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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Backgrounds in Old Photos
Posted by Maureen

In mid-December, I asked readers to submit photos with interesting backgrounds. Thank you for images.

I'm conducting an informal study of the different types of backgrounds in photos—it's a vastly understudied area of photo history. Here's an overview:

In the 1840s and 1850s daguerreotypists really didn't use backgrounds. Their focus was capturing a likeness of a person, not making the pictures look like they were taken outdoors.

In the 1860s, suddenly you start seeing the wall behind the sitter. You can see the blank wall and the moulding at the base. At some point in the late 1850s photographers began offering handpainted copies of images with gorgeous backgrounds painted in. Many of you probably have these and wonder if they're photographs or paintings. They're actually both.

In the late 19th century, photographers began paying artists to create backdrops. You've seen some of them in past columns. The backdrop and the architectural elements create a stage setting for the portrait. In photos taken at tourist resorts, you're likely to see seaside scenes.  In next few weeks I'll share some interesting backgrounds I've purchased as examples.

One of the photographs I received was from Alissa Booth. These three boys were born in the period from 1911 to 1915. Notice the delicately painted backdrop. It's professionally done and creates a nature scene so the boys look like they posed outdoors.



Keep sending me the interesting backgrounds

1910s photos | 1920s photos | children | group photos | photo backgrounds
Tuesday, January 22, 2008 4:11:07 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, January 14, 2008
Photo Mystery Solved!
Posted by Maureen

Two weeks ago I wrote about Russell
Chowning's search for an identity to go with a photo
(right) in his collection.  I added up the fashion details and estimated the picture was taken about 1919.

That's all it took for Russell to locate two  snapshots of the same man and put a name with the face: Edward Haskins Brockman (born 1894).

He lived well into the mid-20th century. Before submitting his portrait to this column, Russell had shown the image to all the older members of his family, but none of them claimed to know the young man's identity.

It's a mystery why no one recognized someone who lived that recently. Although the young man had a full head of hair, later in life he lost much of it. Perhaps this detail distracted family who may have known him before he died.

   

Take a look at the 1919 picture (top). Compare it to these pictures of him in the 1940s (above left) and 1955 (above right), both already identified in Chowning's family collection. This man's distinctive ears and nose are a clear indication all three pictures show the same person.

It's important to look for the facial details that stay the same as people age: noses (without plastic surgery or injury), ears, and the shape of your ancestor's eyes. Keep this in mind when you're trying to match photographs in your family album.

Several people sent me interesting background shots. I'll show them off in next week's column. Thank you!

1910s photos | men
Monday, January 14, 2008 3:35:44 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Sunday, January 06, 2008
New Zealand Mystery Revisited
Posted by Maureen

While I planned to write a second installment for the photo featured in last week's blog posting, I'll postpone it a week due to an email I received. It was a call for help.

In October 2000 (that's seven and a half years ago), I wrote about this haunting photograph of a woman in mourning in New Zealand Mystery.


Now someone e-mailed me trying to contact Dafanie Goldsmith, the owner of the picture.

Since I've had several computer crashes since 2000, I no longer have Goldsmith's contact information. The person who e-mailed me has genealogical data on one of Goldsmith's lines and would really like to find her.

In an attempt to resolve this "missing person" issue, I googled Goldsmith and discovered she's a high profile genealogist.
  • Family Tree Magazine once even named her Web site a site of week.
  • A newspaper in Lancashire wrote a story about Goldsmith's search for her family in 1999.
  • She also exists in countless message board postings. I found them by Googling her name. (If you ever wondered whether you're leaving a Web trail behind, try searching on your name in a search engine.) 
Using the clues, I've sent Goldsmith e-mails using addresses used in her postings and even joined a New Zealand social networking site to send her a private message. No results. As a last resort, I'm hoping she still reads this column.

Dafanie, if you're out there please send me an email.  The other researcher might just be able to solve one of your brick walls.

photo-research tips | women
Sunday, January 06, 2008 3:23:32 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, January 02, 2008
20th-Century Men's Clothing
Posted by Maureen

I'm trying something different this week and my fingers are crossed that it's going to work. I've tagged this week's photo so that you can spot the details I'm talking about. If you want to do this to your digitized photographs, you can download a bit of free software from Fototagger.com.

Russell Chowning submitted this picture, a perfect example of how it takes many clues to determine a date. Let's add up the head-to-toe details:
  • This man wears a wide brimmed hat set rakishly back on his head. He's relaxed for this portrait.
  • His suit has padded shoulders. That detail alone could date the picture to the 1940s, but additional features of his suit rule out that date.
  • Notice the large pocket on the left side of his suit and the button trim on the sleeves. This suggests this portrait dates from earlier in the 20th century. The sleeve trim is similar to details on suits from the late 1910s.
  • This man has paired his suit with a light-colored, soft-collared shirt and a silk tie, also in a light color.
  • He wears embroidered, light-colored socks. You could buy these through catalogs in the WWI period. In the 1920s, this simple pattern was replaced by brightly colored argyle socks.
  • His shoes are a bit of a mystery. The opening (known as the cuff) comes to the ankle like shoes worn in the period from 1914 to 1920, but I can't find similar shoes in catalogs from that time frame.
All these facts point to this picture being taken around 1919. The final detail helps determine that date. Notice the narrow pants leg at the ankle. Around 1920, men's pants narrowed at the ankle. In the 1920s, pants got wider.

(Click on this image to open a bigger version in your Web browser, then click on the bigger version image to magnify it.)

Merged.jpg

A couple of weeks ago I asked readers for photos with interesting backgrounds. Here, you see a simple backdrop with few architectural details (stairs, doors and curtains) and no scenery. It was decades old when the portrait was taken—the paint is so old it's crackled. Either this photographer had been in business for a long time, or he purchased the canvas used. 

1910s photos | men
Wednesday, January 02, 2008 4:39:06 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Photo Cards Redux
Posted by Maureen

What type of holiday greeting do you send to friends and relatives?

Four years ago I wrote Season's Greetings, a column about photo cards and shared an antique example from my collection. It's a beautiful New Year's card  from a woman to her friends. As you can see, sending photo cards is nothing new. That one dates to the 1880s.

I used to mail standard cards with a few words inside but since I wrote that piece I decided to join the millions that now design their own picture greeting. One of the photo editing programs I use lets me select snapshots and drop them into the layout. It's a cinch.  I usually select a collage type display that allows me to pick several different images to tell our family story in photos and captions. I just never get around to writing a full letter!

In addition to saving the cards I receive, I also keep a copy of the one I send out.  It's a mini archive of holiday greetings. 

 I'm not sure how many of you are checking this space during this busy time of year, but if you have a heritage photo card, send me a jpg of the image and I'll post it here next week. My email is mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com. In the meantime...

Happy Holidays!  


preserving photos
Tuesday, December 25, 2007 11:22:47 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# 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.
  • 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.
Send me your photos 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)  #  Comments [0]
# 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 married. Not 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)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Gift-Giving Tips
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!


photo postcards
Wednesday, December 05, 2007 3:49:33 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, November 26, 2007
Mourning Photograph?
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. Smock's wife 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 records, 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 matriarch.

Alissa's Dad wrote Mother probably referring to the little girl, but that still leaves her with another mystery—who wrote the original caption?

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)  #  Comments [0]
# 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!

Happy Thanksgiving!



Monday, November 19, 2007 6:30:44 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]