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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, July 28, 2008
The Weller Family Revisited
Posted by Maureen

My search for living descendants of the little girl in Finding Family Photos on the Web is ongoing. It's a perfect example of how not everything is on the web.

Having looked at census records and whatever else was online, I ran into a virtual brick wall—I'm sure you know the feeling. Here are some of the sources I learned about and how I located them.
  • A reference librarian at the Littleton, NH, public library made my day when she found an obituary for "Fontie" WELLER Fitch in the Littleton Courier, the local newspaper. After marrying Henry Fitch, Fontenella and her new husband moved to Spokane, Wash., so he could accept a job with the Washington National Bank. She gave birth to a child in January 1892, and within three months, both mother and child were deceased. Their obituaries appeared in the Littleton Courier March 16, 1892.
  • Since I didn't have an obituary for Fontenella's father, I went back and tried locating one using the historical newspaper subscription site GenealogyBank. I finally found it by using Weller in the surname field with Littleton as a keyword. According to the Argus and Patriot (Montpelier, Vt.) of Dec. 12, 1877,  "Frank G. Weller, a well-known manufacturer of stereoscopic views, died at his residence in Littleton, NH, on Saturday, aged 44 years."
Intrigued by the use of "well-known," I set out to discover more about the man behind that beautiful photo of a girl and a flag. Just how famous was Weller, and did he take any other stereo views of his family?

A stereo view is a double picture taken with a binocular camera; it captured two slightly different images of the same view. You then used a special viewer to make the scene 3-D. Stereo views of people are rare. These double images were entertainment—you could purchase scenes of places you'd visited (or would like to visit) or play out with friends the tableau scenes in cards with allegorical and literary themes.
 
A quick search of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog using F.G. Weller in the author fieldturned up several images by him. I've posted two here; the other two aren't online. This one depicts "A Country Choir":

weller11553v country choir.jpg

In the 1870s, stereo photographers often created thematic scenes from literature. Without the catalog record, it's difficult to recognize the tableau below. It represents a card-playing scene from Francis Bret Harte's poem Plain Language From Truthful James. Harte was a American author who wrote about life in California.

weller11554vmen.jpg

The back of the card yielded some additional information. I wasn't aware that Weller had copyrighted his images. The stamp in the upper right hand corner provides a year for the card-playing view.

weller11555rback men.jpg

Weller was an accomplished photographer. The evidence is in the crisp quality of his images.  I'd love to see more.

In the 1880s, after Weller's death, it's likely the family sold his negatives. His pictures began to be published by the Littleton View Company, and later, by the major producer of stereo views, Underwood and Underwood. Some depicted allegorical scenes, others focused on literature, and in a few instances, he took pictures of local scenes (as evidenced on a label on the back of one of his views).

But he also was one of only two photographers in the pre-1875 period who specialized in photographing children. He called this series his "Stereoscopic Treasures." Perhaps he included his daughter and her friends in "The Tea Party" and the "Girl posed with a Tablet." Unfortunatley, neither is available online for comparision. This additional information is from John Waldsmith's Stereo Views: An Illustrated History and Price Guide (Krause, $24.95).

Weller was an early stereoscopic photographer, a trailblazer in his field, who also used his talents to photograph his only child Fontenella. As far I as I know, no single repository holds Weller's images—they're in private collections or the Library of Congress. It's a pretty typical situation for a photographer's legacy.


1870s photos | photographers imprints
Monday, July 28, 2008 5:42:15 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, March 10, 2008
Multi-generational Portraits
Posted by Maureen

There's something special about seeing a grandmother and grandchild posed together in a photograph. This little tyke is the spitting image of her grandma.

031008.jpg

Emma Dempster-Greenbaum owns this picture. It's labeled "Grandmother & Sarah Ann."  The photographer was J.C. Cone and Sons of Farmington.

Emma dated this photo based on family information. At 11 months old, Sarah Ann Jackson immigrated to the United States with her parents in November, 1886.

The clothing details support this time frame. Sarah wears a typical baby dress while her grandmother's conservative pleated skirt and fitted bodice are from the 1880s. Her dress lacks the bustle typically worn by younger women. Her eye-catching hat accessorizes her outfit—it's tied with a wide ribbon at the chin, and the high crown features what looks like leaves and small berries. She holds a handkerchief, ready for a drooling baby.

The photographer also fits the time frame. Emma researched J.C. Cone and found he lived in Farmington, Ill. I double-checked and found Joseph C. Cone in both the 1900 census for Farmington and in a biographical encylopedia, Portrait Biographical Album of Fulton County, Illinois (1890).

There's a bit of bragging in his business name. Cone was 58 in 1900, and his son, 27. When he printed the photographic card bearing this photo, his son was still a teenager just learning his father's business.

It's the grandmother's presence that confuses the picture evidence. While Emma found an immigration record for Sarah Ann and her parents, she's unable to verify that grandmother Catherine Dempster came with them. Catherine was the baby's only living grandmother in the 1880s.

Emma wonders if this picture is a copy of one taken in England. That's possible, but it's also likely his is an original.

So, how old is Sarah Ann in this picture? She's still a baby, based on her short hair and long dress. The length of the dress indicates she's not walking yet—otherwise, the dress would be shorter to accomodate her steps. Since most children's first steps occurring around a year to 15 months of age, Sarah Ann is probably less than a year old here.

Unfortunately, this data doesn't help determine whether the photo was taken in Illinois shortly after arrival, or in England before she left.

I'll be back next week with a follow-up.


1880s photos | children | photographers imprints | women
Monday, March 10, 2008 9:56:31 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Women's Sleeves Are Clues to Photo Dates
Posted by Maureen



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

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

   

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

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



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

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

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

1890s photos | group photos | photographers imprints | women
Tuesday, October 02, 2007 8:36:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Identifying Children in Photos
Posted by Maureen

The imprint of photographer S. Adamkiewicz appears on this photo of two towheaded boys, but questions still mount up for owner Annette Gathright and led her to post the photo on the Photo Detective Forum.



Who are the boys and when did they pose for this darling picture? Gathright’s family lived near Adamkiewicz's studio in Chicago's Polish neighborhood. Her uncle Norbert claims the boys are his uncles. Reading the clues requires a two step approach: Research the photographer and sort out the family facts.

The photographer is the easy part. I quickly located Adamkiewicz in the 1910 US census using the HeritageQuest Online (free through many public libraries). Stanley Adamkiewicz, then 34, listed his occupation as photographer, his birthplace as Russia/Polish and his immigration year as 1892. I couldn’t find him in the 1900 census, but he appears again in 1920 with a different occupation. That gives this picture a tentative time frame of 1892 to 1920.

Gathright thinks the photo was taken before her great-grandparents died in 1907. So she examined her tree for two boys born a few years apart, who’d be about age of this pair between 1907 and 1920.

She’s found at least two candidates who lived in the neighborhood of Adamkiewicz's studio: Stanislaus “Edward” Dittman (born 1893) and his brother Aloysius “Otto” (born 1898) fit the criteria. If the portrait were taken in 1906, Ed would be 8, and Otto, 3.

The high, starched collars, short pants and high-buttoned boots in this photo fit the time frame. Just to be sure, Gathright should ask her uncle for a few more details. It’s important to ask for specifics when talking about photos: Your relative knows who he or she means by “Grandpa,” but later, when you’re confronted with several possibilities on a family tree, you’ll probably wish you had a name.

If you have access to Chicago city directories, you can help us find the final fact—check to see if S. Adamkiewciz is listed as a photographer before 1910, then post it in the comment section of this blog.


1910s photos | children | photographers imprints
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 8:42:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Traveling Photographers
Posted by Maureen

All Michael Bell knows is that this photo’s subject, Martha B. Bell, sent the image to her uncle (Michael’s great-grandfather) after her father died in 1892. The month and day of the portrait aren’t recorded.



I’m estimating the photo could’ve been taken before or after Martha's father died—the puffed shoulder seams date the picture to the early 1890s.

It’s a classic example of a family milestone photo. Tragic events often pushed people into studios to capture images of their remaining loved ones or even the deceased. Read more about postmortem pictures in my column Dead Men Tell No Tales.

When Bell asked me about a date for the portrait, he also inquired about the photographer, Orris Hunt. I wrote about two other Hunt pictures in a column several years ago, Which one is Real?. When that picture was taken after 1905, Hunt was in St. Paul, Minn., having recently purchased another photographer’s studio.

The imprint in the lower left of Bell’s picture identifies Hunt as traveling photographer. Hunt’s Palace RR Photo Car was actually a photo studio in a railroad car. Whenever and wherever the train stopped, Hunt opened his studio to residents of the area.



Martha Bell took advantage of one of these rail stops in her hometown in Floyd County, Ga. Perhaps after a decade or more of endless traveling, Hunt decided to settle down in a St. Paul studio. That’s when he took the photo of the young man in the earlier column.  

Hunt wasn’t the only railroad photographer in 19th- and early 20th-century America.  Any time you see an imprint with RR as part of the address, you’ve found another one. Then, railroads were what planes are today. They crisscrossed the country bringing goods and services—including photographers—to folks in far-off places.

Bell’s photo has an interesting past. Not only was it taken for a specific reason, but now he knows he had a patient relative: She had to wait for the next train with Hunt aboard to have her picture taken.

1890s photos | photographers imprints | women
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 5:58:12 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]