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<October 2015>

by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, September 13, 2015
What Does It Take to Solve a Mystery?
Posted by Maureen

Bet you're thinking this is a good question. Solving an old photo mystery relies on different things. It all depends on the picture but there are certain family facts that help.

Denise Valentine submitted this 20th-century picture.  She's unsure who's in the picture but she has some ideas.

I love the expression on this woman's face. Her pose with hand on top of the column and her straight forward gaze suggests she's got a strong personality.

This young couple could be Denise's grandparents but she doesn't know for sure and no one in the family does either.  Her mother was born in 1930. Could they be her parents?  Denise's mother gave her the photo with no information. It's incredible to consider, but photo identifications can disappear within a generation.

The clothing immediately told me that this was a 20th century image. The young woman's calf-length dress and cropped hair are two clues. Skirts got shorter after 1910. The 1920 passage of the 19th amendment, giving women the vote, encouraged women to cut their long locks. This hairstyle was all the rage in Hollywood too.


She wears a t-strap shoe with an ankle wrap. He wears highly polished two tone high top short boots. Her shoes were fashionable in the mid to late 1920s. Two tone shoes for men were also common in the period.

Dresses with soft ruffled collars and drop earrings like the ones she's wearing also date from the 1920s. There were many styles and types of ties available for men throughout the early 20th century. In this case his collars lacks long points and his bow tie is small.

It looks like she has a corsage pinned to her dress.

Sunday best attire, shiny shoes and a corsage combined with their young age suggests a significant event, such as a wedding.

A good possibility, but here's where the answer to the question in the title comes in. What do you need to solve a picture mystery?  In addition to pictorial evidence like clothing and photographic method, you need family data.

In this instance, a marriage license could help identify the picture. And vice versa. This picture suggests that a wedding took place in the late 1920s.

Denise's mother Lillian was born in 1930. She had one older brother named after his father Walter.  Their mother was Mabel.  I'm not using their last names because their births are within 100 years (a time period usually assigned for privacy purposes).

The family lived in Coffeyville, Montgomery County, Kan. I've done a lot of digging and discovered that a lot of people in that area had the same last name. I may have found the right couple with their two children in the 1930 census.  At the time the couple was in their 20s—they could be the man and woman in this picture.

The next steps are to rule out other possibilities and to find other pictures of the couple at a later date.  

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

  • 1920s photos | wedding | women
    Sunday, September 13, 2015 4:52:53 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, June 01, 2015
    Head-to-Toe 1920s Wedding Fashion
    Posted by Maureen

    June is a popular month for weddings, so Diane Smith's submission of a mystery photo is a perfect way to start off the summer bridal season.

    Her maternal great-grandmother owned this picture. Could this be a picture of Diane's great-grandfather's parents, who married in Poland in 1876?

    Diane's in for a surprise! This image dates from the 1920s, not the 1870s.  It's a head-to-toe wedding portrait. Here's how the clues stack up:

    The young man's hairstyle was called a "boyish pomadour" by the Tonsorial Artist magazine (tonsorial meaning "of or related to a barber or barbering") in 1924. It would be easy to jump to conclusions based on a single clue, but it's important to add up all the facts first.

    Short hair was very fashionable for young women in the 1920s. The bride wears a variation of the wavy shingle, or short hair with waves. Those waves could be created by a permanent wave treatment or using a curling iron to "marcel" it. A few weeks ago I wrote about wavy hair in old photos and showed a picture of an 1870s Marcel wave, named after a hairdresser.

    In the 1920s, bridal bouquets featured long trailing ribbons, like the one shown here.

    Shoes are rarely visible in 19th century images, but are a prominent photo- dating clue in the 20th century. There were three basic shoe styles for women in the 1920s:
    • pumps
    • t-straps
    • ankle straps
    In the early 1920s, heels were thicker, but by the later part of decade thinner heals were common. This woman's shoes feature a cuban or spike heel. To view more examples of shoes from the 1920s, click here.

    Let's take another look at the picture and their wedding outfits.

    The bride wears an ankle-length satin dress with a bias cut and full sleeves. The groom's suit likely features a two-button front. He's wearing a formal shirt and a light-colored (perhaps white) bow tie.

    While his haircut came into fashion in the early 1920s, it likely remained popular for several years. Their wedding outfits, especially her shoes and sleeves, date from the late 1920s, probably between 1927 and 1929.

    To determine who's in this picture, Diane needs to re-check her family history for any weddings in that period. Because the picture was owned by her maternal great grandmother, the bride or groom probably has a connection to her. 

    There is one more clue in the picture: The groom has light-colored eyes, which might help in finding him in other, already-identified images.

    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

  • 1920s photos | men | wedding | women
    Monday, June 01, 2015 4:57:38 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, December 21, 2014
    More Mystery Photos in an Old Family Album
    Posted by Maureen

    The trouble with women in light colored dresses is identifying the occasion. Not all dresses that appear white in a picture are that color. Many pale shades such as light blue look white in nineteenth century photographs. A woman wearing a "white" dress could be dressed for a wedding, a graduation, a first communion or for a hot summer's day.  It can be confusing.

    This is another picture in Jim Te Vogt's family album.  He wonders if this could be Catherine M. Darcy when she married in 1884.

    While this girl is dressed like a typical bride, this is actually a First Communion photo. 
    • The length of her dress is appropriate for a young girl but not a grown woman.
    • The veil while usually associated with weddings is also worn for First Communions.
    • This image dates to the 1870s based on the rows of ruffles on the skirt, and the style of the jewelry worn.  Heavy looking jewelry was commonplace in that decade. 
    • Take note of the brace behind her feet. This is a photographer's posing device to hold her still.
    • Chairs of this style were commonly seen in photographs in the 1870s.

    Jim researched the New York Gallery of San Francisco that took this image and found it was in business from 1869 to 1887.  

    Catherine M. Darcy could be this girl. She was born in 1863.  Typical age for First Communion was between ten and fourteen years of age. A explanation of the history of this church rite can be found on the Catholic News Agency website.

    There is another possible photo of Catherine in the album.

    O.V. Lange of San Francisco took this photo between 1885 to 1886. The Darcy's were the only relatives known to live in that area. The brown card stock and the dress design support a date of the mid 1880s. 

    Catherine married on November 25, 1884. The brocade dress fabric suggests a winter wedding, rather than a spring event. I wonder if it's possible that Lange's studio was in business as early as November 1884.

    Queen Victoria popularized white wedding dresses, but for most of the nineteenth century ordinary women married in very nice non-white dresses. If this isn't her wedding portrait then it was taken within a year of the event.

    This lovely pair of images documents two major occasions in the Darcy family. 

    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 | wedding | women
    Sunday, December 21, 2014 2:34:52 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, May 25, 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, May 25, 2014 4:34:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, November 08, 2010
    Family Across the Border
    Posted by Maureen

    Like so many French-Canadians and Acadians, some of Marie-Josee Binette's family left Quebec in the 1890s to seek jobs in the United States. She owns a lovely photo album that documents this move in pictures, but she has no idea who the people are.

    Marie-Josee knows that her great-grandmother Elina (Aline) Beaudoin spent several years in Lowell, Mass. with her husband Onesime Deblois. Both worked in area factories. After several years, some relatives stayed in the United States while others returned to Quebec. It's a familiar story to those of us with French-Canadian ancestry.

    From the imprint on this photo, it also appears that someone either lived in or visited the nearby city of Lawrence, Mass. Its nickname is the Immigrant City.


    In the album is this beautiful image of a young couple. The style of her sleeves and dress date the photo to the last years of the 1890s. The photographer, Amos Morrill Bean, appears in Chris Steele and Ron Polito's A Directory of Massachusetts Photographers 1839-1900 (Picton Press, 1993). He was in business from 1868-1900.

    It's a great picture and I've seen poses like this before. While the couple's hands aren't touching, it suggestive of a wedding picture. Both the man and the woman wear very nice clothing. On their hands are brand new rings. The light glints off them. The woman wears her ring on the traditional left hand while her "husband" wears his on the right.  It's interesting.


    My favorite part of this picture is the props. Both the man and the woman hold photographs on the table between them. Could this symbolize family that couldn't be there for the wedding? It's possible. There are any number of reasons to include photographs as props.

    Marie-Josee might find she still has cousins living in this country. Two organizations worth contacting are the American Canadian Genealogical Society and the American-French Genealogical Society. Both organizations have extensive resources on families that moved here, as well as those in Quebec.

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

    1890s photos | Immigrant Photos | men | wedding | women
    Monday, November 08, 2010 4:44:17 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, June 21, 2010
    Spotting a Wedding Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Irene Powell sent me this lovely wedding photo of her great-grandfather Joseph Kapler and his wife, Theresa. They were married in December, 1888.

    Their clothing is perfect for the late 1880s. Theresa's dress features a fitted bodice and her sleeves have vertical puffs at the shoulder seam. Her skirt has knife pleats at the side. Joseph wears a fitted 1880s jacket, a shirt with an upturned collar, vest and tie. He has short hair and a trimmed mustache.

    This photo is a perfect example of how a bride would often wear a very nice dress, rather than the Victorian ideal of a white ensemble. In this case, Theresa has accessorized her attire with wedding white in the bow at her neckline and a tiny headpiece. She doesn't carry a bouquet, but Joseph wears a large corsage pinned to his jacket. These tiny clues identify this as a wedding photo, even though neither one wears a wedding ring.

    kapler  sonnkalb old 019.jpg

    You might have wedding images in your collection and not recognize them. Watch for accessories that suggest a wedding—headpieces, corsages, flowers, bows and even sashes. Match up the family history information with a date for a photo, and you might be surprised that you have a wedding image or two. Getting married was a significant family milestone, and one that couples often commemorated with photos.  

    I've never seen the item that stands between them. It appears to be a small table, but it has unusual filigree legs and a support under the drum. Can anyone identify it?

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

    1880s photos | wedding | women
    Monday, June 21, 2010 4:48:49 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [6]