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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, August 13, 2007
Clues Your Old Photo Was Taken in Summer
Posted by Maureen

Here in New England where winters are long, we embrace summer and often carry cameras to capture moments in the sunshine. When you think about  picture-taking patterns in your family, don’t disregard the seasons. This week I’m revisiting some of my older columns to show you how to spot scenes of summer in your family photo collection.

Last year, Judy Miller sent this photo of a family in front of a seashore backdrop, a clue that perhaps the group lived near the shore or visited on holidays. The children's lightweight white dresses indicate warm weather. The mother’s hat actually suggested a season, too—a similar hat appeared in the August 1885 Peterson’s Magazine.



Clothes also indicate a summer get-together in this photo—the women’s dresses look like lawn, a light fabric, while the men shed their jackets and rolled up their sleeves. Counting stars in the flag provided a time frame of 1908 to 1912. (Find out how the stars helped.) Patriotic decorations could show up for events at various times of year, but combined with the summer attire, they suggest this is an Independence Day celebration.



The dresses on the four girls sitting near the railroad tracks in this candid snapshot date it to about 1900. The lush foliage on the trees across the tracks narrows the time of year to summer.



This similar group portrait, also taken by an amateur photographer, is clearly another summer snapshot—you can tell from the white dresses and leaves on the young trees in the background.



Go through your photos to find women and children in white, men and boys in straw boaters (a popular summer accessory) and trees and gardens in full bloom. Add them to the Photo Detective Forum and I'll put together an online album to celebrate the end of the season.

1880s photos | 1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | photo backgrounds
Monday, August 13, 2007 7:47:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, August 07, 2007
How to Submit Photos for Free Analysis
Posted by Maureen

Each week, I receive mail from folks hoping I'll feature their photographs in this blog. It's no secret that I love looking at your family photos, but identification is a collaborative effort. The more you can tell me about the picture, the better the odds of our identifying the people in it. A photo attached to an e-mail with the basic query, "Who's in this picture?" is one that's apt to remain a mystery. Here's some helpful things to send in your note:
  • Are there any family stories associated with the picture?
  • If you have a tentative identification, do you know those person's life dates?  That one detail can help me eliminate or confirm the fact within minutes.
  • Who owned it?  Any information about past owners of the picture can help. For instance does your great-uncle Joe remember seeing the photo at his parent's house?
Don't forget to send me your complete contact information, including telephone number.  I can't tell you how many times I write back to someone only to never receive a reply to my e-mail.  If I need to quickly confirm a few facts I might call as a follow-up.

For instructions on the photo's file format (such as JPG or TIF) and resolution, as well as where to send it, see our photo submission guidelines.

Thank you for your help!



Tuesday, August 07, 2007 5:42:02 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Identifying Children in Photos
Posted by Maureen

The imprint of photographer S. Adamkiewicz appears on this photo of two towheaded boys, but questions still mount up for owner Annette Gathright and led her to post the photo on the Photo Detective Forum.



Who are the boys and when did they pose for this darling picture? Gathright’s family lived near Adamkiewicz's studio in Chicago's Polish neighborhood. Her uncle Norbert claims the boys are his uncles. Reading the clues requires a two step approach: Research the photographer and sort out the family facts.

The photographer is the easy part. I quickly located Adamkiewicz in the 1910 US census using the HeritageQuest Online (free through many public libraries). Stanley Adamkiewicz, then 34, listed his occupation as photographer, his birthplace as Russia/Polish and his immigration year as 1892. I couldn’t find him in the 1900 census, but he appears again in 1920 with a different occupation. That gives this picture a tentative time frame of 1892 to 1920.

Gathright thinks the photo was taken before her great-grandparents died in 1907. So she examined her tree for two boys born a few years apart, who’d be about age of this pair between 1907 and 1920.

She’s found at least two candidates who lived in the neighborhood of Adamkiewicz's studio: Stanislaus “Edward” Dittman (born 1893) and his brother Aloysius “Otto” (born 1898) fit the criteria. If the portrait were taken in 1906, Ed would be 8, and Otto, 3.

The high, starched collars, short pants and high-buttoned boots in this photo fit the time frame. Just to be sure, Gathright should ask her uncle for a few more details. It’s important to ask for specifics when talking about photos: Your relative knows who he or she means by “Grandpa,” but later, when you’re confronted with several possibilities on a family tree, you’ll probably wish you had a name.

If you have access to Chicago city directories, you can help us find the final fact—check to see if S. Adamkiewciz is listed as a photographer before 1910, then post it in the comment section of this blog.


1910s photos | children | photographers imprints
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 8:42:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Monday, July 23, 2007
Repairing Damaged Photos
Posted by Maureen

In the Photo Detective Forum, a member of the Ellis family asked about her photo that was damaged from being stored in a damp garage. Family Tree Magazine managing editor Diane Haddad suggested using photo editing software and contacting a professional conservator. That's excellent advice.

While I haven't seen the damaged picture, the chalky film on the surface is likely caused by mold and humidity. That's significant damage.

The Ellis family might be able to enhance the picture using a photo editing program, but it really depends on the appearance of the photo and their skill with graphics software.

Since this is the only known picture of a particular couple, it's worth investing in a consultation with a photographic conservator about saving the original photograph. They can find a conservator on the Web site of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works .

Either way, the family also can have a copy of the photo created and enhanced. One option is to contact a photo restorer such as David Mishkin of Just Black and White for a consultation on photo-enhancement services using film photography. Mishkin gets amazing results with these non-digital methods.


preserving photos
Monday, July 23, 2007 3:42:17 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# 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]