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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Tuesday, March 26, 2013
RootsTech 2013 Report
Posted by Maureen

It's easy to describe FamilySearch's RootsTech conference with one word: Wow!

Photos were the focus this year. Here are a few highlights:

Thank you to all the readers who stopped by to say hello. I provided photo consultations in the Bringing Stories to Life section of the exhibit hall.

Since the focus of the conference is technology, I decided to tweet some of the photos I saw. I used my iPad to photograph images and upload them to Twitter and Facebook. You can see them @photodetective on Twitter.  The most unusual image is of a man posed shaving. You'll also see a painted tintype. I'm hoping to share a very different type of photo mystery next week.

family search.jpg
A promo for uploading pictures to your FamilySearch family tree.

findmypast.jpg
Findmypast.com had an old-fashioned photo studio in the exhibit hall complete with props. How could I resist?

findmypast2.jpg

photofacematch.jpg
PhotoFaceMatch.com was just one of the new companies exhibiting.  This is a facial recognition site, and It's very interesting to see how this technology is developing. You can try the site for free.

pogue.jpg
On Saturday, David Pogue, personal technology columnist for the New York Times, gave the keynote speech complete with a grand piano. I'm a big fan of his columns and Missing Manual series of books.

Whether you were one of the close to 7,000 attendees or someone who watched the live streaming sessions from home, RootsTech was amazing. Can't wait until next year.

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

  • photo backgrounds | Rootstech | snapshots | unusual photos
    Tuesday, March 26, 2013 2:52:28 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # 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]
    # Sunday, December 09, 2012
    Backyard Snapshots
    Posted by Maureen

    Studio portraits are lovely and very formal, but to find signs of everyday life, there's nothing like a snapshot. Ever since George Eastman introduced the amateur camera in the late 1880s, our ancestors have taken informal pictures. 

    Dennis Rodgers sent in this picture of a known relative—his great-uncle Francis Q. Donnelly who lived in Washington, D.C. 

    frankqdonnellyedit.jpg

    When I see photographs like this, I ask, "Where's the rest of the pictures from the roll of film?" This is just one of the pictures that the unknown photographer would have taken. Perhaps they were given to other family members or even tossed.

    This backyard snapshot shows us details of Donnelly's life (providing this is where he lived).
    • It's a brick row house with high wooden fences separating the yards.
    • There are well-worn paving stones instead of a grass yard.
    • Wooden steps provide an entry through the back door. 
    • Laundry or blankets being aired outside hang out the second-story window.
    • The family dog is off to the right.

    donnellydog.jpg

    • To the left is a shelf with large cans. A shovel placed near a basement door looks like a small coal shovel.

    donnellyard.jpg

    These items provide details about Connelly's life in the first half of the 20th century. 

    I'll be back next week to discuss his clothes. In the meantime, what's the oddest thing you've ever seen in a family snapshot?



    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

  • men | occupational | photo backgrounds | props in photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, December 09, 2012 7:32:33 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Wednesday, February 29, 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.  

    meninhat2.jpg
    Photo 1


    maninhat.jpg
    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, February 29, 2012 1:34:31 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [5]
    # Thursday, June 09, 2011
    The Family Home as Backdrop in Old Pictures
    Posted by Diane

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

    Photo Detective Maureen A. Taylor analyzes two such images on FamilyTreeMagazine.com.


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

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

  • 1880s photos | group photos | photo backgrounds
    Thursday, June 09, 2011 9:47:21 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, May 23, 2011
    Scenic Assistance
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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



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


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

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

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


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

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

  • 1900-1910 photos | group photos | photo backgrounds | unusual surfaces
    Monday, May 23, 2011 6:56:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, August 30, 2010
    Hand-Me-Down Family
    Posted by Maureen

    Years ago, Truli Powell's mother received a box of photos from one of her husband's cousins. Now Truli is trying to date and identify the images. She's hoping that the cousin only gave them images from their specific line.

    Powell Unknown 1 (2).JPG

    In this "like mother, like daughter" tintype, the mother and the woman in the back (I'm assuming grandmother) wear nearly identical dress designs and hats. This 1890s scene depicts three generations on an outing. I love the park bench as a prop.

    Powell Unknown 2.JPG

    In the second tintype Truli sent, a young man in a suit and coat poses with a painted backdrop that features a house and a wall. The "rock" in the foreground is supposed to create the illusion that he's actually standing outdoors. Since backdrops usually reflect the area where someone lived, I wonder where this was taken.

    Truli wants to know if this could be her great-great-grandfather Peter Floyd Powell (1832-1922). Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to the case. This photo depicts a young man probably in his early 20s. From the neatly greased hair to the polished shoes, this is a young man who's dressed very nicely for the late 1880s.

    She sent another picture and I have to include it. Last week I focused on backdrops.
    Powell Unknown 8 (2).jpg
    Here, two young girls posed behind a backdrop with cutouts for their heads. Their hats and the car date the picture to the early 1910s.  One of the girls would be the right age to be the young girl on the bench in the first photo.

    It's too bad that Truli's father's cousin didn't label the photos in some way, but hopefully the information in this column will help her put names with the faces.

    Need help with your own mystery photos? Look for Maureen A. Taylor's book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs.


    1890s photos | 1910s photos | photo backgrounds | Tintypes | Vehicles in photos
    Monday, August 30, 2010 4:07:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, August 23, 2010
    Studio Backdrops
    Posted by Maureen

    At last weekend's FGS conference in Knoxville, I did a little shopping. Picked up a couple of interesting books and this lovely trio of photos. I just love the backdrops. This photographer spared no expense.

    While in the 19th century most backdrops looked like the outdoors or living rooms, in the 20th century the backdrop often sets the scene into a historical context. 

    In December 1903, the Wright Brothers lifted off the ground in the first flight. Mass transit by airplane was decades away, but that didn't keep folks from simulating flight. Here, a group of friends are posing in a painted backdrop that looks like an early aircraft, with the skyline at their feet.  Their clothing and the design of the airplane dates from circa 1912.  You can view early airplanes on the web at Early Historic Aircraft.
    FGS001.jpg

    In the next postcard, the same woman seated at top right in the first photo takes another picture in the same studio. This time, you can see the airplane set to her left while she sits on a fake racehorse. She wears the same suit and hat so it's possible it was taken on the same day.

    FGS002.jpg

    In the same batch of photos I found another image of her standing near a painted wall with "Pennsylvania Pullman" on it. George Pullman manufactured train cars, trolley buses and streetcars. You can read more about him on Wikipedia. I think this is a train car, but I'm still trying to find a reference to the words on the side.
    FGS003.jpg

    I may not know the name of this woman, but it appears that in the early early 1910s she liked to frequent photo studios with creative backdrops.

    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.


    1910s photos | photo backgrounds | props in photos | unusual photos | Vehicles in photos | women
    Monday, August 23, 2010 5:17:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, August 09, 2010
    Favorite Photo Mysteries
    Posted by Maureen

    I’m taking a short vacation, so instead of a new column I’m taking a look back at some of my favorite mysteries.


    Back in January I published a photo of the Hobo 8, a group of young people (above) smiling for the camera. It’s a great photo that captures the fun they were having. The sign and the 80 after it remain a mystery. Any ideas?

     
    The problem of the Texas Twosome continues to be a challenge. I’ve taken these photos on the road with me and shown them in locales from coast to coast in the hopes of a new clue. I’ve outlined researchers’ ideas in a series of blog posts, linked below. Please let me know if you have any new thoughts on the matter. 

    Two Texas Mysteries
     
    Texas Mystery Puzzle—No News

    Texas Trouble: Readers Respond
     
    Texas Twosome Revisited 


    A fun picture of another group of friends was the image from Clues from Hats and Backgrounds. I love the fact that photos are in the background. Those images could help solve the identity of the people in the photo, if only they were clearer.

    men | photo backgrounds | unusual clothing | women
    Monday, August 09, 2010 2:33:29 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]
    # Monday, April 06, 2009
    Why the Long Faces in Old Photos?
    Posted by Maureen

    Every so often I bump into a 19th century photo in which the subjects are grinning. It's a rare event. Occasionally, you see a Mona Lisa smile, but it's difficult to locate an image from the 19th century where folks actually showed teeth the way we do today. So, you're probably wondering—why the long face in most pictures?

    In the beginning, I imagine that sitters were nervous in front of the camera. It was new, and having your picture taken was an uncomfortable procedure.

    Look closely at your early photographs and see if you can spot a posing device such as a wooden stand behind the subjects' feet. This device sometimes extended as far up as the head and had clamps around a person's waist or head to keep him still for the long exposure time. Would you feel like smiling?

    In this 1870s tintype, you can see a chair with the adjustable back. This man holds the the chair back, but if you look closely at his feet, you can see a wooden brace stand.

    men046.jpg

    You can learn more about photographic patents and these tools in Janice G. Schimmelman's American Photographic Patents 1840-1880: The Daguerreotype & Wet Plate Era (Carl Mautz, $25.00). Unfortunately, I don't own a picture of a full clamping device. Anyone got one to share?

    I have a small collection of women and babies I call "hidden mothers." Women hid under blankets and rugs to keep their babies still for the camera.  In this photo, a mother or a photographer's assistant braces the toddler for the picture.

    babies022.jpg

    There were also devices to hold babies that look like medieval instruments of torture.

    Let's not forget another reason individuals didn't smile for the photographer: dental care. Forget cosmetic dentistry—few folks had a full set of pearly whites. In fact, dentistry was a new profession in the mid-19th century. The online Encyclopedia Britannica has a short article on the history of dental care.

    If you have a picture of a "hidden mother," a smiling ancestor, or a photo that includes a posing device, email it to me and I'll post it in this space. Both of the images above are from my research picture collection.


    1870s photos | children | men | photo backgrounds | women
    Monday, April 06, 2009 5:26:27 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [7]
    # Monday, December 15, 2008
    Capturing the News
    Posted by Maureen

    Joan Enders sent this photo of a man she believes is her great-grandfather William Riley Keeth, of Iberia, Miller County, Mo. She wanted to know more about the backdrop and to verify it's him.

    William Riley Keeth.jpg

    In the late 19th century, photographic props and backdrops were very elaborate. Some even included bales of hay and faux stone walls. A photographer posed this man with a backdrop that looks like the interior of a Victorian mansion, complete with a multi-paned window and what resembles wallpaper. Of course, it's all just paint and canvas.

    I wish there were a directory of photo backdrops! It would be so useful to know which photographers were using which backgrounds. It might even help pinpoint where a picture was taken.

    For example, Joan could contact a historical society in the area where her ancestor lived. The Miller County Museum might have a collection of local images. Then she could compare backdrops in those images to her own to see if they were shot by same photographer or studio. A city directory could tell her when the photographer was in business, helping to date the image.

    One of the largest online databases of pictures is Dead Fred. While it's primarily a photo-reunion site, I searched for Missouri photographers to see if I could find anyone near Miller County. No luck! But it's a good tip to try: Use the search feature to look for surnames or place names.

    The best part of this image isn't what's behind the man, but what he's holding— a letter. Notice how the envelope (in his left hand) is ripped open. Despite being a posed image, this picture has captured a spontaneous moment. The man looks at the camera with a surprised expression. 

    He's wearing work clothes and appears to have rushed into the photo studio to document the receipt of this written news. So what was in the letter?  There might be a family story associated with some sort of important information.

    Based on his clothing, the background and the plain brown cardboard backing, it appears this photo dates from about 1900.

    Does the photo really show William Riley Keeth? Keeth was born in 1865 and married in 1888. Here's a known photo of Keeth with his bride Mary Ella Thomas, taken in the year they married:

    William R and Mary E Keeth.JPG

    While the man in the first photo shares many of the facial characteristics of the man in this image, their ears are different. Notice how small this man's ears are. There's something odd about this tintype, too—it almost looks like a tintype of a painting. The edges of the couple's features are blurred. 

    Before deciding if these two men are the same person, I'll ask Joan for a better scan or picture of this image, and ask some additional questions about her family. I also still have a question about the backdrop: The window looks like backgrounds I've seen in English photographs, not like an American home.  I'm still looking for an image with a similar backdrop. If you have one in your family collection, send it in and let's help Joan solve this.


    1900-1910 photos | photo backgrounds | props in photos
    Monday, December 15, 2008 10:38:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Tuesday, January 22, 2008
    Backgrounds in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

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

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



    Keep sending me the interesting backgrounds

    1910s photos | 1920s photos | children | group photos | photo backgrounds
    Tuesday, January 22, 2008 4:11:07 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, December 18, 2007
    Backgrounds and Furniture in Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    In the last month or so, I've met (via e-mail) a lot of people who collect specific types of pictures or who know a lot about a photographic detail. I even corresponded with someone who collects photographers' fingerprints on daguerreotypes. Now that's a identification database I'd like to have! 

    Over the last couple of decades, many books on photo history have been published. I've collected quite a library on clothing, forensic analysis techniques used by the CIA, furniture, postcards and military costumes (to name a few).

    You'd be surprised by what I've got on my shelves, but there are still a couple of titles I'd like to see published.
    • Photographic backgrounds—I've only found one short article on backdrops, and it doesn't begin to cover the topic. If you own a picture with an interesting background, send it to me and see it featured here.
    • Furniture in photos—I use furniture-history tomes when looking at the tables and chairs featured in photos, but as far as I know, no one has published anything on that topic. In addition to clothing and the photographer's imprint, furniture can place a picture in a time frame. Think wicker in the 1890s and fringed chairs in the 1860s.
    Send me your photos with interesting backgrounds and furniture, and let's build a database of reader photos and create our own online reference tool for these two understudied bits of photo history.


    photo backgrounds | props in photos
    Tuesday, December 18, 2007 11:46:23 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, November 05, 2007
    The Plane Truth Revisited
    Posted by Maureen

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

    1920s photos | group photos | men | photo backgrounds | women
    Monday, November 05, 2007 2:51:49 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, August 28, 2007
    Clues from Hats and Backgrounds
    Posted by Maureen

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


    1900-1910 photos | candid photos | group photos | men | photo backgrounds | women
    Tuesday, August 28, 2007 9:35:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, August 13, 2007
    Clues Your Old Photo Was Taken in Summer
    Posted by Maureen

    Here in New England where winters are long, we embrace summer and often carry cameras to capture moments in the sunshine. When you think about  picture-taking patterns in your family, don’t disregard the seasons. This week I’m revisiting some of my older columns to show you how to spot scenes of summer in your family photo collection.

    Last year, Judy Miller sent this photo of a family in front of a seashore backdrop, a clue that perhaps the group lived near the shore or visited on holidays. The children's lightweight white dresses indicate warm weather. The mother’s hat actually suggested a season, too—a similar hat appeared in the August 1885 Peterson’s Magazine.



    Clothes also indicate a summer get-together in this photo—the women’s dresses look like lawn, a light fabric, while the men shed their jackets and rolled up their sleeves. Counting stars in the flag provided a time frame of 1908 to 1912. (Find out how the stars helped.) Patriotic decorations could show up for events at various times of year, but combined with the summer attire, they suggest this is an Independence Day celebration.



    The dresses on the four girls sitting near the railroad tracks in this candid snapshot date it to about 1900. The lush foliage on the trees across the tracks narrows the time of year to summer.



    This similar group portrait, also taken by an amateur photographer, is clearly another summer snapshot—you can tell from the white dresses and leaves on the young trees in the background.



    Go through your photos to find women and children in white, men and boys in straw boaters (a popular summer accessory) and trees and gardens in full bloom. Add them to the Photo Detective Forum and I'll put together an online album to celebrate the end of the season.

    1880s photos | 1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | photo backgrounds
    Monday, August 13, 2007 7:47:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Wednesday, May 30, 2007
    Blanket Backdrop Identified!
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you to everyone who wrote in about the beautiful bed covering featured in my April columns. (If you missed reading them, they're posted below.)

    My public library is a wonderful place for books, but the staff members are also great resources. One of the circulation librarians is an avid quilter. When I first saw the photo with the bed covering I immediately thought, "Carol has to see this." I was right.  With a single glance she said, "This isn't a quilt, it's a weaving pattern." Just so happens her daughter knows a lot about woven designs.

    The suspense is over. Carol's daughter Vicki took a look and declared, " It's an overshot weave, a variation of a pattern known as Queen's Anne Lace."

    Thanks also to the knowledgeable FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum visitors who posted comments there.
    Case closed!

    photo backgrounds
    Wednesday, May 30, 2007 2:38:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Thursday, April 26, 2007
    Blanket Backdrop
    Posted by Maureen

    Last time, we used the stamp box on the back of this photo postcard to establish a date. Now let's look at the beautiful backdrop.

    I've seen ancestors posed in front of all sorts of painted backdrops and even a few wrinkled sheets, but this gorgeous bed covering adds texture to a simple portrait. Georgia women such as these ladies have a long tradition of producing beautiful quilts and blankets. The online New Georgia Encyclopedia contains a description of this history. On this Web page, you can see a photo of several members of another family, the Wheelers, in front of a quilt they made. This makes me wonder if the backdrop in Armstrong's photo is part of the story.



    Armstrong believes whole-heartedly the older, seated woman in this photo is her great-grandmother Margaret E. Jordan Stephens, because she owns identified pictures of her. The picture dates from about 1910 based on the length of the young women's dresses, as well as the shape of the collar on the dress of the woman on the left. According to information from census records, Margaret would've been about 77 years old at this time.

    There are a couple of possible IDs for the two younger women: They may be Margaret's daughters, hard to find in censuses because they went by nicknames or middle names. Margaret had sons, so the women could be daughters-in-law. Or they may be ladies who helped with the quilt in the background, posing to commemorate the completion of their work just as the women in the New Georgia Encyclopedia photo did.

    I'm still working on the bedcovering facts. I'll let you know about new information in the Photo Detective Forum. Or if you can identify the pattern, please add your own thoughts to the forum.

    photo backgrounds | photo postcards | women
    Thursday, April 26, 2007 9:28:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]