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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, September 15, 2008
Photos Handed Down in the Family
Posted by Maureen

Raise your hand if you've discovered a cache of family photos you didn't know about after the death of a relative.

I'm sure if I asked an audience of hundreds, few hands would remain down.  You'd think there wouldn't be any surprise photos in my family, but no ... Even my Dad squirreled away a few I didn't know about. I think he forgot he had them. Now I'm trying to figure out the significance of those long-lost pictures.

Bobbi Borbas is in a similar situation. She found these three images in a box of photos that once belonged to her mother.

In the first (below), a family sits for a group portrait. Look closely—only the father gazes at the lens, the rest of the family's eyes aren't on the camera, but on the person who stands to our left, near the photographer. It makes you wonder what's happening on the other side of the camera. Was the assistant trying to distract the children or making last-minute suggestions?

091508Family.jpg

The clothing (note the mother's full upper sleeves) and the decorative embossing on the mat date the picture between the late 1890s to about 1905. That gives Bobbi a starting point.

When she wrote, she thought the picture might depict her great-grandfather.I called her today and asked her to send me a family chart. She's looking for a family that fits the following details around the turn of the century:
  • Six children (three girls and two boys, plus a baby less than a year old)
  • The oldest boy and girl (behind their parents) close to their early teen years.
  • A boy (standing between his parents) around school age. 
Borbas' second image (below) is a tintype of a young girl. This is a gorgeous image without any of the darkening varnish so often seen in early tintypes.

091508Tintype.jpg

The photographer added gold leaf to the girl's jewelry to make it stand out. She's probably an older toddler, not yet school age, and sits with a hand in a pocket of her cotton dress.

The dress style dates the image to the early 1860s; Wide necklines like this for young girls are seen in photos of the 1850s and 1860s. The identification clue is clearly her ears—Bobbi needs to watch for similarly shaped ears in other family pictures.

The third image is very interesting. It's set in a tiny piece of photo jewelry, only 3/8 inch wide by 1/2 inch high. The photo itself is only a quarter inch. You'll have to wait until next week to see it—I'm still working on a couple of the details. With any luck, I'll be able to report success in identifying the individuals in these two images. Stay posted!


1860s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | group photos | women
Monday, September 15, 2008 8:55:39 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Sunday, September 07, 2008
FGS Wrap-up
Posted by Maureen

As readers of this blog know, I had a booth at last week's Federation of Genealogical Societies conference.

Wow! A lot of you stopped by to say hello and share your photo stories. Yes, some people brought photos with them, too <smile>. I also got to meet several FaceBook friends and fans. It was a tremendous amount of fun and very exhausting. Thank you for visiting with me!

My train ride home during Tropical Storm Hanna was something I'm not going to forget for a very long time. Who knew it could take 11 hours to go from Philadelphia to Boston? A series of misadventures, including the train hitting a tree across the tracks, made for a lively overnight experience.

My favorite part of the conference (aside from meeting all the readers of Family Tree Magazine in attendance) was walking around the exhibit hall checking out news at the booths.

For instance, I got to meet Kim Screen of Good Stock Press & Bindery. This creative woman takes family history publishing to a new level. Yes, her books are expensive, but the final product is worth every penny. She produces limited edition books (and other heirloom items) that are so beautiful you can't help but flip through them. Her illustrated family histories are particularly wonderful. Her clients provide all the text, photos and other illustrations and Kim transforms their genealogy into a work of family history art. 

My advice...spend some time on her Web site and explore the creative possibilities for your family history publishing endeavor. I know I will.


photo news
Sunday, September 07, 2008 4:24:18 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, September 01, 2008
Orphan Photos and Photo Sharing
Posted by Maureen

Last week on the Today Show I mentioned DeadFred.com. It's a fun site for folks trying to reconnect with lost family photos or to post pictures if you want photos to lead the way to a reunion with lost family.  It's a win-win either way.

There are a couple of other sites I'd like to mention though.  If you've ever lost a camera and thought those pictures (and the camera) are gone forever, think again. There is a blog that tries to link up individuals with their equipment and precious pics.  Found Cameras and Orphan Photos has a Facebook group, a link to success stories and updates every Thursday. What a fun idea!  You'll see wedding images, vacation shots and candid pictures all waiting to be claimed by their rightful owner.  I'll definitely be adding this to my Facebook page.

Photos aren't the only focus of a site called Ancient Faces. If you want to share and collaborate on family history you can set up a family space. Share stories, pictures and even a recipe or two. Sign up for their e-newsletter to keep up with any new developments.

Don't forget to check out the PhotoDetective booth (305) at the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Philadelphia this week.  Please stop by and say hello.


Photo-sharing sites
Monday, September 01, 2008 2:39:17 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, August 29, 2008
Photo Detective Talks Roots on Today
Posted by Diane

This isn’t Maureen. I’m Diane from Family Tree Magazine’s Genealogy Insider blog—I'm dropping in to share the video of Maureen’s spots on NBC’s "Today" show this morning, giving tips on how to trace your roots.

She answers viewer questions in the first spot with Al Roker, and talks about photo research with Meredith Vieira.



Videos
Friday, August 29, 2008 7:01:30 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Postmortem Images
Posted by Maureen

Remember how last week I mentioned that this column would feature a "viewer discretion advised" image? The sight of a deceased person in a photo is the reason for the warning.

Like it or not, our ancestors began photographing the dead members of their family in the early 1840s. If you think you'll find such an image disturbing or unsettling, please don't continue reading. 

Theresa Klepadlo-Berio submitted this photo with the following e-mail message: "I have had this photograph for years and have always wondered it it's an actual funeral or what...All I know is that it was in an old photo album of my grandparents' and they were from Poland."

terri082508weird.jpg

It is in fact a funeral. The elderly woman in the casket is being photographed before her burial. The people surrounding her are probably family members. This picture is a key to her family history in Poland, and a a great example of how one photograph can help you connect with your heritage.

I spent a bit of time fixing the contrast and adjusting the sharpness of this image using my favorite photo editing tool—Picnik. (It's free!) Once I improved the picture the markings on the side of the coffin jumped out at me.

terri082508weird2.jpg

The words are still very difficult to read, but I took a chance and entered what I thought I saw into Google. Eureka! The words are spoczywaj w pokoju pax.

On the Pennsylvania USGenWeb Tombstone Transcription Project Web site was a translation: "Rest in Peace." A closeup of the woman's hands isn't clear enough for reproduction here, but she's holding a cloth and either a book or a photograph.

I immediately called Terri and asked her more about her family. Turns out there's a family tradition of photographing the dead! This is the only postmortem picture in her collection, but as we chatted she mentioned that her father's family used to pose relatives around the deceased. That suggests that this image here contains at least a few relatives. But who?

That's something I hope to write more about in the near future. Terri's going to send me some information on her family history. With any luck we'll be able to figure out who's who and when this was taken.

This image is also a good example of how the picture is just one piece of the family puzzle. Forensic research is needed to put the whole story together. More later...

In a related piece of news, a story this month in the Ventura County Star focused on one photographer's fine art pictures of parents with their deceased infants. Historically, mothers have long posed for a final picture with their deceased infants. The imges are usually heartbreaking and really upsetting to view. However, photographer Leila Jones' work at the Simi Valley Hospital transcends the grief.  She does an amazing job of capturing these last moments.


photo news | Photos from abroad
Tuesday, August 26, 2008 3:18:18 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
# 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]