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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Friday, September 26, 2008
An Early Paper Print Confirmed!
Posted by Maureen

Way back in June 2005, I wrote a Photo Detective column for Family Tree Magazine on a mysterious-looking paper photograph. This week, the owner of the image, George Pek, sent me an update.

pekIMg.jpg

In 2005, I surmised that Pek's image was a salted paper print, but I didn't have  proof. At the time, he didn't have a scan and lived too far away for me to see the original. This week, however, he sent me this lovely scan. It clearly shows the thin paper image and the heavier paper backing.

(By the way, I've made several attempts to even up the contrast without any luck. The surface of the paper is shiny and reflects the light from the scanner.)

Pek also sent me proof that I'd identified the photo correctly: results from  tests on the image. Using an electron microscope, a scientist had captured an X-ray spectrum of a fragment of the image that clearly indicated it's a salted paper print. The testing showed that the paper contained not only sodium and magnesium, but also traces of bromine—which the scientist says was an experimental additive at the time. His report concluded that, although there's no way to confirm the picture's date from this testing, the results are consistent with 1848.

That's the year on the image. Pek continues to look for evidence that this is Judith Simpson, a woman who appears in Quebec records. If the name and age are correct, Simpson was born about 1774.

Salted paper prints date from 1840 to circa 1860—the same era as silver-plate daguerreotypes. Interestingly, the pricier daguerreotype images were more popular than paper prints in the 1840s and 1850s, at least in America.

The most charming part of this portrait is Simpson's attire. Her clothing reflects fashions of the 1830s, not the late 1840s when she sat for this picture. It's clear proof that not everyone dressed in the latest fashion for their portraits—so it's important to consider all the clues in an image.



women | 1840s photos
Friday, September 26, 2008 4:42:14 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, September 22, 2008
Tackling an Albumful of Mystery Photos
Posted by Maureen

Bobbi Borbas wrote back after I posted her unidentified group portrait to say that after looking at her family history, she still isn't sure who the folks are in her mystery image. Some photo mysteries take a great deal of time and patience to solve. I still think the case can be cracked!

A similarly vexing mystery: I was on the road again this weekend meeting people at the Ruth E. Lloyd Information Center in Manassas, Va. I saw some gorgeous photos and new mysteries. One in particular stands out. A woman brought in a photo album that had been passed down in the family. She didn't know who any of the people were, but I really believe she can put the pieces together.

I don't have any photos to share, so I'll describe the album: It had two clusters of photos. The first half featured photos from the late 1880s, all taken in Grand Island, Neb. The last couple of pages had photos from the 1860s, with no photographer's name or address. It appeared that at least two generations were included.

Here's how I'd approach this problem (similar steps can work for your own photos):
  • Research the population of Grand Island in the 1880s. That's the easy part. According to Wikipedia, less than 3,000 people lived there in 1880, but close to 7,500 did as of 1890. The reason for this population boom: the railroad. 
  • When was the photographer in business? I'd start this search by contacting the Nebraska State Historical Society. Its reference department might have a list of photographers in the area.
  • Next, look at surnames in the family and think about the following questions: Who lived in Nebraska in that time frame? When did they settle in the area and why? Those answers can lead to sources such as land and church records, which can fill in for the "lost" 1890 federal census schedules. 
  • The number one spot in a photo album is key. In this case, that picture was a young boy, with the second and third images showing a couple, followed by two girls. Did the boy die?
  • Look for facial similarities. In this album, there were clusters of pictures where it was clear from their noses and mouths that they were all close relatives.
  • Re-examine the family history. By adding up all the clues, I think it's possible to assign some probable names to these individuals.
Every piece of evidence helps tell the story of a photo album. There was a reason behind the order of the images. Who created it often becomes clear, and by solving one of the picture mysteries, you get that much closer to figuring out the rest. 

This is one problem I'd love to help solve.  If the woman from RELIC would like some assistance, send me an e-mail. It'd make an interesting case study for a future column. 


1860s photos
Monday, September 22, 2008 3:04:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# 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]