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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, June 15, 2009
The Trouble With Captions on Old Photos
Posted by Maureen

 

Barbara DeCrease found a photo in her grandmother's belongings with a one-word caption on the back: Grandfather. The trouble with captions like this is the lack of other identifying information. She doesn't know who wrote it, so she's puzzled. 

Her grandmother's grandfather was William James Elmore Jr., born circa 1860 in Panola County, Miss. The family has no record of him after 1910. This Elmore's father was also William James Elmore, born circa 1842 in South Carolina. No record of this man exists after 1880.

This is a wonderful picture of a hard-working man. Note the dusty work-boots. So which man is he? Barbara is fairly certain it's Elmore Jr., but does the proof add up?



Let's look at the caption again.



This is a postcard. The first photographic postcards were introduced in 1900, so it's clear this image dates from after that year.

The "when" is also simple: The stamp box in the upper right corner is an AZO design with triangles in the corners. This particular design was first introduced in 1910 and remained common until 1930. If you have a photo postcard in your collection, try matching up the stamp boxes with the one's on the Playle Web site

On the front of the image, someone wrote William Elmore and then erased it. It's barely visible even when I enlarge the photo on my computer, so I'm not going to zoom in here. The erased writing didn't indicate which Elmore this is.

In the 1890s and the early part of the20th century, photographers often used wicker chairs as props. This is another detail that helps firmly set this image in the 20th century.

I agree with Barbara that this is likely William Elmore Jr. in his middle years, about 1910.  Elmore Sr. would have to be older than 70 to be in this picture.

Labeling images is tricky business. Identifying this photo would've been a cinch, if the person who wrote grandfather had added a bit more information. I'm beginning to believe that when you caption your photos with the name, date, etc., you should include your name as the person who added the information. 

If you're looking for tips on how to label digital images for the Web to maximize their search potential, the Footnote Maven's Search Engines Can't Read Your Mind or Your Images is mandatory reading.


1910s photos | men
Monday, June 15, 2009 4:08:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, June 08, 2009
Photo Crafts From Our Readers
Posted by Maureen

Several readers of this blog sent in examples of their creative endeavors that use family photos. You don't want to damage original images by using them in picture-perfect projects, but you can use copies. Here's a gallery of their projects. 



Carolyn Natsch sent in the above picture of her memory tin.

Norwoodbookmarks.jpg
Carol Norwood creates these lovely photo bookmarks that include information about the person depicted.

Van KirkWall1.jpg

Jarrod W. Van Kirk created a pictorial family tree on a wall in his home.



Tillie Van Sickle sent this picture her beautiful Miller Family Quilt.

Hope you enjoy (and even get inspired by) these examples!
Photo fun | preserving photos
Monday, June 08, 2009 2:19:46 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Monday, June 01, 2009
Photo Crafts From Our Ancestors
Posted by Maureen

So far, no one has answered my call in last week's column for pictures of creative endeavors using family photos, but I found an example of a historic photo craft attached to an email from Candace Fountoulakis. She received this photo from her maternal aunt.

060109wATTS0001.jpg
It's a lovely piece of needlework, but no one knows the name of the couple in the center. Candace thinks they could be from either the Watts or the Boohler side of her family from Ohio.

This image was taken by the Grand Central Gallery of Omaha, Neb. German immigrant Herman Heyn was the owner of the studio, according to the 1883 city directory for Omaha (available on Ancestry.com). In subsequent years Heyn is at the same address until his photo business becomes James & Co., circa 1900.

Given the style of their clothing, this picture is likely a copy of a much earlier image taken in the 1860s. The couple is dressed in everyday work attire; notice the apron worn by the woman.

Figuring out who they are requires examining family history. Fountoulakis can see who lived in Omaha in the 1880s or 1890s, then look at the birth and death dates of their parents.

A woman created the frame using cross stitch. Don't jump to the conclusion that this couple is necessarily on a maternal line. During the 19th century, it was customary to call your in-laws Mother and Father as well as your own parents.

Although the identity of this couple is a mystery for now, it's no secret what happened to Heyn. He later became famous for taking pictures of Native American tribal personages during the Indian Congress of 1898.  You can view some of his stunning handcolored pictures on the Library of Congress Flickr site.


1860s photos | Photo fun
Monday, June 01, 2009 7:23:29 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Share Your Family History Photo Crafts
Posted by Maureen

This week I'm looking for a little reader participation. It's time to show off!

Have you created a family history project using your family photos? E-mail me a photo of it and I'll either feature it here, or if I receive enough submissions, I'll put together another slide show.

I was inspired by a woman in my town who creates photo quilts. They're so beautiful, you want to frame them rather than put them on your bed. Let's see how creative you are!



Wednesday, May 27, 2009 5:14:33 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, May 18, 2009
Photo Favorites
Posted by Diane

This week I'm taking a break from a long column and featuring a few new online photo finds. 

I 've been in love with photography for as long as I can remember. Started studying pictures as a toddler and had my first camera in second grade. In high school I was a member of an after school photo group (there were only four of us) and spent a lot of time in the dark room developing pictures. Photo history, picture taking techniques, picture research....you name it I've been involved in it.

I read a wide array of materials on photography (new and old) so it was great to hear that the New York Times has yet another blog on pictures. It's called Lens: Photography, Video and Visual Journalism.  If you like photography, then you'll love reading these columns. One recent post discussed slow photography vs. digital quickness. The focus is large format pictures. The images are gorgeous!!

Another New York Times blog covered the story of the Humiston children in a multi-part series. It's a fantastic tale of how one photograph can tell an intricate story--all you have to do is look at all the facets of the picture and put the pieces together.  It's a great piece of journalism by filmmaker, Errol Morris. You can read part one here.

There is a new page on Flickr. The Jewish Women's Archive is looking for photographs of the Jewish mothers in our families.  The page is called: Jewish Mothers: The Way We Were, The Way We Are

That's all for this week.


Web sites
Monday, May 18, 2009 7:23:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, May 11, 2009
Why the Long Face? Part Two
Posted by Maureen

A few weeks ago I wrote about posing devices employed by photographers to guarantee their clients sat still for their pictures. At that time I also asked if anyone had photographs of the actual head rests and other equipment. Jeffrey W. Deitchler answered the call and sent me two pictures. Thank you!!


Can you spot the head rest over on the right? It's the metal arm sticking into the picture.  It's likely that this photo of three men was once in a paper enclosure that hid the device. 




Photographers used a variety of devices to keep folks still for their portraits. Chairs, tables and columns gave clients something to lean on. These head rests could be adjusted for the height of the customer and some of them were sturdy enough to gently brace the sitter. However, these rests could also literally clamp around a neck, for instance, to hold someone in place. Sounds pretty uncomfortable!

Here's what Lake Price's Manual of Photographic Manipulation (1868, 2nd edition, available on Google Books.) had to say about head rests. There are drawings of other types of these devices.









This is the first time I've incorporated original page views in the blog. Let me know if you love it or hate it.  It makes the blog a little long, but I really like reading the original text. 

Jeffrey sent me one more picture to share with readers. It's one of his Ford ancestors photographed in Michigan. The entire posing device



I hope you'll check out the video podcasts on my YouTube Channel.


Monday, May 11, 2009 9:53:56 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Monday, May 04, 2009
Photographing Children in Our Ancestors' Day
Posted by Maureen

In honor of Mother's Day, I'm including a short piece on photographing of children from Rhode Island photographers William Coleman and Orville Remington. They were business partners in their studio from 1867 to 1883. 

During their first year, the men published a booklet advising potential customers how to dress and pose for their pictures. They also include practical advice for parents on getting pictures of their children. I find some of it quite funny and hope you do, too.
Many photographers dislike taking children. It is true, they are sometimes troublesome, and the result uncertain; but again, they are so often easy and graceful, and their pure complexions give such delicate half-tones, that some of the finest pictures are those of children, and no artist seeking after excellence would forego, even from choice, the oportunity they afford.

For very young children, it is necessary to choose a fine day, and the best light, which is usually in the forenoon.

Avoid giving or mentioning sweets to them. Do not play or fuss too much with them. Generally a child will sit best if left entirely to the operator.
The last bit of advice is still true today <grin>. Here are some pictures of "hidden mothers" (or photographer's assistants) who often appear—partially—in old pictures of babies.



Ancestories blogger Miriam Robbin Midkiff sent in this adorable photo (above). She writes:
Attached is a photo of my husband's maternal grandmother, Leona Mary MARTIN (on left) and her twin, Lee Joseph MARTIN, taken c. 1907 in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. If you look closely at the left side of Leona's gown and the right side of Lee's gown, you'll see evidence that someone (or a couple of someones) are sitting out of sight, holding the children on the sofa.  The twins would have been about a year old (they were born 17 Dec. 1906). The back says "For Grandpa and Grandma". Only their maternal grandparents, Isaac and Rebecca (HEWITT) LUKE were still living by the time they were born. I imagine this photo was a Christmas gift.
These close-ups show the odd folds in the children's gowns—it looks like they're concealing grown-ups' hands:

  

Donna Richmond sent this picture (below) titled "child of L.C. Hataway, Black Creek, La." At teh baby's waist, you can clearly see the hands of a woman hidden under the rug.



Here's one more picture from my collection of unidentified photos of hidden women. It dates from the late 1860s. Don't you just love the hands holding the baby's head still?

Happy Mother's Day!


children | women
Monday, May 04, 2009 2:35:25 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, April 27, 2009
House History Help: My Favorite Books
Posted by Diane

My bookshelves are an eclectic mix of volumes on everything from forensic identification of facial features to button history. Any book I think might help analyze a picture ends up in my library.

This diversity of titles includes several tomes on house history. If you find yourself with an architecture problem, these books should help you tell the differences among styles:
  • Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia McAlester and Lee McAlester (Knopf, $45.00).  This is a classic. Full of illustrations and easy to understand diagrams.
  • Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms: 1600-1945 by John J. G. Blumenson (W.W. Norton, $15.95). This is a pocket size guide to house details.
  • The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture by Rachel Carley (Holt, $27.00). Extensive text accompanies the drawings in this reference volume.
Don't forget to check out the architecture problem in my most recent Photo Detective column in Family Tree Magazine (July 2009). The second installment of that column appeared in this space.

If you're looking for a social history of early American architecture, my favorite is Where We Lived: Discovering the Places We Once Called Home, The American Home from 1775 to 1840 by Jack Larkin (Taunton, $40).

It covers everything from outhouses to mansions. Once you start reading Larkin's book you'll be hooked. I couldn't put it down. Fascinating first person accounts make it so much more than a reference tool.


house/building photos
Monday, April 27, 2009 2:50:25 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, April 17, 2009
Cars in Family Photos
Posted by Maureen

I'm taking a break from the house photo this week to give you time to receive copies of the print version of Family Tree Magazine and read about the other clues in that image. I have one more short installment to post.

In the meantime, I pulled out a different type of photo mystery. It's all about a car. I live with two gear-heads who can talk about engines and car design for hours. It runs in the male line of the family—every one of them has an antique automobile.

Naturally I was really happy to receive this photo in my inbox:

Chuck Baker3.jpg

This is Chuck Baker's dad's family. His question is about the car on the left. Could it help date the image?

Absolutely. He thought the picture was taken pre-World War II and that's likely. Here's why.

Chuck Baker2.jpgThe car definitely provides a beginning year for a time frame.  It appears to be a 1938 Dodge touring sedan. According to The Ultimate Auto Album: An Illustrated History of the Automobile by Tad Burness (Krause, $16.95) approximately 73,417 of these vehicles were produced. It sold for $898. 

The double-rear window is what led me to that identification.  The 1937 Chrysler Airflow also had two windows in the rear, but a different trunk design. There might be more automobiles out there with a double-rear window. If so, please let me know.

This identification was based on all the details visible in the back of the car. Ah ... if only I could see the front.

You're probably wondering if the license plate helped. It would have if I could've enhanced the image enough to see it clearly. It's quite blurry when I enlarge the image.

However, Chuck's family lived in southwest Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania first issued license plates in 1906, and every year a car owner had to get a new set of plates. That practice ended in the 1950s.

In 1956, license plates became a standard 6x12 inches.  If you want to read more about plates in Pennsylvania and see examples of late 20th-century versions, consult Vehicle Registration Plates of Pennsylvania on Wikipedia.

As for when this picture was taken, 1938 is the earliest everyone could have posed for this family gathering. The clothing suggests a time frame of late 1930s to early 1940s. Chuck Baker was right—the picture was taken before World War II.


1930s photos | candid photos | group photos | Vehicles in photos
Friday, April 17, 2009 7:13:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Monday, April 13, 2009
Raising the Roof: Architectural Images
Posted by Maureen

This week's blog column is actually the second part of a photo mystery.  The first installment appears in my Photo Detective article in the July 2009 Family Tree Magazine. That issue should be in your mail boxes starting this week.

Here's a synopsis of the problem: Bergetta Monroe has a mystery photo (of course!) of a farm. She doesn't know where it was taken or when, but she has a list of possible surnames for folks that could have owned the property. 


In the article, I offer tips to solve this family mystery and promise to discuss the architectural details in this blog.

I've taken this picture apart section by section, looking for elements that could help identify this mid-19th century farm. The main house appears to be in the Greek Revival style, which is characterized by Doric columns on the front porch and a pitched roof. The windows feature six-over-six panes of glass. Greek Revival design was popular from 1825 to 1860.

Other features are visible when you enlarge the front yard of the house:
BergettaDSC_4511 NEFposts.jpg

Look closely. You can see the simple Doric columns, but also visible are nine hitching posts for horses and a fence on the other side of the house. That could signal a road nearby.

The dominant greenery are pine trees. In front of the fence in the foreground is tilled land and some young trees, possibly fruit bearing varieties. If this house and yard is still intact, those saplings would be much bigger by now.
BergettaDSC_4511 NEFtrees.jpg

My favorite building on the property is the Italianate style barn, with its turreted roof and bracketed cornices (along the roof line).  It even has arched windows, one of the determining details in that architectural style.
BergettaDSC_4511 NEFbarn.jpg

This particular building style dates from 1850 to 1880, possibly making the barn newer than the house. Why else would the owners build their dwelling in one style and the barn in a more elaborate style? So many questions...

There are many outbuildings on this property, and the size and condition of those structures suggest this was a prosperous farm. It appears that there are smaller farms in the vicinity. Note the dwelling to the rear left, behind the barn. That doesn't appear to part of this estate.

In the July 2009 Family Tree Magazine, I discuss a date for this photo, but that only begins to tell the story of this farm. Given the family information Monroe supplied, this picture was taken in New England, either Vermont, New Hampshire or Massachusetts. The likeliest location is Vermont. You'll have to read the story to find out why (grin).

We're still trying to identify the exact location.

photo-research tips | house/building photos
Monday, April 13, 2009 3:44:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]