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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Tuesday, July 17, 2007
British Schoolboy Uniforms (or, the Bluecoats Are Coming!)
Posted by Maureen

It’s only fitting this week’s photo is a British one—after all, the final installment of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books comes out July 21. Catherine Hamilton submitted this photograph of her grandfather John Porter with his schoolmates and tutor.



Here's a close-up of Porter; he’s the one in the back row standing sideways with his hand in pocket and no cap.



Just like the boys and girls at Hogwarts, British students wear distinctive uniforms and caps. You can identify the school by the color and design of its outfit, as well as the badges worn on students’ blazers. Take a look at some of them.

There’s some minor variation in caps depending on which house (a kind of division) a student belonged to, or which level of school he attended (such as grammar school, or what Americans call high school). That’s right—the competitive houses of the Harry Potter books are based on the real thing. In English private schools, students belong to houses and compete against each other in sports just as Harry, Hermoine and Ron do.

Hamilton knows that John Porter (1881-1937) attended school in Manchester, England, and she thinks this image was taken at Chetham’s School (now Chetham’s School of Music). This photo was taken in the early 1890s, based on Porter’s age and appearance.

A search for photos of the school using Google Image Search suggests these boys aren’t students there. Chetham’s is historically a “bluecoat school.” During Porter’s student days, the school's pupils wore long, cassock-like blue uniform coats, a tradition dating back centuries.

So where did Porter go to school? I’m still looking. If anyone has knowledge of late 19th-century school uniforms in the Manchester area, post a comment here. Maybe we can wrap this up in time to stand in line for J.K. Rowling’s latest opus.

1890s photos | children | group photos
Tuesday, July 17, 2007 9:35:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Sunday, July 08, 2007
Humidity and Photos
Posted by Maureen

As I sit in my air-conditioned home office, it's hot and humid outside. The combination of these two weather Hs are bad for family photos. Resin-coated color images tend to stick together when it's humid. The H and H also creates the perfect environment for mold to grow on your other pictures.

So here's a question I'd like to see you answer in the Family Tree Magazine Photo Detective Forum. "Where do you store your family photos?"

Although the best place to keep photos is in a windowless closet in an area with stable temperature and humidity, the truth is, few of us live in a museum. So, what's a concerned genealogist to do? 

The solution is actually quite simple: Nesting boxes. Store your photos in acid- and lignin-free boxes. The center box containing your pictures sits within a larger box. Each layer creates a barrier between the outside fluctuations and your precious pictures.

Keep yourself and your photos cool this summer!


preserving photos
Sunday, July 08, 2007 3:46:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, July 02, 2007
Tracking Down a Famous Relative
Posted by Maureen

Attached to the inside velvet of this cased photo is a cryptic note, “may be great-grandfather Swale author of Geometric Amusements.” It’s a mystery to the photo's owner, Susan Wellington, who can’t imagine how Swale might be related to her. Is this a family photo or a 19th-century collectible?



I looked for Swale and his book in all the usual places, such as Google and public library databases (including the Boston Public Library’s), but couldn’t find a trace of either. Since every good genealogist knows not everything is online or online and publicly available, I contacted the BPL’s general reference department. Within a few minutes the librarian obtained Swale’s first name and the correct title.

The caption contained an error: John Henry Swale (1775-1837) wrote Geometrical Amusements in the early 19th century. By searching his name in Google Books, I found his book and several brief biographies, including an introduction to a volume written by T.T. Wilkinson, An Account of the Life and Writing of John Henry Swale (1858).  

Wellington’s photo is a copy of an early 1800s sketch of Swale placed in a daguerreotype case from the 1850s or early 1860s—long after Swale’s death. It’s a curious mystery. Obviously someone in the family thought highly enough of Swale to have the copy made and placed in a case.

The only ways for Wellington to figure out if Swale is related to her is to either trace her own ancestry or look for his descendants. I’d start by trying to find Swale’s family information in Wilkinson’s book and by searching databases such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

In the 1825 Directory of Lancaster (available on Ancestry.com), Swale appears as a professor of mathematics living at 12 Epworth St., Liverpool. These details give Wellington a few facts to start her search.

cased images | men
Monday, July 02, 2007 9:31:41 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, June 21, 2007
Look to the Past (Columns)
Posted by Maureen

If you're new to this blog you probably aren't aware of the lengthy archive of past "Identifying Family Photographs" columns available on the Family Tree Magazine Web site—just click on the Photo Detective Archive link on the left of this page.

You can read about submitting your own picures by clicking Submit your Photo and Question.  Remember what your grade school teachers used to say, "There are no stupid questions."  Send me your mystery photos and see them posted in this space. I love a challenge! 

Please use Family Tree Magazine as a subject line. I tend to delete anything I think is spam. I'd hate to miss seeing your photos.

Don't forget you can use the Photo Detective Forum to post your queries or photo related questions.



Thursday, June 21, 2007 4:02:35 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Traveling Photographers
Posted by Maureen

All Michael Bell knows is that this photo’s subject, Martha B. Bell, sent the image to her uncle (Michael’s great-grandfather) after her father died in 1892. The month and day of the portrait aren’t recorded.



I’m estimating the photo could’ve been taken before or after Martha's father died—the puffed shoulder seams date the picture to the early 1890s.

It’s a classic example of a family milestone photo. Tragic events often pushed people into studios to capture images of their remaining loved ones or even the deceased. Read more about postmortem pictures in my column Dead Men Tell No Tales.

When Bell asked me about a date for the portrait, he also inquired about the photographer, Orris Hunt. I wrote about two other Hunt pictures in a column several years ago, Which one is Real?. When that picture was taken after 1905, Hunt was in St. Paul, Minn., having recently purchased another photographer’s studio.

The imprint in the lower left of Bell’s picture identifies Hunt as traveling photographer. Hunt’s Palace RR Photo Car was actually a photo studio in a railroad car. Whenever and wherever the train stopped, Hunt opened his studio to residents of the area.



Martha Bell took advantage of one of these rail stops in her hometown in Floyd County, Ga. Perhaps after a decade or more of endless traveling, Hunt decided to settle down in a St. Paul studio. That’s when he took the photo of the young man in the earlier column.  

Hunt wasn’t the only railroad photographer in 19th- and early 20th-century America.  Any time you see an imprint with RR as part of the address, you’ve found another one. Then, railroads were what planes are today. They crisscrossed the country bringing goods and services—including photographers—to folks in far-off places.

Bell’s photo has an interesting past. Not only was it taken for a specific reason, but now he knows he had a patient relative: She had to wait for the next train with Hunt aboard to have her picture taken.

1890s photos | photographers imprints | women
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 5:58:12 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, June 11, 2007
It's Confession Time: Developing Old Film
Posted by Maureen

Kelly posted a question to the Forum in February about developing old film.She found a camera with film in it from the 1960s and her camera shop sent it out for processing.

It's confession time. This is your chance to sound-off in the Forum about film you've forgotten to develop. Not the snapshots you took at the wedding last summer,  but your pictures several decades old. My Mom just gave me a small bag full of undeveloped movie film from my childhood!

If you're a hoarder and can't bear to part with a roll of undeveloped film, don't despair. There is hope!  Rocky Mountain Photo Labs specializes in processing old still and moving picture film. All films are batch processed which means you might have to wait months, like Kelly, to get your order back. Rocky Mountain Photo Labs can't guarantee the quality of images produced from the old rolls in your attic due to aging issues.

You'll have to take a chance that the price and wait might be worth it.  Who knows what family history photo treasures are on that roll? I'll bet you can't remember. :)  My Mom can't either.



preserving photos
Monday, June 11, 2007 2:13:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, June 04, 2007
Porcelain Complexion (Literally!)
Posted by Maureen

I own a pillow case with a photograph of my grandmother taken in about 1910. You’re probably thinking it’s an unusual picture format, but it’s actually not.

In the early days of photography, daguerreotype buttons and jewelry were common. Once paper prints and light-sensitive chemicals became readily available, photographers could develop pictures on anything you could apply the chemicals to: leather, wood, paper, cloth and like this week’s photo submission, a piece of porcelain.


This photo’s size, 3 x 4 inches, and hand coloring give it the appearance of an 18th century painted portrait miniature. It’s really a photo enhanced with color to make it look like a painting. When Diana Truxell showed this picture to a friend who likes old photographs, the friends didn’t recognize it either, and suggested Truxell send it to me. Thank you! I’m always on the lookout for photographs on items other than cardboard.

Truxell is also trying to figure out who’s in the picture. This is one of those queries that make me feel like I’m playing a game show with a choice of answers. Is it her husband’s grandmother Mary Ditner (Martin) Truxell (born 1891)? Or Mary’s mother (born 1863)?

The woman’s high-necked dress, prominent buttons and contrasting trim date the picture to about 1883 to 1888. This is likely Mary’s mother, who would be between 20 and 25 years old in this picture. Oral traditions and provenance (the chain of ownership) can confirm the ID.

Truxell had one final question: Does the unique surface indicate this woman lived anywhere in particular? No, photographers across the country, even in rural areas, had access to materials that allowed them to creatively present family pictures. The careful coloring of this photo wasn’t done by an amateur though. Professional photographers often employed artists to handle such intricate jobs.

Case solved!


unusual surfaces | women | 1880s photos
Monday, June 04, 2007 7:26:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# 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]