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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, November 12, 2007
Ancestral Vacations
Posted by Maureen

Two things drew me to this picture. First, the owner sent me wonderful background information to tell the story. Second, it’s proof this blog has an international following: Kathryn Larcher submitted this photo from her home in France.


There's no mystery about the relative depicted. Kathryn knows the last woman in the middle row is her maternal great-grandmother, “Mom Battle” (Mary Clement Crawford Battle). When Mary’s husband died in September 1909, instead of staying home, she traveled in Europe.

mom_battle_gap_dunloe_detail_tag.jpg

Here, she poses for the camera in the Gap of Dunloe, Ireland. This photo comes from a family scrapbook—one probably created by Mom Battle herself. 






Kathryn would like to know when the picture was taken. The numbers on the lower right side of the picture, 51.2.8.10, elaborate that detail. I believe the first number is the photographer’s notation for his 51st picture, but the last three digits are clearly the date.

Using the European method of notation, Mom Battle had her picture taken on the second day of August, 1910. Her black attire, including hat and coat, supports this date. Victorian mourning standards required widows to wear black for the first year after a husband's death.

Centuries of visitors have marveled over the natural beauty of the Gap. You can read more about it in Black’s Guide to Ireland (1902), available through Google Books.

A documentary, Trip Through the Gap of Dunloe (1903), probably boosted tourism in the area. A key stop on the immortalized tour was Kate Kearney’s Cottage, with its legendary history of spells cast by Kate herself, followed by food and drink. Visitors could then hire a horse-drawn conveyance to take them through the Gap and back. Today the cottage still offers refreshments and tourists can still take a horse and buggy.

Kathryn also wondered who else is in this picture. I have a question for her, “Did Mom Battle travel alone or with a companion?” A traveling companion would've been along for this ride. The rest of the folks are just fellow travelers, such as the young honeymoon (perhaps) couple cuddled up in the second row.

This is a great photo of a woman who decided to enter the next phase of her life with a sense of adventure!


1910s photos | group photos
Monday, November 12, 2007 5:00:54 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, November 05, 2007
The Plane Truth Revisited
Posted by Maureen

Last year I wrote about Jacqui Marcella's photo of two couples standing in front of an airplane in The Plane Truth. I'm revisiting a few of my older columns to see if I can discover anything new about those pictures. When I looked at this 1920s image I thought, "Why not?"  Imagine my surprise when a closer look at some of the details revealed that this simple family picture was a historically significant photo!


The couple on the left are Jacqui Marcella's grandparents, Arthur and Theresa Henschel, but the couple on the right are a mystery. I initially assigned a timeframe of 1926 to 1930, but this "fresh look" narrowed that even further. Take a close look at the T to the right of the second couple. It holds the key to this image.

I searched some of the links I recommended in the original article, and found an exact match! The T is part of the name of the plane, the Smiling Thru. If you look closely, you can see part of a G behind the man on the right. Compare this photo to the photo I found on the Wichita Photo Archives site—the plane's name in that picture is the same font as the T in Jacqui's picture.


The Smiling Thru was the first corporate aircraft in America, owned by the Automatic Washer Company. The name came from the company slogan, "Buy an automatic washer on Monday and you will be smiling through the rest of the week." 

For company president H.L. Ogg, it was a corporate office in the sky with dictaphone, telephone and lavatory. His secretary typed letters while they flew around the country. Strip out the office equipment and the company could use it to deliver washing machines.

The Automatic Washer Company bought this plane from Travel Air in 1929,  then sold it in 1934. Based on the clothing here and the aircraft's history, Jacqui's grandparents probably posed for this portrait in about 1929. The history of the plane also suggests the other couple might be associated with the Automatic Washer Company. I know the man isn't Ogg, but perhaps its another representative.

Jacqui thought of this  portrait as a family picture, but its actually a piece of American history, since very few pictures of the Smiling Thru still exist. You can read more about it in an article in the Newton (Iowa) Daily News.

By the way, Jacqui, please send me your new email address. I was unable to contact you to provide this update on your photo.

1920s photos | group photos | men | photo backgrounds | women
Monday, November 05, 2007 2:51:49 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, October 26, 2007
Hunting for Clues Part Two
Posted by Maureen

For genealogists, it's easy to underestimate the power we yield. If you need proof, think about this: The recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article on The Photo Detective was the number one article read online at the WSJ for a week!

 This means thousands if not millions of people are interested in their family photographs. That's great news!

A couple of folks who read that piece commented on the type of gun depicted in the cover photo. Last year I wrote a column, Hunting for Clues, about this picture of a hunter. Now new evidence has surfaced.



There's a lot of discussion about what type of gun appears in the picture and the date for the image. Faced with the new facts, I could've been off by a few years. The man wears his old clothes for a soujourn into the wilds of New Jersey. Instead of just saying his photo is from the late 1860s, I'm stretching the time frame to include the early 1870s. It doesn't change my analysis, but the additional details add depth to this image. Here's what turned up:

I spoke with LeRoy Merz of Merz Antique Firearms about the gun in the photo. While my original expert was right about it not being a Civil War piece, it's not a Winchester 66, either. Merz set me straight. It appears to be a double-barrel shotgun, and the shells around the man's waist are 10-gauge.



Merz thinks this man holds a European model probably imported from England in the early 1870s. It was first introduced there in the late 1860s. In England, these shotguns were used for market hunting of water fowl. (Notice the game bag at the man's side.) It appears Majorie Osterhout's relative liked to go bird-hunting, probably for duck or geese, with his trusty four-legged friend. Though the dog (hard to see here) isn't a traditional breed for retrieving game, it could've been trained for the task.



Merz's opinion is just one of several. All are in agreement the gun isn't a Winchester 66, but there's still lots of talk about the actual model and the gauge of the shells.

Next week, I'll take a look at another earlier column and tell you more of the fascinating story behind a reader's family photo.


1860s photos | 1870s photos | men | props in photos
Friday, October 26, 2007 7:16:03 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Monday, October 22, 2007
Old-Photo Reunions
Posted by Maureen

I have a friend who has phenomenal family history luck. Around each genealogical corner is another discovery. She goes to libraries and finds new family in almost every book she picks up, posts online queries and actually gets an answer.  A couple of years ago she used a popular message board to try to find out more about a couple that moved west. What do you think happened?  You're right. She met a distant cousin who not only knew all about the married pair, she had a photo album full of pictures from the 1870s. In one fell swoop she reconnected with a whole generation of folks. Sheesh!

If you envy her picture success and want to locate pictures of your ancestors then try these tips:

  • Check out a reunion site.  
    • DeadFred.com is the most popular with more than 5,000 people looking for images each week. If you find family then email Joe and his staff. They'll try to facilitate a reunion by putting you in touch with the person who posted. If it's a picture that the staff at DeadFred bought and posted and you can prove your relationship, the picture is yours.
    • AncientFaces.com is probably the second runner up in the reunion category. I don't have stats for the site, but take a look. It's well worth a visit.
  • Post to a message board
    • When you post looking for information add that you'd love to see pictures of these ancestors as well. There are hundreds of genealogy message boards so rather than list them here go to Cyndislist.com for Queries and Message Boards.
  • Search digital libraries
    • The Library of Congress is just one of many libraries across the country and overseas with digital image collections. A list of sites appeared in the October 2003 issue of Family Tree Magazine in the article "Picturing the Past" by David Fryxell. That'll get you started, but in the four years since the article appeared even smaller historical societies and libraries have begun adding pictures to their web sites.
Hope these tips enable you to find new images of relatives.  Share your successful photo reunions on the Photo Detective Forum. I can't wait to hear about what you've found!


photo-research tips | Web sites
Monday, October 22, 2007 2:50:07 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Crayon-Enhanced Portrait of a Child
Posted by Maureen

Last week I wrote about Carolanne’s portraits of her relatives Laura Gilman and her husband James Wyatt Weed. Here’s a third, unidentified, picture.

Behind each picture is a story, and Caroleann's three portraits are no different. Photo identification techniques can tell you when a person sat for a picture, but it’s the historical and genealogical research that fills in the details of their lives. In this case, Carolanne knows the birth dates of Laura, James and their four children, Flora (b. 1874), Alvah (b. 1879), Wyatt James (b. 1881) and Addie (1883). The family folklore and her research reveal a tragic tale you’d never guess by looking at their lovely pictures.



First, let’s identify the baby in this crayon portrait. I’d estimate this child is around 2 years old.  The child is wearing a dress, but the outfit and short hair confirm the sex and dates.  During the 1880s, little boys wore “masculine” dresses like this one, featuring less trim than by girls’ dresses. Wide lace collars were in vogue, too. The short hair could be due the toddler’s age or because his mother cut it short to mimic men’s styles.

Notice the ball in his right hand. It’s either a photographer’s trick to help him sit still, or a treasured possession.

The artist or photographer who enhanced the image with charcoal did a good job around the face but didn’t accurately draw the hands and feet. Since the artistic style is similar to that of his parent’s pictures, the work was probably done by the same studio.

Therefore, if this portrait depicts Alvah, it was created around 1881, and if it’s his brother, it dates from about 1883. Either identification is possible.

There is also an emotional story to this image. Around 1910, Wyatt moved to California with a friend to “hook up electricity.” The next year, his mother received a telegram that “Wyatt J Weed accidentally killed eighty dollars in bank wire instructions."  

In a second missive from Wyatt’s friend, his mother learned he died when he “took hold of a drop light in a dark cellar” and that the embalmer wanted seventy-five dollars for a metal-lined box and casket. The friend offered to arrange transportation home. His sister Addie remembered it cost $172 to bring Wyatt back to Maine and that the loss of her son changed Laura forever. Carolanne thinks that's why the grief-stricken mother would’ve kept this portrait of Wyatt, rather than another son, but the clothing clues suggest it could be either boy.

A picture is sometimes just an icon for the greater tale of your family. Take time to research the life of each person to fit their photograph into their life story. Carolanne has.

1880s photos | children | enhanced images
Wednesday, October 17, 2007 5:37:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, October 12, 2007
Photo Detective in the News
Posted by Diane

Vintage photo fans, be sure to check out Maureen's appearance in today's Wall Street Journal Weekend Journal section. See part of the article and examples of her work online.

Also, on the Genealogy Insider blog, we link to some of Maureen's photo-sleuthing advice for Family Tree Magazine readers.


photo-research tips
Friday, October 12, 2007 6:38:37 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Could this happen to your family history treasures?
Posted by Maureen

Before diving into this week’s identification, I have a question for you: Have you specified in your will who’ll receive your heritage photos after you’re no longer here? If not, your relatives could find themselves in a battle.

Carolanne, the owner of this week’s photo, has spent 17 years trying to gain ownership of her great-aunt’s pictures and family history materials. When Addie Mattilda Weed died in 1990 at age 106, the tenants in her house gave her manuscripts to a university and kept her photos.

Carolanne, Addie’s closest living relative, finally got the photos, but she’s still battling the university—which currently expects her to pay even to copy the papers. So, make sure you’ve planned for the future of your genealogy collection.

On to Carolanne’s question: Who are these people?
She hopes they’re Addie’s mother, Laura Gilman (1844-1926), and father, James Wyatt Weed (1839-1888). 

    
I think Carolanne’s right. Addie lived her whole life in one house—birth to death. Since these photos were in that house among her belongings, they’re likely her close relatives. Also, this couple is the right age to be her parents.

That’s easy, but as usual, there are other questions: When were these images created, and what format are they?  

Both are photographs enhanced with charcoal. Photographers generally took pictures first, then enlarged and enhanced them—turning an ordinary cabinet-style picture into a piece of art. I happen own a similar-style image in a large gilt frame. The frames for these images are missing, and if there were smaller photos, those are unfortunately lost as well.
    
From about 1869 to 1875 women wore high, ruffled collars, long curls and ties at the neckline just as in this portrait. Notice her neck ribbon. Since Gilman and Weed married in 1873, it’s possible this is an engagement or wedding portrait.  

It’s much more difficult to date the picture of her husband, due to the sparse costume details in his picture. If his picture was done at the same time as Addie’s, he’d be 34 years old. His beard resembles the untrimmed facial hair men wore in the mid-1870s. Unlike his wife’s unwrinkled face, he has lines around his eyes, suggesting hard work that required he squint into the sun. According to the 1880 US census, James Weed worked in a mill, but I imagine he also spent time outdoors in his native Maine.

Caroleann sent a third family photo. I’ll tackle that next week, with a few more things to say about the three images. ‘Til then…

1860s photos | 1870s photos | enhanced images | men | women
Wednesday, October 10, 2007 7:50:43 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
# 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]