also visible are nine hitching posts for horses and a fence on the other side of the house. That could signal a road nearby.

    The dominant greenery are pine trees. In front of the fence in the foreground is tilled land and some young trees, possibly fruit bearing varieties. If this house and yard is still intact, those saplings would be much bigger by now.
    BergettaDSC_4511 NEFtrees.jpg

    My favorite building on the property is the Italianate style barn, with its turreted roof and bracketed cornices (along the roof line).  It even has arched windows, one of the determining details in that architectural style.
    BergettaDSC_4511 NEFbarn.jpg

    This particular building style dates from 1850 to 1880, possibly making the barn newer than the house. Why else would the owners build their dwelling in one style and the barn in a more elaborate style? So many questions...

    There are many outbuildings on this property, and the size and condition of those structures suggest this was a prosperous farm. It appears that there are smaller farms in the vicinity. Note the dwelling to the rear left, behind the barn. That doesn't appear to part of this estate.

    In the July 2009 Family Tree Magazine, I discuss a date for this photo, but that only begins to tell the story of this farm. Given the family information Monroe supplied, this picture was taken in New England, either Vermont, New Hampshire or Massachusetts. The likeliest location is Vermont. You'll have to read the story to find out why (grin).

    We're still trying to identify the exact location.

    photo-research tips | house/building photos
    Monday, April 13, 2009 3:44:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]