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<2017 July>

by Maureen A. Taylor

More Links

# Sunday, 11 June 2017
How to Figure out Which Holiday Is Shown in Old Family Photos
Posted by Maureen

Here's a picture problem that family photo historians often encounter: Photos of an unnamed, unknown celebrations. It could be local event, a national holiday, or a gathering of relatives for some family event. All too frequently, it's unclear.

For instance, let's look at Flag Day. 

Flag Day, June 14, commemorates the adoption of our flag on June 14, 1777. Flag Day wasn't an official occasion until 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation.

Library of Congress

Above, a crowd of thousands gathers around the Washington Monument for a Flag Day ceremony in 1918. 

Flag Day isn't a federal holiday, but some cities still celebrate the day with parades, including Fairfield, Wash.; Appleton, Wis.; Quincy, Mass.; Troy, NY; and Three Oaks, Mich.

Flags and bunting are common during other holidays, too, such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veterans Day, so it can be difficult to determine the occasion for a patriotic picture. Here are a few tips:
  • Watch for signs and banners in parade photos. You may need to use a photographer's loupe, or scan the photo at high resolution and zoom in on your computer screen.
  • Search newspaper websites and local history sites to see how the towns in which your ancestor lived celebrated the day. You might find an article about the very event shown in the photo.
  • School children were often photographed carrying flags in schoolyards for Flag Day.
  • If you see a flag in the photo, count the stars. Every time a new state joined the Union, the flag gained a star (Hawaii was the last state, in 1959), helping you date the photo. Visit for photos of flags over the years.

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

  • SaveSave
    1910s photos | Flag Day | photo-research tips
    Sunday, 11 June 2017 21:48:49 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 21 May 2017
    Don't Forget the Women and Children in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week, I examined the cataloging record and photo format clues for this stereograph picture, taken between 1860 and 1864, from the Library of Congress online photo collection. This week, let's talk about the individuals shown.

    The Library of Congress caption states they're members of the Wallack family of New York actors and stage managers. James William Wallack (1795-1864) sits in a chair while his son Lester Wallack (1820-1888) stands to the side with his hand in his coat pocket.

    There are so many unanswered questions that aren't addressed in the caption.
    • Who are the woman and children?
    • Where was the picture taken?
    • Why was it taken?
    • Is the date correct?

    James Wallack

    A quick Google search for James Wallack turned up a Wikipedia page and  many more images of him as a younger man. James acted on the New York stage and his parents were comedians in London. In 1861, James opened Wallack's Theatre, a popular venue in New York.

    Since the stereo photo was taken circa 1860, let's look at the census for information on his family.  

    At that time, James Wallack lived with 6-year-old Charles Wallack (whom we know from other records is his grandson; the 1860 census doesn't state relationships), a druggist of a different surname, two servants and a waiter.

    Each clue generates another query. For example, why does Charles live with his grandfather?

    The Wikipedia page for James has a photo of him with a grandson. A caption, apparently added later by the child, states "I am the boy Charles E. Wallack." 

    Here's a close-up of the boys in the 1860-64 stereoview for comparision:

    We still don't know for sure which boy is Charles, who the other boy is, or who the woman is.

    Lester Wallack
    Before jumping to any conclusions, let's do more looking for the Wallacks. James' son Lester, born in New York, acted in London before returning home to the States and managing Wallack's Theater.

    The 1870 census shows "John" and wife Emily with children Florence, Charles and Harry. The family lived with several servants at 30th Street between 6th and Madison Ave in New York. If you're wondering why the census gives Lester's first name as John, it's because he used John Lester as a stage name.

    Find A Grave has memorials for Lester, Emily Mary Millais Wallack, and Florence. Other memorials may belong to Charles E. and Harold, but aren't identified as such.

    Another mystery?
    If the two boys in the stereograph are Charles and Harry and the woman is Emily, then where is Florence?

    In 1860 Harry was 5; Charles, 6; and Florence, 11. She's missing from this image. 

    The house in the stereo picture doesn't look like Manhattan to me. It's possible that the family had a country house or were posed someplace else.

    An 1860/61 date for the stereograph works. The boys appear to be about the right age. In 1861, the Wallacks were well-known for their theater businesses and acting talents. This stereo of a famous family would be a collectible image for your ancestors interested in celebrities of the period.

    Apply these techniques to your own mystery photos:
    • Start by identifying the photo format.
    • Generate a list of questions to be answered.
    • Research the people.
    • Estimate their ages at the time the image was taken.
    • Put it all together and tell the story of the people and the picture.

    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

  • Save
    1860s photos | children | photo-research tips | women
    Sunday, 21 May 2017 22:52:54 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Sunday, 23 April 2017
    What's the Story in this Old Family Photo? The Big Reveal!
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time to look at the big picture, the whole image and the rest of the details. If you've followed the last two posts, you've heard Mikael Hammerman's family story and seen some of the clues in the picture. 

    Let's answer his big question: Is this his great-grandmother's sister and her daughter?

    The big sleeves on this woman and her daughter date this picture to the mid- to late-1890s. Sharpeyed individuals will see the fashion plate on the sleeping mother's lap.


    The hat and the dress style in the fashion plate date from 1897 to circa 1900. Before Mom fell asleep, she was browsing the new fashions.

    Also on her lap is a paper that says "Bon-Ton." There was a Gazette du Bon-Ton published in France from 1912 to 1925, but those dates are too late for this image.

    This could be an advertisement for Bon-Ton, a department store that debuted in 1898 in York, Pa.

    Adding up the Clues
    Mike's great-grandmother's sister, Mathilda Ericson (born 1859), immigrated to New York in 1879 when she was 20. By 1899, she'd be 40.  Could this woman be her?

    Possibly. The rest of the facts need to add up, including where she lived around the turn of the century.

    Could the girl playing the piano be the daughter Mathilda was possibly pregnant with in 1879?


    This girl looks to be a lot younger than 20.  Perhaps Mathilda had several children.

    What's needed is a timeline of her Mathilda's life from when she moved to the United States until the year this picture was taken. Here are the primary names to trace:

    • Matilda Ericson (born Aug. 25, 1859 in Sweden)
    • Anders J. Carlson (born April 11, 1843, in Sweden)

    According to Mikael, they arrived in New York on January 31, 1879, as Auguste J. Carlson and Mathilda Carlson, a married couple. 

    Next stop: Digging into genealogy databases for more information. A photo mystery needs more than picture clues. It also relies on family history and good old-fashioned genealogical research.

    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

  • Save
    1890s photos | children | photo-research tips | women
    Sunday, 23 April 2017 17:16:43 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [10]
    # Sunday, 16 April 2017
    How Clues in Your Old Family Photos Can Keep You Out of Trouble
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time for another installment of Mikael Hammerman's mystery photo, which shows a mother and a daughter—and just might shed light on his family legend about a young mother who ran away with her employer to America

    Clues in a picture can keep you from jumping to conclusions about how the photo and a handed-down family story are connected. Before I read readers' email submissions of mystery photos for analysis, I always look at the picture first to see what it says about time period. Only then do I consult your description of the problem. 

    Here are three clues in Hammerman's picture that require more study. I purposefully haven't yet shown you the whole photo—I'm keeping you in suspense!

    1. Examine the image to see if other pictures are displayed in the background.

    In this case, they're on a shelf, but look for photos hung on walls, too. 

    Here's a close-up of the two clusters of pictures:

    You can get a closer look by using a photographer's loupe or by scanning the photo at a high resolution, then zooming in on he digitized image.

    This type of clue would send me running back to my collection of pictures to see if I have any matches to the background photos.   

    2. Look for obvious date clues. 
    The little girl in this picture is seated at a piano. Her hands are on the keys and her eyes are cast downward at sheet music. I'm not musically inclined. Can you read this sheet music and play it? (Unfortunately, the original image resolution doesn't allow a better close-up shot of the music.)     

    Wouldn't it be great to hear what she's playing?  If you can, I'd love to hear a recording of what it sounds like.

    Looking at this picture and hearing the music would bring a new dimension to this photo, and possibly offer a date (based on when the music was released or was popular).

    3. Watch for subtle clues.

    This little chair, decorated with ribbons, occupies a space between the mother and daughter. I wonder why. The problem with older photos is you can't see the original colors—the ribbons could be black (signifying mourning) or bright red. The seat is well-worn. It could be used as a step-stool, or it could memorialize a little child who died. 

    Photo clues come in all varieties. What's the oddest clue you ever seen in a picture? 

    Come back next week for the big reveal about this clue-filled picture!

    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

  • SaveSave
    children | photo backgrounds | photo-research tips
    Sunday, 16 April 2017 16:49:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [24]
    # Sunday, 05 February 2017
    3 Old Photo Stories You Can Tell Today
    Posted by Maureen

    What are you going to do with all your old photos? You can tuck them away for safekeeping or you can use them to tell your family about their ancestors. Or, you can do both. 

    Your original prints belong in acid- and lignin-free boxes, but you can use the high-resolution scans to study details and write about the people depicted. Here are three tools to help you:
    • won last year's RootsTech conference Innovator Challenge. On this site, you can create a free timeline of pictures and events for people in your family tree (uploads are limited for basic memberships). Share that information with relatives and, for an annual fee, encourage them to tell their side of the story on Twile. It's effortless collaboration. 
    •, a photo book and poster site, has been around for a bit. The page templates here are geared more toward genealogy than other photo book sites'. I'm working on a book for a friend (a surprise for her granddaughter), and it's easy and fun. You can create your book online and download PDFs of pages for free, and order professionally printed books. Watch your page count, though, because those extra pages can add up.
    • Scrivener is a app/program costing about $45 that works on both OS and Windows, as well as on your tablet/phone. Used by professional authors, this writing tool helps you organize your notes, develop an outline and add pictures. When you're done, you'll have a project you can print for the family. There is a learning curve, but my colleagues who use this regularly tell me it's worth the time. See Family Tree Magazine's review of Scrivener here.
    I'll be explore the expo hall at this week's RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, looking for new ways to use photos in genealogy. Of course, I'll share my favorite finds with you!

    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

  • Save
    Photo fun | photo-research tips | Photo-sharing sites
    Sunday, 05 February 2017 22:59:17 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 21 February 2016
    Searching for Family Photos with Google
    Posted by Maureen

    I have an ancestor, James Wilson, who drives me crazy. I bet you have a few of those too! It took decades to piece together what I know about him. Despite all this research, I still can't find a photograph of him or anyone in his wife's family. It's doubtful that I'll ever locate an image of him, but over the years, I've been able to piece together photographs that document key points in his life.

    Using the facts of his life, here's what I've found (and how):
    •  His Civil War records are sparse. He served as a gunner's mate on the USS Brandywine, the USS Morse and the USS Ohio. By searching Google Images, I was able to locate images of all three of those ships and shared them on my Facebook page. This one of the Morse fascinates. It's from the Library of Congress and appeared on Civil War Talk, along with another image.

    His Civil War service records gave his physical description: 5'10-1/4," hazel eyes, dark hair, light complexion. Only a small portion of the Library of Congress' images are on its website, though, so a trip to Washington, D.C. would be worthwhile.

    It's a small ship. Chances are slim that James Wilson is in this photograph, but if it's possible to narrow down the time frame he was on it, then maybe I'll find a picture of him on board. 
    Hint: Check the Library of Congress website for images of places your ancestors lived, or in this case, pictures of their service.
    • The 1865 census of Massachusetts shows the family living in Charlestown.  Another quick search using Google Images resulted in multiple stereo card views.  Instead of a general search just for the Charlestown Navy Yard, I added 1865.  It worked!
    Hint: Try a very specific search first and if it doesn't work then try again using more general terms.
    • Census records often give you the name of the street and the house number where your ancestors lived.  In 1880,James Wilson's wife and children lived on South Emerson St., New Bedford, Mass.  Within moments, I'd found their house using Google Maps.
    I'm still looking for a picture of him, but in the meantime the hunt for information has given me a view of his life.  You can do this too.

    There are more tips for locating photographs in my guide Searching for Family Photographs: How to Find Them Now.

    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

  • Civil War | photo-research tips
    Sunday, 21 February 2016 15:46:43 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 28 December 2015
    A Year's Worth of Photos: 2015
    Posted by Maureen

    This was another amazing year of photo columns.  Thank you for sharing your family pictures and for re-posting your favorite photo detective blog posts on social media. Can't wait to see what 2016 will bring!

    Here's a month by month overview of your favorites. Please click links to see the full stories.

    Imagine moving and leaving photographs behind. It happens more often than you'd think possible. January's first post featured a portrait of a man found in a house. He's still a mystery.

    February's post on photo jewelry explained how you can read the clues both in the photos and the settings to discover when a piece of jewelry containing a picture was made and/or worn.  Sometimes pictures were replaced in jewelry settings.

    Comparing faces whether you do it using software or just using your eyes can be tricky. Family resemblances can lead to misidentified pictures. Here's what you need to know to sort out the twenty plus points in a person's face. 

    In April a Gold Rush town picture yielded clues for one family. If you had family living in Shaw's Flats, California, you might spot a relative in this group picture.

    DNA is this year's most talked about genealogical topic but inherited traits can show up in pictures too.  A six-fingered ancestor in one family collection was full of identification clues. 

    June brought clues to help you spot a blue-eyed ancestor in a picture.  Try these tips with your photos.

    It took Michael Boyce to make the right connections to solve his family photo mystery. Here's how he did it.

    One of the most challenging clues in a picture are military uniforms. There were no standardized uniforms in the nineteenth century, but August's column lays out three techniques to sort through the evidence. 

    The clues in September's graveside photo fit together to tell a story of one family's funeral, just not the one the family was expecting. Read all about it.

    Our ancestors dressed like their favorite popular icons from politicians to performers. See how this one young woman dressed like Annie Oakley and see if you can spot these clues in your own collection.

    November focused on facial hair. Imagine writing today's Presidential candidates to influence their facial hair fashions. That's exactly what one little girl did. The true story of Abraham Lincoln's beard is noteworthy.

    Nineteenth century brides didn't usually wear white. They wore nice clothes and so did their grooms which means that wedding pictures are often overlooked in family collections. In Wedding Clues: 1855 Peter Whitmer and his bride Lucy Jane McDonald dressed to the nines for their nuptials.

    1840s photos | 1850s photos | 1860s photos | 1900-1910 photos | Abraham Lincoln | Annie Oakley | beards | daguerreotype | facial resemblances | Gold Rush | group photos | jewelry | men | Military photos | mourning photos | photo jewelry | photo-research tips | wedding | women
    Monday, 28 December 2015 17:00:44 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 09 August 2015
    Three Techniques for Solving a Military Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    You know the expression, "There's something about a man in uniform." Well I can finish that phrase with "that's so mysterious."  One of the most difficult photo mysteries to solve is a person in a uniform.

    There are a few reasons why that's true. First there were no standardized military uniforms in the nineteenth century. Plus there were uniforms worn at military schools as well. Variables in head to toe attire and gear can make identifying the uniform in a military image a real challenge. You can learn more about solving these types of mysteries in the Family Photo Detective.

    Rebecca Cook owns this photo of her great-grandfather Montgomery Grant Hunter. Not only does she know who's in this picture, she knows how old he is here.

    On the back appears a caption: "age 18."  Since he was born in 1864 in Virginia, that information dates the picture to circa 1882.  He lived in the Virginia-Maryland-District of Columbia area.  Family thinks he was named after two Union generals.

    Research the Photographer
    The photographer was Rice.  That name is barely visible on the dark card stock. There were two photographers named Rice in Washington, D.C. who were uncle and nephew.  Moses Parker Rice and his nephew George W. Rice operated studios in the nation's capital. George left the area in 1881 to join an ill-fated Arctic expedition. The Rice family originally hailed from Nova Scotia and several generations became photographers. The photographer's imprint places Montgomery in Washington, D.C. for this portrait.

    Study Family Information
    I wonder if there are any stories passed amongst his descendants that address his military service. A quick search of revealed a gravestone for him without any military symbols on it on Find a Grave and information on his medical school training in the Directory of Deceased American Physicians directory. He attended the George Washington Medical School. Creating a timeline of his life before and just after this photograph could offer clues to the uniform.

    Identify the Uniform
    This is the really hard part. There were military schools in Virginia and Maryland. It's a two phase identification problem. First identify which of those schools were founded before 1882 (and had graduating classes) then try to locate pictures of graduates in uniforms.  Given his age, this could be a graduation photo OR an image of him as a freshman in college.  OR he may have enlisted.  The fact that he was in uniform and the photo was taken in DC suggests he was in that area at that time.

    Using Google Images didn't work. That can be a quick shortcut. You upload an image and let the web do the work, but results showed other cabinet cards of men and no matches for the uniform.

    It's going to take time to search each school and then contact their archives/special collections department for examples of the uniforms worn by students in the 1880s. 

    It only takes one match to make this a photo success story.

    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

  • 1880s photos | Military photos | photo-research tips
    Sunday, 09 August 2015 17:34:27 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 07 June 2015
    Finding Your Ancestors' Graduation Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    This time of year makes me think about graduations. I live near two universities and often see graduates in cap and gowns smiling for pictures. Our ancestors also posed for school pictures, whether they were graduating from eighth grade, a trade school, high school or a college/university.

    In the mid-19th century, class books included actual card photographs of the graduates. The yearbook format we're familiar with debuted in the 1880s.

    Here are some tips on locating images of ancestral graduates in your family.
    • Contact the public library or historical society in the town where they lived to see if either institution has a yearbook collection. You can also try the local department of education, but usually older records are donated to a local historical society.

    • If your ancestor attended a private school, try contacting the school library to see if it has an archive. Most colleges and universities maintain an archive with yearbooks and other items. In some schools, incoming freshmen posed for pictures, not just when they graduated. Don't forget to check the school website in case there is a digital collection.

    • Try searching for yearbooks online. For starters, here are some websites with yearbooks:

      • Genealogy Today has a large collection of yearbooks and school materials. Search this list to see if a school your ancestor attended is mentioned.
      • Search for yearbooks and school materials published before 1922 on the Internet Archive. Enter the name of the school in the search box and narrow by year. 
      • Looking for a more recent yearbook? It might be worth subscribing to The cost is $19.95 a year or $4.95 for a month. 
      • The Library of Congress collection has a few graduation-related photographs. Search by surname and by school. 
      • Cyndis has a category for Yearbooks and Annuals.

    In my book Searching For Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now! you'll discover other research tips for locating family photos.

    You may have a graduation photo and not know it. Watch for clues such as rolled-up diplomas. Some studio photographers used these as props.

    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

  • photo-research tips | school photos
    Sunday, 07 June 2015 18:51:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 11 May 2015
    A Click Away: Eight Years of Photo Identification Clues
    Posted by Maureen

    Every week I sit down to write a new blog post about picture mysteries.  On this blog that archive goes back eight years. That's a lot of photo clues and picture facts!  It's easy to use this blog as a free resource.  Here's how.

    • Below that is a list of categories. It's a list of blog posts by month and year in reverse order from the most recent all the way back to March 2007.  The number in parentheses refers to the number of blog posts in that month. Click any of the months to see all the posts for that period.
    • Scroll down past the dates and you'll find a list of subject headings used with each post.  Click any of those to go to all the columns that cover that topic such as 1840s to World War II.
    • Use the search box at the bottom of the sidebar to find more specific articles. I always include the name of the person who submitted the photo and the name of their ancestor.  Online family reunions are possible. Why not search for your surname using the search box to see if there are any hits?  A distant cousin may have submitted a photo mystery. 
    • You can also Google it!  Search "Photo Detective blog [and the surname you're looking for].   

    Over the years I've covered common photo identification clues, popular ID mistakes and written about how even the tiniest details can reveal family history. Take a look at past columns and let me know which one is your favorite.

    Thank you for reading!

    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

  • photo news | photo-research tips
    Monday, 11 May 2015 16:22:43 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 18 May 2014
    Cousin Connections Through Old Pictures
    Posted by Diane

    Never underestimate the power of a picture.  A single photo can connect you with a missing piece of evidence, point you in a new direction or help you meet "new" relatives. 

    Last week's picture brought two women closer together and solved a more than 60-year-old mystery.


    Alice Broderick and her cousin Mary Ellen Gillespie arrived at Ellis Island in June 1906.

    At one time the Gillespie relatives were very close, but as often happens, new generations create distance between cousins. Everyone means to keep in touch, but time and circumstances interfere.

    Anne Hanlon has spent years researching her mother's family history. A few years ago, Anne's sister gave her a letter the family found in their mother's belongings when she died in 1949.  It was from a Mary Rupp, signed "your cousin."  Anne didn't know exactly how her mother was connected to Mrs. Rupp.

    Anne periodically Googled the name "Mary Rupp" to see if any new information came to light. One of these searches led her to Maureen Petrilli's page. She sent Maureen a message.  One query answered family history mysteries for both women.

    Mary Ellen Gillespie Donelan Rupp

    Anne, who owns the above photograph of the two women, thought one of the women on the postcard might be Maureen's grandmother. The details in last week's column verified when the picture was taken. There's a striking resemblance between the woman in Maureen's picture of her grandmother and the seated woman in the postcard.

    Maureen's paternal great-grandmother, Mary Rupp, wrote that letter to Anne's mother. No one knows if Mary received a reply from her cousin.

    Mary Ellen Gillespie Rupp's first husband, Michael Joseph Donelan, (Maureen's paternal grandfather) was crushed to death in a mining accident in Pennsylvania in 1921, just four months before Maureen's father was born. Mary became a widow with four children to support and another one on the way. Once she remarried, the family didn't really talk about her first husband.  However, in the letter to her cousin, Mary mentioned that Michael was born in Galway, Ireland, a fact that Maureen didn't know.

    Anne, related to Maureen through Mary's first cousin, sent her newly rediscovered cousin both the letter and the photo. There may yet another connection between Anne and Maureen: Anne's father's brothers married sisters with the same surname as Maureen's grandfather! 

    Online reunions happen everyday. Do you have one to share?

    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

  • 1900-1910 photos | photo-research tips | Reunions
    Sunday, 18 May 2014 16:36:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 29 December 2013
    Photo Tips to Start Your New Year Right
    Posted by Maureen

    I don't know about you, but I don't make New Year's Resolutions. What I do instead is think of ways to accomplish achievable goals.  Here are few ideas for 2014.

    Back Up Your Photo Files
    This morning I opened my digital photo organizer of choice, Picasa, and discovered that the new upgrade will automatically back up my photos and keep them private until the user changes the settings. Here's the good news about Picasa. It's free.  Love it or hate it, Picasa is a pretty easy way to organize your digital images. The added back-up feature is a nice addition.

    Collaborate with Cousins
    This year brought new ways to share and collaborate on family photos.  I've been playing with the features on these three sites. LOVE how easy it is to upload, share and collaborate.

    Are you familiar with  Users get one terabyte of free online storage and the ability to either share images online or keep them completely private. Post a photo on Flickr, create a set and then share it via email with specific individuals. They can comment on the images. 

    You can also collaborate using It's a private site that has what I call a "photo dashboard" for each uploaded image that includes file properties and names of individuals you've tagged.  You can share those pictures with family and see their comments on your picture.'s new emphasis on adding photographs to family trees is good news for genealogists. All posted photos are publicly searchable, not private. It's free to sign-up and set up a tree.

    Review Your Family History with a Relative
    In November I spent an afternoon with a cousin going through boxes of material she'd received from a deceased relative. She's a genealogical newbie and didn't know our shared family history.

    In this new collection were photos, documents and personal papers that cleared up some of the things I didn't know about her immediate family. It was so much fun to sit with her and explain who was who in the photographs.

    I can't wait to do it again! My fingers are crossed that I finally have a cousin that's going to be a genealogical research partner.

    Identify One Photo At a Time
    Look at your box of photos and pull one out. What do you know about the photo and the people depicted? If it's a mystery photo then follow the chain of clues--photographic method, photographer's work dates, fashion clues and props to set it in a time frame and tell it's story.

    It's overwhelming to work on a whole box of photos in one sitting. Start with one and see where it leads.

    Don't forget if you need help you can submit the image to this column. Just click the How to Submit Your Photo Link on the left. Every week I tackle a photo mystery.

    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 fun | photo-research tips | Web sites
    Sunday, 29 December 2013 19:44:26 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 04 February 2013
    Reuniting Orphan Photos With Family
    Posted by Maureen

    Have you ever walked into an antique store and found a photo with a name on it? This is known as an orphan photo. 

    At some point in its photographic lifespan, it became separated from its family. Photos are rarely mentioned in probate records, their inheritance often a matter of serendipity. When family members die and no one steps forward to claim pictures, they end up in tag sales, antique shops and on eBay.

    The next time you see one of these pictures, consider purchasing it. Using your genealogical research skills, you might be able to reunite it with family members that "lost" a piece of the past. They'll be glad you found it.

    I'm working on two such images, but haven't solved the ownership mystery yet. Here's what I've done to research the images.

    1) Date the Image
    Unless the name on the image is unusual, it's necessary to have a time frame. Photographer's work dates, clothing details, props and photographic format can place the image within a range of dates. Next, I estimate the age of the person in the image.

    2) Consult the Census
    Using information in the photographer's imprint, such as geographic location, can help narrow down the search parameters. I start by searching the census using full names. Since the name on the image might be a nickname, also try wildcard searching. If the photo was taken in a small town, it's sometimes useful to browse through the census for that area to locate others with a similar surname.

    3) Use City Directories, and local libraries and historical societies often have city directories. Search for the photographer and for the surname of the person pictured.

    4) Survey the News
    Since it was common for family to visit photo studios when they were on vacation or visiting relatives, it's a good idea to see if there are any newspaper stories about special events or advertisements for the photographer. Each resource provides you with an opportunity to verify the information in the caption.

    5) Check Genealogical Databases
    Search a variety of genealogical databases such as and On Ancestry, click the box "Family Trees" at the bottom of the search screen to search for matches. On, use the Search People box on the top right.

    In addition to these tips, I also analyze the handwriting to determine if someone living within the lifetime of the person depicted wrote the caption, or a descendant did it later. For instance, ballpoint pen is a 20th-century invention.

    Sometimes success is just a few clicks away, while other times the answer seems out of reach.

    This month, I'll also blog about other ways to reconnect with your "missing" family photos.

    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

  • Photo fun | photo-research tips | Photo-sharing sites | Reunions
    Monday, 04 February 2013 20:13:50 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, 04 September 2012
    The Story Behind Unknown Faces in Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week, I featured Julie Magerka's genealogical photo mystery. As you know, I believe that every photo tells a story.  By piecing together the clues present in a photo—photographer's imprint, props, faces, clothing and photographic format—you can let that photo talk.  Even if you can't identify who's in an image, those basic elements may eventually lead to new discoveries.


    Julie's photo encouraged her to investigate her Romanian roots. While the photo seems like a simple group portrait, the story represented in the image is anything but ordinary.


    Julie's grandmother's name appeared on her son Rudolph's birth record as Julia Magierka. The record was marked that the baby was "illegitimate." Julie's Dad always used the spelling of Magerka for his surname, without the i in the surname used by his mother.

    Julia Magierka met John Turansky/Turiansky supposedly when he was a prisoner of war during World War I, and she was a translator. The couple married and had a daughter. John immigrated to Canada first, then about a year later, Julia and Rudolph's half-sister, Anne, followed.

    Rudolph didn't immigrate to Canada for another decade. Family story-tellers used to have a lot of theories about the fact that Jullia left him alone. Perhaps he lived with the family depicted in this photo.

    Julie is hoping that further research will reveal the names of the other people in this people. All she knows at this point is that there is definitely more to this photo story. 

    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor, all available in

  • 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 | group photos | Immigrant Photos | photo-research tips | Photos from abroad
    Tuesday, 04 September 2012 15:14:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 21 November 2011
    Census Diving: Browsing for Facts
    Posted by Maureen

    As genealogists, we mine census records for our ancestors and the details of their lives. For the last two weeks I've written about Richard Levine's puzzling pic in Is this Painted Woods North Dakota? and Painted Woods Mystery: Part Two.

    One of the tools I used to research the photo was the 1900 US census.  I routinely use online census records to learn more about when photographers were in business and to fill in background information. 

    For the Levine mystery, I wanted to see just how many folks lived in Painted Woods, ND, and whether that information could help identify who's in the picture.

    I browsed the census pages. While I might hesitate to read the census page by page for major metropolitan areas, it's a great way to learn more about small communities.  Here's how to do it:

    On HeritageQuest Online, a ProQuest database available through many libraries, click the link for Census. There are two options at the census tab: Search or Browse (some records aren't indexed, so they're available only by browsing).  Click browse. Select the census year, state, county and location.

    In Levine's case my selections were 1900, North Dakota, Burleigh and Painted Woods. There were only a couple of pages for the families there.

    On it is also possible to browse census pages. On the right hand side of the census search box for each year of the census is a Browse box.  You'll need to narrow the search by year, state, county and location to see the pages. 

    By reading the pages for Painted Woods, I learned that most of Jewish settlers had left the area by 1900. The area was then home to many Scandinavian immigrants. 

    In an unidentified family group portrait, a census record can help you determine who's in the picture: List the genders and estimated ages of the people in the photograph, then check census records for your relatives who were alive at the time the photo was taken. Look for a household whose members match the genders and estimated ages of those in the photo.

    When I use the census to research photographers, I fill in the years between the decennial enumerations with city directories, state censuses and any other pertinent records. 

    I'd like to know if you've ever used the census to solve a picture mystery. If you have, please use the comment box below this column.  I look forward to reading them.

    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 | photo-research tips
    Monday, 21 November 2011 14:42:09 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, 24 October 2011
    Asking Permission
    Posted by Maureen

    Last night I had an interesting discussion with a colleague. She mentioned that she's researching a Civil War soldier from Vermont and that she'd found a great website, Vermont Civil War. It includes lists of photographs of men from various units. On the site was a mention of the man my colleague's been looking for. 

    When you find an image on the site, there's a link in the listing so you can discover the whereabouts of the picture. In the case of the photo she found, the listing provided a name and stated the image is in a private collection.

    Before my colleague can use the image in a publication (such as a book or website), she needs to request a high-quality scan (at least 300 dpi) and obtain permission to publish it. The BIG problem is that the owner of the image hasn't responded to her emails. At this point, she's not even sure whether the email address is correct.

    I've had similar things happen to me (and maybe you have too). As I work on various projects I often see images that I'd love to include in a publication. Locating the owner is often difficult. But before you can use an image in a publication or on a website, you need to obtain permission from the owner. Here are a few tips to help.
    • Google the name and use social networking.  Even though picture credits usually include the name of the person or organization that originally supplied the image, there's no guarantee that person or entity is still contactable. It can take time to follow the history of that image. Try searching for the person on the web to see if there's obituary or a change of email. Don't forget to check social networking sites like Facebook to see if they have a page.

    • Google the email address. My friend didn't know you could do that. If a person lists an email address on a message board, in a family tree or with any other website, a web search can help you find it. Test your own email address to see how many places it appears. You'll likely be surprised. I've used this technique to find full names, addresses and new email addresses for folks I've been trying to contact.

    • Try auction catalogs. Last week, I contacted a historical society about using an image and discovered the society sold it. Now I have to try to find out which auction house handled the transaction and who bought it. If it's in private hands, the auction house can forward my request to use it. They won't divulge who bought it, though. 

    • Use Google Images. When I find an image online and I can't determine who owns it, I'll use Google Images. Copy and paste the image into the search box and you'll find other places that image has appeared online.  It's pretty cool!  Beware though. Not all the matches will be exact or family friendly.  Click on Advanced Image Search on the Google Images website for more tips.
    I'll be back next week with a spooky image for Halloween.

    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

  • photo-research tips | unusual photos
    Monday, 24 October 2011 20:43:34 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Monday, 01 August 2011
    A Possible Identity for the Lady
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I wrote about Jay Kruizenga's photo of a woman with long hair.


    He read the column and quickly wrote back to say thank you. It appears that the lovely woman with the long locks has a name!

    He believe that this picture was taken 1883-85 because the cardstock and other details match another photo in his family collection. The other image depicts Jacob Derk Kruizenga's only living son, Derek Jacobs, who was born in 1879. 

    Jay then wondered "who was living with Jacob Derk Kruizenga (1830-1906) and his wife Jennie (1837-1905) in the same time frame?"

    According to the 1880 federal census, the couple had two daughters living at home—Nettie (born 1861) and Frances (born in 1866). Jay doesn't think Nettie is the woman in this photo because she married and moved away from home around the time of the census. 

    Could this photo be Frances? Perhaps. She was the only living daughter of Jacob and his second wife Gezina Rotmans VanBraak. She didn't marry until 1885, so she would still be single in this photo.

    Now all Jay has to do is find another photo of Frances for comparison. She was well known in Michigan. Frances was elected President of the Michigan Chapter for the Independent Order of Foresters, a fraternal organization, and gave speeches at conventions. 

    Jay wrote to the Foresters but the person who replied said that all their historical information is boxed and unorganized, thus making it difficult to find anything. 

    I'm hopeful that someone has a photo of Frances in her capacity of president of that organization.

    Thank you to the person who commented on last week's story. If you've ever wondered why all these young women posed with their long hair down, there is a simple answer: They wanted to look like the famous Barnum and Bailey Circus act, the Seven Sutherland sisters. The sisters concluded their musical performance by letting down their hair for the audience. It was sensational!

    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 | hairstyles | photo-research tips
    Monday, 01 August 2011 14:57:09 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Thursday, 02 June 2011
    Question Checklist for Old Family Photos
    Posted by Diane

    If you’re lucky enough to be able to go over family albums and boxes of old photos with a relative, you want to make sure you learn everything you possibly can about the pictures.

    At, Maureen has put together a list of what to ask so you won't miss any research clues.

    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

  • photo-research tips
    Thursday, 02 June 2011 20:34:37 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 16 May 2011
    Asking the Big Questions
    Posted by Maureen

    I sat with a friend today as she showed me her latest online family history discoveries. It was all very exciting.

    She's worked on this particular genealogy problem for several years. All of a sudden, an unknown distant relative joined an online site and posted family information and lots of pictures. My friend was amazed to see photos of her great-grandparents and some of their children.

    While it was thrilling to see all that new material that solved her brick walls, I couldn't help but look at the photos critically.

    If you find yourself gasping over images of your long-lost relatives, try not to jump to conclusions and accept them at face value. Follow some basic tips for analyzing those images.
    • Remember those captions are not necessarily the truth. Misidentifications happen all the time. 

    • Look at the clues—clothing, photographer and any other evidence in the pictures to see if they add up.
    • Is the person the right age to be the named ancestor? 

    • Clothing clues, especially hats, sleeves and ties, are often fashion statements that tell you not just about your ancestor's fashion sense, but can place the image within a narrow time frame.

    • One of the photos depicts a man in a police uniform. This employment tip could help her unlock more family information. Her next step is to contact the appropriate department to try to obtain employment records.

    • Another photo shows a woman in a very expensive-looking fur hat and coat. Family lore claims this woman had financial means. To prove this, I suggested tracking down probate records to follow the money trail.
    Each new picture is an opportunity to find fresh genealogical data. Evaluate the picture sense using the techniques presented each week in this column. It's too easy to accept visual material at face value rather than digging a bit deeper to tell the story behind the image.

    I hope you'll be able to join me this week for my Photo Detective Live! event on May 18, or for one of my new tele-seminars through

    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

  • photo-research tips | preserving photos | props in photos
    Monday, 16 May 2011 15:05:50 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 04 October 2010
    Drum Roll for the Civil War
    Posted by Maureen

    I'm deep into research and writing for Family Tree Magazine's forthcoming new book on Life in Civil War America.

    I'm busy working on the Afterword on Civil War photography.  I love having a project I can immerse myself in.

    Last week The Genealogy Insider wrote a post about the "hand-in-jacket" pose favored by so many military men.

    If you've ever wondered whether or not your Civil War soldier posed for a picture, then here's a statistic for you: According to the 1860 census, there were at least 1,500 individuals who operated as photographers just prior to the war. This number only includes those who claimed it as their primary business and doesn't include individuals who had side businesses snapping pictures. That's a lot of photographers. 
    civil war.jpg
    Private Frank A. Remington and two other unidentified Union soldiers

    According to William C. Davis, editor of Touched By Fire: A National Historical Society Photographic Portrait of the Civil War (Black Dog & Levanthal Publishers, available used), these photographers took an estimated one million pictures, but only several thousand still exist.

    Maybe my Civil War ancestor really did take time to pose for a picture—many soldiers did. I feel inspired to look. Right now, all I have is a pension file description of a man with red (!) hair and blue eyes. No 20th century family member has or had that color hair. I'm intrigued.

    So here's how I'm going to look:
    • Check with relatives
    • Post a query online (haven't decided where yet)
    • Search reunion site such as and
    • Try searching the United States Army Heritage & Education Center. It has thousands of images and an online database. Not everything is online, but it's worth a look. Since I think it's unlikely I'll find an identified photo, I'll also try searching for the companies in which my ancestor served. 
    • Contact local and state historical societies to see if they have relevant images. I know that to search these collections might require hiring a researcher. If so, I'll find a local researcher using the Association of Professional Genealogists.
    The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs division has a lot of Civil War images. Look in their catalog, but also check the American Memory project. has searchable database of 1,200 photos. A good resource for information on Civil War photography is the non-profit Center for Civil War Photography.

    If you have a picture of a Civil War soldier in uniform, e-mail it to me. I'd love to see it. Please use "Civil War photo" in the subject line.

    Now you can pre-order Family Tree Magazine's 2011 Civil War Desk Calendar, which features historical photos of people and scenes from the war, plus facts about the era from Life in Civil War America.

    Military photos | photo-research tips
    Monday, 04 October 2010 14:12:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Monday, 24 May 2010
    It's a Family Tree Reunion!
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I wrote about June Thomazin's search for information on a picture, featured in my Research Rewards post. A relative had identified the subjects, but June thought the photo depicted someone else. All her digging finally paid off.

    One of the readers of this blog contacted me to say that she owned a copy of the picture and had additional details. She said that the photo was identified as Wesley and Catherine Newman by Catherine's great-great- granddaughter, who'd received it from her mother. She added, "Wesley was indeed a veteran of the Civil War and died in the Old Soldier's Home."

    One of the basic rules of photo research is to seek out distant family members to see if they have identifications for your unidentified images.  It happens all the time.  I'm so happy that June has a "new" cousin to contact.

    When I forwarded the e-mail, she quickly wrote back that she hadn't research that collateral line yet and was really excited to have someone to share information with. June wrote, "I'm on cloud nine."

    June found her connection through this blog. It's one of those serendipitous genealogical moments. Don't forget to check photo-reunion sites.  Thousands of people a week use and looking for family photos. More and more genealogists are also looking for family on

    Who knows what you might find?

    photo-research tips
    Monday, 24 May 2010 17:47:47 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 08 February 2010
    The Search for Annie Moore
    Posted by Maureen

    If you don't know who Annie Moore is, you haven't been following Megan Smolenyak's research on her.  For several years, Megan has been intrigued by her. Annie Moore was the first person to step foot on Ellis Island when it opened Jan. 1, 1892—a pretty significant first. There wasn't much known about her until Megan started digging. 

    You know how research can lead to one thing and another? Well, that's what happened with Annie. Before long, Megan found two of Annie's relatives with images purported to show this mysterious woman. They claimed they had seen a photo of her at Ellis Island.

    It's a long story. I've featured the research done so far on both Annie and the pictures on my own blog last week. Megan and I have been trying to verify the identity of the image of three children and figure out where it was taken.

    There are folks on both sides of this photo problem. Megan and I have to do more research, and we'd love to see the original picture.

    Rather than link to all the research in this column, you can view the image and click through the links provided in my blog. It's a complicated piece of photo research.

    Comments are graciously accepted! 

    1890s photos | children | Immigrant Photos | photo-research tips
    Monday, 08 February 2010 19:01:23 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 01 February 2010
    How to Win the Family Photo Lottery
    Posted by Maureen

    I've lost track of exactly how long I've been writing this column. The first edition of my book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs was published in 2000, and I started this column in February of the following year. 

    That means you've been reading about identifying family photographs for nine years. That's a lot of pictures!

    Anyone can submit photos to be featured in this space or in my Photo Detective column in Family Tree Magazine. Under the Navigation heading at the left is a link to How to Submit Your Photo.

    While I look at and file each of the e-mails I receive from readers, you can increase the odds that you'll win this picture lottery by doing the following:
    • Use Family Tree Magazine in the subject line of your email.

    • Send me a question about the image, as well as anything at all you know or don't know about it.

    • Your contact information—name, address and telephone number. While I'm not apt to call overseas, if you live in the United States or Canada, don't be surprised to hear me on the other end of the telephone. I like to talk with folks about their pictures. It's amazing how much more can be learned through a conversation rather than an email.  Obviously, I love having unlimited long-distance calling! <smile>

    • In order to really see the details in your pictures, I need them submitted in at least 300 dpi.  If you send them smaller, all I can see when I enlarge a detail is a blur of pixels.

    This isn't too bad, but if I were to enlarge it any further it wouldn't be usable.
    • Don't forget to send me a scan of the back of the photo if it has any information or a photographer's name and address.
    If you'd like to submit a picture but you don't have a scanner, it is possible to send a copy of an image via regular mail. You can make a copy using one of those retail photo kiosks.  The mailing instructions are in the link on the left.

    One more thing—my e-mail archive goes back several years, so keep checking your e-mail. If you change e-mail addresses or telephone numbers, please resend your image with the new contact information.  A lot of the e-mail inquires I respond to for additional data never get answered by the photo's submitter. 

    I love working on your photo mysteries!!  Keep the emails coming in.

    photo-research tips
    Monday, 01 February 2010 17:21:48 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 30 November 2009
    Finding the Story: Picture Clues and Family Facts
    Posted by Maureen

    There's nothing like a photo riddle when the picture and the facts don't add up. In my experience solving that particular problem relies on more than the pictorial evidence. You have to dive into family history in detail.

    Let's take Joan Lee's photo of a young couple and their child as an example. It's a symbol of a long complicated family story that has so many twists and turns it's like a maze. A good way to gain freedom from the intricacies of this tangled web is to sort out the facts and list a series of questions.

    Klingbeil Fred baby and wifeedit.jpg

    This photo was given to Joan by a descendant of her husband's great grandfather's brother. He's identified as Fred Klingbeil, his wife and their son. It came with a sad story: The little boy supposedly drowned in Three Mile Lake in Ontario. If this is true, Joan can't find the proof. There's no death record, no cemetery record and no headstone where the family lived in Ontario.

    But Joan has an even bigger problem. Does this photo even depict Fred Klingbeil? A timeline of his life compared to the photographic details conflict. He was a man on the move. (If anyone wants the exact citations for this article, please send me an email to Joan will be happy to supply them.)

    Here are the facts of his life:

    1882: Fred is born in Detroit, Mich., to Julius and Amelia Klingbeil, recent immigrants from Germany. According to family letters, Amelia was pregnant with Fred during their passage to America.

    1891: Fred appears on the Canadian census for Windermere, Ont.

    1902/03: A newspaper in Enderlin, ND, mentions that he's in town to build an addition onto his widowed mother's house.

    1910: According to the U.S. Federal Census, Fred lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota working as a wallpaper hanger.

    In October of 1910 he marries for the first time in Idaho. His bride, Marie Evans, states on the marriage record she's from Aberdeen, Wash.

    Here's where it gets tricky. For this to be a photo of Fred and Marie with a son, it would have to be taken after 1910. But this woman's dress, with the belted waist and tight-fitting bodice, dates from about 1900.

    Her hairstyle confirms the date. In my new book, Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles, I examine photos and discuss men's and women's hairstyles. The topknot on the crown of her head was common from the late 1890s to the turn of the century. By 1910, women wear their hair full around the face with a bun on the top. It's a different look from what's seen here. The father's upturned collar, suit style and silk tie are consistent with c. 1900 as well.

    So is it a different Fred, or does it depict a different family?

    You won't believe where this family history mystery goes! I'll be back next week with part 2. Stay tuned.

    1900-1910 photos | photo-research tips
    Monday, 30 November 2009 21:48:24 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 09 November 2009
    Photo Storytelling
    Posted by Maureen

    The holiday season is nearly upon us! It's a time of year I associate with food, family and friends, but it's also storytelling season. One of the traditions in my family is looking at old pictures—not just those taken a century ago, but those considered "old" by the kids in the family. You know ... their baby pictures! <smile>

    Memory is a funny thing. You can show an older relative the same picture year after year and get no new information. Then all of sudden someone else in the room starts talking about an event related to the image, and remembrances start pouring out of that older relative. It's all about finding the right memory trigger. 

    Help the process along by taking steps. This means collecting details on the images in your photo collection.
    • Start by trying to place images in a time frame based on the clues discussed in this column—photographers' work dates, family history and fashion for instance.

    • Next, organize your images into a timeline so they're grouped by generation. I guarantee this will work. If you're going to show Great Aunt Hazel an unidentified photo taken in the 1930s, it helps to have other images from the same time period. Each detail in the pictures will help her sort out the facts.

    • If you've discovered any additional information about the picture, now's the time to share it.
    Once the storytelling starts, it won't be limited to that one picture or even the group of images. You'll begin hearing about your great aunt's memories of that person, where they lived, how she knew them and what it was like to grow up during the Depression.

    If you've remembered to bring along a tape recorder, you'll be able to listen to it again. She might even share some long lost family secret!

    As for those youngsters who can't stop looking at their own childhood pictures, ask them to tell a story too.  What were they doing or feeling on the day a particular picture was taken?  What do they think about their clothing?  Can they help you write a caption for the images in the family album?  You bet! 

    Finding out the facts for each of your photos is fantastic, but it's the family storytelling that will last for generations. Photo storytelling is about using your photographs as visual treats to gaze while replaying the story of each one.

    Photo fun | photo-research tips
    Monday, 09 November 2009 17:35:27 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Tuesday, 25 August 2009
    Collecting Pictures of Your Ancestors
    Posted by Maureen

    Genealogists are famous for collecting relatives, but what about acquiring images of those folks? Is it really possible to find previously unknown photos of family members from the advent of photography in 1839? The answer is that it depends.

    Family circumstances, their comfort level with photography and the availability of photographers all determine if your ancestors sat for pictures in photo studios or not.

    By the time the amateur photographer era with Kodak’s “You Push the Button, We Do the Rest” slogan came along in the 1880s, many families were interested in having pictures taken. But it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that snapshots really took off. Years of traveling around the country looking at family photos has taught me that most families had access to a camera by the early 20th century. There was suddenly an explosion of images. I’ve seen the proof.

    This doesn’t mean that your family only took snapshots and didn’t sit for cabinet cards, tintypes, ambrotypes, or daguerreotypes. Frankly, the inheritance of images is a little sketchy. Sometimes images go to the oldest, sometimes the youngest and occasionally no one wants those unidentified images. At each junction of your family tree are opportunities for photo collections to be split amongst living relatives.

    So who got what in yuor family? To figure that out you need a plan. It’s a lot like a research plan for information, only this time you’re hunting for pictures.

    Mark Your Family Tree

    If you own images of various folks on your family tree, mark that information by highlighting or if you’re using family tree software attach those images to the person’s information. This helps you see where the gaps are.

    Contact Relatives

    This means locating all living relatives to see if they have any photographs. If you have a gap for a particular branch of the family, this could mean that either they didn’t take pictures or someone else inherited them. Read my article on tracing your family forward for tips on researching family lines from 1839 to the present.

    Post Your Search

    A colleague once used a message board to see if anyone had data on a branch of her family. The person who responded said they didn’t, BUT they had a photo album. Hurrah! My friend asked to copy all the images in it. She didn’t have the material she sought, but she did find a few dozen images all taken in the 1860s.

    Look Online

    I have bad research luck. My family just doesn’t want to be found. At least that’s what I’ve decided. Imagine my surprise when I decided to type a name into and click on a family tree. Turns out a very distant cousin created an Ancestry family tree and on it he’d posted images. They were pictures of my great-grandparents that even my mother had never seen. I did the genealogical happy dance that day!

    Online searching includes using image search engines like and reunion sites such as DeadFred.

    Library Bound

    Let's not forget the treasure troves of images held in local history collections in historical societies, archives and public libraries. Search their online digital collections first then contact the organization and find out how to hire someone to ferret out images in their collections.

    There are lots of opportunities to find pictures. Your family tree is a map and a compass combined. If you've been successful in your hunt for pictures send me an e-mail. I love to hear good news!

    photo-research tips
    Tuesday, 25 August 2009 21:42:04 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 17 August 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, 17 August 2009 19:38:42 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 13 April 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, 13 April 2009 15:44:50 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, 16 March 2009
    Irish Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

    Before I launch into a list of Web sites handy for finding pictures of your Irish ancestors, I need to thank genea-blogger Randy Seaver for naming last week's video of hairstyles to his best blog posts of the week. Thank you, Randy! 

    Now on to sites with images of the Emerald Isle and its people.

    National Library of Ireland
    These digital collections are searchable by keyword. Select images are available in digital form for browsing. Unfortunately, only a small portion of their collection is available online, the majority must be used in person. Need an excuse to go to Ireland?

    Old UK Photos
    According to the home page, "this Web site was launched in July of 2006, with the idea of preserving old pictures in perpetuity and displaying as many old photographs as we can of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands." You can look for free, but none of the images is available for purchase or use.

    Francis Frith
    Search the Web site of this photographic publisher for images of England, Eire, Norhern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It contains an interactive feature that allows you to add your own story. If you see an image or collection of images that you'd liek to save, create an online album.

    Don't forget to check collections in the countries in which your Irish ancestors settled. For instance, the Library of Congress collection has pictures of Irish immigrants.

    photo-research tips
    Monday, 16 March 2009 15:11:39 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 05 January 2009
    Join in the Dialogue: Organizing Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    There were several comments to my last week's posting on scanning and organizing pictures.

    Miriam Robbin Midkiff, who writes a blog called AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestors, also hosts Scanfest, a monthly online scanning session held the last Sunday of every month. She's invited all of you and your friends to attend. Miriam can send you instructions on how to join in on the chat session to keep life interesting while placing photos on a scanner. Learn more about Scanfest on her blog. Mark your calendar for the next Scanfest, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. PCT on Jan. 25. If I can get my Windows Live Messenger to work, I'll be there.

    A reader pointed out that you can digitally tag pictures using the free program called Fototagger. I'm a huge fan. Try it and see why.

    Another person inquired about using adhesive labels on the backs of photos. I don't advocate using any adhesives on pictures. As a former archivist, I've seen the long-term damage.

    Instead, I'd suggest placing the photo in a non-PVC sleeve of a similar size and including a same-size sheet of acid- and lignin-free cardstock. You can put the label on that paper, rather than the back of the picture. I've purchased non-PVC sleeves from a number of vendors (run a Google search on archival supplies).

    Thank you, Linda! She wrote a long comment about ways to use the free photo-organizing software Picasa, and how she "files" her pictures on her computer. It's full of great tips.

    As always Kathryn, thank you for being a fan. Of course you can post a link to last week's photo-organizing post in the California Genealogical Society's e-newsletter. Can you include a link in the comment section of this posting to share the other tips in the newsletter?

    I actually took two weeks off this holiday season! Of course I did some photo- related activities. For readers who live in the Washington, DC, area, check out the exhibit of photographic jewelry at the National Portrait Gallery. It's called Tokens of Affection and Regard: Photographic Jewelry and Its Makers, and it's fantastic. There's also an exhibit on photographs of Abraham Lincoln and online exhibition links on the Web site.

    photo-research tips | preserving photos
    Monday, 05 January 2009 18:06:42 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Tuesday, 23 December 2008
    Happy Holidays! Tips to Remember
    Posted by Maureen

    I've been writing this column for so long I've lost count of the years.  Every one of them has been wonderful. I've had a chance to work with so many  interesting photos and to chat with their owners. (Yes, I really do use those phone numbers you supply with your contact information.) I really like the blog format because it enables you to respond to the columns I've written. Thank you for all your support! 

    My next two columns are shorter than usual due to the holidays. It's definitely a hectic time of the year. I don't know about the traditions in your family, but in mine, no holiday is complete without dragging out albums and boxes of photos. It gives us a chance to reminisce about those no longer with us. 

    This is also a great time to think about those mystery photos and take another look at the details.

    During the years of writing this column I've compiled a list of the top four details often overlooked by individuals when trying to date and identify family photos. It's easy to do when carried away with the bigger puzzle of who's in a picture.

    Is there a calendar in the background?

    The one in this photo establishes a date of May, 1904. Even without the calendar, the map of the United States behind them makes an interesting clue.

    If there's a US flag in a photo, start dating the picture by counting the stars in the flag. The addition of states during the late 19th and early 20th century meant that flags were frequently changed. Of course, you'll have to add up the rest of the clues in the picture to see if it's a flag current to the details in the image.

    Use your genealogical know-how to use city directories and other tools to research the businesses mention in a sign in a picture.  It could pinpoint a location as well as supply a time frame.

    Tax Stamps
    From Aug. 1, 1864, to Aug. 1, 1866, the United States taxed photographs. If you own a carte de visite with a stamp on the back, you'll have a two-year time frame for the image. The value of the stamp is a clue to how much your ancestor paid to have the image made. Photographers were supposed to put their initials and a date on the stamp, but that didn't always happen.

    There are lots of other details that appear in pictures from postage stamps to even dress collars (I'll save that tip for later) and cars. Next time you look at a family photo make a list of all the evidence in a picture and then try to solve the identification problem. 

    Happy holidays!

    photo-research tips
    Tuesday, 23 December 2008 14:04:16 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 01 December 2008
    Photo Clones: Duplicates in the Family
    Posted by Maureen

    Hunter sisters-six of themEMAIL SIZE-circa after 1892.jpg

    This photo's owner Diane Gould Hall knows these six women are the Hunter Sisters. In the back row (left to right) are Grace Hunter (1874-1946), Daisy Hunter (1876-1948), and Ada Emily Hunter (1865-1949). In the front row are Estelle M. Hunter (1867-1947), Florence Hunter (1869-1946), and Myra Hunter (1859-1938). Florence is Diane's great-grandmother.

    Diane knows this was taken after 1892 because another sister died that year, and she's not present. The sisters' beautiful, diaphanous blouses appear in fashion catalogs for the period 1910 to about 1915. If this picture was taken about 1915, the sisters would range in age from 39 to 56.

    In the course of our email correspondence, Diane mentioned two  interesting facts:
    • Grace Hunter's husband Charles Fenner and his brothers owned a photo studio in Lima, Ohio. That's where this picture was taken.

    • When she posted this image on her family tree, a cousin contacted her. Turns out, that cousin owned a picture from this same studio sitting. Diane was amazed. In the second image, the sisters are seated in a different order!
    How often have you considered that a photo in your collection might not be the only copy? Our ancestors went to the photo studio to acquire a picture, but "package deals" offered the opportunity to obtain multiple copies of the same image. Duplicates made it easy to share pictures to relatives. 

    Since professional photographers usually took several different poses to make sure all parties were happy with the final image, the extra prints might be slightly different.

    Diane's discovery is proof that you should ask to see the photo collections in the hands of distant cousins. Who knows what you'll uncover!  You could solve that photo identification mystery or find new pictures.

    The latter happened to me recently. A distant cousin posted online pictures of my great-great grandparents. My mother and I had no idea that these images even existed.

    1910s photos | group photos | photo-research tips | women
    Monday, 01 December 2008 15:14:24 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 24 November 2008
    Don't Do Thanksgiving Without These Essentials
    Posted by Maureen

    Before you think I'm going to divulge my secret pie recipe <smile>, I should clarify that the treats in the title are genealogy-related, not culinary. 

    When you think about what you're bringing to the Thanksgiving food fest, do you include your family history materials?  I know that at my table, there will be a turkey with all the trimmings, but that along with feast there will be a dose of genealogy talk. 

    Here are some ways to introduce photo identification and family history into the conversation.
    • Bring photocopies of your unidentified pictures. Leave the originals at home so the copies suffer any gravy stains. Make an extra set of copies—one for notes and the other for showing off.
    • Put them in an album or just pass them around and see if anyone recognizes the scene or the people.
    • I recently bought a small digital voice recorder. It was an inexpensive purchase.  If you have one, tape the conversation so you don't have to take detailed notes while everyone is talking. 
    • If you're going to take pictures on Turkey Day, make sure your camera is in working order beforehand. Have you recharged the batteries? If you still use film, remember to bring along an extra roll. 
    • Invite your family to participate in a social networking site, such as FaceBook, and create your own group for the gang. My husband's family has done it.  It's a great way to share pictures and keep track of everyone until the next gathering. 
    If you sign up, I'd be happy to add you to my list of Facebook Friends. There's an enormous number of genealogists of all ages on FaceBook. Try it and see! 
    As for that secret pie recipe... I'll share it with family. My husband's grandmother took her chutney recipe to the grave and we really miss it. If you've inherited a family recipe, ask around the table and see if anyone wants to create a cookbook. It's not that difficult and with self-publishing sites like Lulu, it doesn't cost much, either.

    Happy Thanksgiving! If you've got a picture of your ancestors gathered around the Thanksgiving table, send it to me.  I'll post it in this blog.

    Thank you for all the hairstyle pictures! Now I have to figure out how to incorporate them all into this space—it's a good problem to have. 

    photo-research tips
    Monday, 24 November 2008 16:35:36 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Friday, 01 August 2008
    Medical Conditions and Family History
    Posted by Maureen

    Two weeks ago I put out a call for photos showing medical conditions. There are three images and one blog link in this post so be sure to read all the way to the end.

    The inspiration for that request was a photo that Elizabeth Vollrath emailed me in May.
    080108vollrath.jpg   080108vollrath2.jpg
    It's a lovely 1880s photograph showing an unusual feature in her right ear.  While not a medical condition, it made me think about details in photos. 

    Vollrath's dad inherited the split in the earlobe, showing a relationship to this unknown woman. I wondered whether she was his grandmother. I was close. A cousin later positively identified this woman as Ida Sophia Hass (b. 1866). Ida's sister Pauline Hass was Vollrath's great-great-grandmother, and her dad's great grandmother.

    Diedra March sent me this photo of her great-grandfather's family.
    Norberg oval photo copied to cd.jpg   080108MarchNorberg2 .jpg
    She thinks her dad has inherited macular degeneration from this man, his mother's father. Anders Norberg appears to have something wrong with his eyes. According to March, Macular Degeneration causes blindness in your center vision, and people with the condition often look out of the corners of their eyes.

    Rachel McPherson shared a photo of a school group that shows her grandmother in a leg brace (front row, fourth from right) due to polio.

    Patricia School Picture.jpg  schoolpolio.jpg

    She was born in 1933, before a vaccine was available.

    Bloggers like to share through their online postings. The Footnote Maven posted a medically related photo on her blog, Shades of the Departed, on "Health Issues and Women Wearing Glasses." 

    Thank you to everyone who sent images in response to my request! 

    1880s photos | group photos | men | photo-research tips | women
    Friday, 01 August 2008 16:23:52 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, 02 June 2008
    Unknown Soldiers
    Posted by Maureen

    I owe a big thank-you to readers who sent pictures of the military men in their family. My in box has quite of few images of men in mystery uniforms, so I thought focusing on military pictures for another week was warranted.

    editUnknow soldiers WW1.jpg

    Pay attention to the details such as these in a uniform, to help identify when it was worn.

    • During the Civil War, belt buckles often bore state abbreviations or CSA for the Confederate States of America. 
    • Hats are key. The shape and design of the hat can specify a time frame while insignia can help you identify the unit in which the soldier served.
    • Cloth chevrons on the sleeves and shoulders of a uniform and insignia on the collar or headgear signified rank.
    • Not all uniforms are military in origin. Fraternal groups costumes and occupational  attire is often confused with military uniforms.

    Unfortunately, there's no single source that shows all the uniforms worn by soldiers or sailors. In the 19th century, there was quite a diversity of uniforms, with each unit having its own. Colorful attire such as the Turkish pants worn by the Zouaves were just one recognizable variation.

    If you don't know who's depicted in photograph of a soldier or a sailor, try finding evidence of military service in documents—pension records, enlistment papers and other genealogical materials. 

    Keep in mind that not all the military photos in your photo collection depict relatives—they could be friends of the family. One of the emails I received was from Connie L. Huntling. Her grandmother worked at a Veterans Administration hospital in Plattsburg, NY, during World War I.  In her papers were many photographs of men who were patients at the hospital. Connie sent me the two in this post two with the hope that someone will recognize these men.

    Please take a look at and click Comment below to tell me if you have any ideas about who the men might be. I'm going to ask Huntling to post the pictures to the photo-reunion site DeadFred as well.

    men | Military photos | photo-research tips
    Monday, 02 June 2008 20:14:07 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, 26 May 2008
    Military Memories
    Posted by Maureen

    In honor of Memorial Day, I'll mention two items appropriate for the occasion. First, if you enjoyed the books Dating Old Photographs and More Dating Old Photographs (Moorshead Magazines), then you're going to love the new one in the series. Dating Military Photographs will let you compare all your mysterious military images to those other people have submitted.

    If you'd like to contribute a few pictures, you can read more about the project on the Family Chronicle Web site. The editors are looking for images of miltary personnel from the Mexican War up to and including World War I. The editors have asked for a little information about each picture, such as when the person served.

    Speaking of World War I, attendees at the National Genealogical Society conference in Kansas City were treated to one of the country's best museums (that's my opinion anyway). Who knew the city housed a museum dedicated to World War I? I didn't. A colleague suggested it was well worth a visit. She was right! The National World War One Museum was a visual experience:
    • Visitors watch two movies about the time period that include actual footage from the era.
    • A recreated trench lets you experience how scary it must have been to fight from those mud-walled pits.
    • There are tanks and uniforms galore as well as a poppy field of honor for those who died during the war.
    The uniform displays alone taught me a few things about military attire during that world war. If you get a chance to visit Kansas City, make sure you include a visit to this museum.

    If you have an image of an ancestor in a World War I uniform, send it to me.  I'll feature it next week.

    Military photos | photo-research tips
    Monday, 26 May 2008 14:50:34 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 06 January 2008
    New Zealand Mystery Revisited
    Posted by Maureen

    While I planned to write a second installment for the photo featured in last week's blog posting, I'll postpone it a week due to an email I received. It was a call for help.

    In October 2000 (that's seven and a half years ago), I wrote about this haunting photograph of a woman in mourning in New Zealand Mystery.

    Now someone e-mailed me trying to contact Dafanie Goldsmith, the owner of the picture.

    Since I've had several computer crashes since 2000, I no longer have Goldsmith's contact information. The person who e-mailed me has genealogical data on one of Goldsmith's lines and would really like to find her.

    In an attempt to resolve this "missing person" issue, I googled Goldsmith and discovered she's a high profile genealogist.
    • Family Tree Magazine once even named her Web site a site of week.
    • A newspaper in Lancashire wrote a story about Goldsmith's search for her family in 1999.
    • She also exists in countless message board postings. I found them by Googling her name. (If you ever wondered whether you're leaving a Web trail behind, try searching on your name in a search engine.) 
    Using the clues, I've sent Goldsmith e-mails using addresses used in her postings and even joined a New Zealand social networking site to send her a private message. No results. As a last resort, I'm hoping she still reads this column.

    Dafanie, if you're out there please send me an email.  The other researcher might just be able to solve one of your brick walls.

    photo-research tips | women
    Sunday, 06 January 2008 15:23:32 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 22 October 2007
    Old-Photo Reunions
    Posted by Maureen

    I have a friend who has phenomenal family history luck. Around each genealogical corner is another discovery. She goes to libraries and finds new family in almost every book she picks up, posts online queries and actually gets an answer.  A couple of years ago she used a popular message board to try to find out more about a couple that moved west. What do you think happened?  You're right. She met a distant cousin who not only knew all about the married pair, she had a photo album full of pictures from the 1870s. In one fell swoop she reconnected with a whole generation of folks. Sheesh!

    If you envy her picture success and want to locate pictures of your ancestors then try these tips:

    • Check out a reunion site.  
      • is the most popular with more than 5,000 people looking for images each week. If you find family then email Joe and his staff. They'll try to facilitate a reunion by putting you in touch with the person who posted. If it's a picture that the staff at DeadFred bought and posted and you can prove your relationship, the picture is yours.
      • is probably the second runner up in the reunion category. I don't have stats for the site, but take a look. It's well worth a visit.
    • Post to a message board
      • When you post looking for information add that you'd love to see pictures of these ancestors as well. There are hundreds of genealogy message boards so rather than list them here go to for Queries and Message Boards.
    • Search digital libraries
      • The Library of Congress is just one of many libraries across the country and overseas with digital image collections. A list of sites appeared in the October 2003 issue of Family Tree Magazine in the article "Picturing the Past" by David Fryxell. That'll get you started, but in the four years since the article appeared even smaller historical societies and libraries have begun adding pictures to their web sites.
    Hope these tips enable you to find new images of relatives.  Share your successful photo reunions on the Photo Detective Forum. I can't wait to hear about what you've found!

    photo-research tips | Web sites
    Monday, 22 October 2007 14:50:07 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Friday, 12 October 2007
    Photo Detective in the News
    Posted by Diane

    Vintage photo fans, be sure to check out Maureen's appearance in today's Wall Street Journal Weekend Journal section. See part of the article and examples of her work online.

    Also, on the Genealogy Insider blog, we link to some of Maureen's photo-sleuthing advice for Family Tree Magazine readers.

    photo-research tips
    Friday, 12 October 2007 18:38:37 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 24 September 2007
    What a Photo Can Tell You About Your Ancestor
    Posted by Maureen

    This week I started making a list of all the things you can tell about a person from their portrait. I'd like you to add to my list my using the comment section. If you have an example to illustrate your point upload it to the Photo Detective Forum.

    Here's what I have so far:

    1) Occupation
    If your ancestor wore distinctive clothing or posed in the workplace then you might be able to tell how they made their living.

    2) Medical Conditions
    Gnarled arthritic hands, thyroid conditions, eye diseases and more are all visible in a family photo.

    3) Military Service
    Anyone posed in a military uniform is obvious, but check lapels for veteran's pins.

    4) Weddings
    Watch for white hats and veils that signify a matrimonial event, but remember that not all brides wore white and not all white dresses are wedding gowns.

    5) Education
    Did your ancestor chose to pose with a book? Perhaps it's not just a prop, but a symbol of their ability to read.

    6) Religion
    A Bible or other religious symbol in a photo indicates your ancestor's faith.

    Don't forget to add your clues. Got a question? Post it to the Photo Detective Forum.

    photo-research tips
    Monday, 24 September 2007 00:10:22 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]