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<2017 May>

by Maureen A. Taylor

More Links

# Sunday, 07 May 2017
Stamp Boxes, Messages & More: Family Clues in Old Photo Postcards
Posted by Maureen

Old postcards among your collection of family letters and photos might contain a variety of clues worth exploring. From stamp boxes to postmarks and messages, there can be genealogical gold in the littlest things.

I've written about real-photo postcards (RPPCs) in the past. These are family photos printed with a postcard back. An RPPC is an actual photo, not a chromolithograph print.

Not all postcards were mailed. Printing on a postcard back was just another option when you visited the photo studio or had your snapshots printed.

Do you have RPPCs in your family photo collection? If you're not sure, take a close look with a magnifying glass or loupe, or scan and zoom in. A chromolithograph print appears to made up of tiny dots; an RPPC does not.

Here's where to look for information about RPPCs in past Photo Detective blog posts:
  • RPPCs debuted in 1900, but there were changes to the backs of these cards within a few years. Read Old Family Photos on Postcards to learn more about the history and formats for these cards.

Postcards were popular both in the United States and overseas. Do you have one to share?  Email it to me here, following the instructions in our How To Submit Your Photo section.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

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

  • Save
    photo postcards | unusual photos
    Sunday, 07 May 2017 22:23:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 09 April 2017
    Can an Old Mystery Photo Prove a Passed-Down Family Tale?
    Posted by Maureen

    Don't you love a good story? I do. As genealogists we're trained to listen to the tales told at family gatherings and sort fiction from fact. Pictures not only come with their own set of stories, but they also can be used as proof of a genealogical event. 

    Mikael Hammerman of Sweden sent me a beautiful family photo of a woman and a girl participating in an ordinary activity. He's hoping that the picture can verify a whopper of a immigration story. For the next few posts, we'll explore the details in the picture and see if all the clues add up. 

    Could these two people be part of the following story? Wait and see.

    This mother is in the middle of an afternoon nap. 

    This is her daughter.

    Here's the family story, full of love and intrigue:
    Mike's great-grandmother's sister was born in 1859 in Sweden. She served as a maid and ran off with her employer. They arrived in New York in January 1879. She changed her last name and marital status for the trip, and he used a different last name.
    According to an aunt of Mike's second cousin Doris, the family rumor is that the sister was pregnant when they left.  Her employer left his wife and five children behind. He sold horses and goods to finance their trip.
    Family tales have the sister living alone with her daughter. Even today, rumors swirl in the family. Did she and her lover break up before leaving Sweden? Or did the separation occur once they arrived in New York?

    The man's parents were already in the United States, having arrived in 1869.  The young woman had cousins who immigrated in 1882 and lived in Wisconsin.

    Could Mike's photo be tied to this love story? He's hoping the clues will lead to the woman and girl in this image being the young pregnant relative and her daughter. Mike's also hoping for a little help with his mystery story.

    When faced this type of picture puzzlement, step back and really look at what the photo says. I'll show you how in upcoming blog posts with more details about Mike's photo and the family legend it could shed light on.

    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

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

  • Save
    children | unusual photos | women
    Sunday, 09 April 2017 16:13:07 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 26 December 2016
    A Year of Passionate Photo Detecting: What Did You Miss?
    Posted by Maureen

    On this Photo Detective blog, 2016 was a year of early color (and colorized) photos, photo-ID tips and crowd-sourcing. 

    If you missed the most-popular posts, don't worry. The links in this 2016 wrap-up will take you them.

    Photo Identification Tips

    We started the year off right with a big tip. Newspapers solved one woman's photo mystery—they might help with your pictures too. The King family case study shows you how to apply those tips.

    I made a breakthrough in my own family history this year. Google helped me locate images of all the ships on which my Civil War ancestor served. Can you say jackpot? Follow my tips and see what you discover.

    Group Picture Mysteries
    My favorite old photo this year was the group portrait with the girl sleeping (or blinking?) in the second row. Can you spot the clues in this Old Family Gathering photo?

    Foreign Images
    Captions in a foreign language or pictures taken in an unfamiliar-sounding place can be a research problem. In two columns, Foreign Caption Mystery and Caption Mystery, you can learn more about how how tackle this photo-identification trouble.

    Can You Help Solve This Mystery?
    Two high school- or college-aged girls are in this picture. The date is about 1910, but who are these young ladies, and where are they?  Read about the clues and see if you can help. 

    Coloring the Past
    Wherever you stand on the colorizing of photos, you'll find the images pretty neat to look at.

    See how the details pop in a Thanksgiving tablescape colorized using Algorithma, an online coloring tool.

    The Library of Congress has a very large collection of period color images called Photochroms. They're amazing!  The real scenes of ancestral hometowns will keep you mesmerized for hours.

    Thank you for another fantastic year of family photo mysteries! Here's where to find instructions on how to share your mystery photos for possible free analysis on this blog. Can't wait to see what you'll share in 2017!

    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

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

  • Save
    1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | enhanced images | family reunion | group photos | Photo fun | unusual photos
    Monday, 26 December 2016 20:32:34 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 27 November 2016
    Clues in a Curious Old Family Photo: The First Mannequin Challenge?
    Posted by Maureen

    It's not the first time a family photo begs the question "What were they thinking?" That's the case with this image of family sitting as though they're doing a mannequin challenge.

    The story behind this clowning for the camera has been lost, and the picture lacks identification. It was found in the collection of Sherry Yates' great-grandmother. Sherry and her mother wonder if the older woman in the middle could be Mary S. Veal Parker (1834-1908).

    Approximating Ages

    Mary was Sherry's great-great-grandmother, who lived in Glassboro, Gloucester County, NJ, and died in 1908. Whether this is Mary depends on the date of the image. The clothing clues suggest a date from just before 1908, so it's quite possible this is Mary. 

    If it is her, then identifying the rest of the folks may fall into place. A family group sheet of who's living and their ages in about 1905 should help with that task. The little boy in the front, for example, is around 5 years of age. 

    Interior Views
    When you find an indoor photo in your collection, take a good look around. It's a glimpse into the everyday life of your ancestors.

    In the days before HGTV, decorating ideas came from magazines, which included instructions on how to make table scarves and wall hangings.  Sometimes you can spot photos of other family members hanging on the wall.

    Have you spotted the frame on the left side?

    Unfortunately we can't enlarge it to see the picture itself. It looks like a group portrait—there are multiple heads.

    My favorite part of this picture is this duo (father and son?) staring into each others eyes in the foreground. So cute!

    Family group portraits are a challenge worth trying to solve.

    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

  • SaveSaveSave
    1900-1910 photos | group photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, 27 November 2016 20:30:56 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 02 October 2016
    Family History Month: Focus on One Old Photo Collection
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you Darlene Sampley! 

    I met Darlene last month in San Diego at an all-day seminar for the San Diego Genealogical Society. We started talking about her family photo collection and I started thinking about Family History Month, which genealogists traditionally observe in October. Hmm. Wouldn't it be great to show examples each week from one woman's photo collection?

    Darlene agreed and here we are. Let's take a peek at her mystery photos and see what happens:

    Last week's Photo Detective Blog column focused on painted tintypes. Darlene has one, too. I enhanced this image to help you see the details.  The hand coloring is much clearer in this enhanced version that it was in the original. Photographers often varnished tintypes, and over time, that coating darkens and makes the image difficult to see. A simple tweak to accept automatic color restoration when scanning made this image pop into view. 

    The original customer asked the studio to hand-color certain details in this image—her blonde hair, white collar and gold pin. This girl has light-colored eyes, but unlike last week's picture, the studio in this case didn't dramatically color the eyes. It looks like there might be a subtle tint.

    The problem with this image is the dark area of her dress. Other than the collar, very little is visible. The collar could be from the 1870s or 1880s. Which is it? 

    The bar pin holds the clue. In the late 1870s, women often wore small pins like this at the base of the throat. It's lovely! It could be real gold or costume jewelry. 

    This lady doesn't look that old, perhaps only a young teenager. 

    Let's see what happens when Darlene compares these details to her family tree. I'm hoping for a tentative identification.

    If you want to learn more about painted tintypes, read an online article about the Dr. Stanley Burns collection, called Forgotten Marriage

    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

  • 1870s photos | jewelry | Tintypes | unusual photos
    Sunday, 02 October 2016 15:23:19 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 25 September 2016
    Colorful Old Photos: Tintypes
    Posted by Maureen

    This photo takes your breath away. It's a gorgeous painted tintype. This woman in the blue dress stares into the camera with such intensity, you wonder what she was thinking. 

    Tintypes, patented in 1856 in the United States, were available in other countries. This is a particularly nice painted tintype. Photo studies often hired artists to enhance their pictures.

    Look at the detail in her earring.

    You actually get a sense of the filigree design.

    Part of the stunning quality of this image is the delicate treatment of her eyes.

    Delicate brush strokes define the shape and of her eyebrows and there is no doubt about the color of her eyes, blue.

    So who is she? That's what Karen Krumbach wants to know. This is the only tintype in her collection. Let's see what can be deduced from the picture and Karen's family information.
    • The portrait was expensive. This expert painting wasn't cheap.
    • Karen's great-grandmother immigrated from Sweden in 1872, and then married here.
    • Her dress has a v-neck, rather than a rounded collar. She wears her hair down. The combination of these clues suggest a date in the early 1870s.
    • Karen's Swedish ancestors had reddish brown to darker brown hair and some had blue eyes.

    Could this be Karen's great-grandmother's wedding portrait?  If she fits the description, it's possible. Karen should answer these questions:

    • Is she the right age?
    • Did this great-grandmother have blue eyes?
    • When did she get married?

    Photos of immigrants document the family before and after they left home. Some pictures remained with relatives in their homeland, while others came to America.

    This is a very special family photo. It was taken for a reason. The look in this woman's eyes makes me want to know more about her life, too.

    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

  • 1870s photos | Tintypes | unusual photos | wedding
    Sunday, 25 September 2016 18:48:22 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 15 May 2016
    Counting the Clues to Solve an Old Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    The three parts to this German photo mystery are the caption, the date of the image and the family history information.

    The first blog post dated the image to the 1880s, and the second post discussed caption translation confusion. Please read the comments to the Caption Confusion post. A woman from Germany weighed in on the writing.

    Here are the highlights of the comment discussion.
    • Alex wrote that the caption is written in Suetterlin style and reads "An die Nette der Mutter ihre Schwester" which he says doesn't make sense in modern German, but it could be a local dialect. He thought the ballpoint caption could identify Nettie's aunt as the sender of the picture.

    • Susanna from Germany agreed with Alex's translation of the ballpoint as an indication that "to" suggests the sister sent it. "The person who wrote down the German sentence wrote it as she or he would speak it. It is not a dialect. The person who wrote it is the child of the mother in the picture." She thought it meant the photo was to be given to Nette. Nette is the aunt of the writer.

    • Leslie added that Grossie is likely a shortened form of Grossmuetter, aka Grandmother. Debra Allison, owner of the picture, emailed that the family used that nickname for their grandmother. She found it interesting that Susanna suggested Grosse in German also means a tall woman. In fact, her grandmother was almost six feet tall. 

    So who's in the picture?

    Debra's great-grandmother Antoinette (born 1856) immigrated to America in 1881. She was the youngest of nine siblings. She brought with her two of her nephews, sons of her only sister who didn't immigrate. All of Antoinette's brothers remained in Germany.

    The answer to who's in the photo relies on the ages of the people in the picture as compared to what Debra knows about the siblings. She's dug into records to use the process of elimination.

    Antoinette's eldest sister Katherine and her husband Philipp Letzelter had eight children. The second and the third traveled with their aunt, who was only seven and eight years older than her nephews.

    The remainder of the family stayed in Germany. Debra thinks the picture depicts Antoinette's mother, Elisabeth Wiegand Fichter (1814-1888), as well as her sister Katherine (born 1838) and her husband Philipp (born 1837). The children could be their four youngest ones: Ferdinand (born 1871), Victor (born 1874), Antoinette (born 1877) and Karl (born 1881). Two of the older siblings are not in this image. 

    If the picture dates to approximately 1886, then their ages are as follows: Elisabeth (72), Katherine (48), Philipp (49), Ferdinand (15), Victor (12), Antoinette (9) and Karl (5).

    I know that relatives who didn't immigrate often sent photos to family in America. It's likely that Katherine sent this image to her sons and her sister. She may have sent it to her sister Barbara, who also lived in Cincinnati.

    This agrees with the comments in the previous post and the assessment by a Miami University professor who told Debra that the image was to be given to another. 

    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

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

  • 1880s photos | children | Immigrant Photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, 15 May 2016 16:34:14 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 10 January 2016
    King Family Photo Clues Found in a Newspaper
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week's blog post featured three King family photos in Mary Roddy's collection. They lived in Amador, California and Douglas, Alaska.

    The photos proved that two branches of the family stayed in touch despite the distance. Alice Devlin King and her maid of honor Mary Jane Fields were more than cousins. They were friends.

    Alice, her husband Nick, and their children including daughter Sadie moved to Douglas, Alaska seeking new opportunities.  The two photos depicted here suggest that mother and daughter came back to California for a visit. But when? 

    likely Sadie King, circa 1900

    Alice King, circa 1900

    Historical newspapers revealed when the family visited, how long they stayed and who came for a visit. The proof was in print.

    Small town newspapers featured a lot more than national and local news. They published news of the members of their community as well as visitors.  You guessed it!  The visiting family made the news not once, but twice.

    The Amador Ledger (April 20, 1900) published a short bit about Amador news section: "A grand farewell reception was tendered to Mrs. Nicholas King and family on Tuesday evening at Fallon's hall. They departed for their home in Alaska this morning." You can view the newspaper in it's entirety through the California Digital Newspaper Project.

    The Daily Alaska Dispatch (Juneau, Alaska) published a notice when the King family returned to Douglas. " Mrs. King, Miss Sadie King and the children returned from a six months visit in California, on the Cottage City last night." You can read this article if you're a subscriber to

    Mary Roddy is a lucky genealogist. She has a narrow six month time frame for those two pictures. Mother and daughter posed for pictures to share with their relatives.  

    The circa date I placed near those two photos can now become a definite date of 1900. 

    Reading historical newspapers can reveal more about your family history than you might realize. In Mary's case, it dated two photos in her collection. Digital newspaper collections make it easy to locate unexpected family history discoveries.  Take a minute to search for your relatives in the news and let me know what you find. 

    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

  • 1900-1910 photos | newspapers | unusual photos
    Sunday, 10 January 2016 22:39:17 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # 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, 03 May 2015
    Old Photo Mysteries and Genetics
    Posted by Maureen

    At the recent New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC) I met Pat McHugh.  She told me about a very interesting image in her family collection.  The name of the couple is currently unknown.

    Their clothing and the studio setting suggests it was taken in the late 1860s. The pair was likely born in at least the early years of that century.  It's not their attire or the setting that makes this image stand out.

    Take a good look at the woman in this carte de visite

    Have you spotted anything unusual about her hand?

    She has six fingers on her right hand. The extra digit is on the outside of her hand, so according to the Wikipedia page on polydactyly, her condition is known as postaxial polydactyly. The incidence is only .6 per one thousand births for female Caucasian births, and it's considered an autosomal recessive trait. 

    This woman wasn't alone. There are many famous individuals who were born with an extra digit and a good number of fictional characters as well. Anne Boelyn's extra finger may be a myth.

    I'm hoping that armed with a date, Pat can determine who they are on her family tree. Unfortunately, the additional digit is unlikely to be mentioned in any documents. There don't appear to be any stories passed down in the family about this woman either. 

    This one image is a reminder to study all the details in a picture very carefully for unusual identification clues.  What's the most unusual thing you've found in a family photo?

    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 | unusual photos
    Sunday, 03 May 2015 22:55:11 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Sunday, 30 November 2014
    5 Brick Wall Busters for Old Mystery Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Give yourself a present this holiday season by taking time to solve one of your unidentified-photo mysteries. Here are five proven ways to break down that pictorial brick wall:

    1. Broadcast your picture. Take it to family gatherings, post it on your social media pages and share it in Facebook groups related to your family history, such as surname pages or location-specific pages.

    2. Study the clues (again). Try to forget that you've ever seen that picture before. Start with a clean slate and re-examine the clues—the photographer's work dates, clothing clues, props and whatever else is present in the image. Combine it with information from your family history research.

    3. Broaden your search. Photographs don't always go to family. Just because an image was in your great-grandmother's collection, doesn't mean it's a picture of her. It could be a collateral relative or a friend.

    4. Look for family patterns. Think about your family photographs as documents and fit them into a timeline of a person's life. You might be surprised to see how those images line up with historical and genealogical data.

    5. Submit your mystery to this blog. Fifty-two blog posts plus three Photo Detective Family Tree Magazine columns per year means a lot of people are taking advantage of this free way to get expert advice on their pictures. Your photo might be one selected for publication. All you have to do is follow the guidelines for submissions. Can't wait to see what's in your photo shoebox!

    Looking for more tips on solving picture puzzles? Check out my book  Family Photo Detective.

    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

  • fraternal | occupational | unusual photos
    Sunday, 30 November 2014 16:32:34 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 19 October 2014
    The Ring Brothers: Triplets in the 1850s
    Posted by Maureen

    Multiple births aren't uncommon today, but they were rarer in the 19th century. Four years ago I wrote about Judy Linnebach's photo of an unidentified set of triplets. This week, it's the adorable Ring brothers.

    Image copyright: David Levy. Not to be used without permission

    Meet Charles, Eleazer and Millard Ring! David Levy bought this lovely daguerreotype. A daguerreotype is an image on a highly reflective, silver-coated copper plate, a photographic method introduced to the United States in 1839. This image dates from the early 1850s.  

    A quick search of the 1860 census found the three 11-year-olds living with their mother, a sibling, and possibly their grandmother in Lubec, Washington County, Maine. Beside their names, the enumerator wrote "of one birth."

    A source for the Linnebach article, Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George Milby Gould and Walter Lytle Pyle (published in 1904 and available on Google Books) states that most multiple births in the 19th century were to women in the age range of 30 to 34, and heredity was a factor.

    Their mother Margaret gave birth to her daughter Lucy at age 23, and then two years later in 1849, to the boys. The Rings weren't the only multiple birth in town: Just a page earlier in the census, Job and Almira Goodwin had a set of fraternal twins, Otis and Emily.

    Charles, Eleazer and Millard were obviously doted upon by their mother. The identical tunics and broad-brimmed, decorated hats in this photo attest to that. Because of the fancy hats, David initially believed he'd bought an image of three girls.

    Little boys in this period typically wore caps or broad-brimmed hats with wide hat bands. In this case, what looks like flowers could be a cluster of feathers—not an unusual hat decoration for a set of very well-dressed boys. The photo studio enhanced their buttons with gold paint.

    Lubec, the easternmost town in the United States, sits on the border of Maine and New Brunswick. In the 1850s, it was an economically stable community of farmers and fishermen. According to Wikipedia, in 1859, the town had a tannery, a gristmill and nine sawmills. While I didn't see a photographer listed in the 1860 census for the town, it's possible that this thriving town had a daguerreotypist in 1850s.

    Thank you to David for pointing out that another daguerreotype of the Ring triplets is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA. You can view it here.

    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

  • 1850s photos | children | daguerreotype | unusual photos
    Sunday, 19 October 2014 16:26:55 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 05 October 2014
    Mind-Bending Mystery Photo Revisted
    Posted by Maureen

    Over a year ago I wrote about this headache-causing mystery photo owned by a husband and wife, Art and Pam Crawford, who claimed the couple pictured as relatives. The problem was that Art and Pam each identified this couple as different people. Are they members of the Jones family or are they Crawfords?


    You can read about in the two installment story, Mind Bending Mystery and
    Mind Bending Mystery part 2.

    In the second post, I dug further into the story and the picture, eliminating Thomas Jefferson Jones and Mary Jane Williams as possibilities.

    Now another Crawford family member has come forward to claim the pair. Agnes Crawford is pretty certain that this photo depicts Nathaniel Crawford and Lois Viola Henley. Nathaniel died in 1937. 

    Agnes has a snapshot of the couple:

    This picture has been in her family for years.  I'm hoping for more information. Both Art and Agnes say Nathaniel and Lois are their grandparents.

    This is a good example of how photos spread through family connections. Photos trickle down in families based on which family members remain close. I'm hoping to introduce Art to his cousin.  Maybe she has more family photos!

    Another mystery remains: How did Pam's family come to have a copy and think that this couple were members of their clan?

    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

  • 1930s photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, 05 October 2014 17:00:55 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]
    # Sunday, 28 September 2014
    One More Photo of Ancestors Goofing Around
    Posted by Maureen

    A big thank you to Carol Jacobs Norwood! She sent me this 1937 photo of her father at age 16, clowning for the camera in a playpen, wearing a baby bonnet and holding a baby bottle.

    Carol thinks this picture was taken at her father's home in Gardenville, Bucks County, Pa.

    My question to Carol is whose playpen was it? Did her dad have a baby sibling or was a baby visiting? Or perhaps the family was cleaning out the attic?

    Ever wonder if people ever smiled in photos? Go to the Library of Congress online Prints and Photographs catalog and search using the word smiling.  It's actually a picture subject heading.  

    Got a funny picture you'd like to share?  Please submit it and I'll share it here.

    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

  • 1930s photos | snapshots | unusual photos
    Sunday, 28 September 2014 21:59:58 (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]
    # Sunday, 15 June 2014
    Mapping the Places Your Old Photos Were Taken
    Posted by Maureen

    There are so many layers to a photo identification and interpretation problem. A family photograph is a lot more than just figuring out who's in the image. Each photo tells a story.

    This image of billiard players outside a Mulhall, Okla., pool hall appeared in last week's Photo Detective Blog post, and in the in the May/June issue of Family Tree Magazine.

    In the magazine, I explored occupational clues in their attire. In the blog post, clues in the picture led to a possible identification based on the rivets in one man's chaps.

    This week it's pinpointing the location of the billiard hall. 

    Using the Sanborn Insurance Maps, a ProQuest database that's available through many libraries, I was able to locate where these men stood.

    Sanborn Insurance Maps are a wonderful resource for anyone looking for more information on a particular building.  You can view the building in context of its surroundings, learn about details in the structure such as the location of staircases, elevators and how larger businesses were heated.  Sometimes there is information on the type of building material. Often, the maps tell you what types of businesses operated in a building and sometimes with a specific business name. (Learn more about Sanborn maps and see an example here.)

    These maps are very useful when city directories aren't available for an area or when used in conjunction with city directory information.  The digital Sanborn collection covers the years 1867 to 1970. It's not comprehensive for every city/town or even every block.

    There are several maps for Mulhall in the collection, so narrowing the time frame was the first step.

    The style of the stamp box, combined with the divided design on the back of this photo postcard, dates this card to after 1907. On March 1, 1907, it became legal to include both the address and a message on the back of a postcard.

    The August 1908 Sanborn Map for Mulhall shows that a billiard hall operated at 57 Baty Street.

    mullhall billards.jpg

    According to the 1910 US census, Yeve J. Cox operated a pool hall in town. This map doesn't list the name of the pool hall's owner. It's possible that Cox appears in the photo above.

    There was a surprise on the October 1915 map of the town: The billiard hall was gone, replaced by a moving pictures establishment. At 62-1/2 Baty Street was a photographer's studio. According to Kathryn Stansbury's History of Mulhall, Oklahoma: 100 Yesteryears (Transcript Press, 1988), a  Cunningham's pool hall burned down in 1919. It's unclear if both establishments were the same business.

    This information suggests that the photograph was taken between 1907 and 1915. Given what's known about the men in the picture, it's likely closer to 1907.

    A lot has changed in Mulhall since these men posed for this portrait. Google Maps shows how many of the buildings on Baty are now gone.

    mulhall street view.jpg

    Using a combination of historical maps and modern technology brings a new layer of interpretation to Charlotte Flock's family photo.

    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 | 1910s photos | occupational | unusual photos
    Sunday, 15 June 2014 13:03:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 01 June 2014
    Costumed Old-Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    Costumed ancestors in photographs often cause their descendants to wonder about the significance of that head-to-toe attire. Cheryl Jackson has one such mystery.


    She thinks this man is John Hardy Jackson who lived in the Paragould, Green County, area of Arkansas from approximately 1896 to 1942.

    He's part of a group that posed in American Indian attire in front of a sign for a Webster County Fair. According to Google Maps, Paragould, Ark., is about 200 miles from Webster County, Mo.


    While the family thinks they have American Indian heritage, I think these men are dressed up for another reason. They could be members of the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM).

    I wrote about a similarly attired group of men from Cincinnati back in 2011.

    Could Cheryl Jackson's ancestor have been a member of the IORM? It's possible. That might be the root of the family lore relating to American Indian ancestry. A DNA test could help establish whether the family in fact has American Indian heritage.

    It's also possible that these men dressed up for another unspecified event at a fair. The poster in the background could place them in Missouri when the photo was taken, or just be an advertisement for a nearby fair.

    The man in the center with the white headdress and the crossed sticks is the leader of this group. Next week I'll examine another photo of Jackson to see if the two men are the same.

    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

  • fraternal | men | unusual photos
    Sunday, 01 June 2014 18:59:32 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 25 May 2014
    Daughters and Sons-in-law in an 1850s Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Jim TeVogt owns a copy of this gorgeous image, reported to be three of Horace W. Twichell's daughters and their husbands. A cousin told him that his photo was made from a glass negative in the Twichell family.

    Horace W  Twichelledit daughters  _husbands-Eveline Twichell  Usual Haggerty Devore Irene Jane _Twichell  Will Thomas Cadoo Emeline Twichell  Peter H  _C.jpg

    Could this be:
    • Eveline (born 25 May 1824) married in 1840 to Usual Haggerty Devore (born 1815)
    • Emeline (the twin to Eveline, born 25 May 1824) married in 1844 to Petr H. Conklin (born 1822)
    • Irene Jane (born 1838) married in 1852 to Will Thomas Cadoo (born 1825)?
    There are many questions:
    • What type of image is it, as it was supposedly made from a glass negative?
    • Who's who? Are these the twins with another sister?

    Here's what I see: 
    • All three women wear their hair tight over their ears in the style of the 1840s. It's a very conservative style. The family were Methodist.
    • Each woman Has a flower pinned in the center of the opening of her collar.
    • Wide-necked dresses with short sleeves were still being worn in the early 1850s. Each woman has accessorized her dress with a wide collar tucked at the waist.
    • The center woman wears a wide bow at the waist.  I've seen this in photos of weddings.
       horace twichell daughter.jpg
    • The daughter on the far right wears undersleeves to cover her arms. These tied on the arm above the elbow.

    twichell daughter right.jpg

    Horace Twichell had two other daughters: Harriet (born 1826), who married Daniel Malin in 1845; and Henrietta (born 1831), who married a man named Sulla before 1860. 

    The only sister the family has a positively identified image of is Harriet and her husband, circa 1870. 

    Daniel  Harriet Mallanedit - ca  1870.jpg

    This is not one of the sisters or husbands in the first image. This man has bushy eyebrows and is much older than his wife. There are facial similarities between the sisters, such as the shape of the face and nose. Unfortunately, there are no other images of the other sisters and their families.

    Wedding clues include the presence of the ribbon, the flowers and the similarly dressed women. So who's in the possible wedding image?  It could very well be the twins Emeline and Eveline with their sister Irene Jane in the middle. Irene married Dec. 15, 1852, which is a likely date for the picture. 

    As to the relative's comment about the glass negative, the original for a photo of this era would have been a shiny reflective daguerreotype. Glass negatives weren't available until after 1852, and glass ambrotypes weren't patented until 1854.  Someone in the family may have copied the original and ended up with a glass negative, from which TeVogt's image was made.  

    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

  • 1850s photos | unusual photos | wedding | women
    Sunday, 25 May 2014 16:34:32 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 14 July 2013
    A Multi-Mystery Historical Baby Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Jim Moses recently found himself with a perplexing family photo mystery. When going through a trunk from his great-grandfather Luther Abner Moses (1860-1905) , he found an intriguing photo.


    It's a wonderful photo of a baby laughing. Everything in the trunk is related to Abner, but this photo is a puzzle. As far as Jim knows, there are no family links to this child.

    On the front it says "W. Bryan (4 months old) January 1893)."  The back is even more confusing.


    Along the top edge (to the right—I've turned the image on its side) is "E.R. Pitt."  And in different script, "Compliments of Frank to Earle. Taken by J. Pilbeam (?) with Gen. Miles."

    Underneath that is "Made in Arkansas May 18 (13), 1891." Also written on the card is "Red Cloud and Little Big Horn."

    So many mysteries:
    • Who is W.Bryan?
    • Why is E.R. Pitt written on the back?
    • Who are Pilbeam and Gen. Miles?
    • Who are Frank and Earle?
    • Where was this taken?
    • Why was it in the trunk? 
    • Was the photo taken in 1893 (as on the front of the card), 1891 (as on the back), or neither?

    A search of the 1900 US census on HeritageQuest for W. Bryan resulted in a William Bryan in Arkansas, who was 10 at the time. You can't always trust ages in the census. Could this be the boy depicted in the photo?  Or does the "Arkansas" notation on the back refer to something else?

    The "E.R Pitt" notation could refer to the Earle who received the card from Frank.

    There are no Pilbeams in Arkansas in the 1900 census, but it's not an uncommon name in Michigan, which is where Luther Abner (in whose trunk this photo was found) lived. 

    Gen. Nelson Appleton Miles, whose name appears on the back, served in the Civil War and in the Spanish-American War. He spent two decades fighting on the American frontier and he drove Sitting Bull into Canada after the Battle of Little Big Horn. The names Little Big Horn and Red Cloud appear on the card.

    Could these be notes for something else? I've seen the backs of cabinet card photos used as scratch paper filled with math problems or handwriting samples, but in this case, some of the information seems more significant. 

    It's a picture mystery with lots of different threads to follow. There's one other thing to consider: Our ancestors collected interesting images. Perhaps this was an image bought because it's unusual. In an age when most people posed with serious expressions, the image of a baby laughing was an anomaly.

    In the meantime, I'll keep digging. These multi-layered mysteries are frustrating but fascinating. 

    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

  • 1890s photos | african american | children | unusual photos
    Sunday, 14 July 2013 16:39:26 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 22 April 2013
    A Piece of Connecticut History
    Posted by Maureen

    Photo courtesy of Derby (CT) Public Library

    Could this woman be Nancy Freeman, widow of  Roswell Freeman, who was one of Connecticut's "Black Governors"? That's the big question, and this query has a lot of pieces.

    Janet Woodruff, an archaeologist with the Archaeology Laboratory for African & African Diaspora Studies at Central Connecticut State University, sent me this photo for analysis. Dr. Warren Perry, Prof. Gerald Sawyer, Woodruff, and students and volunteers have been conducting archaeological excavations at this homesite since 2010.

    Photographs lie at the intersection of history, genealogy, family history and even archaeology.

    The tradition of the Black Governors dates back to Colonial Connecticut. These individuals were elected by members of their communities. The Connecticut State Library has an interesting online article and bibliography.

    Roswell and his father Quash were both Black Governors. This property may have been willed to Roswell when his father died. Roswell married Nancy (possibly Thompson) in 1826 and they had 13 children, although records have been found for only nine.

    The elderly woman pictured stands in her front yard (the front door is next to the ladder). Behind her is a shed. Archaeologists aren't sure of the purpose of that building. 

    I'm trying to answer several questions about this image. Next week, we'll look at a few of the details. There is more research to be done, so watch for updates to this story.

    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 | house/building photos | unusual photos | women
    Monday, 22 April 2013 21:40:24 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Tuesday, 26 March 2013
    RootsTech 2013 Report
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

  • photo backgrounds | Rootstech | snapshots | unusual photos
    Tuesday, 26 March 2013 14:52:28 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 11 March 2013
    Smartphone Camera Tip: Viewing Old Negatives
    Posted by Maureen

    I'm a relatively new smartphone user. While I was waiting for an upgrade, lots of folks got iPhones and other types of smartphones. A few months ago, I finally qualified and picked up a Samsung Galaxy.  

    Some attendees to last month's Who Do You Think You Are? Live! show brought negatives with them for us to decipher. James Morley, of What's That Picture showed me a neat trick with the camera function. If you find yourself facing a batch of negatives at a relative's house and own a smart phone, try the following:
    • Select your camera app
    • Go to settings. On my phone it looks like a gear.
    • Select Effects
    • Select Negative

    Point your camera at the negative and take a picture. It becomes a positive image. This was taken quickly and it works for identification purposes.  It's only a low-resolution picture. Although this isn't a high quality picture worth printing, it's a great way to preview those negatives.

    editWDYTYA negative.jpg

    My apologies to the woman who brought in this glass negative—I can't find your name in my London notes. Thank you for letting me use your picture to illustrate this article.

    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

  • negatives | preserving photos | unusual photos
    Monday, 11 March 2013 16:02:37 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 09 December 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. 


    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.


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


    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, 09 December 2012 19:32:33 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 19 November 2012
    Multi-Generation Portraits
    Posted by Maureen

    It's Thanksgiving! If you're planning a family gathering and are wondering how to keep folks occupied until the meal is ready, try getting them to chat about family photos. It doesn't matter if they are identified images or a group of mystery pics. I'll be taking out a box of snapshots, setting up my digital tape recorder and hopefully capturing some "new" memories.  Images can trigger all types of memories relating to the people depicted, not just the story of that photographic moment. Try it and see.

    Mary Lutz Govertsen sent in a complicated multi-generational photo of several generations of her family. She's hoping that I can compare it to another of her images and identify the date and the people. Isn't it lovely?


    On the back it says "4 generations: Granny [Mary Ruth Godwin, the baby], her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother." In the photo are the two Brown sisters who, due to marriage and disparate ages, are Mary Govertsen's grandmother's grandmother and great-grandmother.

    Family trees are full of twists and turns. Mary's family is a little more complicated. Her family moved from Tazewell, Va., to Missouri; due to multiple re-marriages and inter-marriages everyone is related. This is a family tree that I can't wait to see.

    It's a beautiful family photo that's sure to inspire some great family stories. I'll be back next week with more details on the group and the other image. If you have a multi-generational photo, I'd love to see it and feature it in this blog. The How to Submit Your Photo link provides details on how to send me your picture.

    Hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!

    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 | children | unusual photos | women
    Monday, 19 November 2012 13:50:16 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 04 November 2012
    Historical Fact or Fiction?
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I wrote about ways to spot manipulated photos in your family collection. My inspiration was an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

    Mathew Brady is the most well-known photographer of the Civil War. His studio documented well-known figures of the period as well as ordinary soldiers. When he died in 1896, his nephew Levin Corbin Handy inherited the collection. Handy was a photographer as well, and at times he tinkered with his uncle's images. In the exhibit is one of those composites. It depicts Ulysses S. Grant on horseback at City Point, Va. Or does it? Take a good look at the composite—it's actually made from three pictures.

    First the composite.
    The three images are as follows.

    Handy used a Brady image of Grant at Cold Harbor, Va. (1864) and removed his head. He then placed it on the body of General Alexander McDowell McCook on horseback taken in 1864. I don't have the image of McCook, but here's the Cold Harbor one.


    Handy placed the composite of Grant over a Brady image of Confederate prisoners after the Battle of Fisher's Hill, Va., taken in 1864.

    Here's that scene.
    Fishers Hilledit2.jpg
    Handy created the composite in 1902. Because Americans were still clamoring for images depicting the Civil War, Handy found new ways to market his uncle's images.

    The full story of this picture appears in the book Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop. Thank you to the curators who put this exhibit together. The exhibit will also be at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., from February-May 2013 and at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in Houston, Tex., from June-August 2013.

    If you'd like to see more pictures taken by the Brady Studio, go to the Library of Congress website, and search the Prints and Photographs collection for "Mathew Brady."

    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 | 1900-1910 photos | Civil War | men | Military photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, 04 November 2012 18:32:11 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 29 October 2012
    Photo Manipulation Before Photo Shop
    Posted by Maureen

    Last weekend I was in New York City for The Genealogy Event. If I'm going to be in New York City, I always make time for a visit to the Metropolitan Museum. I can't resist their photo exhibits. This time I saw Faking It : Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop. It was fascinating!

    Spotting a manipulated photo in your family collection might be easy or difficult. It all depends on the technique. Here are some things to look for:
    • Handcoloring

    There were technical limitations with early photography. One of them was the lack of color. Customers wanted their images to look as realistic as possible so photographers developed ways to add color to their images.

    • Ghostly images in the background

    In the 1860s and early 1870s some photographers took double-exposure images and suggested that spirits were present.

    • The addition of a background

    It was possible to add a background into an image. If you see a person posed in front of an unlikely landscape then it's possible that this image is a composite of two different images.

    • A person added in

    Years ago I bought one of these at a photo sale. Look closely at the background. There is a woman the wrong proportion to the rest of the family. She's also wearing a dress from the early 1890s while everyone else is dressed in the styles of the late 1890s.



    You can see a line around her head that illustrates the place where the studio dropped her into the scene.

    • Multiple poses of the same person

    Here's an example.

    composite.jpg This image dates from circa 1910, but this technique was common before this date.

    This young woman has three poses of herself combined into one photo. 

    Next week I'll be back with a famous example based on two Civil War photos taken by the Brady studio. 

    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 | 1900-1910 photos | Photo fun | unusual photos
    Monday, 29 October 2012 15:27:10 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 08 October 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. 


    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, 08 October 2012 17:47:08 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 20 August 2012
    Genealogy Fashions: Is Your Ancestor's Hat Back in Style?
    Posted by Maureen

    Fashion is looking back not merely to the 1970s, but all the way to the 1920s and even 1880s, at least as far as hats are concerned.

    Last Sunday's New York Times fashion supplement featured advertisements showing old-fashioned-looking hats by designers Louis Vuitton and Donna Karan. Even the Bloomingdale's ad featured a model in a vintage style hat.

    I can't show you the Louis Vuitton ad, but I can show you hats that resemble the ones worn by the models in the New York Times ads. It was a fashion spread for handbags, but the head wear looked liked these workmen's hats from the 1850s. I'm serious! Vuitton added a grosgrain band above the brim, but the shape is very similar.

    Donna Karan's ad is online. The hat on the woman in the video strongly resembles those worn in the 1880s. In fact, I featured a similar looking hat in Photo Contest Submissions: Shirley Jenks Jacobs submitted this photo of a woman in a rolled brimmed hat with trim and a high crown.

    Shirley Jenks Jacobs2.jpg

    One more blast from the past was the Bloomingdale's ad of a young model wearing a plush hat with a very wide brim and a plume of animal fur. It looked something like this image I own of a wedding from circa 1920.  Don't you love his hair? It helps date this image.


    So which hat style will you wear this season? I'll be looking through the photos in my Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900 for more matches.

    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 | 1880s photos | 1920s photos | hairstyles | hats | | unusual photos
    Monday, 20 August 2012 15:55:13 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Thursday, 09 August 2012
    And the Winner is...
    Posted by Maureen

    Several weeks ago we put out a call for images for inclusion in my new book, Family Photo Detective (available for preorder in Pictures poured into my inbox and the Family Tree Magazine inbox, and many were posted on the Family Tree Magazine Facebook page.

    Congratulations to Michael Hanrahan, who sent in the winning image and will receive a copy of the book!

    You'll have to wait for the book for the full story of his photograph, but I thought you'd like to see the picture:

    And a closer look:

    It's a really fun picture of a group of women at a party. Here's what Mike says about it: "These ladies include my great-grandmother, grandmother, and numerous great-aunts. I'm thinking the picture was taken around 1910 in Elmira, NY."

    I'll tell you more about this photo in the future.

    You can view the other entries in our slideshow on Flickr. I'll be featuring many of these images in future blog posts.

    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

  • Improve your genealogical skills and connect with other family historians from the convenience of home at Family Tree University's Fall 2012 Virtual Genealogy Conference, taking place Sept. 14-16. Early bird registration ends Friday, Aug. 10 at 11:59 p.m.—just enter code FTUVCEARLY at checkout to save $50!

    1900-1910 photos | group photos | unusual photos | women
    Thursday, 09 August 2012 01:44:18 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 09 July 2012
    Answers to our Farming Ancestor Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Do you read the comments posted on blogs?  Last week I posted Sharon Pike's photo of a wheat harvest and asked if anyone could identify the thresher.  We then posted the query on Family Tree Magazine's Facebook page.

    Thanks to savvy readers, Sharon now knows which man is her ancestor.

    Pike farming SDedit.jpg

    The thresher is on the far left of this line of men and machines. Her ancestor Will Pike is the man standing up.

    Pike farmingcloseup.jpg

    Thank you to everyone who commented and posted! 

    Here's a call for images.  I'm moving from the Boston area back to my native state of Rhode Island.  It made me wonder if any of you have photographs of your ancestors moving houses. You can email them to me. I'd love to see them.

    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

  • 1910s photos | occupational | unusual photos
    Monday, 09 July 2012 22:48:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 17 June 2012
    Family Photos Shared at Jamboree: Threshing Wheat
    Posted by Maureen

    I love going to genealogy conferences. The people, the photos and the stories all add up to a fantastic experience. For the last four years I've trekked out to California for the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree. It's a regional conference with a national feel—a big program with nationally known speakers.

    Every year, folks stop by to show me their photos. Some people come back each year and as you might expect, friendships develop. 

    Here's a picture of Mildred "Millie" Vander Hoeven and me at Jamboree in 2010.


    Millie stops by to chat and share stories of her childhood. She's sent me pictures of her childhood and her parents.

    Family photo collections are an amazing array of people portraits and other types of pictures. These next two images of Millie's show men threshing wheat. I need to chat with her to get a bit more information. 



    Can anyone—perhaps someone familiar with farming—comment on what the crews are doing in these photos? Click Comments below to share your thoughts.

    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

  • Genealogy events | occupational | unusual photos
    Sunday, 17 June 2012 14:57:07 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [6]
    # Monday, 14 May 2012
    What I Saw at the National Genealogical Society Conference
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you to everyone who stopped by my booth at the National Genealogical Society Conference last week! I looked at a lot of photos and many people promised to send in submissions for this column.

    Larae Schraeder showed me two photos. Here's one of them (I'm still working on the other):


    It's a portrait of the Jeffers Family of Missouri. There is so much to like about this picture.

    It was taken circa 1890, based on the women's peaked shoulder seams.


    This was the style for a few years from 1889 to 1892.

    The whole family dressed up for this group portrait, likely taken by an itinerant photographer. Look closely at these two details:
    • You can see the temporary wall set up and the edge of the backdrop.
    • In the second closeup, you can see that the backdrop stands on legs and the grass beneath the family's feet.

    The family took their excursion to the photographer very seriously by dressing up for the portrait and posing with solemn expressions.

    This photo from the Ralph M. and Nettie Finley Jeffers collection is a family history treasure.

    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 | group photos | hairstyles | unusual photos
    Monday, 14 May 2012 15:45:39 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 13 February 2012
    Photographs on Who Do You Think You Are?
    Posted by Maureen

    Every so often, the cameras for Who Do You Think You Are pan across a family photo. Last week, there were two images of Marisa Tomei's ancestors. Instead of being in a family album, they were on a tombstone in Italy.  

    How unusual was the practice of putting photographs on tombstones?

    Not very. In fact, the first US patent for including photographs on headstones dates from March 11, 1851. It was issued to Solon Jenkins, Jr. of West Cambridge, Mass., for "Securing Daguerreotypes on Monumental Stones" (U.S. Patent No. 7,974). You can view the whole patent file on Google through the Patent database.

    If your ancestral headstone once had a daguerreotype it's likely no longer there. Unfortunately, most were pried out of the stones. 

    Jay Ruby's book Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America (MIT Press, 1995) includes a chapter on memorial photography as it pertains to pictures on gravestones.

    If anyone knows of a photographic headstone shown on, please post the link in the comments below. I'd love to see it.

    You can watch the entire Tomei episode online to catch another glimpse of the 20th century photographic headstones. I just wish the series would linger on the pictures for more than a few seconds. As a reader of this column, you know that a picture can contain a lot of family history information!

    Next week, I leave for London for the Who Do You Think You Are? Live! event. If you're going to be there, stop by the photo gallery on the second floor and say hi. This will be my fourth year there. I'll report on any interesting photo items upon my return. Cheerio!

    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

  • unusual photos | unusual surfaces | Videos
    Monday, 13 February 2012 18:24:29 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [11]
    # Monday, 30 January 2012
    Posting Photos Online
    Posted by Maureen

    This week genealogists from all over are gathering in Salt Lake City to talk technology at RootsTech. Unfortunately, I won't be there this year, although I might check out some of the virtual offerings.

    I'm trying to finish research on a second volume of my Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation.

    There are a lot of great websites out there that enable folks to share pictures and stories. Before I list them, here are some basic tips before you post your pictures in the global world of the web.

    • Don't upload images larger than 72 dpi. That resolution is perfect for the web, but anyone trying to copy your image won't end up with a very good print.

    • Make sure you own the photo (or have written permission to post). I wouldn't want my cousins posting family photographs online that I own and you probably wouldn't your cousins to do so either.

    • Don't post images of living people. Genealogists generally recommend not posting information on living individuals and that rule applies to photos as well.  

    Now let's get to the fun part. Websites!  I have my personal favorites. Oh— did I mention that most of these sites are FREE?

    • History Pin.  Take a tour of the world or your neighborhood in the photos on this site.  There are "sets" of images that focus on themes.  This website just won an award for the best mobile app. Try it and see.

    • 1000Memories.  Need an online place to share your photos, stories and family videos, then check out this site.  I was stunned to see the possibilities. 

    • Dear Photograph. This is a really cool idea. Take a photograph of a place today then upload it and a historical photo of the same place. The juxtaposition of the two images is a lot of fun.

    • Ancient Faces and Dead Fred.  These two reunion websites can help you reconnect with "missing" family photographs.

    Let's not forget that you can upload images to genealogical sites such as and

    I'm trying to beat the winter blahs and maybe you are, too. On my personal website, I'm having a Silly Old Snapshot Contest.  Upload an image, get folks to vote on it and you might end up winning a prize package. The contest ends on February 25. 

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

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

  • Photo fun | photo news | unusual photos | Web sites
    Monday, 30 January 2012 14:46:41 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [5]
    # Monday, 24 October 2011
    Asking Permission
    Posted by Maureen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • photo-research tips | unusual photos
    Monday, 24 October 2011 20:43:34 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Monday, 03 October 2011
    Foreign Intrigue
    Posted by Maureen

    Each photo has a life story. Who took it, why was it taken, and if it's in this column, who is it. This picture from Maureen Ballantine's collection has an additional issue—how did it get so damaged?


    The scan she sent me was so faded that I enhanced it using Adobe Photoshop Elements.

    The portrait of this unidentified woman has experienced the passage of time: The cardboard mount is broken and the right edge is missing part of the picture. The area around her face is rippled—that bit of damage suggests that at one point this part of the image was wet and the photographic paper became separated from the cardboard. This image is in fragile condition.

    According to Ballantine, the portrait wasn't taken in the United States; this mystery woman posed for her picture on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Over the years, the tropical heat and humidity took its toll on this lovely image.

    Maureen's cousin thinks that it is her great-great-grandmother Anne Philibert, and that the picture was taken between 1870 and 1880.

    I don't have Anne's life dates, but the photo evidence suggests a date earlier than the 1870s.


    The woman wears her hair pulled back in soft curls. Her dress features full sleeves and a hoop skirt. The dress suggests a date in the early 1860s. 

    While there are slight stylistic differences in clothing worn in different countries, this woman's attire also suggests that she's aware of the current fashion. Dresses in the 1870s have more-elaborate trim, long bodices and different sleeves from this one.  In the background of the larger image, you see the standard tasseled drapery used in studios in the 1860s.

    It's time for Maureen and her cousin to double-check their genealogy to see if Anne is still a possibility for a woman living in the 1860s.

    A damaged photo requires special care. An acid- and lignin-free folder would protect it from further abrasion. Scanning it at 600 dpi as a TIF file provides a backup copy. Maureen might want to consider having a professional photographic conservator provide an estimate to stabilize the image. She can find one through the American Institute for Conservation of Artistic and Historic Works. This image will continue to deteriorate.

    There is more preservation advice in my book, Preserving Family Photographs and details on hairstyles in Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles.

    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

  • 1860s photos | unusual photos
    Monday, 03 October 2011 16:53:26 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 26 September 2011
    What is Crowdsourcing?
    Posted by Maureen

    Crowdsourcing has been in the news lately relating to photo identification. According to Wikipedia, the term refers to the outsourcing of tasks to a community. 

    The Library of Congress (LOC) is using the historical, photographic and genealogical community to help identify their photo mysteries. In its Flickr collection is a set called "Mystery Photos Solved." On Dec. 24, 2009, the LOC posted this set and asked for help identifying the images. 

    Within days, they had the answers. Each identification was confirmed through the use of other images and maps. It's a fantastic use of the web-based community.


    Here's one of them. It's a staircase in a Paris Opera House taken between 1890-1900. You'll notice that the image is color and looks like a photograph. In actuality, it's an "ink-based photolithograph."  

    You can view the entire LOC collection of these lovely images on Flickr. You'll be able to travel without leaving your computer screen. <smile>

    The LOC is also using crowdsourcing to try to identify the faces in their Civil War collection.

    This technique is being used to predict weather, identify new planets and save old languages. The techie community is calling this trend outdated, but I love the way folks work together to solve these picture riddles.

    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

  • 1890s photos | unusual photos
    Monday, 26 September 2011 21:14:17 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 19 September 2011
    Oral History and Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Behind every family photo is a story. It might be a simple tale of how your ancestor visited a photo studio or a complex story interwoven with local, national and family history.

    Bonnie Farver, Farver family historian for Pennsylvania, sent me this great portrait.


    The Farvers have an oral tradition associated with this woman that claims she's Sohanna or Christina Springer Brice, a Lakota Sioux related to Sitting Bull.

    Have you noticed her blue eyes?


    According to Farver, most of this woman's descendants have blue eyes and blonde hair.

    Farver's been researching Sitting Bull hoping to find a connection to this woman. She learned that Sitting Bull had twin children. It's an interesting fact: There are 24 sets of twins in the Farver family beginning in 1880 to the present. 

    This image is a copy of a one-inch-square tintype. It appeared on a reunion notice.

    Family folklore states that in this picture, she wears a neckpiece of white ermine fur and that the metal pin is actually a Henry rifle shell. Sorting out the truth from the legend is key in every family story. For instance, this neck ruffle doesn't appear to be made from ermine. Perhaps the ermine hangs from the ribbon wrapped around her neck. 


    However, her pin is an unusual shape and might be a refashioned shotgun shell. The Henry rifle was first made in the 1850s.

    Farver wanted to know if the dress was recycled from a Civil War uniform.  While it's difficult to see the fabric in this photo, the style of the collar, the bodice and the big buttons date from the late 1870s. 

    So who is this woman? That's the big question in the family. Could she be the wife of John Conrad Farver (possibly a German immigrant), born in 1755 and died 1823-24?  If she's around 80 years of age and this photo was taken circa 1879, then this woman was born circa 1799.  She could have been the young bride of a much older man—that was not an unusual occurrence.  Proof of her identity is still lacking, but having a time frame for the picture may help narrow the possibilities.

    If you recognize her, comment below and I'll let Bonnie Farver know. She'd love to have a definite name to go with this face.

    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

  • 1870s photos | unusual photos
    Monday, 19 September 2011 20:54:20 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 22 August 2011
    Godfrey Update
    Posted by Maureen

    It's week three of the project to identify all the faces in Gwen Prichard's family composite.


    In the first installment, I introduced this lovely composite and then last week I showed an original image from which one of the tiny portraits was taken.

    This week, Gwen wrote to me with a new piece of information. Her niece did a quick search of the city directories on Fold3 (formerly and found a photographer named Peter Godfrey living in Louisville, Ky., in 1866. She thinks it's her ancestor. This suggests that Godfrey created the composite after 1866 when he was living in Fulton, Mo.

    We're still trying to sort through photos for facial comparisons and then trying to compare the life dates of those individuals with their possible ages in the composite.

    I agree with Gwen that Godfrey probably photographed family members residing in Louisville before he moved, and then the Missouri Godfreys later on. There is also the possibility that family members sent him photographs of themselves for inclusion in the composite.

    This photo has a lot of angles worth exploring! According to Gwen's emails, it appears she's identified around a dozen individuals. That's great news. Photo mysteries like this take a long time to decipher. She's doing all the right things—comparing faces to photos in her collection and reaching out to relatives. She's taking it one face at time.

    Photo challenges come in all sizes from single unnamed images to large group portraits. In Gwen's case, she's got a lot of genealogical information to help her follow the pictorial trail.

    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

  • 1860s photos | Photo fun | unusual photos
    Monday, 22 August 2011 14:10:35 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 15 August 2011
    Tackling the Godfrey Family Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week's column focused on Gwen Prichard's family photo mystery. This small composite image is a genealogical lock. All Gwen has to do is find the key. 


    In this case, the key is her family photo collection. Gwen spent last week comparing each face in this picture to possible matches in her collection. She's well on her way to solving this picture puzzle.

    Here's one of her comparisons.  In the second row from the top, on the far left, is a little boy in curls.


    Gwen has the original photo in her collection. 

    boy with chair.jpg

    He's dressed in what appears to be a riding outfit for boys, with a whip in his hand. As Gwen looks at each face, she's trying to match the date of the composite (mid to late 1860s) with what she knows about the folks in her family pictures:
    • Who's the right age to be in the picture?
    • Do their facial features match—eyes, noses, mouths and shape of face?
    I'm not convinced all the images in this composite were taken at the same time. While she's working on her family collection, I'm studying each tiny picture for clues.

    I'll be back next week with another update on this fascinating photo.

    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

  • 1860s photos | unusual photos
    Monday, 15 August 2011 16:06:34 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 08 August 2011
    Godfrey Family Picture Puzzle
    Posted by Maureen

    Gwen Prichard and her cousin Libby Claypool have quite the family photo mystery. The image is a composite of what appears to be several generations worth of Godfreys.


    Several years ago I saw something similar, but that woman didn't have a clue about the identity of the people in the collage. In Gwen's case, there are some identifications written on the back. 


    She has no idea who wrote the caption, but that detail could be the key to figuring out the identity of the folks depicted.


    According to the caption, the first three women in the top row (left to right) are Fannie Godfrey, Sarah Ostick Dalton and "Aunt Godfrey." 

    This photo generates a lot of questions. It's going to take some time to figure this out. 

    According to Gwen, photographer Peter Godfrey appears in the 1870 and 1880 census, but she's been unable to find him in the 1860 federal census. He was born in 1841. I found a Peter Godfrey living in Ohio in the 1860 census working as a farm laborer. His age is 23. Could this be the photographer?

    The history of ownership of an image can offer clues worth following. In this case, Libby Claypool is fairly certain the photo belonged to her great- grandmother, Fannie Williams Sloane, who was Peter Godfrey's niece.   Perhaps she wrote the identifications on the back. If so then Gwen might be able to figure out the first name of "Aunt Godfrey." This aunt is an elderly woman and likely the oldest person in this photo. Did Frannie Sloane have an aunt who lived into the 1860s?

    Date of Photo
    There are a lot of faces in this composite. A quick assessment suggests that most of the images in this collage were taken in the 1860s. This carte de visite card photograph with a double-gold-line border was common in the 1860s. The photographer's name and address is also of a design popular in the Civil War decade.

    It seems quite possible that Peter Godfrey had a photo studio in the 1860s. Did he take all these photographs of family members or just make copy prints and lay them out to form this multi-generational group portrait?

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

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

  • 1860s photos | Civil War | unusual photos
    Monday, 08 August 2011 18:24:42 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, 12 July 2011
    Who's That Girl?
    Posted by Maureen

    Do you want a chance to win a trip for two to Belgium and a $1000 shopping trip to fashion icon Diane Von Furstenberg's boutique? 

    All you have to do is register on the Red Star Line blog and solve a mystery. Anyone know the identity of this girl?

    Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Canada

    The online photo caption is "Young Galician immigrant holding envelope labelled 'Red Star Line.' Saint John, NB. May, 1905."

    Journalist Gretchen Kelly recently interviewed me for the Red Star Line blog, which focuses on this picture. Each week she investigates another angle to the story. By reading her blog, you'll learn about Galician immigration to Canada, the history of the Red Star Line and how Gretchen is trying to solve this picture puzzle.

    She asked how I'd go about determining this girl's identity. As you might expect, I have a few ideas. I'll write a follow-up account once I've tracked down the leads. However, the rules of photo identification are clear whether they're applied to this photo or to your unidentified family image:
    • Never assume:  I haven't seen the original photo, so I can't determine the truthfulness of the caption. The first rule of photo identification combines "never assume" and "don't jump to conclusions."

    • Who wrote the caption? So who wrote this caption and when?  Was it the original photographer or an archivist years later? Believe it or not, handwriting will help you place a caption in a time frame.  Handwriting can vary from generation to generation. What type of pencil or pen was used to write the caption?  If it's in ballpoint, then this caption was probably written after this style of pen became widely available in 1945.

    • Is the date correct? The clues in the caption will help determine if the date could be correct. Read handwriting carefully; it's easy to misinterpret numbers. In this case, there were no Red Star Line ships leaving for New Brunswick in May, 1905, so something is wrong. Is the month wrong or the year incorrect? Or perhaps the whole scene is a promotional setup—the girl came in on a different ship and the photographer gave her a Red Star Line ticket to hold. That's a provocative theory (gasp!).

    • Why was the photograph taken? Photographs were taken of recent immigrants to New Brunswick to promote immigration to western Canada. There's another story behind this picture—the reason for the portrait.

    • Who is she? In addition to this photograph documenting one girl's journey to America, she's someone's relative. Until the picture proof adds up, I wonder about the truthfulness of the whole caption. Could she be an immigrant from a different part of Europe?
    • Where was the picture taken? There isn't much information in the background to place this photo, however there's another photo online of a group arriving in New Brunswick:
    group red
    Notice the wall behind them in this photo from the National Archives of Canada. It's the same as in the first photo. Both images are identified as having been taken in New Brunswick.
    OK, so now you know that I'm the type of person who has to see the proof. However, there are clear clues in the image. The background helps verify where it was taken. 

    The little girl is probably around 6 to 10 years old. Her face still has a very young appearance. She wears her hair back in a neat braid. On the seat beside her is a packet of clothes.

    She has a tidy appearance. Her dress and coat are appropriate for the early 20th century. She has a pinafore over the top of her dress, stockings and well-polished boots. It's an interesting appearance for a young immigrant. 

    Other questions come to mind. Did she immigrate alone? It wasn't that unusual an occurrence. Or did she come with family and the photographer singled her out from the group?

    Genealogists all over the world are hunting for her identity trying to find her in passenger lists. The contest is open to all. 

    I'll let you know what happens and if I discover any new clues. 

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

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

  • children | group photos | hairstyles | Immigrant Photos | unusual photos
    Tuesday, 12 July 2011 15:49:53 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Tuesday, 05 July 2011
    What's it Worth and What's the Story?
    Posted by Maureen

    Photos come in different shapes, sizes and mediums.  They also come with stories.

    Let's take this image of Governor Blacksnake, aka Chainbreaker.  I featured him in my book The Last Muster: Images of The Revolutionary War Generation. I'd found the image in the Extra Census Bulletin: Indians: The Six Nations of New York (US Census Printing Office, 1892) and on the cover of Jeanne Winston Adler's Chainbreaker's War (Black Dome Press, 2002), but with no attribution.

    Months of searching archives, libraries and museums didn't turn up a single lead about the owner of the original daguerreotype. Was it lost?


    In 2009, Cowan's Auctions featured the original daguerreotype and it sold for $22,325. Turns out the image had been found sitting in a box in a warehouse in New York State. A label on the inside of the image's case identified the subject of the daguerreotype and the photographer—Flint of Syracuse. It's a great case of lost and found.

    There is a story behind this image. I'd love to know more about the photographer and why the photo ended up in a box of miscellaneous pictures. I know the story of the Chainbreaker's life. He recounted his story to a neighbor, Benjamin Williams, during the winter of 1845-46.  He related tales about the Seneca tribe's involvement in the American Revolution, and bits about his own life.

    The tale makes up the book The Revolutionary War Memoirs of Governor Blacksnake as Told to Benjamin Williams (University of Nebraska Press, 2005). It's available for preview in Google Books—access it in Family Tree Magazine's Google Library.

    The next time you look at a family photo, take a few moments to consider the story behind the picture, such as who took it and when.  Also consider what was happening in your family history around the time it was taken. 

    Your family pictures may not be as historically significant or as monetarily valuable as this portrait of Chainbreaker, but they have enormous family worth to your descendants.

    I'm still working on my The Last Muster project and continuing my search for images of men and women who lived during the Revolutionary War and into the age of photography. For more information, see my website.

    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

  • 1840s photos | Revolutionary War | unusual photos
    Tuesday, 05 July 2011 14:36:13 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 06 June 2011
    Contest Winner Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    contest winneredit.jpg

    This is quite the photo problem. Contest winner Juliann Hansen and her family have tried for years to figure out the details in this photo.

    This week I'm going to outline what we know.
    • It was found covered in dust at the Cincinnati Butchers' Supply Co. (CBS) at Elmwood Place in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hansen's great grandfather, Carl/Charles G. Schmidt (1851-1930) established the company in 1886. CBS moved to Elmwood Place in the 1940s. It was a new building, so the image didn't belong to the previous owners of the structure.
    • There were generations of both family- and company-related material stored at the site.
    • Hansen's cousin contacted the Cincinnati Historical Society for help deciphering the picture clues.
    • Last week I mentioned that the card stock dated from the late 1890s to early 20th century, circa 1900.
    • I asked Hansen if anyone in her family was once a member of a fraternal organization. She told me that her father and uncle were Masons, but didn't know about her grandfather or his father.
    The big question is why is a group of late-19th-century men posing bare-chested and in some cases dressed only in loin cloth? 

    An article in Queen City Heritage, a now-defunct publication of the Cincinnati Historical Society, by Susan Labry Meyn, " Mutual Infatuation: Rosebud Sioux and Cincinnatians," (Queen City Heritage, Spring/Summer 1994 issue, 30-48, available online through the Cincinnati Historical Society) sheds some light on the matter.
    • In 1895, the Cincinnati Zoo brought a Cree village to the area complete with actual members of the tribe. They also had a section of the zoo devoted to Arabian, Kurdish, Egyptian  and Armenian families. These living displays were very popular. 
    • Buffalo Bill's frontier show visited Cincinnati in the Spring of 1895.
    • In the summer of 1896, the Cincinnati Zoological Society transported 89 Sicangu Sioux for a display and had them offer western reenactments of famous battles and stagecoach attacks. 
    • Also the summer of 1896, Mayor Gordon Lilly, known as "Pawnee Bill," planned a frontier show with a program called "Cincinnati One Hundred Years Ago" that competed with the Zoo's "Historical Cincinnati" show. 
    cincinnati close-up.jpg

    Look at this close-up of the photo. The men have painted their faces. You can see some light-colored lids in the crowd.  Some of their accessories look like the duplicates you could purchase in dime stores at the time.

    Perhaps this group is just one of the performances held in Cincinnati in the late 1890s.  Photos of the Cree village and the Sioux display are available in Meyn's article, but these men aren't wearing the same tribal clothing.

    It's also possible that this is just a group of Cincinnati men dressed in imitation of the "Indian" craze that swept through the area.

    The final answer has yet to be determined.

    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

  • 1890s photos | group photos | men | unusual photos
    Monday, 06 June 2011 14:48:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 11 April 2011
    Bad Hair Day Winner!
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you for voting in the Bad Hair Day Contest and for sending in all those great hair photos. There is a winner!

    Here's how the votes stacked up.

    83.7 % of the voters selected this photo. Congratulations go to Pat Daughtery for winning the contest and a copy of Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900.


    The runner up is ...
    editSophie Bentley.jpg
    71 % voted for this photo.

    I promised a few more photos this week so here goes.


    Rachel Peirce sent in this before-and-after picture of her ancestor Hunter Carson White at 9-1/2 years old during the Civil War. She owns a picture of the boy's father with his hair standing up on his head and wonders whether the second photo was taken to make the boy look more like his father.


    Photo collector David Chase sent me this photo. It proves that man's best friend also can have bad hair. <smile>.

    Last weekend I was at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference. I met Janine Penfield who showed me this unusual photo in her family album.


    It depicts a female performer known as Illavaro at age 14. She was photographed at several different times by Charles Eisenman of New York City. She would have been very comfortable in the late 1960s when this hairstyle was a fashion statement.

    Hope you've enjoyed this look back at 19th-century hairstyles!

    1860s photos | 1870s photos | 1880s photos | african american | children | Civil War | hairstyles | unusual photos
    Monday, 11 April 2011 17:08:38 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 21 March 2011
    Hair in the Family: A Contest
    Posted by Maureen

    At a recent lecture, an attendee told me about an ancestral photo that scared him as a child. The woman had a curl that stood up straight on the top of her head. (He's promised to send me a scan, and as soon as I have it you'll see it here. Can't wait!)

    His comments made me think about hairstyles in the family. On page 83 of Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900 there is a picture of a woman wearing a hair piece. It's not unusual for a 19th century woman to add false hair to create a fashionable hairdo, and in this photo I doubt it's real hair. Women could buy expensive human hairpieces or fake ones made from horsehair or even yak hair.

    Her natural hair is very fine and curly, and the loops on her head are an entirely different texture. You can also see long hair trailing down behind her head.

    Inspired by the photo that scared a child, I've decided it's time for a contest. Send me photos of the most outrageous hairstyles worn by ancestors. You can send in 20th century photos of yourself, but not of living family members. You can email them to me at I'll feature as many as I can in this space and readers can vote for their favorite in the comment section.

    hairstyles | unusual photos
    Monday, 21 March 2011 13:19:50 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 21 February 2011
    Double Mystery Revisited
    Posted by Maureen

    Well, this photo problem is a tough case tough to crack. In Double Mystery and Back to the Double Mystery, I analyzed the clues in Sandy Forest's photo of her ancestor Felix Forest and an unidentified man.  

    Have you added your thoughts to the comment section? I'd love to hear from you. This week, a couple of readers think the objects in the photo are just props and not real items owned or carried by the men. I agree that some of the items are just for showing off -- the bottle of liquor, the glass and the fake dog. But how far does the photo clowning go? Are their hats and the spike photographer's props as well? That's what we'd all like to know.

    I emailed Robert Holzweiss, president of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society about the spike and the hat that reads "Asst. Engineer."  He showed the photo to a panel of railroad experts and they agreed that there is no railroad connection. They suggested the spike could be an in to hook wagons together.
    What do you think? I want to revisit family history with Sandy Forest and see if census records identify any other occupations in her family. That's my next step.

    In honor of Valentine's Day last week, I have a short video on my Vimeo channel. If you like it, please click the "like" button.

    Later this week, I'm in England at Who Do You Think You Are? Live. In my next column I'll have a report for you and hopefully a few photos.

    unusual photos
    Monday, 21 February 2011 14:05:51 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # 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, 10 January 2011
    Time Flies
    Posted by Maureen

    I couldn't help but use this as the title. It sums up the clues in this week's picture. 

    Nance Family Pictureedit.jpg

    Look carefully. The man in the photo holds an open pocket watch in his right hand and has a rooster on his lap. It appears he's trying to convey something about time. It's a triple-mystery.

    Sarah Swanner and her mother spent some time over the holidays scanning pictures and stumbled across this mystery image. They have no idea who the man is, where his picture was taken, or what the story is.

    (An aside on scanning, I recommend setting the resolution at 600 dpi and saving as a tiff, but a 300-dpi tiff file will provide a good quality reproduction. More on scanning next week.)

    All Sarah and her mother know is that this image once belonged Walter Nance, who was married to Sarah's great-grand-aunt Evelyn Dantzler. That's a start!

    The white card style was extremely popular in the last years of the 1880s and throughout the 1890s. There is room at beneath the image for the photographer to include his studio name, but instead of personalizing the cards, he left it blank. It's an odd photo for a studio or an itinerant photographer.

    There were folks who owned their own photo equipment, so I wonder if this isn't an amateur picture—one friend clowning for the other who's taking the picture. 

    The rocks in the background are covered in lichen and there is a type of plant growing on the left. Any geologists out there?  Please weigh in on the type of rock. That might help solve the mystery of where this was taken.

    I think the image was taken circa 1890. That's based on the type of suit he's wearing and the pin in his tie. Those types of pins were very popular in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Plus men tied their neckties with this particular style knot during that period.

    The pin is interesting. Is it just a decorative pin or is it a clue that this man belonged to a fraternal organization?  I'll be looking for something in this shape. Hope to be able to report back next week.  I think it's a fraternal symbol and have some ideas. 

    The next step is for Sarah to figure out which relatives and family friends were living in the 1890s period. It's important to remember that this man could be a friend rather than a relative. 

    You can preserve your family's photo stories and share them with future generations in the book Family Tree Legacies: Preserving Memories Throughout Time.

    1890s photos | men | unusual photos
    Monday, 10 January 2011 21:14:04 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 20 December 2010
    Season's Greetings
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you to all the readers of this column for another year of photo mysteries! I have a holiday card for you on my Vimeo channel. You can watch this photo become a colorized greeting.
    The photograph, titled "Caught in the Act", is from the Library of Congress. It was taken in 1900. Santa's bag of presents hasn't changed too much—he's carrying dolls and a sailing ship. But I think he's a pretty scary-looking Santa.

    I have a holiday habit that drives my family crazy—I take photographs of our Christmas tree. It's a picture time capsule. And I have proof that I'm not the only person who does it: The photo of this tree predates my lifetime.
    Christmas 1954.jpg
    December 1954 is written in unfamiliar handwriting underneath the image. I'll be watching for that couch and those curtains in other family pictures.  This color photo is in serious need of some color correction. All the reds have taken over the image. That's a pretty typical problem with mid-1950s images. 

    Cynthia Cox sent me this image from her family collection. It's also dated 1954.
    Christmas Morning 1954.jpg
    She labeled it, "Christmas morning at the Robert and Helen Cox Family Residence, Los Angeles." It was taken on Dec. 25. The doll was her gift and the fire truck was for her brother. Thank you for your submission, Cindy!

    We've been photographing holiday traditions for generations. Last December, I explored the tradition of posing with Santa

    You can use the comment section below to tell me what holiday traditions you photograph.

    Happy Holidays!

    holiday | unusual photos
    Monday, 20 December 2010 16:20:14 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [6]
    # Monday, 06 December 2010
    Shipboard Clues, Part 3
    Posted by Maureen

    This week is another installment of Jake Jacoby's photo of a group in his collection. Two weeks ago in Photo Mysteries, A Clue at a Time, I discussed clothing clues.  Last week in Shipboard Clues, I told you what I knew about the caption and the ship.

    Photo mysteries take time to solve. I feel like I'm getting closer. After another conversation with Jake, we came to the conclusion that his grandfather might not be greeting a group of immigrants. It could be another occasion.

    I've spent a lot of time calling folks knowledgeable about local history in both Mobile, Ala. and Pensacola, Fla., to learn more about the ship. I'm waiting for news.

    Two readers of this column wrote to me:

    Genealogist Drew Smith also used the search terms german ship baltimore and found a mention of a German ship named the Baltimore that sank at sea Jan. 24, 1897, en route from London to New York. Thank you, Drew!  I followed this lead and discovered a couple of news stories about it. One was in the New York Times and the other is available through the Kentuckiana Digital Library's database of the Daily Evening Bulletin (Maysville, Ky.). 

    That Baltimore was commanded by a Capt. Hillman, but as far as I know, it didn't carry passengers. It sank with its cargo of chalk aboard. I'm excited to find a captain with that surname. Perhaps he also commanded a different ship at some time prior to the sinking. Hillman could be the name in the partially missing caption in Jake's picture.

    Rachel Peirce's great-grandfather was a ship's captain, and she still has his books. There was a ship Baltimore listed in List of the Merchant Vessels in the United States, 1896 (p. 217). It appears to have been in Mobile, Ala.

    I'm also researching packet steam boats that might have operated between Mobile and Pensacola. Quite a few of these boats used Mobile as a port.

    I'll end this week with another picture of Jake's grandfather:

    GrandpaJacoby copy.jpg

    This was a New Year's Eve affair at the Progress Club in Pensacola. The image was taken in 1894. From  left to right are Charles Levy (seated), Lep Hirshman (standing), Joe Jacoby (seated with cane), Nathan Forcheimer (standing) and Ike Hirshman (seated).

    Share your family photo stories with future generations in the book Family Tree Legacies: Preserving Memories Throughout Time. Given with printed photos or a family photo CD, it'll be a treasured holiday gift.

    1890s photos | group photos | Immigrant Photos | unusual photos
    Monday, 06 December 2010 16:43:37 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 29 November 2010
    Shipboard Clues
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week in A Photo Mystery, A Clue at a Time, I introduced you to a wonderful group picture of folks on a ship.

    Joseph Jacoby2.jpg

    The Ship
    What I didn't show you is the caption that runs along the bottom edge of the picture. Unfortunately, part of the cardboard is broken off, leaving us to guess at the rest of the information.  I can't make out the first word, but there is a "....noon" or "roon" followed by "on board German Ship Baltimore." According to the owner of the photo, below the caption and cut off in the scan of the photo is "Capt. Hillr..." The rest of his last name is missing.  So far, no luck in finding a man with a last name starting with those letters.

    When you're faced with incomplete caption information, it's best to start with what you know.  In this instance, I Googled Ship Baltimore. On, I found a description. There was a German ship, Baltimore. It was built in 1868 for the North German Lloyd of Bremen and traveled from Bremen to Baltimore until 1872. In 1881, she was then used for the Bremen to South America service. The big problem with this ship being the one in the photo is the final date of service. This particular Baltimore was scrapped in 1894. 

    In the first column I dated the photo from 1896 to 1899. 

    There was another ship, the City of Baltimore that operated as part of the Baltimore Mail Line, but its dates of service are too late. It traveled from Baltimore to Hamburg in the 1930s. Not all information is online and I'm still looking for a good off-line resource. 

    There must be another ship with the same name that operated in the late 1890s. Just haven't found it yet.

    The Location
    Jake Jacoby's grandfather lived his whole life in either Mobile, Ala., or Pensacola, Fla. There is a BIG question about where this photo was taken. Mobile was a busy port and many immigrants arrived there, but right now we lack proof.

    If you had an ancestor arrive at Mobile, the National Archives has an Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Ports in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, 1890-1924 (T517).

    There is another possibility. The Sept. 1, 1904, Canebrake Herald (Uniontown, Ala.) mentioned Joseph Jacoby. He was a traveling salesman for his brother's business, Jacoby Grocery Co.. Since in the 1900 federal census, Jacoby lists his occupation as a salesman, perhaps he traveled, and this photo might have been taken on a trip during the last years of the 1890s.

    While I've been able to date the photo and work with the owner to sort through clues, the final answer is elusive. Jake Jacoby thinks the photo was taken in Mobile rather than Pensacola. It's a good assumption. His grandfather had business and family connections in Mobile.

    A single name of an immigrant depicted in this photo would help solve the mystery, but unfortunately no one's name appears on the photo.

    Got a mystery photo? Demystify it with help from Maureen A. Taylor's book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs.

    hats | Immigrant Photos | men | unusual photos | women
    Monday, 29 November 2010 21:52:32 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 22 November 2010
    A Photo Mystery, A Clue at a Time
    Posted by Maureen

    Complex image identification often requires examining each piece of a photo story—historical context, family history, and costume history along with a bit of common sense.

    Jake Jacoby owns this wonderful image of a group of people onboard a ship. There is a caption, but I'll share that next week. I'm still working on it.

    Joseph Jacoby3.jpg

    Jake knows that his grandfather, Joseph M. Jacoby is seated on the far right in the front.

    Joseph Jacobyedit.jpg

    What's he doing on a ship? Jake thinks he's welcoming a group of Jewish immigrants from Germany. 

    I can date the photograph by the hats and other costume clues. The width of this woman's sleeve and the birds and feathers in the women's hats suggest that it was taken about 1896 to 1899.

    Joseph Jacobyhat.jpg

    This is the woman standing directly behind Joseph Jacoby.

    Joseph's life is well-documented. He was born in Mobile, Ala. in 1865, and in the 1885 Pensacola, Fla., city directory, he's working as a clerk at P. Stone. During the period of this photograph, Joseph still lived in Pensacola. He married Esther Myerson on Jan. 4, 1896.

    Despite living in Florida, Joseph maintained his ties with family and friends in Mobile. He actually attended temple there. Approximately 60 miles separate the two cities. Jake knows his grandfather traveled between Mobile and Pensacola via wagon.

    The big question regarding this photo is, where was it taken? Next week, I'll be back with some information on the caption and some tips for researching late-19th century passenger lists.

    I'm planning a special column for the end of the year. Please send in your photos of family celebrating the holidays in the past.  You can email them to me. 

    Happy Thanksgiving!!

    1890s photos | group photos | hats | Immigrant Photos | unusual photos
    Monday, 22 November 2010 17:31:19 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 23 August 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.

    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.


    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.

    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, 23 August 2010 17:17:58 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, 26 July 2010
    Prize Catch
    Posted by Maureen

    No doubt about it, I've looked at a lot of family photos. Every so often there's an image that not only depicts an ancestor, but also documents a bit of local history. Take this photo, for instance:

    Otis Shepardson family  cougar edit.jpg

    Pamela Fisher sent me this photo owned by her cousin Lorrie Glover. The women thinks the man on the right (with the dog) is their great-grandfather Otis Shepardson.

      Otis Shepardson family  cougargrandfather.jpg

    Not everyone in the family agrees.  Shepardson was born in 1880 in Home Valley (Cowlitz County), Wash. 

    This picture is mounted to a gray piece of card stock. It can be difficult to date a group photo where no one is wearing very fashionable clothes. Men's clothing is particularly challenging because the fashion changes are subtle. The style of men's hats suggests that it was taken circa 1900.  If that's true then it could be Otis.

    There is one woman in the picture. She wears a frontier-style bonnet that protects her face from the sun. Perhaps one of the boys is her son. 

    Otis Shepardson family  cougar bonnet.jpg

    Also in the photo is a man in the background who looks like he just stepped off his horse. He wears a cowboy hat and a kerchief around his neck.

    Otis Shepardson family  cougarman.jpg

    This photo just begs the viewer to fill in the details and answer these questions.
    • Who shot the mountain lion?
    • Why are the men gathered around? (It could be the day the lion was placed there.)
    I think I know why a taxidermied mountain lion is on display in the town. It's quite possible that this animal threatened the town. Once it was shot, the town mounted it on tree stump (notice the wooden post to keep its head up). Whoever shot it must have been the town hero.

    My husband's ancestral hometown of Peru, Vt., once had a bear on display in the town center. I have photographic proof in an early 20th century postcard.


    You'll find help identifying the mystery photos in your family albums in Maureen A. Taylor's book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs.

    1900-1910 photos | group photos | unusual photos
    Monday, 26 July 2010 18:37:36 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]
    # Monday, 19 July 2010
    Mourning Clothes
    Posted by Maureen

    Ten years ago, I analyzed a photo sent to me from a woman in New Zealand. In the New Zealand Mystery, I discussed the family information, but also described her clothing and how it indicated she was in mourning.

    Queen Victoria set the standard for both wedding attire and for mourning. After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, she wore black mourning clothes for the rest of her life. In the Victorian era, men would wear a black armband when someone died, but women wore full black crape (the 19th century spelling for crepe) dresses for a year and a day. Then they wore just crape-trimmed black dresses for another 21 months. (Tortora and Eubank, Survey of Historic Costume, 348). 

    But what if your family didn't have the resources of the woman depicted above?  A wardrobe of mourning clothes probably wasn't economically feasible. Instead, clothes could be rented or borrowed for the funeral. According to the 1877 article by Henry R Hatherly, "Mourning Clothes as a Source of Infection" (Sanitary Record: A Journal of Public Health, Google Books), less-fortunate folks were spreading disease by wearing clothing worn by others—in particular, skin and parasitic diseases.

    Not just Queen Victoria's subjects followed mourning customs. This week I looked at a tintype from Dresden. The dark clothing and the large hat with long, heavy fabric at the back suggests this 1880s woman is in mourning. The style of the hat is a bit unusual. I think the browband helps keep the hat on her head.


    If you have any 19th-century photos of family wearing crape, I'd love to see them. You can e-mail them to me.

    Need help researching, preserving and displaying your family photos? Visit for how-to books and CDs.

    1850s photos | 1880s photos | mourning photos | unusual photos | women
    Monday, 19 July 2010 15:47:35 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 19 April 2010
    Birth and Death in the Family Album: Readers Respond
    Posted by Maureen

    Joy and sadness often go hand in hand in family photo collections.  This week I'll show off some photos that readers sent me.  Be warned....the last two pictures depict disturbing images.


    Susan Roose thinks the photo above depicts William (died November 22, 1877) and Daniel Hunt (died November 30, 1877). They were both just a few months older than one year.  Notice the woman under the cloth. She's holding them still. These two babies look very healthy here.

    twinsC07 Alston girls (3).jpg

    Elizabeth Handler emailed this ambrotype of Marion Helen Alston (1850-1885) and her twin sister Christina. The back of the image states that it was framed by J.J. Gillespie Co. Fine Arts. Gillespie was a famous frame shop in Pittsburgh.

    Violet Olive Victoria  Victor Clements (2).jpg

    Bonnie Bileski of Winnipeg, Manitoba sent this snapshot of Violet Clements, her grandmother Olive Clements (back, right) and the twins, Victor and Victoria (born July 1, 1899).

    Last week I told you I had some sad pictures from Judy Linnebach's family collection. Since so many folks e-mailed me to see them, I'll share them here.

    deformed baby (4).jpg

    Judy thinks that this picture depicts Freida Kohler (Nov. 7, 1907 -July 6, 1924). The cause of death was congenital hydrocephalus.

    dead guy (3).jpg
    Judi has no idea who this man is. All that's certain is that he's deceased and that he was photographed in St. Louis. Jay Ruby's book, Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America (out of print, but available used) is the best guide to this topic.


    Jackie McGuire sent in this picture with a heartbreaking story. A family story relates the tragedy of Elsietta Burns: "She was a much-beloved little girl, they say, but one day she was outside playing under the cherry tree and eating lots of cherries. She didn't know to spit out the pits and they killed her before the family could do anything for her."

    1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | children | men | unusual photos
    Monday, 19 April 2010 15:55:59 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 12 April 2010
    Final Words on the Triplets
    Posted by Diane

    For the last two weeks I've written about a photo owned by Judy Linnebach. It depicts a couple and their three triplets. In the first installment, Motherhood Times Three, I discussed multiple births in the 19th century. They were a lot more common than I thought! 

    In last week's installment, Mother Hubbard, I provided information on the family and their attire. I forgot to mention that in the 19th century it was common practice to obtain photos of deceased children. In this instance, the family asked an experienced photographer to take a photo of their babies even though one of them was deceased.

    Additional research on the family added a mystery. There were two surviving infants, but only one lived to be an adult. I wondered what happened to George Boll. Judy was able to send me a funeral card for him.

    Boll Georg death013 (2).jpg
    I don't read German, so if a reader could translate the text and enter it in the comments, I'd really appreciate it.

    If you want to know more about funeral cards, genealogist Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens has an online article on the topic. Geneablogger Dee Welborn has a great blog on these cards, Funeral Cards and Genealogy.  Fascinating stuff!  If you thought they were just death announcements, check out Dee's site. You can learn a lot about your family from these seemingly simple cards. 

    Judy Linnebach also sent me a photo of an unidentified dead ancestor and a picture of a child who died from hydroencephalitis. If you want to see them, leave me a comment and I'll post them.

    In the meantime, please e-mail me photos of multiple births before 1900.

    1880s photos | children | unusual photos
    Monday, 12 April 2010 16:42:14 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [6]
    # Monday, 05 April 2010
    Mother Hubbard
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I featured Judy Linnebach's picture of a 19th-century couple and their triplets. If you have a photo of a pre-1900 set of triplets, I'd love to post it in this space. Just about everyone who commented mentioned a multiple birth in their family. I can't wait to see the photos—you can e-mail them to me

    Here's the rest of the story about Judy's photo.


    When she wrote to me, she asked if this could be John Basilius Boll, his wife Barbara Platzer Boll and their children. According to her research, the couple married in 1879 and had two children before they had a set of twins in 1883. Is it possible that one of the triplets died and the death went unrecorded? Let's examine the evidence.

    The picture is a card photograph measuring 2.5x4 inches. It's the size of a carte de visite. These small card photos were first introduced into the United States in 1859 and remained popular for decades. The thin red line border was first common in the late 1860s.

    Tobias and Co. took this photo. On the back of the image is the name of the company and key details about their location and practice.

    triplets2 back.jpg

    What I find interesting is the first sentence of the second paragraph: "To Mothers and heads of Families, we wish to call their attention to the frequent trouble of obtaining good and permanent Pictures of Babies." Tobias & Co. had a patented process to guarantee success.

    To locate more information on Tobias, I contacted the St. Louis Public Library and spoke with librarians in both the local history collection and in fine arts. The company appeared in 1878 and later city directories, but by the mid-1880s Henry Tobias was a printer.  It was unclear from census data if this was the same man who ran the photo studio.

    This photo was found in a Bible once owned by Judy's father's maternal grandmother, Lena Wilhelms. Given that it wasn't directly connected to the Boll family, I asked Judy to research all the branches of the family to see if there was another multiple birth. Last week, we learned that multiple births were hereditary, so it's quite possible that this could depict someone else in her family. No luck! 

    There was another possibility though: Lena's daughter Emma was a genealogist and collected information on the Boll family. It's likely that she placed the pictures in the Bible for safe-keeping.

    The clothing clues in this picture are fascinating. The husband wears a simple work shirt (the Bolls were farmers). The wife's dress is barely visible except for a plain neckline and lace-trimmed cuffs. My grandmother always wore a "house dress" when she was home, and I wondered if the same wasn't true in the 1880s. While this woman's dress isn't the current 1880s dress that you see if fashion encyclopedias, there was a wide variety of dresses for women. 

    In the 1880s, a new style of dress became popular for pregnant women. It was called a Mother Hubbard. Loose-fitting and comfortable, these cotton dresses could be made with a pattern available from a catalog. The mother in this photo had likely just given birth—these are very small infants. With three babies to breast-feed, a comfortable dress like a Mother Hubbard would be perfect attire. They often featured trim at the cuffs, just like you see here.

    They were so comfy that many other women wore them belted in summer to stay cool. It was a controversial choice. In the Oct. 26, 1884, New York Times, an article titled, "The Mother Hubbard in Chicago" talked about variations of the dress being worn by women in one neighborhood and how one particular woman had been arrested for it. It ended on a reassuring note: "Ladies who wear Mother Hubbard dresses on the street need not be alarmed. There is no ordinance in Chicago against the wearing of them, although such an ordinance is in vogue in the town of Morris, Ill."

    According to Joan Severa in Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent State University Press), these dresses were meant for indoor use. They were house dresses, not to be worn outdoors.

    So could this picture depict the Bolls and their children in 1883?  The evidence is conflicting.
    • In late December 1883, the Bolls had twin boys baptized—Charles and George.
    • In the 1900 census, the family is listed except for George. I have to double-check with Judy on his whereabouts. When asked, Barbara said she'd given birth to six children but that only five were still living. Could this refer to a deceased George? There were five children currently living with the parents. Why not mention another child if one of the triplets died?
    • Could another multiple birth in the family have gone unrecorded? It's possible.
    Right now it appears that this photo documents the Boll family.
    • The mother's dress dates from the 1880s.
    • The photographer could still be taking images in his printing business (if, of course, it's the same man)
    • There are no other documented multiple births in the family. 
    • Judy has one documented multiple birth—the twin boys.
    If this is the Bolls and their babies, then one of these triplets is likely deceased. This was a complicated case.

    It's a haunting image.  Next week I'll be back with some other unusual pictures from Judy's family!

    1880s photos | children | unusual photos | women
    Monday, 05 April 2010 17:40:39 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 29 March 2010
    Motherhood Times Three
    Posted by Maureen

    Judy Linnebach sent me this haunting photo of a couple and their three babies. That's right, triplets! I don't have all the answers yet, I'm still working on it. I'll post the second installment next week.

    This image has obviously been enhanced by the photographer—the man's beard, her hair and all their eyes have additional dark ink added to them. The baby on the right has eyes dotted in. Blue or light green eyes tend to appear very light in early photographs so it's not unusual to see this type of enhancement.

    Since I'm still gathering facts about this picture, the family and the photographer, I have some general impressions but no real answers yet. 
    I have, however, learned a lot about multiple births in the 19th century.

    A century before fertility treatments made multiple births relatively common, it was unusual to bear more than two babies at once. According to George Milby Gould and Walter Lytle Pyle, authors of Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, published in 1904 (available on Google Books), most multiple births in the 19th century were to women in the age range of 30 to 34, and heredity was a factor. The odds of having a multiple birth varied by country. In Germany, for instance, it was one in 7,910.

    They cite examples of multiple births including a Mrs. Page of Texas, who gave birth to quadruplets in 1890 and was such a sensation that the family toured the following cities: Denver, St. Joseph, Omaha, Nebraska City, and then Boston. She'd already given birth to three sets of twins.  I'd love to see a picture of this family! There were 14 children.

    Judy wrote that she "hoped this photo is enough to pique my interest." Absolutely! It's a complicated story, so bear with me while we sort it out.

    children | unusual photos
    Monday, 29 March 2010 16:01:13 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [9]