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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, January 13, 2014
Puzzling over Black Dresses
Posted by Maureen

Rebecca Foster wrote to me: Most of my elder family has passed away, so I am struggling to piece together my family history. I believe this is my third-great-grandmother Mary Ann Fagan.

fagan2.jpg

Rebecca initially thought this could be her in 1860s mourning dress, but she's right to doubt her initial assessment. This is an older woman. Mary Anne had a daughter in 1881, so an 1860s date is unlikely.

She wears a dark dress, but is it black? It's possible the photographer colored only the chair and background, not the dress, making it appear the dress is black. 

Photographic methods of the 19th century and early 20th century made many colors look black in photos.
This woman posed around 1900 to 1910. Wicker chairs with curled backs appear in photographs taken in the 1890s and into the first decade of the 20th century (and a bit beyond).

The dress has full sleeves and a pleated bodice. She could be wearing mourning clothes, but before making that determination, I'd like to learn more about Mary Anne and her family. I'll email Rebecca and see what else she knows.

The rules for black mourning dress in the 1860s were set by Queen Victoria, and included black fabric without a sheen, black crape covering the face and a total lack of color. However, the rules for mourning varied based on the relationship to the deceased, and not every woman in a black dress is in mourning. 

Other colors also were popular to show respect for the deceased. There are additional details in Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album.


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 | 1900-1910 photos | mourning photos | women
    Monday, January 13, 2014 5:52:03 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, December 05, 2011
    Storytelling Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

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

    Dario X. Musso sent me a lovely family photo:

    musso3.jpg
    Seated on the right side is Nikita Radionov. Dario's grandmother is next to him. This photo of the Radionov family was taken circa 1919. 

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

    musso1edit.jpg

    Musso2edit.jpg

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

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

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


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

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

  • 1910s photos | 1920s photos | group photos | mourning photos
    Monday, December 05, 2011 4:45:32 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, August 02, 2010
    Your Mourning Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

    Two weeks ago I wrote about mourning traditions and clothing and asked for e pictures of women wearing mourning clothes. This week, I'm featuring the two I received as well as one from my work collection of images.

    davison headstone2 (3).jpg

    Toni Mann sent in this very interesting photo.  It's a 20th century snapshot. It blurs when I enlarge it, but I think the women in the far background are wearing clothing from the early 1900s. The woman to the left of the headstone wears late 1890s mourning clothes. Perhaps her husband is buried there. Toni thinks it was taken in the Chicago area. Anyone recognize the headstone? 

    edit1907 Hulse family reunion Greenville TX (2).jpg

    Charman Davis emailed this photo of the Hulse Family August 1907 reunion. The woman on the left lost her husband the previous month.  Everyone wears light-colored summer clothes except for the widow.

    funeraledit.jpg

    I bought this photo several years ago. It dates from the late 1890s and depicts a woman in mourning standing by a burial. It's a new grave, based on the fresh flowers piled on it. It's intriguing that a widow would hire a photographer to take her picture in this setting.

    You'll find advice for creating, sharing and saving your family's photographs in the Family Photo Essentials CD, from the editors of Family Tree Magazine and Memory Makers magazine.


    1890s photos | 1930s photos | mourning photos
    Monday, August 02, 2010 4:25:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Monday, July 19, 2010
    Mourning Clothes
    Posted by Maureen

    Ten years ago, I analyzed a photo sent to me from a woman in New Zealand. In the New Zealand Mystery, I discussed the family information, but also described her clothing and how it indicated she was in mourning.
     Goldsmith.jpg

    Queen Victoria set the standard for both wedding attire and for mourning. After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, she wore black mourning clothes for the rest of her life. In the Victorian era, men would wear a black armband when someone died, but women wore full black crape (the 19th century spelling for crepe) dresses for a year and a day. Then they wore just crape-trimmed black dresses for another 21 months. (Tortora and Eubank, Survey of Historic Costume, 348). 

    But what if your family didn't have the resources of the woman depicted above?  A wardrobe of mourning clothes probably wasn't economically feasible. Instead, clothes could be rented or borrowed for the funeral. According to the 1877 article by Henry R Hatherly, "Mourning Clothes as a Source of Infection" (Sanitary Record: A Journal of Public Health, Google Books), less-fortunate folks were spreading disease by wearing clothing worn by others—in particular, skin and parasitic diseases.

    Not just Queen Victoria's subjects followed mourning customs. This week I looked at a tintype from Dresden. The dark clothing and the large hat with long, heavy fabric at the back suggests this 1880s woman is in mourning. The style of the hat is a bit unusual. I think the browband helps keep the hat on her head.

    ThomasCollins.jpg

    If you have any 19th-century photos of family wearing crape, I'd love to see them. You can e-mail them to me.

    Need help researching, preserving and displaying your family photos? Visit ShopFamilyTree.com for how-to books and CDs.


    1850s photos | 1880s photos | mourning photos | unusual photos | women
    Monday, July 19, 2010 3:47:35 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]