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<2017 June>

by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, 12 October 2015
Annie Oakley and Your Old Photos
Posted by Maureen

What does Annie Oakley have to do with your family photos? More than you think.

Larry Calhoun sent a group portrait he thinks was taken in western North Carolina. It could be members of the Calhoun or Benfield family.  I took one look and said, "Whoa, that woman on the left is showing her ankles."

Take a good look and you'll see what I mean. Yes, that's a short skirt and boots.

 It's an unexpected link between Annie and this mysterious family group. This young woman may have had an idol and I don't mean the Kardashians. Annie Oakley. She was America's darling and a media superstar long before America's Got Talent.

A Radical Woman
In an era when oversize bustles and tight corsets hampered women's movements, Annie stood out as a symbol of a different life. Her short dresses and demurely covered legs as well as her role as a sharpshooter appealed to many women.  By performing in public, she lived a nineteenth century man's life in women's clothing. She was considered talented and feminine.  For the most part, frontier women in the backwoods, mid-west and western United States labored in heavy skirts, but Annie had freedom to run on stage and exhibit her shooting skills.

Born in 1860 to a Quaker family, she lost her father as a child. Her mother lacked financial resources so Annie was sent to be a servant with another family. One that turned out to be abusive. At 15, her shooting skills brought her fame.

An Arresting Appearance

Annie made her own clothes. Instead of long skirts, she designed shorter styles and often wore them with tights to cover her legs.  It reflected lady-like modesty. She managed to be revolutionary without calling attention to that fact.

Calf length skirts could brand a woman as a rebel. Reformers seeking the vote like Amelia Bloomer adopted full pantaloons named for her. Health advocates sought to improve women's health through dress reforms to allow exercise. Shorter skirts worn with a type of pant gave women like Civil War doctor Mary Walker the ability to do their job unencumbered by yards of fabric. The same was true for mill workers who didn't want to risk death getting their skirts caught in the machinery. Yet this type of attire was radical and dangerous. A woman could be arrested for dressing "male."

Frontier Women in Your Family
Instead Annie earned the admiration of both men and women who called her "Little Sure Shot." Her exploits appeared in newspapers and her appearance likely encouraged young women to don her clothing style. She advocated that women should learn to shoot. She taught more than fifteen thousand to do so. There is no doubt that the diminutive five foot tall Annie (and other female frontier heroes) inspired women to pose for photographs holding guns and to participate in shooting matches. She lived until 1926, an era where most women wore skirts above the ankles.

Calhoun's "Annie"
The next time you see an old photo of a  woman standing with a rifle, think of Annie. This young woman doesn't have a rifle, but she's wearing and Annie styled skirt. There is no clue in this picture that this woman could shoot. It's clear that she's not a child. While young girls could wear calf-length skirts, once they were older teens a floor length skirt was required for modesty.

We can't know for sure if Annie inspired this young woman's attire, but it's unlikely that she never heard of her. Annie traveled the country with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

If you want to search for more photos of frontier women check out the digital collection in the Western History Collection of the Denver Public Library.

I'll be back next week to tell you about the clues that date this picture and how Larry can begin to find out who's who.  In the meantime, sort through your family pictures and see if  you have a young "Annie" look-alike in your photo albums. You can send them to me by using the "How to Submit Your Photo" link.

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

  • unusual clothing | women | Annie Oakley
    Monday, 12 October 2015 22:14:22 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 06 July 2015
    Triple Tintype Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    Most of us feel lucky to have one picture of an ancestor, but imagine finding three images of an identical person in family photos and not knowing who he is. Obviously this man was important to someone in Kyndahl Carlson's family. This triple mystery appears in a family photo album.

    Here are the three pictures:

    In this image, he's posed between two men. The two men each rest a hand on his shoulder showing a close relationship. Kyndahl has no idea who they are. One could be the young man's father and the other a brother or they could be other relatives. 

    The young man wears a suit from the 1860s, with a velvet collar and wide lapels. The other two men also wear suits from the 1860s, but the tie on the man on the right suggests a date of circa 1870. There was a market for second-hand clothing, so it's possible that the young man's suit is a hand-me-down.

    He wears the same watch fob in both images.

    The man on the left has light blue eyes. A few weeks ago I wrote about Spotting Light Colored Eyes. This could be an identification clue if there are family stories about this man and his blue eyes.

    The final tintype is very interesting!

    In this image, the same young man is posed with pants tucked into boots, no jacket, a fiddle, a pipe and an old hat. He's ready to perform. Is he really a performer, or was this arranged by the photographer? Fiddlers often tucked their pants into their boots and wore hats, but not necessarily this style.

    When faced with three images of the same person, it's helpful to arrange them in a timeline. In this case, that's difficult since all three images were taken around the same time. He doesn't age from picture to picture.  Here's the order that I think makes sense:

    A side-by-side timeline of images often reveals details overlooked when examining the images individually. What's apparent from this collage is the expression on his face. He's a solemn person with no smile and sad eyes. 

    Carlson's family lived in Maine, Wisconsin, Montana, South Dakota, Oregon and Idaho. The young man's identification depends in part on his branch of the family. At this point, that's unclear. I'd start by figuring out the following:
    • He's a teen. Who in Carlson's tree was in his mid-teens around 1870?
    • Does he look like anyone else in family photos? There could be another picture of him at an older age. He has a slim nose, a small mouth with narrow eyes and thin brows. Watch for men with similar features and facial shape.

    I'm hoping these additional details help Carlson figure out an identity.

    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

  • 1860s photos | 1870s photos | hats | men | unusual clothing | unusual photos
    Monday, 06 July 2015 18:05:40 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 17 May 2015
    The Wright Brothers and Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    In the early part of the 20th century, three members of the Wright family were among the most famous individuals in the country (if not the world).  Orville and Wilbur's patented flying machine demonstrations on both sides of the Atlantic brought thousands of people to fields to watch them fly.

    Their schoolteacher sister Katherine flew more than any woman of her generation. The three of them stand together in this 1910 photo from the  Library of Congress. If you want to see the Wrights' original patent drawings, they're avilable online through the Google patents search. Their aerial demonstrations mesmerized the public and made our ancestors believe in the future. 

    David McCullough's new book, The Wright Brothers, presents the brothers as ordinary men with extraordinary focus, determination and passion. Many men of their generation tried to perfect manned flight, but Orville and Wilbur Wright were first to actually do it.

    Their exploits even influenced a fashion trend. When Mrs. Hart O. Berg accompanied Wilbur Wright on a flight in 1908, she tied her scarf around her dress at the ankles to keep it in place.  It's possible that the French fashion designer Paul Poiret saw Mrs. Berg and Katherine Wright tie down their skirts. He created a short-lived style known as the Hobble skirt.

    It was difficult to walk in these narrow skirts. This postcard calls it a speed-limit skirt because women could take only baby steps. If you see a photo of an ancestor wearing a skirt of this design, you'll have a narrow time frame for an image of 1910 to 1913.

    Our ancestors had fashion icons that influenced everyday dress. Both Orville and Wilbur Wright dressed neatly for their flights. Wilbur always wore a high-necked collar with a tie, a jacket and a cap. While full-crowned caps were available before the Wrights took flight, they increased in popularity throughout the second decade of the century and beyond. The style of the brim and crown changed in later decades.

    Watch for these fashion trends in your family photos from the circa 1910 period. If your ancestor passed on stories of seeing the Wright brothers in flight, please let me know.

    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

  • 1910s photos | Airplanes | unusual clothing | women | Wright Brothers
    Sunday, 17 May 2015 14:53:55 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 21 July 2014
    Solving Old-Photo Mysteries: Clues in Tintypes
    Posted by Maureen

    Our ancestors didn't document every second of their lives with photography. Instead, they saved their pennies and visited the studio for a variety of special milestones.


    At 3-1/2 X 2-1/4 inches, this tintype is a popular size called a "bon-ton." It was buried in a family trunk with other unidentified, undated images. Leona Humphrey knows it's up to her to figure it out. As she wrote in her email, "Except for one cousin of my dad's, I'm pretty much the only living person with any idea of the possible family." 

    I've felt this way about a family mystery and I'm sure that many of you have as well.

    Here's how the photo clues and family history details line up:
    humphry collage2.jpg

    I've created a collage of the picture and some interesting details in this photo of a mother and her four children. Where's Dad? For some reason, he's not in this image.
    1. The fichu collar on the mom's dress was popular in the circa-1880 period.
    2. Painted backdrops in the 1880s often looked like living rooms. In this case, the large piece of "furniture" angles towards the group, looking like it's going to fall on them.
    3. Both girls wear pinafores and wide collars. The wide collars were also popular in the late 1870s to early 1880s.  Pinafores stayed in fashion for decades. Flip through any 19th-century women's magazine and you'll find instructions on how to make a pinafore.

    Mom's hair is a variation of the frizzy bangs of the 1880s. She's arranged her bangs in oiled curls on her forehead. This particular look appeared in the early 1880s. View more examples of hairstyles for men and women in my book Hairstyles, 1840-1900.

    Leona wonders if this could be her great-grandmother Guro Sannes and her four children. Guro (born 1845) had Jergen (born 1866), Arne (born 1869), Tilda (born 1874 and Leona's grandmother) and Gunhild (born in 1882). All the children except for Gunhild were born in Valle, Norway. The family immigrated in 1882, and Guro gave birth to Gunhild in Grand Forks County, ND. 

    It's clear that this image could have been taken in the early 1880s, a time frame that coincides with immigration data.  The biggest problem is that the ages of the children don't match the other details. 

    It's possible that Guro continued to dress in older-style clothes in the late 1880s, but even rural women followed fashion trends and adjusted some of their attire.

    If this picture were taken in 1882, Jergen would be 16; Arne, 13; and Tilda, 8; Gunhild wasn't born yet. The oldest boy in this picture is definitely not in his mid teens.  If the photo was taken later to include the fourth sibling, the other children would be much older.  The four siblings in this image are fairly close in age.
    • Could this tintype represent other family in Norway?
    • Is it possible that this woman was a close friend of Guro's and wanted her to have a memento before she moved to America?

    I'd start by looking at family history data for collateral lines to see if there is a family with four children close in age.

    It's also possible that this photo is someone Humphrey's relatives knew. It wasn't unusual to have multiple tintypes made of the same image to give copies to both friends and family. 

    The backdrop in this image could be a clue to where it was taken.  I'd also contact historical societies in the Grand Forks area to see if they have a photo collection and have images by a photographer that used that backdrop. Start with the Grand Forks Historical Society.  

    If Leona is on social media, it's definitely worth posting this photograph online, too.

    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
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1880s photos | children | | Tintypes | unusual clothing | unusual photos | women
    Monday, 21 July 2014 15:39:04 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 05 May 2014
    Texas Photo Mysteries
    Posted by Diane

    This past weekend I was the featured speaker for the Austin Genealogical Society. There were a lot of folks in the audience who weren't familiar with this Photo Detective blog. The big question was: Have I written about any Texas photo mysteries?  

    The answer is yes! Two. I did a quick search using the search box at the bottom of the left hand column on the blog.  

    Three Women  Man on Fallen Treeedit.jpg

    Back in March, I wrote about Jane Bonney's search for the identity of the women in the photo above, in Stories in the Family Album. Could Bonney's grandmother Grace Wickline be the woman on the far left?

    The mystery of this Texas twosome is still unsolved. Are they Confederate Guerillas?  The story was so intriguing that it was the focus of several columns.

    Two Texas Mysteries
    Texas Mystery Puzzle—No News

    Texas Trouble: Readers Respond
    Texas Twosome Revisited 

    Love the shirts worn by these two men! 

    Now that the attendees in Texas asked about photo mysteries in their state, I'm curious about mysteries from other states. I think it's time for a state by state directory. Stay tuned!

    I'll be at the National Genealogical Society conference this week. Please stop by booth 521 and say hello.

    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

  • men | unusual clothing
    Monday, 05 May 2014 19:26:58 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 21 April 2014
    Foreign Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    This damaged image depicts one family line of Julie Townsend Gontarek's husband. Julie knows the image shows relatives in Poland, but not their identities. There are three possibilities: The Gontareks, Klamsky and Otrasek families all lived there.

    Before she can delve deeper, Julie wants to know when the picture was taken.

    It's a really interesting image. When I view pictures, my eyes dart over all the clues from sleeves to doorways.

    Look at the detail in this exterior doorway. It's lovely: 


    This young woman's sleeves suggest a date of the late 1890s, when there was fullness on the upper arm. The addition of plackets of contrasting fabric on the bodice and the cuffs shows off the skill of the person who made the dress.  I think she's pregnant: The longer bodice shows off what appears to be a baby bump.


    Mom wears a head scarf commonly seen on women in rural regions of Poland and other European countries. Her dress has detailing on the upper arm as well. Her long bodice is a little out of date for the late 1890s.

    Her little girl's clothing is typical for children: hair bows and short sleeves, which suggests warmer weather. I've seen a variety of clothes worn in rural regions both in the United States and overseas. Sometimes women would make clothes using older patterns, reusing older clothes and updating their fashions by adding sleeves or collars.  All the clothing worn here looks to be in excellent condition. 

    Both the mother and the girl shown above photo wear necklaces bearing crosses, which indicates their faith.

    The clothing clues in this image were confusing until I took a closer look at the men. Their collars date this image: Those starched, high-necked collars were popular about 1905. In particular, the man on the left wears a rounded-edge collar, common from about 1905 to at least 1915. 

    Men wore a wide variety of ties in the early 20th century, from long, thin knit ties to wide silk ties, as well as bow ties.

    This photo is full of family history clues:
    • The young girl leaning toward her mother appears to be around five years of age. If the picture dates between 1905 and 1915, then she was born between 1900 and 1910. I'm leaning toward the earlier end of this time frame.

    • The young pregnant bride looks like she'll be having a baby within a few months.

    • All of the individuals depicted could be relatives, but they also could be a collection of friends and family.

    • Who's not depicted?  Did someone in the family own a camera or did a professional take this image?
    I'd love to know the occasion for this photo.  Everyone is dressed up for a special event.  I'm hoping that these details help Julie figure out who's who and a reason this image was taken. 

    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 | children | Immigrant Photos | men | unusual clothing | women
    Monday, 21 April 2014 19:08:40 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 10 November 2013
    Women in World War I
    Posted by Maureen

    What did your WWI-era female ancestors do in World War I? On Veterans Day, we typically honor the men and women who served in the military. But what about all the women who didn't serve, but supported the war effort?

    The theme of Who Do You Think You Are Live in London next year is World War I. Next year is the centennial of the start of the war in Europe (the United States got involved in 1917).

    During World War I, women:
    • worked in factories so men could enlist (and to support their families while the men were away)
    • volunteered for the Red Cross
    • worked as Army and Navy nurses
    • served the military in clerical positions
    • knit socks for the troops
    • participated in Victory Bond fundraising
    • marched in Preparedness Day parades to encourage U.S. involvement
    Women also acted as recruiters to encourage men to join the service.
    Young, attractive women often stood alongside male recruiters in uniform

    Dora Rodriguez was one of those recruiters. At the Library of Congress, there are three images of her in uniform taken by the National Photo Company. I'm sure the sight of a woman in pants and a uniform drew a lot of attention.

    dora rodriques 28170v.jpg

    dora 2 28171r.jpg

    dora 3 28172r.jpg

    Some who served overseas as nurses and Red Cross volunteers took cameras with them. Many women kept photo albums during the war.

    At the time of the 1910 census, most individuals with the surname of Rodrigues lived in Puerto Rico. A quick search of Ancestry didn't turn up any immediate hits for her. I suspect her birth name is something other than Dora.

    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

  • 1910s photos | unusual clothing | women | World War I
    Sunday, 10 November 2013 17:27:30 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 03 March 2013
    WDYTYA London and a Launch
    Posted by Maureen

    What a busy week! Last week at this time, I was walking through Shakespeare's birthplace recovering from two action-packed days of looking at photos at Who Do You Think You Are? Live! in London.  I have some pictures to share.

    As soon as I came home a new project launched: The Last Muster series of books that focus on images of Revolutionary War era folks is becoming a documentary. Genealogy Insider Diane Haddad shared the news. 

    If you're curious about what it's about, watch the trailer in Diane's post and read Judy Russell's blog post at The Legal Genealogist.

    Back to London.

    Guess who I saw when I was there?  Lisa Louise Cooke of the Genealogy Gems and Family Tree Magazine podcasts AND Janet Horvoka of Family Chart Masters, aka the Chart Chick. It was cold in London, thus my fleece jacket and scarf.


    English genealogists love a certain American product too. Couldn't miss this booth:


    Love to Learn, an English company specializing in online education, gave us a nice place to work with photographs. James Morley of What's That and I met with folks on Friday and Saturday. The lines were long again this year. People waited up to two hours to show us their photos.



    We saw some amazing pictures, such as the pair of painted daguerreotypes held by these women.


    This year I decided to count the number of pictures we saw. The total for the two days was over 500!

    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

  • cased images | Photos from abroad | Revolutionary War | unusual clothing | women
    Sunday, 03 March 2013 18:40:38 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 11 June 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, 11 June 2012 18:23:32 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 03 June 2012
    Westward Bound! Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree
    Posted by Maureen

    This week I'm off to the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree and a meeting of the California Genealogical Society. I hope to see you there! Please stop by my booth at the Jamboree to say hello.

    All this California travel makes me think about western American style clothing worn in family photos—in particular Stetson hats, jeans and frontier bonnets. Do you have a photo of someone dressed for the West?  I'd love to see it. You can email me.

    I love the story of the Stetson hat. It's an example of American ingenuity. John B. Stetson, son of a Philadelphia hat manufacturer, took a trip West to recover from consumption. He showed his companions how to make felted fabric and created a hat from that material.

    In 1865, Stetson founded his hat company. He called his hat the "Boss of the Plains." It wasn't a new design: Similar style hats were worn by Army units, and wide-brimmed hats were also popular on plantations because they offered shade.

    It was Stetson's marketing efforts that made his hat a success. He wore his hat everywhere and each hat bore a gold leaf Stetson on the inside to mark it as authentic.


    Wearers could use them to retrieve water for washing or drinking, earning them the nickname, "10 gallon hat."

    You'll find more information on Stetsons and other types of western hats in my book Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900.

    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 | men | unusual clothing
    Sunday, 03 June 2012 17:39:02 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Wednesday, 28 March 2012
    Graduation Caps
    Posted by Diane

    It's the last week for hats. It's also your last chance this month to save 10% on Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900. Use HAT10 as the coupon code when ordering from

    I've blogged about a lady in a fancy hat, a young man in a felt hat and two men wearing work hats. You're probably wondering what's next.

    A graduation cap!

    graduation caps.jpg

    This image, from the collection of the Library of Congress, is from about 1860. I love the young man's blue bow tie and red tassel. He's smiling for the camera with a toothy grin. That's something you don't usually see in a 19th century picture.

    Notice the stripe down his pant's leg? He wears military style trousers. It's possible he's a cadet.

    ehow credits the contemporary mortarboard to 15th-century France and Italy. The term "mortarboard" comes from its shape—it looks like a piece of equipment that a bricklayer uses for mortar. Today's graduates wear tassels that reflect their school colors. Some students personalize their caps, too.

    I hope you've enjoyed this month's worth of hats. I'll be back with other caps, hats and bonnets this 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

  • 1850s photos | 1860s photos | hats | men | unusual clothing
    Wednesday, 28 March 2012 12:59:53 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 12 March 2012
    Hats and Hair
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week the focus was work hats for men. This week it's all about the ladies.

    When I go photo shopping, I love to find more than one image of the same person.  I have two images of this woman—one in a hat and one without her hat and jacket.  They show the relationship between hairstyles and hat trends.  The shape and style of women's hats were influenced by the current hair and vice versa.

    woman in hat.jpg
    There is something intriguing about hats from the 1880s.  They can feature high crowns, small brims and lots of trim.  In this case it's a plush fabric decorated with feathers and botanical elements.  It's not unusual to see stuffed birds on them as well. Women raised these birds at home to sell them to the hat industry for stuffing.

    In the second image, the same woman has taken off her hat and sits for the photographer without her jacket as well.
    woman no hat.jpg

    She wears the same drop earrings and ruffled collar so it's likely she posed for both on the same day.  Her frizzy bangs stuck out from under her front brimmed hat.

    Both images were taken by Alman, a photographer with studios in New York and Newport. The affluent families of New York City built mansions in the city by the sea, in Rhode Island so it makes business sense for Alman to maintain his customers in both locations.

    If you want to learn more about hats or hairstyles from different periods check out my Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900 or Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles, 1840-1900.  There is a special offer this month in  Enter HAT10 as a coupon code for 10 percent off the Bonnets and Hats title.

    It's also part of the deal of the month: Spend $30 on these select products and receive a free Family Tree Problem Solver book download!

    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 | hats | unusual clothing | women
    Monday, 12 March 2012 14:02:42 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 20 February 2012
    Foreign vs. American Fashion
    Posted by Maureen

    My mind is focused on packing for Who Do You Think You Are? Live! in London.  I'll be at this dynamic trade show for three days and I'll be presenting two lectures—one about online picture research and the other on writing your family memoir.  Can't wait!!

    While I'm in London looking at pictures I thought it would be a good time for a quiz. I've been to WDYTYA three years in a row looking at pictures.   It's been a learning experience.  The number one question folks ask me when I'm there is "what's the difference between American and English fashion?" 

    No, not all Americans dressed in Western style hats. 

    Photographic methods vary just a bit. Daguerreotypes weren't as common in England as America, but early paper photographs were available from 1839 on. The American invention, the tintype, also wasn't as popular in England. 

    Clothing is a little more difficult. The differences can be subtle or dramatic.  Everyday dress is about the same, but occupational dress has several distinctions. are two pictures.  Vote in the comment section below and tell me which is a British man and which is American.  I'll weigh in when I return. 

    Photo one

    Photo two


    (If you like these hats you should see the ones in my new Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900. It's available in the ShopFamilyTree store. Click the link below.)

    If you happen to be in London, stop by the Who Do You Think You Are? Live! photo gallery and say hello.

    Thank you for participating in my Silly Old Photo contest on my website. It's not too late to vote.  I've extended the deadline until the day I return.

    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

  • Immigrant Photos | men | unusual clothing
    Monday, 20 February 2012 14:03:04 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [32]
    # Monday, 12 September 2011
    Friendship, Love and Truth in the Family Album
    Posted by Maureen

    Pam Rolland is working her way through family albums in the possession of her aunt. She reports that she's been able to date and identify many of the pictures in them, but still has a few mysteries.  

    This is one of them. It was in an album with members of the Roberts family.


    That particular branch of the family moved from North Carolina to Virginia then to Missouri, Arkansas and finally to Oregon.

    Look closely at the man's accessory.  The clasp holding it on is three interconnecting rings.

    That is a symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a group I've written about in previous columns.  You can see these rings in Fraternal Membership Clues and in Fraternal Insignia. They stand for Friendship, Love and Truth.

    The Odd Fellows are a fraternal organization that believes in charitable pursuits. You can read more about the history of the group and their mission on Wikipedia.

    Photos of men in fraternal symbolism can be difficult to decipher. There is no comprehensive guide to these symbols.  Unless the accessories are easy to identify, tracking down what your ancestor is wearing requires extensive research into their lives. 
    • Obituaries often reveal membership in these "secret" groups. 
    • In the 19th century, a majority of men belonged to a fraternal organization. They were professional networks and offered support for members in need.
    • City directories are a great resource when trying to determine which groups had chapters in the area in which your ancestor lived. There is usually a list of local organizations in directories.
    • Many of these nineteenth century groups still exist so a quick Google search can provide you with contact information. 
    Complicating Rolland's search for this man's identity is the number of places the family lived. In order to narrow down the possibilities she'll have to identify where this man might have lived in the 1880s (based on his attire and the card stock) and who in the family tree might be the right age to be him.

    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 | beards | organizations | unusual clothing
    Monday, 12 September 2011 15:03:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 28 March 2011
    Uniforms in the Family
    Posted by Maureen

    It's not too late to enter your ancestral bad hair photos in my blog contest. See details in last week's post. I can't wait until you see what folks sent in! 

    In the meantime, it's time for another photo mystery. This one is a 20th century challenge.

    Nancy Yates sent in a few pictures of her father, taken when he was about 15 years old, between 1930 to 1932. In the first one, he's standing alone wearing a uniform with plain sleeves.


    In the second he's wearing a different uniform with hash marks on the sleeve indicating his rank of corporal. He's standing with his sister.


    The mystery is the uniform. It doesn't look like a Boy Scout uniform. It's too bad I can't read the pin on his hat or the badge on his other sleeve. 

    Nancy knows her Dad once served in the Civilian Conservation Corp as an adult. Men had to be at least 17 years old to serve in the CCC.

    So what uniform is it? I'm not sure. There were several groups for teens in the 1930s. The 4-H Club, the Future Farmers of America and the Junior Birdmen of America are a few prominent groups, but this uniform doesn't represent any of those organizations. A great book on the period is William H. Young and Nancy K. Young's The 1930s (Greenwood Press, $25.00).

    One lead is a group sponsored by the American Legion. They formed the Air Cadets in 1933, to train young men as pilots in case of war.

    Do you have any ideas? I'm still looking.

    1930s photos | children | unusual clothing
    Monday, 28 March 2011 19:12:50 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [12]
    # Monday, 31 January 2011
    A Double Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    This week I'm researching a very interesting family photo of two men clowning for the camera. Sandy Forest showed me this image at an event over the weekend and I couldn't stop thinking about it. She's pretty sure about the identity of the man on the left, but the man on the right is a mystery. And why is he holding a spike and wearing an interesting hat? The clues really pile up for this photo, so consider this week's post the first installment of a multi-part series.

    These two men are probably celebrating something because they are pouring an alcoholic beverage into a glass. That's just another part of the mystery. What's the occasion?

    On the left is Felix Forest, a man famous in the family for his height. He stood 6 feet 4 inches. He was much taller than the average man in the late 19th century. The soft stovepipe hat on his head must have really made him stand out in any crowd.

    Felix was born in Bonaventure, Quebec, but in the early 1880s, he immigrated to the United States. He moved around a lot. He married in Manchester, N.H., in 1892, spent time in Lewiston, Maine, and then lived in Fall River, Mass., before moving back to Bonaventure.

    While I'm adding up the clues and trying to find facts I'll share my favorite part of the picture—the dog at the base of the column. It appears to be a tin cut-out of a little dog. Finding that dog in another photo could identify the photographer and the location.
    The men meant for this photo to be funny, and the dog is just one more comical addition. It makes me laugh out loud.

    Next week, we'll focus on baby pictures. Diane Haddad, the Genealogy Insider blogger, had a baby last weekend, so I thought she'd enjoy a Photo Detective post of ancestral baby pictures. Email me yours to

    Tintypes | unusual clothing | unusual photos
    Monday, 31 January 2011 17:07:08 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Monday, 09 August 2010
    Favorite Photo Mysteries
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

    Two Texas Mysteries
    Texas Mystery Puzzle—No News

    Texas Trouble: Readers Respond
    Texas Twosome Revisited 

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

    men | photo backgrounds | unusual clothing | women
    Monday, 09 August 2010 14:33:29 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]
    # Monday, 11 January 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, 11 January 2010 15:41:29 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Tuesday, 05 January 2010
    Texas Twosome Revisited
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week's tease mentioned that I'd solved a persistent mystery. Ah ... I really thought I had the answer to the Texas mystery. Late last year I ran a three-installment story about these two men in their embroidered shirts. In the first piece, I showed you the pictures and mentioned some possible solutions. The following week I raised a couple of other issues. The third installment focused on readers' suggestions.

    092109img038 (3).jpg092109img041 (5).jpg

    A couple of weeks ago I was browsing through a book, Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War by T. J. Stiles. One of the illustrations is a photo of the outlaw "Bloody Bill" Anderson, and he's wearing an embroidered guerrilla shirt from the Civil War. I immediately jumped up and thought, "Oh, gosh, that's it!" The two men in their shirts could be guerrillas fighting for the Confederacy.

    It seemed logical. The tintypes date from the Civil War, and Dr. Francis Montgomery was a Confederate officer for a short time before he was sent home ill with diabetes.

    But was this new theory true? I picked up the phone and called the Museum of the Confederacy. Curator Robert Hancock was able to explain a few things about embroidered guerrilla shirts. He'd never seen anything like these two shirts before and really doubted that these two were Confederate guerrillas. Oh, DRAT!

    He told me that guerrillas wore whatever they wanted to. Since they weren't sanctioned by the Confederacy, they weren't issued any uniforms. They worked outside the Confederate military establishment.

    While he wasn't familiar with these two shirts, he was able to tell me a fascinating fact: During the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s, some young men wore embroidered shirts. Hancock told me that this fashion statement was akin to the shirts of the 1960s. In the 19th century, young men rebelling against the white shirts and black frock coats their fathers wore would wear embellished shirts. There were even outlandish printed shirts in England. Some of these featured skulls and crossbones, snakes and other outrageous designs. I'd love to see one of these 19th-century shirts!

    There were other similar shirts to the one's worn here. Battle shirts for men and those worn by firemen could feature some designs. Hancock was quick to say that these two men are wearing very unusual floral pattern motifs that don't fit either category.

    The big problem with these shirts is that while the shirts and the pictures are identical in many ways, the embroidery is not. So who are these guys and why the shirts? Perhaps we'll never know.

    1860s photos | men | unusual clothing
    Tuesday, 05 January 2010 14:15:49 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]