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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, August 18, 2008
Meet the Photo Detective, Online and at FGS
Posted by Maureen

I'll be at the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Philadelphia Sept. 2-6, and I hope I'll see you there. You can visit with me in my booth, #304, in the conference exhibit hall. It's a great chance to chat with me about your family photos or just stop by to say hi. Please do! I like meeting the folks who submit photos to this column. 

At the conference, I'll also be presenting a workshop on identifying and preserving family photos. It's not too late to sign up for this special offering. You can register for the conference online until Aug. 22 at 5 p.m. Central time.  

Last week the e-zine/blog Shades of the Departed asked me to write a short piece about the wedding photos I collect. I met the author of this informative and wonderful photo site, The Footnote Maven, through FaceBook. We're kindred spirits when it comes to old photos. Check out the story. I talk about seven of the images from my personal (though not my family) collection. If you've ever cried at wedding, then be advised. You'll need a tissue.

Next week I'll feature a photo in this space that'll carry a warning, "Viewer discretion advised." Now doesn't that pique your interest!


photo news | Web sites
Monday, August 18, 2008 9:12:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, August 11, 2008
Sports in the Family
Posted by Maureen

Like many of you, I'm glued to the TV and online news sources watching the Olympics. While I don't have any Olympic hopefuls in my house, there are plenty of athletes on the family tree: In one oft-told tale, my husband's grandfather had an opportunity to play for a major league baseball team, but his father made him go to law school instead. 

Do you have a photo of an ancestral athlete? Send it to me and I'll share it in this space. Got a story to go with it?  I'd love to hear it. 

I looked through my archive of recent submissions to this column, but couldn't find a mystery family photo that fit the theme of sports. Instead, I've pulled one from the Library of Congress.

swimming3b21884r.jpg

George Grantham Bain took this photo, captioned, "Champion Australian girl swimming team," April 8, 1919. Bain was a news photographer who primarily worked in New York City. Haven't found the associated news story to go with it yet, but I'm still looking. 


1910s photos
Monday, August 11, 2008 3:08:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, August 01, 2008
Medical Conditions and Family History
Posted by Maureen

Two weeks ago I put out a call for photos showing medical conditions. There are three images and one blog link in this post so be sure to read all the way to the end.

The inspiration for that request was a photo that Elizabeth Vollrath emailed me in May.
080108vollrath.jpg   080108vollrath2.jpg
It's a lovely 1880s photograph showing an unusual feature in her right ear.  While not a medical condition, it made me think about details in photos. 

Vollrath's dad inherited the split in the earlobe, showing a relationship to this unknown woman. I wondered whether she was his grandmother. I was close. A cousin later positively identified this woman as Ida Sophia Hass (b. 1866). Ida's sister Pauline Hass was Vollrath's great-great-grandmother, and her dad's great grandmother.

Diedra March sent me this photo of her great-grandfather's family.
 
Norberg oval photo copied to cd.jpg   080108MarchNorberg2 .jpg
She thinks her dad has inherited macular degeneration from this man, his mother's father. Anders Norberg appears to have something wrong with his eyes. According to March, Macular Degeneration causes blindness in your center vision, and people with the condition often look out of the corners of their eyes.

Rachel McPherson shared a photo of a school group that shows her grandmother in a leg brace (front row, fourth from right) due to polio.

Patricia School Picture.jpg  schoolpolio.jpg

She was born in 1933, before a vaccine was available.

Bloggers like to share through their online postings. The Footnote Maven posted a medically related photo on her blog, Shades of the Departed, on "Health Issues and Women Wearing Glasses." 

Thank you to everyone who sent images in response to my request! 


1880s photos | group photos | men | photo-research tips | women
Friday, August 01, 2008 4:23:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Monday, July 28, 2008
The Weller Family Revisited
Posted by Maureen

My search for living descendants of the little girl in Finding Family Photos on the Web is ongoing. It's a perfect example of how not everything is on the web.

Having looked at census records and whatever else was online, I ran into a virtual brick wall—I'm sure you know the feeling. Here are some of the sources I learned about and how I located them.
  • A reference librarian at the Littleton, NH, public library made my day when she found an obituary for "Fontie" WELLER Fitch in the Littleton Courier, the local newspaper. After marrying Henry Fitch, Fontenella and her new husband moved to Spokane, Wash., so he could accept a job with the Washington National Bank. She gave birth to a child in January 1892, and within three months, both mother and child were deceased. Their obituaries appeared in the Littleton Courier March 16, 1892.
  • Since I didn't have an obituary for Fontenella's father, I went back and tried locating one using the historical newspaper subscription site GenealogyBank. I finally found it by using Weller in the surname field with Littleton as a keyword. According to the Argus and Patriot (Montpelier, Vt.) of Dec. 12, 1877,  "Frank G. Weller, a well-known manufacturer of stereoscopic views, died at his residence in Littleton, NH, on Saturday, aged 44 years."
Intrigued by the use of "well-known," I set out to discover more about the man behind that beautiful photo of a girl and a flag. Just how famous was Weller, and did he take any other stereo views of his family?

A stereo view is a double picture taken with a binocular camera; it captured two slightly different images of the same view. You then used a special viewer to make the scene 3-D. Stereo views of people are rare. These double images were entertainment—you could purchase scenes of places you'd visited (or would like to visit) or play out with friends the tableau scenes in cards with allegorical and literary themes.
 
A quick search of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog using F.G. Weller in the author fieldturned up several images by him. I've posted two here; the other two aren't online. This one depicts "A Country Choir":

weller11553v country choir.jpg

In the 1870s, stereo photographers often created thematic scenes from literature. Without the catalog record, it's difficult to recognize the tableau below. It represents a card-playing scene from Francis Bret Harte's poem Plain Language From Truthful James. Harte was a American author who wrote about life in California.

weller11554vmen.jpg

The back of the card yielded some additional information. I wasn't aware that Weller had copyrighted his images. The stamp in the upper right hand corner provides a year for the card-playing view.

weller11555rback men.jpg

Weller was an accomplished photographer. The evidence is in the crisp quality of his images.  I'd love to see more.

In the 1880s, after Weller's death, it's likely the family sold his negatives. His pictures began to be published by the Littleton View Company, and later, by the major producer of stereo views, Underwood and Underwood. Some depicted allegorical scenes, others focused on literature, and in a few instances, he took pictures of local scenes (as evidenced on a label on the back of one of his views).

But he also was one of only two photographers in the pre-1875 period who specialized in photographing children. He called this series his "Stereoscopic Treasures." Perhaps he included his daughter and her friends in "The Tea Party" and the "Girl posed with a Tablet." Unfortunatley, neither is available online for comparision. This additional information is from John Waldsmith's Stereo Views: An Illustrated History and Price Guide (Krause, $24.95).

Weller was an early stereoscopic photographer, a trailblazer in his field, who also used his talents to photograph his only child Fontenella. As far I as I know, no single repository holds Weller's images—they're in private collections or the Library of Congress. It's a pretty typical situation for a photographer's legacy.


1870s photos | photographers imprints
Monday, July 28, 2008 5:42:15 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, July 21, 2008
Spotlight on Family Health History--The Photo Side
Posted by Maureen

There was a very interesting story about Pio Pico, California's last governor under Mexico, in the July 19 Los Angeles Times. "What made Pio Pico so, well, ugly?" focuses not on the political happenings of his administration, but on how a daguerreotype of him helped identify a medical condition. It's fascinating!

A neurologist compared a daguerreotype of Pico taken in 1852 with a painting of him from 1847 and another photograph from 1858. This doctor believes Pico had a condition called acromegaly, a pituitary tumor that caused his face to become mishapen. The pictorial evidence showed when he first became afflicted and when the pituitary tumor stopped growing. It's a great family photo tale.

I've received several photographs from readers of individuals with obvious medical conditions or dental problems. I'm busy tracking down the clues in those images—he evidence in those photos may be pertinent to the owners' own health history.

If you have a medically related photograph, e-mail it to me. I'd love to see it. 

The Mütter Museum was founded by the College of Physicans of Philadelphia to help educate physicians. While their digital database currently contains images only of doctors, according to their Web site, the picture collection "contains images from the history of medicine, including portraits, buildings, groups, and historical subjects." A photo book, Mutter Museum Historic Medical Photographs (Blast Books, $50) is available. Be prepared: Some of the images are disturbing.


men | organizations
Monday, July 21, 2008 4:59:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, July 14, 2008
Finding Family Photos on the Web
Posted by Maureen

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how one genealogist created a short video about her online photo discovery. I was so intrigued by her effort that I decided to try putting together a short piece with images depicting flags.  It's one of my collecting areas—I can't turn down a picture of the personification of flags and other American symbols. You can watch the video on Roots Television. It was only my second attempt at movie-making, so don't be too harsh.

One of the photos I included came from the Library of Congress and serves as a good example of how family photos can also represent history.  It's a gorgeous stereo view of a young girl dressed as a symbolic figure.

weller.jpg

According to the cataloging record, this image is Fontinelle Weller posed as Columbia, taken on March 13, 1873, by F.G. Weller of Littleton, N.H. 

The 1870 census provides additional details. The girl's name was actually Fontanella A. Weller and F.G. was her father Frank G., a photographer. (You can find this record using the following citation: 1870 U.S. census. Grafton County, New Hampshire, population schedule, Littleton, p. 567, dwelling 170, family 191, Frank G. Weller citing National Archives microfilm publication M 593, roll 841.)

I used my Boston Public Library card to find Fontana on the subscription database Heritage Quest, but you can also locate her using Ancestry.com.

The depicting of individuals as symbols of America goes back to the founding of this country. Fontanella has a serious expression on her face while holding the flag. Her white Roman-style dress with a crown identifies her as "Columbia, Mother of the Republic."

In the late 18th and early 19th century, Columbia was a woman, but as seen here, in the mid-to later 19th century, she became younger. You can read more about American symbolism in David Hackett Fischer's Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas ( Oxford, $50).

If you haven't searched the Library of Congress catalog of prints and photographs, try it and see if you can find images of the members of your family. Anyone out there related to Fontanella?  According to FamilySearch, she married Henry Fitch on June 13, 1890.

If you've located family photos on the Library of Congress site, let me know by posting a comment below.


1870s photos | children | props in photos
Monday, July 14, 2008 8:39:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Is This the Same Man?
Posted by Maureen

Charles Blyth found this handsome daguerreotype in a group of identified family photographs. He thinks the man might be a colleague of his great uncle, but isn't really sure. It's beautiful and in pristine condition, so I couldn't resist this challenge.

070708a.jpg

It's important to remember daguerreotypes are reversed. Before comparing this gentleman to any family photographs, it's necessary to flip the image to see his natural appearance. Faces can look quite different when reversed.

070708blythreversed.jpg

Blyth doesn't think this man is his great uncle Henry Blyth, born in 1831, but the evidence suggests it could be. Here is the quartet of facts I've considered.
1) This man appears to be in his 20s and the clothing (wide cravat, slicked back hair and long sideburns) suggests the photo was taken in the 1850s. This man is the right age to be Blyth.
2) The equipment on the table identifies this man as a surveyor.  As far as I can tell, the device is a Wye level, used for long- distance surveying. I found a similar-looking piece on Larry and Carol Meeker's Web site Antiques of a Mechanical Nature. Blyth was a surveyor in New York State before leaving home at 22 for Chile. He returned home with a beard in 1858 and posed for a portrait with his family; a few years later, he was in the card photograph (below). If the daguerreotype is Blyth, it was taken before his travels in 1853—a date that fits the clothing clues.
070708blyth.jpg
3) Even though Blyth's hairline is receding in this known picture, you can see the similarities between him and the unidentified portrait. Besides a similar hairline, their face shapes are close. It's not outside the realm of possibility to conclude Blyth posed for the daguerreotype before traveling to South America. This card photo shows he aged a bit from his frontier experience, but it's likely both pictures depict the same man.
4) One other feature in the daguerreotype suggests it could show Blyth: the cross. According to Charles Blyth, members of the family often posed wearing a cross.
I think the evidence strongly suggests this unidentified picture is Henry Blyth—the tools identify his trade, his age is right, facial similiarities suggest a relationship and then there's the cross and the fact the image was found with family artifacts.  I think it's Blyth, but I'm not sure I've convinced the owner.

Got an opinion? Sound off in the Comments section! Let's create a dialogue.

1850s photos | cased images | props in photos
Tuesday, July 08, 2008 8:37:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [7]
# Monday, June 30, 2008
Photo Reunion Live!
Posted by Maureen

In the July 2008 issue of Family Tree Magazine, I wrote an article, "Charmed Life," about how genealogists connect with lost family—people, history and artifacts. It was a lot of fun to work on.

Midge Frazel, one of the women featured in the piece, has created a video of her story. You can watch it on her FaceBook page. In it she talks about how a chance discovery on the photo reunion site, Dead Fred, brought back a piece of her photo history. If you're not on FaceBook, don't worry, you can look at it on Flickr.

If you've never tried FaceBook, I recommend it! My teenagers hate that I have a page, but I'm having a great time connecting with colleagues via that social netwroking venue. By the way, if you decide to sign up, don't forget to become a fan of Family Tree Magazine. All you have to do is click on the cover.

I'd love to hear what you think of using FaceBook. Use the comment section below. 


Photo-sharing sites
Monday, June 30, 2008 2:23:44 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Loopy Photo Labels
Posted by Maureen

A big thank you to Leanne M. Baraban!  She bought this photo to share with me (and you). It's a great example of how good-intentioned labeling can go so very wrong. Below are all the identifications, and the woman who made them added a note: "I numbered these all so you would know who all of them were."

leanne.jpg.jpg

While it was a great idea to name each person for posterity, the numbers are written on the front of the photo in India ink. Here are the identifications:

no.1 Is my feller
 "    2 Nans feller
 "    3 Papa
  "   4 Nan
  "    5 me
  "   6 Mamma
  "   7 Mrs. Ashcroft (a neighbor)
  "   8 Miss Smith (the school teacher)
   "   9 is Miss Smiths feller
  "   10 Lucile
  "   11 Pleasant
  "   12 Mabel

That's all she wrote. I'm sure you've seen other examples of photos identified with arrows or x's, but if you really want future generations to be able to say who's who, follow these three steps.
1. Never write on the front. On the back is OK if you use a soft lead pencil for cardboard-mounted images, or a special photo-marking pen (such as a Zig marker) for 20th-century resin-coated snapshots. You can tag digital images using photo organizing or editing software.

2. Use the full name whenever possible. Wouldn't it be great to know who "Nan's feller" was? While this woman knew everyone's name, it's doubtful that identification lasted past her generation.

3. We'll probably never know why all these folks got together on a summer's day. If there's a special occasion associated with the image, include a short note.
If you're curious about when this picture was taken, look at the hats on the neighbor (7) and the school teacher (8). Those broad-brimmed, deep-crowned chapeaus were very common in the 1910 era. By the way, this is a postcard, and the design on the back first became available in late 1907.


1910s photos | photo postcards | preserving photos
Tuesday, June 24, 2008 2:26:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, June 16, 2008
Sisters or Mother and Daughter?
Posted by Maureen

A reader named Judy sent me a picture mystery that's a lot like choosing the answer to a multiple choice question—a, b or c. This makes my brain and eyes hurt. Here goes:

061608.jpg
  • On the back is written Great Grandma Frances Huffman.  Huffman was born in 1838.
  • In a different handwriting on the back someone wrote, Nira. There were two Niras in the family: Frances Huffman's mother, born about 1817, and a sister, born in 1859.
  • Frances Huffman had a daughter in 1856.
In case you're confused, both Huffman and her mother were giving birth to children in the 1850s. Huffman was 18 when her own daughter was born; her mother was 42 when she had Nira.

So who's in this picture? That's the quandry. The wide lace collar and beads suggest it was taken in the mid-to-late 1850s. The caption on the back suggests the woman is Huffman, but if it's really her and her about-2-year-old daughter, then it's an odd picture. 

In 1858, cased images such as daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and even tintypes were available, but paper prints weren't common. Note the gray cardboard used as backing and the circular shape to the portrait—I think this is a copy of an earlier image. The blurring of the portrait suggests the photographer shot the copy through the glass covering the original picture.

What about the additional caption mentioning Nira? Unless this is a picture of Huffman with her much younger sibling, that's probably a misidentification.

I'm not sure all the pieces of this puzzle are in place yet. I don't think the mother in this picture looks like she's in her 40s, but genetics and illness are just two factors affecting the aging process. Another picture of either Huffman or her mother wouldhelp  confirm the woman's identification.


1850s photos | children | women
Monday, June 16, 2008 10:33:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]