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by Maureen A. Taylor
Monday, February 02, 2009
Summer in the Family Album
Posted by Maureen
I live in New England. Winter started early this year and with more snow on the way, it isn't leaving anytime soon. It's one for the record books.
The lack of a January thaw has me daydreaming of summer—sunshine filled days and the beach. Obviously, I'm not alone. Derek Sundberg of Essex, in the United Kingdom, sent me this photo. It's part of a series of 14 snapshots that all depict the same people.
The woman in the belted bathing suit on the right is his mother, Emily May. (I'm withholding her last name for privacy purposes.) Derek believes that one of the group members is the photographer. So who are the six other people shown above? He has no idea.
It's a lovely group snapshot taken at the beach in the late 1920s to about 1930. The girls' bobbed cuts and shapeless bathing suits confirm the time frame. I love the canvas bathing pavilions that surround them.
In this picture, Emily (b. 1905) would be in her 20s, but I think some of the women look like younger teenagers. Derek wrote that his mother spent her entire life in Thurrock, Essex, and that she once worked at Thames Board Mills, in Purfleet, Essex.
It's possible these folks are her friends from work, friends from town or a couple of younger relatives.
It's an identification mystery. Here are some suggestions:
- I'd start by showing the images to relatives to see if anyone recognizes the man and the women. I'd also ask if anyone remembers his mother's friends from her job. Another relative might have other pictures of this group. The unknown photographer likely would''ve taken other pictures that summer.
- Next, I'd compare their faces to other images in family albums. If these individuals were Emily's friends or family, they'll appear in other pictures.
If anyone recognizes these young people, send me an email and I'll forward it to Derek. I'm going to link this to my FaceBook
page because it's possible one of my FB friends from overseas will know these folks.
Guess what? Next week I'll be back with more ancestral pet photos. I've found a way to show them all at once. Let's hope it works.
1920s photos | hairstyles | women
Monday, February 02, 2009 3:23:13 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Monday, January 26, 2009
Pets in Pictures
Posted by Maureen
For weeks the media have been focused on which breed of dog our new First Family would pick for their family pet. Turns out only two presidents have never had pets in the White House.
You can read all about famous presidential pets in this article on the Mental Floss
blog, from Calvin Coolidge's pygmy hippo (no joke!) to Franklin Roosevelt's adorable terrier named Fala.
I'm bringing this series of pet photos to an end with these final three pictures. The two previous installments can be viewed on this blog: An Album of Ancestor's Pets
and Pet Photos: Our Ancestor's Loved Their Dogs Too.
Carol Norwood sent in one of her favorite family pictures. It was taken in Gottingen, Germany in 1892 and shows the Agricola family. Agnes Agricola and Hermann Simon (Carol's great-grandparents) are seated in the center of the front row.
Claudia submitted a picture of her mother tending geese. She told me that her mother always said they would chase and bite her. She estimates this picture was taken circa 1933-1935.
One other reader sent an image for posting here. It depicts her grandfather's older sister Margaretha Petersen, known to the family as Maggie, with their pet dog. The dog's name wasn't recorded. Maggie was born in 1888. According to the submission, Maggie was the family "pet" herself, the only daughter until her sister was born in 1899.
The red discoloration is due to dye transferring from a paper sleeve to the image.
Anyone have a clue about the breed of this last dog?
Thank you for sharing all these pictures.
1890s photos | 1930s photos | children | men | Pets
Monday, January 26, 2009 7:07:59 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Monday, January 19, 2009
An Album of Ancestors' Family Pets
Posted by Maureen
Thank you to everyone who sent a photo of a pet in the family! This week, I'd like to share what was e-mailed to me. I'm so glad that each picture came with a story, too. This was a lot of fun!
Jim Musso wrote "First, this is my mom with her family's pet pig, Spud. Mom grew up on a farm in Sheboygan, Wis.; she was born in 1925, so this photo must be from the early 1930s."
He continued, "according to Mom, Spud would only
eat from the hands of family members, and preferred standing on a chair with
his front hooves while being fed. She recalls Spud walking under the kitchen
table and carrying the table on his back as he walked away. My
grandparents, Vincent and Hattie Fee, obviously liked animals.
In the foreground is the family's
dog, Jigs, no doubt waiting for a morsel to fall his way. Jigs preferred
travelling in a wheelbarrow, as can be seen in the second photo."
Bethany Klus wrote that the photo below is "a cabinet card-style photo from an album of
photos taken in Alpena, Michigan from the late 1800s. Most of the photos are unlabeled, including
the one I'm sending to you. The dog in
my photo could be siblings with the one in the blog photo, they look that
I have to agree that it
definitely is a Terrier, possibly a Cairn Terrier although they tend to have
darker fur (I'm a veterinarian when I'm not a genealogist!).
"The second photo," she added, "is my great-grandfather Royal Frederick Flock who was born in 1892 in Edenville,
It was probably taken in the
early 1920s when he lived in Detroit. With him is the pet cat."
Not all the pet pictures submitted show a real, live pet. Kathy Amoroso wrote that the photo below is, "my grandmother and her family. She's the
one on the fake pig. They are in Germany in 1913 and this is from one of those
I'll be back next column with a couple more!
children | group photos | men | Pets
Monday, January 19, 2009 4:46:12 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Pet Photos: Our Ancestors Loved Their Dogs, Too!
Posted by Maureen
This photo belongs to Lorie Zirbes. On the back
is a simple caption, “Maude’s dog.” That signifies this charming pooch
belonged to her great-aunt Maude Houser, who never had children. Houser married
twice, was widowed young and died in 1902, when she was only 22.
Lorie asked, “Was
it unusual to take a dog to a studio to be photographed?” The answer is no. The desire to have a
lasting remembrance of the family pet is nothing new. It dates back all the way
to the daguerreotypes of the early 1840s.
In the early 20th century, around the
time Houser took her pooch to the studio, photographic magazines frequently published articles on how to photograph dogs.
For instance, photographer
George Oliver advised studio owners that
“in certain sporting or
training districts the photographing of animals should prove as important an
adjunct to the business as does the photographing of students in some college
Oliver spoke of his own business, “For a long time I have made quite a
specialty of dogs, being rather fortunately situated in a district where there
are not only many bird dogs, but where, in addition, many lady summer visitors
bring their pet dogs." He added, "In
studio work of the first class I find ladies the easiest to take, but the
hardest to please."
Oliver’s technique for photographing dogs with their owners
was to use a noiseless shutter, and enough light to reduce the exposure to a
fraction of a second. For pet portraits without owners, he posed the dog on a
table and used a treat to get it to stay still. This is likely the method used for the photo of Houser’s dog. It's alert, with mouth open and tongue out
waiting for its reward.
Any photographer who wants to photograph a dog should
follow Oliver’s advice, “Right here let me say that it is no use trying to
photograph dogs unless you were born a friend of them. If you think that dogs
are just ugly brutes, you will have about as much success as a surly
misanthrope would have if he tried to photograph children—dogs know.”
You can read the rest of Oliver’s article “Photographing
Dogs” in Wilson’s Photographic Magazine
(volume L), 1913. It’s full of interesting tips that are still useful
A small volume, The
Dog Album: Studio Portraits of Dogs and Their People (Stewart, Tabori
& Chang, $14.95) by Gary E. Eichhorn and Scott B. Jones is a fun collection
of 19th century pictures of folks and their dogs. The authors say it’s difficult to
tell the breed of dog in old photos due to the more generalized categories of dogs at teh time, rather
than the specialized breeds common today. The American Kennel Club only dates back to 1884.
Anyone want to guess on the breed of
dog in this picture? Post in the Comments section.
Do you have a picture of an ancestor's pet? E-mail it to me. I’d love to see
it and feature it here next week. I think it’s too bad no one in the
family included the name of Houser’s dog in the note on the back of the photo.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009 4:22:29 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Monday, January 05, 2009
Join in the Dialogue: Organizing Photos
Posted by Maureen
There were several comments to my last week's posting
on scanning and organizing pictures.
Miriam Robbin Midkiff, who writes a blog called AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestors
, also hosts Scanfest, a monthly online scanning session held the last Sunday of every month. She's invited all of you and your friends to attend. Miriam can send you instructions on how to join in on the chat session to keep life interesting while placing photos on a scanner. Learn more about Scanfest on her blog
. Mark your calendar for the next Scanfest, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. PCT on Jan. 25. If I can get my Windows Live Messenger to work, I'll be there.
A reader pointed out that you can digitally tag pictures using the free program called Fototagger
. I'm a huge fan. Try it and see why.
Another person inquired about using adhesive labels on the backs of photos. I don't advocate using any adhesives on pictures. As a former archivist, I've seen the long-term damage.
Instead, I'd suggest placing the photo in a non-PVC sleeve of a similar size and including a same-size sheet of acid- and lignin-free cardstock. You can put the label on that paper, rather than the back of the picture. I've purchased non-PVC sleeves from a number of vendors (run a Google
search on archival supplies
Thank you, Linda! She wrote a long comment about ways to use the free photo-organizing software Picasa
, and how she "files" her pictures on her computer. It's full of great tips.
As always Kathryn, thank you for being a fan. Of course you can post a link to last week's photo-organizing post in the California Genealogical Society
's e-newsletter. Can you include a link in the comment section of this posting to share the other tips in the newsletter?
I actually took two weeks off this holiday season! Of course I did some photo- related activities. For readers who live in the Washington, DC, area, check out the exhibit of photographic jewelry at the National Portrait Gallery
. It's called Tokens of Affection and Regard: Photographic Jewelry and Its Makers
, and it's fantastic. There's also an exhibit on photographs of Abraham Lincoln and online exhibition links on the Web site.
photo-research tips | preserving photos
Monday, January 05, 2009 6:06:42 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Thursday, January 01, 2009
Finally Organize Your Pictures
Posted by Maureen
Regular readers of this column know that I'm not fond of making resolutions for the New Year, but I might
make an exception this year. Last January 1st, I set out to find family photographs to expand my personal archive. Now I'm faced with picture overload. Sound familiar? It doesn't matter if you have one small album or a closet full of pictures, the time to start organizing is now.
1. Retain the original order of the pictures. If you've received a box from Great Uncle Harry and one from Aunt Minnie, don't mix them together. You could unknowingly blend two different branches of the family and ruin your chances for identifying some unidentified images.
2. Instead scan all the pictures. It's inexpensive and quick. If you don't already own a scanner, purchase a dedicated scanner that can also scan negatives and slides. You can buy an Epson flatbed scanner for around a hundred dollars.
3. Download photo organizing software such as Google's Picasa
. I've been using it for years and love it's features. Keyword your photos to make searching easier. Picasa actually searches your hard drive for images. Organizing your pictures with digital images enables you to sort pictures by donor, person's name or occasion.
4. Label each picture! Use a soft lead pencil to add names, dates and details to the back of paper based photos. For modern resin coated images, use a scrapbook pen such as a black Zig marker. These are available at art supply stores and scrapbook outlets. You can use your Picasa program to add labels to digital images.
5. Don't forget the digital images. Sure, Picasa will help you organize all your digital images, but remember to print out significant images. Backup your files on a regular basis using a portable hard drive so that your digital archive is safe if your hard drive malfunctions.
This short article is just an overview of organizational tips. It'll get you started. Throughout this year, I'll feature other techniques for organizing and preserving your photos. Happy New Year!
Thursday, January 01, 2009 3:29:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
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?
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.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 2:04:16 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
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.
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:
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)
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.
- Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
- People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
- At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their name.
- 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:
Tuesday, December 09, 2008 6:36:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Monday, December 01, 2008
Photo Clones: Duplicates in the Family
Posted by Maureen
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)