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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Clues from Hats and Backgrounds
Posted by Maureen

These four are dressed for an evening out. Everyday male attire in this period didn’t include silk top hats and shawl-collared vests, unless you were quite affluent.

Sandra Guynn believes the man in the center of this photo is Charles Anthony Doyle (born 1867), and the women, his daughters (born in 1891 and 1892). She can’t identify the man on the left.



Let’s answer the simple question first—when was it taken?

The women’s hats provide a time frame of 1904 to 1908. Large hats and pouched front bodices gave women a then-fashionable S-shaped figure. (Read more about women’s headgear history in Jonathan Walford’s online article on Vintage Fashion Guild.)

However, this date somewhat disagrees with Guynn’s tentative date. Doyle’s daughters would be young children at the beginning of that time frame and teens by 1908. So let’s look at other evidence:
  • Hindering this investigation is the lack of a photographer’s imprint. Guyunn’s photo is a copy and doesn’t know where the original is. Since a house’s clapboards and window sash are visible, likely this is an amateur snapshot rather than a professional studio photo. Guynn could examine her own and relatives' pictures for a house with similar construction. 
  • Also in the background are two screens. One is a fabric divider commonly found in houses of the era, while on the right is a large divider with attached photographs. They’re blurry, but Guynn should enlarge this photo and try to see if any of the images match other family pictures.

  • One man stares directly into the camera while the women look to our left (probably at another person), and the other man looks in the opposite direction. The man with the top hat is the significant figure based on how they’re posed.
That man is Charles Anthony Doyle, according to Guynn’s tentative identification. He’d be about 40, the right age for this photo. The pose and attire indicate he’s a man of authority. 
The questions remain about the women. Further research using census records could help sort it out.

I’ll be back soon, hopefully with more information and an ID. 


1900-1910 photos | candid photos | group photos | men | photo backgrounds | women
Tuesday, August 28, 2007 9:35:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, August 21, 2007
FGS Conference Roundup
Posted by Maureen

Last week I attended the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Fort Wayne Indiana and saw lots of folks who told me they regularly read this blog. Thank you!!  The content of this space is determined (in part) by the photos and comments you post to the Photo Detective Forum. Keep the ideas coming!

At my lecture on "Genealogical Clues in Family Photographs", many of the attendees said they posted family photos on DeadFred.com in the hope of reuniting with "lost" family members.  Dead Fred is probably the oldest photo reunion site on the Web.

If you haven't taken a look at what's in that online archive, you might be overlooking a valuable resource. Thousands of people search for family photos every week.

One of the new kids on the block is a site called WeRelate, a collaborative venture with the Allen County Public Library. WeRelate is a wiki, which means anyone can add content and edit pages. Think of it as a type of social networking site for genealogists.

WeRelate lets users to upload gedcom files and  documents. I particularly like the feature that lets you upload and annotate images. You can find out if any members of your family are participating by going to the WeRelate Web site and searching for your family surnames.


organizations | Web sites
Tuesday, August 21, 2007 6:12:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# 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]