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by Maureen A. Taylor
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Backgrounds and Furniture in Photos
Posted by Maureen
In the last month or so, I've met (via e-mail) a lot of people who collect specific types of pictures or who know a lot about a photographic detail. I even corresponded with someone who collects photographers' fingerprints on daguerreotypes. Now that's a identification database I'd like to have!
Over the last couple of decades, many books on photo history have been published. I've collected quite a library on clothing, forensic analysis techniques used by the CIA, furniture, postcards and military costumes (to name a few).
You'd be surprised by what I've got on my shelves, but there are still a couple of titles I'd like to see published.
- Photographic backgrounds—I've only found one short article on backdrops, and it doesn't begin to cover the topic. If you own a picture with an interesting background, send it to me and see it featured here.
Send me your photos
- Furniture in photos—I use furniture-history tomes when looking at the tables and chairs featured in photos, but as far as I know, no one has published anything on that topic. In addition to clothing and the photographer's imprint, furniture can place a picture in a time frame. Think wicker in the 1890s and fringed chairs in the 1860s.
with interesting backgrounds and furniture, and let's build a database of reader photos and create our own online reference tool for these two understudied bits of photo history.
photo backgrounds | props in photos
Tuesday, December 18, 2007 11:46:23 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Monday, December 10, 2007
Dress Details Reveal Photo Dates
Posted by Maureen
This week’s mystery photo comes all the way from New Zealand. Don’t you just love the way the Internet
brings us all closer together!
Janet Drinnan wrote of the picture below “We think it may be our great-great-grandmother, who was born in Buchanan, Stirlingshire, Scotland, in 1810. Her
daughter Elizabeth, who emigrated to New Zealand in 1862, had it. It is not Elizabeth, as
we have several photos of her in New Zealand—she was born in 1840
when her mother was 30 years old. Elizabeth’s
mother, who was born in 1810, died of cancer in 1865 at 55 years old.”
Unfortunately, I have bad news for Janet: This woman isn't her great-great- grandmother (born 1810).
The woman in this photo lived long after 1865. The design of
her dress dates the picture to circa 1900 to 1905. Notice her scalloped collar with jet
beaded trim, and the pleated inset in the bodice. She has three-quarter-length
sleeves. Lower sleeves extend to the wrist, with pleats and
a beaded wristband. It’s a gorgeous dress,
probably made from black silk. The woman wears a chiffon rose pinned to her bodice and a similar hair bow. (Hair bows were worn
by younger women in this period, while older women usually chose plain hairstyles.) The bow, dress and setting provide elegance to this portrait.
Clothing styles were different in the 1860s. Women then wore
wide skirts and full sleeves with small collars. Jet beaded trim was also commonly used in the 1880s,
but the other clothing details point to the 1900 to 1905 time frame.
Now that I’ve destroyed a family oral tradition of who’s
depicted, let’s see if I can help determine who this really is:
- Where was the photo taken? Janet didn’t mention a photographer’s name and address, but that
would make a difference. Is this woman a relative who stayed in Scotland, or a friend in New Zealand?
- Who was
important enough in Elizabeth’s
life that she’d keep the picture? Elizabeth
had it, but it didn’t come with her on the long trip from Scotland in 1862. The image was taken
too late for that. This woman could be a friend, sister (if she had any) or aunt.
- Who’s old
enough? While musing over these questions, Janet has to keep in mind that this
woman is in her middle years. She should examine her research for a woman born likely after
1840 but definitely before 1860. Signs of aging vary with genetics and
illness so this woman with white hair could be a bit younger or older than
this time frame allows.
- What else does the photo show? This woman doesn’t wear a wedding ring, but tshe still may have been
everyone in the 19th century wore a wedding band. Or, this woman could’ve been widowed or removed the ring due to weight gain.
Once Janet considers these
questions she should be able to list a few suspects.
1900-1910 photos | women
Monday, December 10, 2007 4:55:17 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Posted by Maureen
If you're looking for a gift for the genealogists on your list, here are a few photo-related suggestions:
- A digital camera. There's a member of my family who still uses film. While there's nothing wrong with that, the holiday season is a good time to jump into digital. Manufacturers often bundle printers with cameras, saving you or your recipient time and money. Keep in mind you don't need a lot of megapixels to make 4x6-inch prints, or fancy gadgets to take a good picture. Look for cameras with image stabilization and an optical zoom that fit your budget.
- A photo printer. I just bought an all-in-one—a combination photo printer/scanner/copier—for around $50! It's an Epson and uses the Durabrite inks, which means I don't have to worry about the longevity my prints as long as I also use acid- and lignin-free photo paper. Before purchasing a photo printer, check out its preservation ratings on Wilhelm's Image Research.
- A scanner. While legal-size scanners are still little pricey for my budget, you can find many letter-size models for less than $100. Look for scanners that can do high-resolution (300 dots per inch or higher) scanning. Here's a tip: Read the reviews at Flat-BedScannerReview.com.
Looking for some smaller gifts? Buy Zig markers (for labeling resin-coated pictures) and soft-lead graphite pencils (for labeling heritage images) at art supply or scrapbook stores. Buy a box of acid- and lignin-free photo paper at an office supply store, or a beautiful preservation quality photo album at a stationary shop.
Click Comment to add your photo-gift ideas. Happy holidays!
Wednesday, December 05, 2007 3:49:33 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Monday, November 26, 2007
Posted by Maureen
This week's picture comes from the Photo Detective Forum
. This is used by folks who want their pictures analyzed for this column, but you can also post a photo-related question.
Alissa Booth wrote that someone crossed out the original caption, C.C.
and wrote Mother
. A little girl stands next to an elderly
relative, and Alissa wants to know which is the wife and who's the
mother? Is it the older woman or the little girl? Alissa thinks her
father changed the label when he was identifying photos to give to his
children and now she's confused.
From researching census
Alissa knows C.C. Smock's wife, Mary Amalong, was born Oct. 10,
1855, and his mother, Sarah, was born about 1831.
The key to identifying the women in this photo is the date. The girl's
dress with it's ruffled yoke suggests this picture was taken circa 1900.
Her grandmother's dress is simply styled without the full sleeves of
the late 1890s, and further confirms the time frame.
If this were C.C. Smock's wife, Mary (born in 1855), the older woman
would be approximately 50. If it's Smock's mother, she'd
be approximately 70. The latter is a more likely fit for the
identity of the woman. She looks much older than 50, with a full head
of white hair and knarled hands. Notice her handkerchief tucked into
the waistband of her dress.
She's dressed in black as a sign of respect for a deceased family member. It could be her husband or another close relative.
The little girl could be her granddaughter, but given the fact that
this little girl was born in the 1890s, it's probably her
great-grandmother or even great-great grandmother. It all depends on
when her parent's birth years and their relationship to the family
Alissa's Dad wrote Mother
probably referring to the little girl, but
that still leaves her with another mystery—who wrote the original
P.S. Don't forget to look at the comments for Ancestral Vacations
. I've added some new details.
1900-1910 photos | children | women
Monday, November 26, 2007 2:39:14 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Monday, November 19, 2007
Abraham Lincoln sighting!
Posted by Maureen
An amateur historian is credited with a historic discovery. John Richter found a previously unknown picture of Abraham Lincoln taken at Gettysburg. The image was where everyone could see it--on the Library of Congress
website in their prints and photographs catalog. You can find other pictures of Gettysburg by using that as a search term in the catalog.
This past weekend newstations and websites were abuzz with the find. Is it real? Judge for yourself then add your comments to this blog. Take a look at the story that WGAL.com
posted on their website over the weekend. Is it a picture of Abraham Lincoln on horseback on his way to give his Gettysburg address or just another fellow in a hat and beard. It's time to sound off!
Remember that Lincoln was there and that news accounts mention his procession. Other pictures of that historic event place him in the crowd but you can make up your own mind. I'm still analyzing the evidence!
Monday, November 19, 2007 6:30:44 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Monday, November 12, 2007
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.
Here, she poses for the camera in the Gap of Dunloe, Ireland
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, 126.96.36.199, 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
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)
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)
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)
Monday, October 22, 2007
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)
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)