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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Happy Holidays! Tips to Remember
Posted by Maureen

I've been writing this column for so long I've lost count of the years.  Every one of them has been wonderful. I've had a chance to work with so many  interesting photos and to chat with their owners. (Yes, I really do use those phone numbers you supply with your contact information.) I really like the blog format because it enables you to respond to the columns I've written. Thank you for all your support! 

My next two columns are shorter than usual due to the holidays. It's definitely a hectic time of the year. I don't know about the traditions in your family, but in mine, no holiday is complete without dragging out albums and boxes of photos. It gives us a chance to reminisce about those no longer with us. 

This is also a great time to think about those mystery photos and take another look at the details.

During the years of writing this column I've compiled a list of the top four details often overlooked by individuals when trying to date and identify family photos. It's easy to do when carried away with the bigger puzzle of who's in a picture.


Calendars
Is there a calendar in the background?
womencalendar.jpg

The one in this photo establishes a date of May, 1904. Even without the calendar, the map of the United States behind them makes an interesting clue.




Flags
If there's a US flag in a photo, start dating the picture by counting the stars in the flag. The addition of states during the late 19th and early 20th century meant that flags were frequently changed. Of course, you'll have to add up the rest of the clues in the picture to see if it's a flag current to the details in the image.

Signage
Use your genealogical know-how to use city directories and other tools to research the businesses mention in a sign in a picture.  It could pinpoint a location as well as supply a time frame.

Tax Stamps
From Aug. 1, 1864, to Aug. 1, 1866, the United States taxed photographs. If you own a carte de visite with a stamp on the back, you'll have a two-year time frame for the image. The value of the stamp is a clue to how much your ancestor paid to have the image made. Photographers were supposed to put their initials and a date on the stamp, but that didn't always happen.

There are lots of other details that appear in pictures from postage stamps to even dress collars (I'll save that tip for later) and cars. Next time you look at a family photo make a list of all the evidence in a picture and then try to solve the identification problem. 

Happy holidays!

photo-research tips
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 2:04:16 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, December 15, 2008
Capturing the News
Posted by Maureen

Joan Enders sent this photo of a man she believes is her great-grandfather William Riley Keeth, of Iberia, Miller County, Mo. She wanted to know more about the backdrop and to verify it's him.

William Riley Keeth.jpg

In the late 19th century, photographic props and backdrops were very elaborate. Some even included bales of hay and faux stone walls. A photographer posed this man with a backdrop that looks like the interior of a Victorian mansion, complete with a multi-paned window and what resembles wallpaper. Of course, it's all just paint and canvas.

I wish there were a directory of photo backdrops! It would be so useful to know which photographers were using which backgrounds. It might even help pinpoint where a picture was taken.

For example, Joan could contact a historical society in the area where her ancestor lived. The Miller County Museum might have a collection of local images. Then she could compare backdrops in those images to her own to see if they were shot by same photographer or studio. A city directory could tell her when the photographer was in business, helping to date the image.

One of the largest online databases of pictures is Dead Fred. While it's primarily a photo-reunion site, I searched for Missouri photographers to see if I could find anyone near Miller County. No luck! But it's a good tip to try: Use the search feature to look for surnames or place names.

The best part of this image isn't what's behind the man, but what he's holding— a letter. Notice how the envelope (in his left hand) is ripped open. Despite being a posed image, this picture has captured a spontaneous moment. The man looks at the camera with a surprised expression. 

He's wearing work clothes and appears to have rushed into the photo studio to document the receipt of this written news. So what was in the letter?  There might be a family story associated with some sort of important information.

Based on his clothing, the background and the plain brown cardboard backing, it appears this photo dates from about 1900.

Does the photo really show William Riley Keeth? Keeth was born in 1865 and married in 1888. Here's a known photo of Keeth with his bride Mary Ella Thomas, taken in the year they married:

William R and Mary E Keeth.JPG

While the man in the first photo shares many of the facial characteristics of the man in this image, their ears are different. Notice how small this man's ears are. There's something odd about this tintype, too—it almost looks like a tintype of a painting. The edges of the couple's features are blurred. 

Before deciding if these two men are the same person, I'll ask Joan for a better scan or picture of this image, and ask some additional questions about her family. I also still have a question about the backdrop: The window looks like backgrounds I've seen in English photographs, not like an American home.  I'm still looking for an image with a similar backdrop. If you have one in your family collection, send it in and let's help Joan solve this.


1900-1910 photos | photo backgrounds | props in photos
Monday, December 15, 2008 10:38:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Tag I'm It...Again!
Posted by Maureen

Gosh. Sean Sexton tagged me for another online meme and told me to blame Randy Seaver <smile>. This time I'm supposed to tell you eight random things about myself and of course tag eight others. So here goes. First, the rules.
  1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  3. At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their name.
  4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and to read your blog.
1. Like Sean, I'm usually reading more than one book at a time. Right now it's a James Rollins novel, Tribes by Seth Godin, and a book on training my puppy. This doesn't include the daytime reading I do to solve your picture mysteries. Can you tell I was an early reader?

2. I have dog. These memes can get a little personal so I hope this doesn't cross over into the TMI (too much information) category. She's a lovely little Maltese.

3. I owned my first camera at 7 and have the photographic proof to prove it. You might have caught a glimpse of me with camera in hand on my FaceBook page.

4. My current favorite museum is the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. They have a special membership fee for folks who live a certain distance from the Big Apple so I joined. Now I wish I lived closer to the city so I could go more often.

5. I once tried to learn Russian. Do I need to say more? 

6. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to work with photographs. My first job out of college was as a reference assistant at a historical society and as an assistant photo curator. It was a spilt job--one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

7. My office is organized by color. As a visual person it's a lot easier for me to locate files if I assign different colors for different types of material.  The only problem I've had is when a company discontinues a color. 

8. My ancestry is French-Candian, English, Irish and Scottish. Some day I hope to travel to Scotland, but first I have to track down the birthplaces of those ancestors. I'm working on it.

I'm going to tag the following people:

Photo fun
Tuesday, December 09, 2008 6:36:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, December 01, 2008
Photo Clones: Duplicates in the Family
Posted by Maureen

Hunter sisters-six of themEMAIL SIZE-circa after 1892.jpg

This photo's owner Diane Gould Hall knows these six women are the Hunter Sisters. In the back row (left to right) are Grace Hunter (1874-1946), Daisy Hunter (1876-1948), and Ada Emily Hunter (1865-1949). In the front row are Estelle M. Hunter (1867-1947), Florence Hunter (1869-1946), and Myra Hunter (1859-1938). Florence is Diane's great-grandmother.

Diane knows this was taken after 1892 because another sister died that year, and she's not present. The sisters' beautiful, diaphanous blouses appear in fashion catalogs for the period 1910 to about 1915. If this picture was taken about 1915, the sisters would range in age from 39 to 56.

In the course of our email correspondence, Diane mentioned two  interesting facts:
  • Grace Hunter's husband Charles Fenner and his brothers owned a photo studio in Lima, Ohio. That's where this picture was taken.

  • When she posted this image on her Ancestry.com family tree, a cousin contacted her. Turns out, that cousin owned a picture from this same studio sitting. Diane was amazed. In the second image, the sisters are seated in a different order!
How often have you considered that a photo in your collection might not be the only copy? Our ancestors went to the photo studio to acquire a picture, but "package deals" offered the opportunity to obtain multiple copies of the same image. Duplicates made it easy to share pictures to relatives. 

Since professional photographers usually took several different poses to make sure all parties were happy with the final image, the extra prints might be slightly different.

Diane's discovery is proof that you should ask to see the photo collections in the hands of distant cousins. Who knows what you'll uncover!  You could solve that photo identification mystery or find new pictures.

The latter happened to me recently. A distant cousin posted online pictures of my great-great grandparents. My mother and I had no idea that these images even existed.


1910s photos | group photos | photo-research tips | women
Monday, December 01, 2008 3:14:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, November 24, 2008
Don't Do Thanksgiving Without These Essentials
Posted by Maureen

Before you think I'm going to divulge my secret pie recipe <smile>, I should clarify that the treats in the title are genealogy-related, not culinary. 

When you think about what you're bringing to the Thanksgiving food fest, do you include your family history materials?  I know that at my table, there will be a turkey with all the trimmings, but that along with feast there will be a dose of genealogy talk. 

Here are some ways to introduce photo identification and family history into the conversation.
  • Bring photocopies of your unidentified pictures. Leave the originals at home so the copies suffer any gravy stains. Make an extra set of copies—one for notes and the other for showing off.
  • Put them in an album or just pass them around and see if anyone recognizes the scene or the people.
  • I recently bought a small digital voice recorder. It was an inexpensive purchase.  If you have one, tape the conversation so you don't have to take detailed notes while everyone is talking. 
  • If you're going to take pictures on Turkey Day, make sure your camera is in working order beforehand. Have you recharged the batteries? If you still use film, remember to bring along an extra roll. 
  • Invite your family to participate in a social networking site, such as FaceBook, and create your own group for the gang. My husband's family has done it.  It's a great way to share pictures and keep track of everyone until the next gathering. 
If you sign up, I'd be happy to add you to my list of Facebook Friends. There's an enormous number of genealogists of all ages on FaceBook. Try it and see! 
As for that secret pie recipe... I'll share it with family. My husband's grandmother took her chutney recipe to the grave and we really miss it. If you've inherited a family recipe, ask around the table and see if anyone wants to create a cookbook. It's not that difficult and with self-publishing sites like Lulu, it doesn't cost much, either.

Happy Thanksgiving! If you've got a picture of your ancestors gathered around the Thanksgiving table, send it to me.  I'll post it in this blog.

Thank you for all the hairstyle pictures! Now I have to figure out how to incorporate them all into this space—it's a good problem to have. 


photo-research tips
Monday, November 24, 2008 4:35:36 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Hairstyles and History: A Call for Photos
Posted by Maureen

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm relieved that the mystery of the One Glove has been solved and a reunion is underway. I'm not going to include links here because instead of the usual one-column post, the glove tale stretched to four whole columns. Scroll down in the blog to read them all.

This week I'm asking for your help.

I've been hard at work tracking down all the little details about hair and why our ancestors chose to follow particular styles. It's for an upcoming issue of Family Tree Magazine.

I don't want to give too much away, but I'll tell you right now...the story behind the puffs, ringlets and bangs on our ancestor's heads is fascinating. I haven't left out the men—facial hair of all sorts will be featured.

But here's where I could use some help: Do you have a photograph of an ancestor with an interesting hairstyle, beard or mustache? E-mail it to me and you just might see it in the magazine or in this space.

Can't wait to see what you've got!


hairstyles
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 10:04:58 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, November 10, 2008
A Reunion for the One-Gloved Mystery
Posted by Maureen

Here's a bit of proof that you should not only read the comments for each blog column but add one yourself. Imagine my surprise when Denise Damm commented on the one-glove mystery. (This makes the fourth post on this one photo!) 

Denise wrote "I am quite sure that the two men in the back are Samuel Wingfield (born in 1895) and his brother William Garretsmoke Wingfield (born in 1897)." She's speaking of the two men standing in the back of this photo:

According to Denise, the two men were cousins to the Melson boys Joel and Elmore. The Melsons' grandmother was the sister of Sam and Garret's grandfather. I'm so happy to have a reunion to feature in this spot!

Denise sent pictures of Sam and Garrett for me to share with you. Take a look and see what you think. Here's a picture of William taken in 1921:Sam Wingfield 1921 001.jpg

And here's a picture of Sam:
Wingfield 001edit.jpg

There is some confusion in the labeling of the first image. It says "Sam and William." Diane thinks it's William. 

Both men were born in Arkansas and later moved to California. I'm going to facilitate a reunion between the women. Denise really wants to talk with her long lost cousin Sue Stevenson. Wish I could be present when they start exchanging pictures and stories.


1920s photos | men
Monday, November 10, 2008 6:49:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, November 03, 2008
What Does the Future Hold For Your Family Photographs?
Posted by Maureen

I saw a very sad sight yesterday. I attended an collectibles show and saw a collection of daguerreotypes for sale. The mournful moment came when I realized that every single one of these images was identified.

As you probably know, daguerreotypes date from 1839 to the early 1860s. The majority of these images were from the 1850s. I really didn't want to leave them on the table, but at close to $1,000, the cost was too high for my budget. 

As a genealogist, you're aware that skills honed researching family back in time also can be used to track family forward. It's part of the whole orphan photo movement to reunite folks with their "lost" family pictures.

I purchased a couple of identified cabinet cards at the show and will try to reconnect them with relatives. I'll post my progress on this blog.

It broke my heart to see all those images sitting in that box. I see it all the time and it never gets any easier. The big question is: What's going to happen to your photos? Have you identified someone in your family to take care of your archive?

Before your pictures end up in a dumpster or split up at an antique show, start thinking about their future. Then write it down. Make sure your executor has a copy of the document so the collection you've cared for doesn't become someone's instant ancestors. 

In the words of one dealer: "I keep what I can sell and throw away the rest."  This was in response to my request for matrimonial images. Yup! They weren't worth saving. 

If you've reconnected a photo with a long-lost relative, please add your story to the Comments section. Each one of those reunion tales is heartwarming. Can't wait to hear from you!


preserving photos
Monday, November 03, 2008 7:45:53 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [8]
# Monday, October 27, 2008
Final Installment: One-Glove Mystery Solved!
Posted by Maureen

I'm doing the happy dance right now! I finally contacted Sue Anderson, the owner of the photo of the four men—two wearing one glove each—featured in two blog posts. Turns out she was on vacation and hadn't imagined the fuss being made over this photo. All she wanted to know was the date of the image and why the one glove. 

In the first post, I dated the image using the postcard back to a time frame of 1904 to 1918. That was the only sure information in the picture.

In the second installment, I reported readers' theories and focused on the gloves. Well, the pieces have finally fallen into place. You're not going to believe it!

While Sue's older relatives were sure two of the men were Lance and Elmore Melson, she wasn't positive because these elderly relatives have been wrong before. They said the two men in the front were Melsons and the men in the back were Wingfields.

Those two in the front are definitely Melsons. Sue sent me several other family photographs that confirm the resemblance. The ears are a giveaway.

Elmore Melson (b. 1896) had two other brothers: Joel (b.1894) and Bertram (b. 1892). I think Sue's family was partially right. Lance Melson would be too young to be in the group photo, but Joel is old enough. It's actually his presence (right front in the group image and below) and age that specifically date the image and solve the one glove detail!

Joel Melson.jpg

Notice the rolled up pants <smile>.

So here goes...
  • Joel dies in 1918 in Oklahoma of pneumonia. The group portrait is likely the last image taken of the 24-year-old. It fits the 1918 period. His brother Elmore would be 22 in that image.
  • Melson and his brothers worked as farmers and weren't very well-off. In Joel's spare time, he also worked as a bronco rider. In the first blog post on this mystery, I suggested the glove was work-related. Since bronco riding isn't something I'm pfamiliar with, I contacted a colleague, Kathy Hinckley (known as the Family Detective), who grew up on a ranch in South Dakota and participated in riding events. She confirmed my theory that bronco riders wear one glove on the dominant hand! Mystery solved.
The men's ties are very Western in style. Kathy made one other comment about something I pondered: Why dress in suits and wear the riding glove? She thought this picture probably commemorated a special event, such as winning at the rodeo. I have no proof of this detail, but the explanation makes sense.
  • There's one more detail Sue helped with—the rolled pants. In the group picture those rolls look like cuffs, but it turns out Joel wasn't very tall, and instead of having his pants hemmed, just rolled them up.  
Sue is amazed at the number of comments and emails about her photo. Thank you to everyone who posted remarks or sent comments. I'm glad we can put the artifical hand theory to rest; Joel had both of his hands at the time of his death.


1910s photos | group photos | men | props in photos
Monday, October 27, 2008 3:28:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, October 20, 2008
Gloved Mystery
Posted by Maureen

Last week I wrote about a photo in which two of the men depicted each wore only one glove. I wondered about the significance of this oddity. A couple of people sent me e-mails about their thoughts.

Let's take a closer look at the gloves:

Lance and Elmore Melsonedit.jpg

Candy Rypczyk wrote, "My husband had a relative who lost both hands in a coal mining accident in Pennsylvania, and wore heavy gloves like this to hide the hooks he had in place of hands. The young man looks pretty young to have worked in the coal mines, but could also have been born with a hand deformity. Just a thought. (Perhaps the other young man is wearing a glove 'in sympathy.')"

I agree with you, Candy. There's definitely something different about the hands of the man on right. If you compare the dimensions of his hand, the gloved one is significantly larger. That's not the case with the man on the left—both his hands are the same size. I'll delve deeper into this mystery by contacting the owner of the photo to see if she has an additional family information.

Thank you also to the reader who suggested the man on the right might have an artificial limb, and to the person who observed the way the men in the front posed their legs for the picture. Another reader thought it might be a golfing glove.

I wonder if the type of glove provides any clues. It's a heavy leather glove. It's a little fancy for a work glove and their attire doesn't suggest they've come from their day's labor to pose for this picture.

So the questions remain:

  • What type of glove is this?
  • Do their gloved hands correspond with their dominant hands?
  • Did they have injured/artificial hands? Perhaps they are missing partial fingers on those hands?
  • What did these men do for work?
Isn't it fun the way a single photo can generate so many questions!

men
Monday, October 20, 2008 2:19:33 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]