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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Blanket Backdrop Identified!
Posted by Maureen

Thank you to everyone who wrote in about the beautiful bed covering featured in my April columns. (If you missed reading them, they're posted below.)

My public library is a wonderful place for books, but the staff members are also great resources. One of the circulation librarians is an avid quilter. When I first saw the photo with the bed covering I immediately thought, "Carol has to see this." I was right.  With a single glance she said, "This isn't a quilt, it's a weaving pattern." Just so happens her daughter knows a lot about woven designs.

The suspense is over. Carol's daughter Vicki took a look and declared, " It's an overshot weave, a variation of a pattern known as Queen's Anne Lace."

Thanks also to the knowledgeable FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum visitors who posted comments there.
Case closed!

photo backgrounds
Wednesday, May 30, 2007 2:38:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, May 24, 2007
Church Clues
Posted by Maureen

Jan Oliver thinks this picture of an older man and a younger woman shows her great-grandfather John Henry Smith (born 1861) and his daughter Alice (life dates 1888 to 1962). Oliver knows Smith was alive in 1921, but she can’t find mention of him after that year. Will this photo tell her he lived longer?



The stone archway behind them, the people around them and the formal clothing with a boutonnière for him indicates this snapshot was taken at a wedding outside a church; perhaps one in which the elder Smith was a participant.  

Alice’s floral print dress, hat, net gloves and small clutch purse are perfect for a summer wedding. In the mid-1930s, women wore wide-brimmed hats tilted to the side with a single band of trim. No well-dressed woman was seen with a bare head. Social events also called for gloves—leather in the cooler months and net or crocheted styles in spring and summer. Through her choice of accessories, Alice is the epitome of fashion.

Both individuals look the right ages to be father and daughter. If this photo was taken in 1935, Alice would be 47, and her father, 74. But the wedding image raises other issues:
  • Since Oliver can’t find Smith after 1921, she has to figure out where’s he’s been for 14 years and why he’s dressed as a member of a wedding party. His common first and last name presents a research challenge.
  • Whose wedding is it? Listing who in the family was married in the mid-1930s may give Oliver a date for the photo and help her track down Smith in the intervening years.
I bet the photographer who snapped this spontaneous shot took others. Oliver can start by circulating this photo to family members who remember Alice and her father. Likely, a relative has a photo of the wedding party with Smith included.


1930s photos | men | women
Thursday, May 24, 2007 9:20:14 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, May 10, 2007
Making Dates
Posted by Maureen

Questions from readers of this Identifying Family Photographs column range from "which wife is it?" to the more-general "who is it?" A date for this photo would go a long way to help Kellee Eubanks-Stevenson determine the woman's name. Is it her great-great-grandmother, who lived from 1842 to 1920, or a great-great aunts? Eubanks-Stevenson thinks this photo was taken either in the 1880s or around 1900. Is she right?



This woman, probably in her 20s, posed simply in a wooden chair with her hands folded in her lap. The backdrop isn't fancy, and neither is the patterned linoleum floor.

The key pieces of evidence here are the accessories. From 1914 to about 1920, women wore high-top two-tone patent leather shoes just like this young woman's. Dresses at the time fell to just below the calf, showing off shoes but not skin, thus keeping a woman's appearance modest. A wide-brimmed hat adorned with a single ribbon and a flower makes this woman a head-to-toe fashion plate.

According to our estimated date, this woman isn't the great-grandmother, who'd be close to 80 after 1910. Could it be a daughter born in the 1870s or 80s? The appearance of the young woman, the lack of lines in her face and the time frame for the photo strongly suggest she's a granddaughter.

Eubanks-Stevenson estimate wasn't too far off. She had the right century, but the wrong generation. By searching her family tree, she should be able to come up with suspects to put a name with this attractive face.

1910s photos | women
Thursday, May 10, 2007 8:36:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, April 26, 2007
Blanket Backdrop
Posted by Maureen

Last time, we used the stamp box on the back of this photo postcard to establish a date. Now let's look at the beautiful backdrop.

I've seen ancestors posed in front of all sorts of painted backdrops and even a few wrinkled sheets, but this gorgeous bed covering adds texture to a simple portrait. Georgia women such as these ladies have a long tradition of producing beautiful quilts and blankets. The online New Georgia Encyclopedia contains a description of this history. On this Web page, you can see a photo of several members of another family, the Wheelers, in front of a quilt they made. This makes me wonder if the backdrop in Armstrong's photo is part of the story.



Armstrong believes whole-heartedly the older, seated woman in this photo is her great-grandmother Margaret E. Jordan Stephens, because she owns identified pictures of her. The picture dates from about 1910 based on the length of the young women's dresses, as well as the shape of the collar on the dress of the woman on the left. According to information from census records, Margaret would've been about 77 years old at this time.

There are a couple of possible IDs for the two younger women: They may be Margaret's daughters, hard to find in censuses because they went by nicknames or middle names. Margaret had sons, so the women could be daughters-in-law. Or they may be ladies who helped with the quilt in the background, posing to commemorate the completion of their work just as the women in the New Georgia Encyclopedia photo did.

I'm still working on the bedcovering facts. I'll let you know about new information in the Photo Detective Forum. Or if you can identify the pattern, please add your own thoughts to the forum.

photo backgrounds | photo postcards | women
Thursday, April 26, 2007 9:28:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Thursday, April 12, 2007
Ladies First
Posted by Maureen

Often details other than what's pictured in a photograph tell you a larger story. Helene Armstrong thinks the seated woman here is her great-grandmother Margaret E. Jordan Stephens. A caption on the back of this photo reads "Ally, Rose, Mar." The "Mar" probably stands for Margaret, but Armstrong has no idea who the other women are. She's trying to research all Margaret's children, but there may be as many as 13.


Since Armstrong knows Margaret's husband's name and where the family lived, I began my photo identification work in census records, looking for children named Rose and Ally. Armstrong had already searched the census for 1860 through 1900, but I wanted to double-check.

Though I found Margaret and her husband Joseph in the 1880 US census for Georgia, living with 10 children aged 1 to 25 years, no daughters were named Rose or Ally. Both Margaret and her husband listed their ages as 47, suggesting a birth year of about 1833. This information will come in handy when trying to verify the rest of the evidence in the photo.

Along with the caption on the back of the image was a distinctive box for a stamp. It was easy to match up this stamp box with one on Playle.com, a Web site with an alphabetical and pictorial listing of postcard manufacturers.


Armstrong's "real photo" postcard (a photo with a postcard back) was manufactured by CYKO, which used this particular stamp box design from 1904 into the 1920s. This provides an initial date range for the photo. You can read more about postcards in As We Were: American Photographic Postcards, 1905-1930 by Rosamond B. Vaule (Godine, $45).

Next time, we'll narrow the date and see what this photo's beautiful backdrop can tell us. It's coming your way April 26.

You can weigh in on photo identifications on the FamilyTreeMagazine.com Photo Detective Forum. Post your own mystery photo, too—it might be selected for free analysis in my next column!

photo postcards | women
Thursday, April 12, 2007 9:24:02 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, March 29, 2007
You're Kidding
Posted by Maureen

Kathy Culbert owns this carte de visite captioned "Dora and Frank" and is having trouble dating it.



Children's clothing can be confusing. Mothers often dressed boys like girls until they were school age, but you can tell the difference by their hair. Girls had center parts; boys had side parts.

Here, the boy (on the right) wears knickerbocker-style pants, high laced boots and an upswept hairstyle from the 1860s. The big curl in the center of his head was actually the fashion.

His sister's dress has a ruffled yoked bodice and bows along the hemline. She also wears high boots. Girls' attire mimicked that of adult women, so compare it to dresses in books such as Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa (Kent State University Press, $65).

A good source for dating kids' clothing is JoAnne Olian's Children's Fashions 1860-1912 (Dover, $12.95). It features fashion plates from the 19th-century magazine La Mode Illustree. Designs similar to these outfits appear in plates from 1867.

The rest of the details in this image confirm this date. Photos were taxed from Aug. 1, 1864 to Aug. 1, 1866. The lack of a tax stamp on the back of this photo means it was taken earlier or later than those years. The girl's clothing is evidence for post-1866. The double gold-line border dates it to between 1861 and 1869.

Culbert can verify the identities of Dora and Frank by studying her family tree for children of these names during the late 1860s. I'd estimate their ages here as 6 and 4, based on their attire and face shapes. Frank, especially, still has a round baby face.

By the way, the kids' stiff stances aren't due to nerves. Look at their feet. Braces, barely visible behind these children, clasp them around their waists. Photographers often used braces to keep fidgety children still.

children | photo tax stamps
Thursday, March 29, 2007 7:36:38 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]