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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Women's Sleeves Are Clues to Photo Dates
Posted by Maureen



Bill Dodge thinks one of these young women is his paternal grandmother because he found the picture in his father’s belongings. He wonders if it’s a graduation photo and if the girl on the lower right holds a nurses cap. I truly believe each family portrait tells a story about a person, place or occasion, so let’s deconstruct this image into its pieces and see what’s what.

Clothing
Each of these women dressed in one of her best dresses. It’s relatively easy to tell when that was—all wear sleeve styles common in the 1890s. I’d date this picture to about 1897. That’s when tight lower sleeves accented by puffy upper sleeves began to get fashionable, yet you still see evidence of an earlier style.

   

The two girls on the right in the back row wear the full fabric sleeve popular from 1893 to 1896. The dress on the young woman on the lower right features an uncomfortable-looking high starched collar and attached scarf. It’s that extra cloth that resembles the shape of a nurse’s cap. If this were a nursing school graduation class, all the girls would have posed in uniform with caps on their heads.

Photographer
If you have a photographer’s imprint with a surname and address, but don’t know the first name, try looking more closely. Photographers often included their intertwined initials as a decorative element. In this case, W. T. is for William Teush.



By researching him in US census records, I learned Teush worked as a photographer for several decades in New York and New Jersey, but by 1900 he had become a hotel proprietor.

Occasion
Dodge was probably right in guessing this image was a school picture. In the late 19th century, portraits like this were quite common. I’ve even written about other class pictures of this period. What’s  a mystery is whether this image represents all the girls in the class or a group of friends.

Who’s Who?
Dodge needs another picture of his grandmother to find her here. By comparing the shape of her eyes, nose, mouth and other features with this image, he should be able to pick her out of the crowd. I hope to do a follow-up to this piece identifying exactly which one is his grandmother. Stay tuned!

1890s photos | group photos | photographers imprints | women
Tuesday, October 02, 2007 8:36:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, September 24, 2007
What a Photo Can Tell You About Your Ancestor
Posted by Maureen

This week I started making a list of all the things you can tell about a person from their portrait. I'd like you to add to my list my using the comment section. If you have an example to illustrate your point upload it to the Photo Detective Forum.

Here's what I have so far:

1) Occupation
If your ancestor wore distinctive clothing or posed in the workplace then you might be able to tell how they made their living.

2) Medical Conditions
Gnarled arthritic hands, thyroid conditions, eye diseases and more are all visible in a family photo.

3) Military Service
Anyone posed in a military uniform is obvious, but check lapels for veteran's pins.

4) Weddings
Watch for white hats and veils that signify a matrimonial event, but remember that not all brides wore white and not all white dresses are wedding gowns.

5) Education
Did your ancestor chose to pose with a book? Perhaps it's not just a prop, but a symbol of their ability to read.

6) Religion
A Bible or other religious symbol in a photo indicates your ancestor's faith.

Don't forget to add your clues. Got a question? Post it to the Photo Detective Forum.


photo-research tips
Monday, September 24, 2007 12:10:22 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Sunday, September 16, 2007
Another Success Story!
Posted by Maureen

Last week I featured two photos in my blog entry. As soon as Thomas Wetten saw what I'd written he sent me an email.

"I figured I was grasping, but my guess was the best I could formulate from the photo-dating websites I had visited thus far. The good news is, your mid-1890s date actually fits perfectly with that for another great-grandmother, Jennie Gilles. She is much more plausible, given her resemblance, and given who had it before I found it. It seems you've solved the mystery for me. Thank you."

If you missed my analysis and Wetten's familial guess scroll down this page to see the column.

I'm often asked if it's possible to identify an unidentified family photo. The answer is yes as long as you know your family history and can decipher the pictorial clues.  If you don't believe it then look at past columns for proof. You'll be a convert.<grin>

Submit your photographs for my analysis and see them featured in this spot. I pick at least two pictures a month.




Sunday, September 16, 2007 4:02:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# 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]
# Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Photos of Summer
Posted by Maureen

Two weeks ago I asked readers to submit their summer photos. I received a wide variety of mystery photos and one that fit my request. Sandi Gill e-mailed this lovely photo of a group of children, one of whom is her mother.


Even though Gill doesn't know the names of the other children or where this photo was taken, she thought it made a good example for my Labor Day summer album. She's right. All the children wear the bobbed hair of the 1920s and light summer garments. Her mom is one of the smaller children, being only around kindergarten age.

Gill knows the family lived in Bayside, NY, but isn't sure if this photo was taken in her mother's backyard or elsewhere in the neighborhood. The large lilac hedge is a clue worth researching in other family photos or those of her mother's childhood friends. 

It's definitely a summertime shot, with the lilacs long past their bloom.

Thank you, Sandi, for sharing your picture!

1920s photos | children | group photos
Tuesday, September 04, 2007 12:50:39 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# 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]