Free Updates

Let us tell you when new posts are added!

Email:

Navigation

Categories
December, 2014 (4)
November, 2014 (5)
October, 2014 (4)
September, 2014 (5)
August, 2014 (4)
July, 2014 (4)
June, 2014 (5)
May, 2014 (4)
April, 2014 (4)
March, 2014 (5)
February, 2014 (4)
January, 2014 (4)
December, 2013 (5)
November, 2013 (4)
October, 2013 (4)
September, 2013 (5)
August, 2013 (4)
July, 2013 (4)
June, 2013 (5)
May, 2013 (4)
April, 2013 (5)
March, 2013 (4)
February, 2013 (4)
January, 2013 (4)
December, 2012 (5)
November, 2012 (4)
October, 2012 (5)
September, 2012 (4)
August, 2012 (5)
July, 2012 (5)
June, 2012 (4)
May, 2012 (4)
April, 2012 (5)
March, 2012 (4)
February, 2012 (4)
January, 2012 (5)
December, 2011 (5)
November, 2011 (4)
October, 2011 (5)
September, 2011 (4)
August, 2011 (5)
July, 2011 (5)
June, 2011 (6)
May, 2011 (7)
April, 2011 (4)
March, 2011 (5)
February, 2011 (3)
January, 2011 (5)
December, 2010 (4)
November, 2010 (5)
October, 2010 (4)
September, 2010 (4)
August, 2010 (5)
July, 2010 (4)
June, 2010 (5)
May, 2010 (4)
April, 2010 (4)
March, 2010 (5)
February, 2010 (4)
January, 2010 (4)
December, 2009 (3)
November, 2009 (5)
October, 2009 (4)
September, 2009 (4)
August, 2009 (5)
July, 2009 (4)
June, 2009 (5)
May, 2009 (4)
April, 2009 (5)
March, 2009 (6)
February, 2009 (5)
January, 2009 (5)
December, 2008 (4)
November, 2008 (4)
October, 2008 (6)
September, 2008 (5)
August, 2008 (5)
July, 2008 (4)
June, 2008 (6)
May, 2008 (5)
April, 2008 (5)
March, 2008 (4)
February, 2008 (4)
January, 2008 (5)
December, 2007 (4)
November, 2007 (4)
October, 2007 (6)
September, 2007 (4)
August, 2007 (4)
July, 2007 (5)
June, 2007 (4)
May, 2007 (3)
April, 2007 (2)
March, 2007 (1)

Search

Archives

<December 2014>
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
30123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031123
45678910

by Maureen A. Taylor

More Links










# Monday, March 17, 2014
Cars in Family Photos
Posted by Maureen

In 20th century family photos, it's pretty common to see folks posed with their automobiles. It's a variation on the late 19th century scene with the family posed with their horse.  

Not everyone owned a car. Photo studios jumped on this as a marketing opportunity. Individuals could go to have their picture taken and pose in a fake car (or even on a plane).

wiseman.jpg

Elizabeth Wiseman thinks her grandfather is behind the steering wheel in this studio shot of four men in a fake automobile.  Before I weigh in on who's in the car, I'm going to ask her for a higher resolution photo.

The first thing you notice when you look at this photo is that the steering wheel in on the right side.  In the early years of American automobile manufacturing, it's not unusual to see the wheel on the right.  It was pretty typical for early horseless carriages.  There was a rare car known as a Hamilton constructed in 1909 that also featured a right-hand steering wheel. Only 25 were made.

There were so many car manufacturers in this country that there's no comprehensive guide. Just like fashion, the date is in the details. Start by looking at the length of the chassis, the style of the wheels and headlamps as well as the style of the windshield (if there is one).

These four men posed for a photo seated in a studio prop that resembled a touring car.  I love the small side door with a handle!

wiseman2.jpg


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 | automobiles | props in photos | Vehicles in photos
    Monday, March 17, 2014 1:54:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, April 29, 2013
    Further Clues in the Connecticut Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I introduced a photo mystery from the Derby (CT) Public Library with links to archaeological excavations. The big question is: "Who's in this photo?"

    Let's look at some of the evidence in the picture.
    • The shed is of unknown use. A higher-resolution image might reveal what's inside the door. There appears to be items piled up. I'll wait for a clearer image to share that with you.
    • An elderly woman stands in the front yard. The front door is to her left.

      Freemanclose-upt.jpg
    • Nancy Freeman lived in the house from the time of her marriage until her death in 1895. She has a cane in her right hand and a hat in her left. She wears an apron over her dress.
    freemanhouseedit.jpg
    • A ladder against the house suggests that she's having shingles replaced. The workman left his coat and hat draped over a pole. 
    FreemanHousephotographer(2).jpg
    • Do you see the shadow on the grass?  This is the photographer. I'm working on verifying a caption on a copy of this picture. It contains the name of the photographer.

    The Freeman house is built on a hill. Behind the house the land drops off. Archaeologists found some of the foundation for the shed, but not enough to be able to determine its function or size. They found poultry wire on the site, which confirms stories about Nancy raising turkeys to support herself.

    I'll keep digging for new data.  


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

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

  • african american | props in photos | women
    Monday, April 29, 2013 10:05:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, December 31, 2012
    Twelve Months of the Photo Detective
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time to look back at the year. Every week I write a Photo Detective blog post—that's 52 columns in 12 months. It's a lot of free photographic advice and tips. Here are my month-by-month 2012 favorites.

    January
    Last New Year's I offered advice on sharing images online, tackled a photo mystery about the identity of the mother in a picture, and discussed a Scottish picture.

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

    March
    Hat's off to spring! Last March I featured toppers for men, graduation caps, and talked about the relationships between hairstyles and hat design. If you want to learn more about hats or hair, my books, Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900 and Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900, will help.

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

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

    June
    You can view the entries in the Family Tree Magazine photo contest, study a photo of ancestral blue jeans or be awed by the images of wheat threshing.

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

    August
    I revealed the winner of the Family Tree Magazine Photo Contest. That photo mystery now appears in my new book, The Family Photo Detective. It's now available in the ShopFamilyTree.com store.

    Have you considered the relationship between photography and genealogy? I took a look at the types of records that help solve a picture mystery.

    September
    This month was all about preservation. A badly damaged image encouraged me to talk about ways to save family pictures. There is more information on storage and labeling images in Preserving Your Family Photographs.

    October
    A picture of a giant mechanical grasshopper appeared in my Photo Detective column in Family Tree Magazine, and some readers stepped forward to tell the story of their ancestors' fascination with creating these creatures.

    I shared the story of a woman who found a family picture after three decades and explained how old-time photographers could alter pictures long before the development of Photoshop.

    November
    Have you ever posed for a multi-generation photo? It's not a new phenomena. Our ancestors did, too. Mary Lutz sent me several images of her family. It turned into a series on identifying who's who in a group picture.

    December
    I love snapshots! They are spontaneous and often capture bits of everyday life. Follow this series on a picture of a man standing in his backyard.

    Thank you for reading this column and for submitting your family photos. If you'd like to participate, there is a link, "How to Submit Your Photo," in the left-hand margin. I can't wait to see your pictures!

    Happy New Year!


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

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

  • 1860s photos | 1870s photos | 1880s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | 1920s photos | candid photos | cased images | children | Civil War | group photos | hairstyles | hats | holiday | house/building photos | photo backgrounds | preserving photos | props in photos | ShopFamilyTree.com
    Monday, December 31, 2012 4:07:01 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, December 24, 2012
    Christmas Trees and Family History
    Posted by Maureen

    Every year I photograph our Christmas Tree. I know I'm not alone. So why do I do it?  It captures a piece of my family history.  A Christmas Tree is a holiday symbol but it's also a family history treasure. 

    Each one of the ornaments on my tree has a memory attached to it. From the yarn ornaments I made for my first tree to the ones passed down from my mother to me. I haven't recorded the history of those ornaments yet, but I should. About a week ago, the New York Times featured a story about a woman who'd collected three thousand ornaments.  They represent her life story.

    In 1900 the Wright brothers--Orville and Wilbur--photographed their family tree.

    wrighttree1900edit.jpg

    This image lets us peek into a turn of the century holiday. The neatly wrapped presents under the tree and a little girls doll in a stroller.
    wrighttreegifts.jpg

    The ornaments are a mix of hand-made and store bought.  There is no artificial trim visible, instead someone patiently strung popcorn to decorate the boughs.
    wrighttreeornament.jpg


    As you pack away the ornaments, think about including a note on acid and lignin free paper that tells the history of that item.

    These interior photos also show us how our ancestors lived. The Wright brothers liked bold wallpaper on their walls but also their ceiling.  In the center of the ceiling is a lovely gas chandelier. It's a pretty typical Victorian scene from the decorations on the tree to the style of rug on the floor.

    Before you take down the tree, snap a picture of it so that later generations can see what the holiday was like for your family in 2012.

    Happy Holidays!


    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

  • 1900-1910 photos | preserving photos | props in photos
    Monday, December 24, 2012 2:02:21 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, December 09, 2012
    Backyard Snapshots
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

    frankqdonnellyedit.jpg

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

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

    donnellydog.jpg

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

    donnellyard.jpg

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

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



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

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

  • men | occupational | photo backgrounds | props in photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, December 09, 2012 7:32:33 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, October 08, 2012
    Giant Grasshopper Mystery Photo—Solved!
    Posted by Maureen

    My Photo Detective magazine column appears in Family Tree Magazine. The October/November 2012 column is titled "Hoppin Fun" because the photo features a giant grasshopper sculpture. 

    grasshopperedit.jpg

    Larae Schraeder showed me the photo at the 2012 National Genealogical Society Conference in Cincinnati. The photo was in her collection of family pictures, and she thought the men might be relatives. In the magazine, I added up the clues but couldn't make the family connection for her.

    Well, it turns out the men aren't relatives. The real story is a fascinating tale of one man's hobby. 

    Thomas Talcott Hersey of Mitchell, SD, made this grasshopper. He's holding it down in the photo. Assisting him are his nephew Harry (Bart) Hersey and David John Hersey.

    Several of his descendants emailed me this weekend to tell me about this hopper and the other bugs that Hersey crafted. His inspiration came from a grasshopper swarm that killed his crops during the Dust Bowl era, and he called the metal creation Galloping Gertie.

    When he displayed his invention at Corn Palace Week in Mitchell and charged a nickel to view it, he earned enough to support his family for a winter.  Hersey ended up with a commission from a man who hired him to make a housefly, a flea, a black widow spider and a monarch butterfly to show at county fairs.

    Hersey's hobby of fashioning giant bugs out of wood, paper, cellophane, wire, string and oil cloth made him famous. In 1943, Hersey was a guest on Dave Elman's "Hobby Lobby" radio show on CBS. He spoke at length about how he made the insects; the grasshopper shown here even had a device to make its feelers move. Life Magazine and Popular Mechanics featured articles on his work.

    Hersey's relatives sent me several other pictures of his bugs and his relatives posing with them. They emailed me a postcard view of the scene above that had a printed caption: "Capturing Whopper Hopper near Mitchell, S.D. The largest grasshopper in existence 54 inches weighs 73 pounds."  It was taken and marketed by the Hersey Photo Service:
     


    Mystery solved! 

    Not all of the photos in a family collection depict relatives. Family members may have collected pictures of friends, neighbors and famous folks. In this case, we don't know if Larae's family actually saw Gertie or if they just bought the image for fun.


    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

  • 1940s photos | men | props in photos | unusual photos
    Monday, October 08, 2012 5:47:08 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, August 13, 2012
    Props in Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Don't you just love it when family history artifacts pop up in family photos? This is exactly what happened for genealogist Dorothy Jackson Reed.

    In 2007, she became the owner of a Book of Worship with the name Mary K. Fricke embossed in gold on the cover. According to the title page, this book was published by the Lutheran Publication Society in Philadelphia. It has a copyright of 1870, but a section of the book was revised in 1888.

    Mary K Fricke (Katherine Marie) edit.jpg

    Four years later, Dorothy's sister Miriam gave her a photograph of Mary K. Fricke taken by the London Studios in Baltimore. In the picture, Mary appears to be holding the Book of Worship.

    Mary K Fricke (Katherine Marie)bible2.jpg

    Mary was born in 1878 and lived until 1953. Fashion clues date this image to the mid-1890s:
    • The style of the wicker chair. Most photo studios featured wicker furniture at the end of the century.
    • Her large puffy dress sleeves. In the 1890s, women's sleeves are quite distinctive. 
    • The color of the cardstock. White was a popular color in that decade.

    If this picture was taken circa 1895, Mary would've been 17. She's dressed like a girl with long braids and a skirt above the ankles.

    Could this be a confirmation photo? It's quite possible since personalized Bibles were usually given to commemorate religious events. 



    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

  • 1890s photos | props in photos
    Monday, August 13, 2012 3:57:45 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, June 11, 2012
    Jean-ealogy: Ancestors in Blue Jeans
    Posted by Diane

    When I was working on my book Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album, I spent a lot of time looking for all sorts of clothing examples.

    As one of the photo shows, I found this picture of a man wearing what looks like blue jeans. Today jeans are an American export, possibly our most popular clothing style overseas.


    The ancestor of the jeans we wear today dates back to 1873. Levi Strauss, an 1840s German immigrant, immigrant is responsible for our blue jean obsession. He sold canvas pants reinforced with copper rivets, which were strong enough to withstand the rigors of mining. You can learn more about the history of these pants online.

    During the Civil War, there was a cotton twill called jean cloth. The man in this late-1860s image wears an overcoat and trousers that look like they are the predecessors of the canvas jeans. 

    In his right hand, the man holds what I think is a divining rod for looking for water.

    Got a picture of an ancestral family member in blue jeans? I'll feature it here in a timeline of the pants in family photos. Email me your picture with a brief description.


    1860s photos | Civil War | hats | men | occupational | props in photos | unusual clothing
    Monday, June 11, 2012 6:23:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, April 02, 2012
    Census Taking in Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

    My fingers are itching to start searching through the 1940 census. I've read that the National Archives website crashed due to the number of folks online doing the same thing.  I'll wait a bit and try again. 

    In the meantime, take a peek at some census-related images.

    censusposter.jpg

    This image from the Library of Congress is a poster advertising that it was a patriotic duty to provide information for the census.

    census2.jpg

    In another photo from the Library of Congress, two women operate a new census machine.  The "unit tabulator" on the left is being operated by Ann Oliver. On the right is Virginia Balinger, Assistant Supervisor of the Inquiry section. (Love those shoes!)

    According to the caption, in 1870 it took seven years to compile statistics from the census, but this machine invented by Herman Hollerith fed census cards at the rate of 400 per minute. This machine was going to compile those stats in 2-1/2 years.  Each written bit of information was translated into codes that were punched on cards then fed into this machine.

    Enjoy your searching!


    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

  • 1880s photos | 1940s photos | occupational | props in photos
    Monday, April 02, 2012 7:16:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Wednesday, February 29, 2012
    British vs. American: Readers Weigh In
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I posted two photos. One was an American and the other a British one.  

    meninhat2.jpg
    Photo 1


    maninhat.jpg
    Photo 2

    I asked all of you to vote on which one was which. There is no stumping this audience. The majority voted for photo 1 being the American man and photo 2 being the English gent. You're right!

    I looked at hundreds of photos in London last week. All this picture analysis confirmed by belief that while women's clothing in America vs. Britain are very similar, the same is not necessarily true for men's clothing.  In England you're more likely to see men wearing specific work clothes. 

    In photo 2, several folks mentioned the walking stick (also adapted by upper-class Americans), the cut of his pants and the fabric of his suit.  Looks like a tweed to me too. The background is also key. You're unlikely to see a backdrop like this in an American photo.

    The American in photo 1 wears untidy clothes, stands on an oilcloth floor covering and stands in front of a plain wall, with drapery and a post. Notice the wooden photo prop at his feet. This would be clasped around him to hold the man still.

    Great job!! Thank you for adding your comments. March is all about hats. See you next week.


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

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

  • 1870s photos | hats | men | photo backgrounds | props in photos
    Wednesday, February 29, 2012 1:34:31 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [5]
    # Tuesday, June 14, 2011
    Contest Winner Revisited
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I wrote about Juliann Hansen's photo of men dressed like Native Americans. It's definitely a mystery. No real breakthroughs this week.

    Genealogy Insider Diane Haddad found another collection of Cincinnati Butcher Supply Company material at the University of California at Davis. A small group of material was donated by the Schmidt family in 2001. Alas...the photos in the collection date from the 1920s to 1950s, too late to be related to the men in the original image.
     
    contest winneredit.jpg

    Juliann's cousin Peggy is also curious about this photo. She owns a copy of an 1890 portrait of the men who worked at the Cincinnati Butcher Supply.

    cbs01 002.jpg

    I studied the two photos and didn't see any faces that jumped out at me as being the same men. A Nov. 17, 1939, article in the Cincinnati Times contained this image with a caption identifying a few of the men. The problem is, the caption was wrong. The middle boy is definitely Oscar Schmidt, Juliann's grandfather.

    So right now there are no answers. I'm back to considering fraternal organizations. The degree of undress in the first image suggests that women weren't present. Too scandalous for their delicate temperaments <smile>.



    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 | men | organizations | props in photos
    Tuesday, June 14, 2011 8:46:37 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, May 16, 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 AskMaureenTaylor.com


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

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

  • photo-research tips | preserving photos | props in photos
    Monday, May 16, 2011 3:05:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, August 23, 2010
    Studio Backdrops
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

    FGS002.jpg

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

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

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


    1910s photos | photo backgrounds | props in photos | unusual photos | Vehicles in photos | women
    Monday, August 23, 2010 5:17:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, January 11, 2010
    Photo Identification in the News
    Posted by Maureen

    Readers of this column will be as fascinated as I was with these two articles on photo identification.

    In the January 2010 issue of Smithsonian Magazine is the story of an unidentified daguerreotype owned by Jack and Beverly Wilgus. In it a handsome young man stands facing the camera holding a long metal rod. One of his eyes is closed shut.  The collectors thought he held a harpoon until they posted their image on the social networking image site Flickr. It wasn't long before they heard from someone who said it wasn't a harpoon and was possibly Phineas Gage. Gage's life could have been featured on a reality TV trauma show.  In 1848, when 25, Gage's life changed. An accident on the job sent a 43 inch tamping iron through his skull. He lived to talk about it and was conscious when the doctor arrived on the scene. You can read about Gage's life and the story of this daguerreotype online.  In the photo he's holding the rod that's engraved as a souvenir of the event.

    Spring training is weeks away but for readers that are baseball fans, you'll get a jump start on the fun. A colleague sent me his 2004 issue of The Baseball Research Journal because it featured an article on identifying baseball images. I'm no sports fan, but I loved author George Michael's descriptions of how he sees the clues in photos of players sliding into base.  You can order copies of the Journal through the Society of American Baseball Research. 

    Both of these articles will end up in my files. 

    1840s photos | men | props in photos | unusual clothing
    Monday, January 11, 2010 3:41:29 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, September 07, 2009
    An Album of Funny Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I asked readers to submit funny pictures. Thank you to everyone who sent images. I've been laughing all week. So here they are...fun images that leave you wondering, "What were they thinking?"

    EdminsterWill Samels Robt Shane and others.jpg
    Sue Edminster sent in this photo (above) of men with numbers on the soles of their shoes. Why?  Who knows!  The men are, bottom to top, Will Samels, Bob Shane (Edminster's grandfather) and Will Young. The photo was taken circa 1890.

    mcclenahan2kirk brothers.jpg

    Here's a card-playing group courtesy of Merna McClenathen. With her grandfather, Milton "Tom" Kirk (2nd from right), are his brothers, William McCready "Crede" Kirk (3rd from right) and Alfred "Alf" Kirk (far right). The man holding all the cards on the far left is unknown. McClenathen thinks this photo was taken circa 1890 in the Black Hills of South Dakota near Lead, SD,when the Kirk brothers were working as carpenters at the Homestake Mine.

    McClenathenGeo Alford.jpg

    Merna sent in two images. Above, you can see what a double exposure looked like taken with either the real Freako-Shutter mentioned last week, or a similar device. Your eyes aren't playing tricks. It's the same man, George P. Alford.

    PierceManFeedingDoll.jpg

    The earliest funny picture I received came from Rachel Peirce. This one (sbove) dates between Aug. 1, 1864 and Aug. 1, 1866. I know this because on the back is a tax revenue stamp. One can only wonder why this man posed feeding a doll. The doll probably has a china head and cloth body, and could be an imported model. The man is "feeding" it from the dish on the table. The photographer hand-colored the doll's dress a light pink.

    PikePoker girls.jpg

    Sharon Pike sent the most recent image in this set. It dates from c. 1900. I've seen other images from this time frame of women dressed like men in funny pictures. Here, it's Belle and Fanny Curtis. Belle was born in 1882. Their father, Asaph Curtis, owned the Hotel Rockford on Long Lake in Washburn Co., Wis.

    Come back next week, when I reveal an unusual coincidence in a reader's picture.


    1860s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | group photos | men | Photo fun | props in photos | women
    Monday, September 07, 2009 8:59:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, December 15, 2008
    Capturing the News
    Posted by Maureen

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

    William Riley Keeth.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    William R and Mary E Keeth.JPG

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

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


    1900-1910 photos | photo backgrounds | props in photos
    Monday, December 15, 2008 10:38:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Monday, October 27, 2008
    Final Installment: One-Glove Mystery Solved!
    Posted by Maureen

    I'm doing the happy dance right now! I finally contacted Sue Anderson, the owner of the photo of the four men—two wearing one glove each—featured in two blog posts. Turns out she was on vacation and hadn't imagined the fuss being made over this photo. All she wanted to know was the date of the image and why the one glove. 

    In the first post, I dated the image using the postcard back to a time frame of 1904 to 1918. That was the only sure information in the picture.

    In the second installment, I reported readers' theories and focused on the gloves. Well, the pieces have finally fallen into place. You're not going to believe it!

    While Sue's older relatives were sure two of the men were Lance and Elmore Melson, she wasn't positive because these elderly relatives have been wrong before. They said the two men in the front were Melsons and the men in the back were Wingfields.

    Those two in the front are definitely Melsons. Sue sent me several other family photographs that confirm the resemblance. The ears are a giveaway.

    Elmore Melson (b. 1896) had two other brothers: Joel (b.1894) and Bertram (b. 1892). I think Sue's family was partially right. Lance Melson would be too young to be in the group photo, but Joel is old enough. It's actually his presence (right front in the group image and below) and age that specifically date the image and solve the one glove detail!

    Joel Melson.jpg

    Notice the rolled up pants <smile>.

    So here goes...
    • Joel dies in 1918 in Oklahoma of pneumonia. The group portrait is likely the last image taken of the 24-year-old. It fits the 1918 period. His brother Elmore would be 22 in that image.
    • Melson and his brothers worked as farmers and weren't very well-off. In Joel's spare time, he also worked as a bronco rider. In the first blog post on this mystery, I suggested the glove was work-related. Since bronco riding isn't something I'm pfamiliar with, I contacted a colleague, Kathy Hinckley (known as the Family Detective), who grew up on a ranch in South Dakota and participated in riding events. She confirmed my theory that bronco riders wear one glove on the dominant hand! Mystery solved.
    The men's ties are very Western in style. Kathy made one other comment about something I pondered: Why dress in suits and wear the riding glove? She thought this picture probably commemorated a special event, such as winning at the rodeo. I have no proof of this detail, but the explanation makes sense.
    • There's one more detail Sue helped with—the rolled pants. In the group picture those rolls look like cuffs, but it turns out Joel wasn't very tall, and instead of having his pants hemmed, just rolled them up.  
    Sue is amazed at the number of comments and emails about her photo. Thank you to everyone who posted remarks or sent comments. I'm glad we can put the artifical hand theory to rest; Joel had both of his hands at the time of his death.


    1910s photos | group photos | men | props in photos
    Monday, October 27, 2008 3:28:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, July 14, 2008
    Finding Family Photos on the Web
    Posted by Maureen

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how one genealogist created a short video about her online photo discovery. I was so intrigued by her effort that I decided to try putting together a short piece with images depicting flags.  It's one of my collecting areas—I can't turn down a picture of the personification of flags and other American symbols. You can watch the video on Roots Television. It was only my second attempt at movie-making, so don't be too harsh.

    One of the photos I included came from the Library of Congress and serves as a good example of how family photos can also represent history.  It's a gorgeous stereo view of a young girl dressed as a symbolic figure.

    weller.jpg

    According to the cataloging record, this image is Fontinelle Weller posed as Columbia, taken on March 13, 1873, by F.G. Weller of Littleton, N.H. 

    The 1870 census provides additional details. The girl's name was actually Fontanella A. Weller and F.G. was her father Frank G., a photographer. (You can find this record using the following citation: 1870 U.S. census. Grafton County, New Hampshire, population schedule, Littleton, p. 567, dwelling 170, family 191, Frank G. Weller citing National Archives microfilm publication M 593, roll 841.)

    I used my Boston Public Library card to find Fontana on the subscription database Heritage Quest, but you can also locate her using Ancestry.com.

    The depicting of individuals as symbols of America goes back to the founding of this country. Fontanella has a serious expression on her face while holding the flag. Her white Roman-style dress with a crown identifies her as "Columbia, Mother of the Republic."

    In the late 18th and early 19th century, Columbia was a woman, but as seen here, in the mid-to later 19th century, she became younger. You can read more about American symbolism in David Hackett Fischer's Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas ( Oxford, $50).

    If you haven't searched the Library of Congress catalog of prints and photographs, try it and see if you can find images of the members of your family. Anyone out there related to Fontanella?  According to FamilySearch, she married Henry Fitch on June 13, 1890.

    If you've located family photos on the Library of Congress site, let me know by posting a comment below.


    1870s photos | children | props in photos
    Monday, July 14, 2008 8:39:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Tuesday, July 08, 2008
    Is This the Same Man?
    Posted by Maureen

    Charles Blyth found this handsome daguerreotype in a group of identified family photographs. He thinks the man might be a colleague of his great uncle, but isn't really sure. It's beautiful and in pristine condition, so I couldn't resist this challenge.

    070708a.jpg

    It's important to remember daguerreotypes are reversed. Before comparing this gentleman to any family photographs, it's necessary to flip the image to see his natural appearance. Faces can look quite different when reversed.

    070708blythreversed.jpg

    Blyth doesn't think this man is his great uncle Henry Blyth, born in 1831, but the evidence suggests it could be. Here is the quartet of facts I've considered.
    1) This man appears to be in his 20s and the clothing (wide cravat, slicked back hair and long sideburns) suggests the photo was taken in the 1850s. This man is the right age to be Blyth.
    2) The equipment on the table identifies this man as a surveyor.  As far as I can tell, the device is a Wye level, used for long- distance surveying. I found a similar-looking piece on Larry and Carol Meeker's Web site Antiques of a Mechanical Nature. Blyth was a surveyor in New York State before leaving home at 22 for Chile. He returned home with a beard in 1858 and posed for a portrait with his family; a few years later, he was in the card photograph (below). If the daguerreotype is Blyth, it was taken before his travels in 1853—a date that fits the clothing clues.
    070708blyth.jpg
    3) Even though Blyth's hairline is receding in this known picture, you can see the similarities between him and the unidentified portrait. Besides a similar hairline, their face shapes are close. It's not outside the realm of possibility to conclude Blyth posed for the daguerreotype before traveling to South America. This card photo shows he aged a bit from his frontier experience, but it's likely both pictures depict the same man.
    4) One other feature in the daguerreotype suggests it could show Blyth: the cross. According to Charles Blyth, members of the family often posed wearing a cross.
    I think the evidence strongly suggests this unidentified picture is Henry Blyth—the tools identify his trade, his age is right, facial similiarities suggest a relationship and then there's the cross and the fact the image was found with family artifacts.  I think it's Blyth, but I'm not sure I've convinced the owner.

    Got an opinion? Sound off in the Comments section! Let's create a dialogue.

    1850s photos | cased images | props in photos
    Tuesday, July 08, 2008 8:37:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [7]
    # Tuesday, December 18, 2007
    Backgrounds and Furniture in Photos
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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


    photo backgrounds | props in photos
    Tuesday, December 18, 2007 11:46:23 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Friday, October 26, 2007
    Hunting for Clues Part Two
    Posted by Maureen

    For genealogists, it's easy to underestimate the power we yield. If you need proof, think about this: The recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article on The Photo Detective was the number one article read online at the WSJ for a week!

     This means thousands if not millions of people are interested in their family photographs. That's great news!

    A couple of folks who read that piece commented on the type of gun depicted in the cover photo. Last year I wrote a column, Hunting for Clues, about this picture of a hunter. Now new evidence has surfaced.



    There's a lot of discussion about what type of gun appears in the picture and the date for the image. Faced with the new facts, I could've been off by a few years. The man wears his old clothes for a soujourn into the wilds of New Jersey. Instead of just saying his photo is from the late 1860s, I'm stretching the time frame to include the early 1870s. It doesn't change my analysis, but the additional details add depth to this image. Here's what turned up:

    I spoke with LeRoy Merz of Merz Antique Firearms about the gun in the photo. While my original expert was right about it not being a Civil War piece, it's not a Winchester 66, either. Merz set me straight. It appears to be a double-barrel shotgun, and the shells around the man's waist are 10-gauge.



    Merz thinks this man holds a European model probably imported from England in the early 1870s. It was first introduced there in the late 1860s. In England, these shotguns were used for market hunting of water fowl. (Notice the game bag at the man's side.) It appears Majorie Osterhout's relative liked to go bird-hunting, probably for duck or geese, with his trusty four-legged friend. Though the dog (hard to see here) isn't a traditional breed for retrieving game, it could've been trained for the task.



    Merz's opinion is just one of several. All are in agreement the gun isn't a Winchester 66, but there's still lots of talk about the actual model and the gauge of the shells.

    Next week, I'll take a look at another earlier column and tell you more of the fascinating story behind a reader's family photo.


    1860s photos | 1870s photos | men | props in photos
    Friday, October 26, 2007 7:16:03 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]