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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Identifying People in Two 1890s Photos
Posted by Maureen

This week two photos have tentative identifications, but in both cases, the time frame of the image and the life dates for the individuals don’t compute.

Thomas Wetten suspects the girl in this portrait below is his great-grandmother Margaret Ellen Atkinson, born June 1870 in Durham, England.

A caption on the back of the second picture (below) states a relationship to the unknown writer, but no name: Grandma—taken in Liverpool. This label makes Barbara Diemer think the simple studio portrait is a relative of hers, who was born in 1820 and died around 1860.

No photographer’s name appears on either image.

Unfortunately for Wetten and Diemer, one detail in each picture refutes their conclusions. The wide sleeve on the girl’s blouse and the full upper sleeve on the woman’s dress date these images to the late 1890s. Further proof exists in the girl’s wide collar and striped skirt, and in the woman’s high, collared bodice—both contemporary fashions for the time period.

Wetten correctly identified the child’s portrait as a tintype (also known as a ferreotype or melainotype) by testing its magnetic qualities. Anyone with any doubt about the type of metal in an old can use a magnet to see if it’s a tintype. Tintypes, first patented in 1856, aren’t actually tin, but iron.

Wetten has several other suspects on his family tree for the girl. For the photo dates to fit the age of the girl pictured, he should look for a female born in the mid-1890s. (FYI—stone walls and fences were common settings in photographer’s studios of the period.)

Diemer’s paper print of an elderly woman depicts someone who could've been born in 1820 and lived into her 70s, rather than dying around 1860. Diemer has the right generation, but either the wrong woman or an incorrect death date.

Click Comment below if you have something to add about either picture.

1890s photos | children | women
Wednesday, September 12, 2007 1:50:23 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
Friday, September 14, 2007 7:10:07 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
In the two photos above, it looks like the little girl has a walking cane in her left hand as does the woman in the other photo. But, it also looks like the small girl has darker eyes than the woman. Just observing.
Carlene C. Grimes
Thursday, September 27, 2007 11:05:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I looked closely at the portrait of the women...she is certainly not elderly..I am 58 and look older than her. Her eyes look bright and clear...not crow's feet or drooping lids and her face has the appearance of a woman who would be 30-45..her jaw line does not show any waffling.

Hope this helps!
Friday, November 09, 2007 8:23:23 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
It appears that both photos were taken on sets. While these may have been taken at a studio, it's common to see photos taken at a photographers set at some public event. E.g., County fair. The wood on the floor looks unfinished.

The quality of the image doesn't allow one to tell if the lady is wearing a wedding ring. (And, if there is no ring on the hand shown, that's not proof as many older photos are mirror images, so the ring would might be on the concealed hand.)

While color can't be fully determined, it appears the lady is wearing full black, indicating that she's a widow. I.e., there is no indication of white ruffles, etc.
Neal Watts
Friday, October 24, 2008 3:46:41 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The information under the womans photo above, about the tintype photos has helped me determine the year of my GGGrandmothers photo(I hope). First I used a magnet on the back of my tintype and it held. 2nd, if tintypes were patened in 1856...and my GGGrandmother passed away in 1858. Thus the date on the tintype photo I have should be between 1856-1858, right?
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