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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Two Texas Mysteries
Posted by Maureen

092109img041 (5).jpg

Take a good look at these photos from Peggy Batchelor Hamlett.  I can date them, but I'm still working on identifying the symbolism on the men's shirts shirts. 

Pictorial Evidence:
  • The design of the mat for the above image suggests it was taken in the 1860s.

  • The image is a tintype, which isn't unusual for the time period.

  • The man's beard in the photo above is a style called a Greeley, after newspaper publisher Horace Greeley. In the image below, the man wears an imperial-style beard.

  • Both men's shirts are in the style of a collarless work shirt with a double-buttoned small band around the neck.

  • The eight pointed stars on shirt of the man above and the design down the button placket are very interesting. The eight-pointed star is called the Star of Redemption, and is associated with baptisms.
Peggy and I are trying to determine if this image represents her ancestor Dr. Francis Marion Montgomery, of Tyler, Texas, who was born c. 1830. He was a devout Methodist and became a circuit minister. 

Montgomery could be the man in the image above, but there's one problem—the second image, below. Who is this man, and do the shirts signify that the two pictures are related somehow?

092109img038 (3).jpg

This image made me start from scratch. I've seen work shirts like these from the 1860s, but frankly, I haven't seen this design before. In the second photo, the design looks like either a tree of life or the flame of life. 

Are these fraternal society photos? I don't think so. I consulted with Rhonda McClure of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and we agreed the markings are unusual, but couldn't find a fraternal match. David Lintz of the Improved Order of Red Men is taking a look at the images to see if he recognizes their significance.

A couple of folks at the Smith County Historical Society in Tyler, Texas, are working on this problem, too. They have a large photo archive, so my hope is that someone there will have an "aha!" moment. They're considering Civil War Uniforms or volunteer firemen.

Could the shirts be traditional attire from another country?  Peggy's family had been in the country for a while when these images were taken.

Could the pictures show Montgomery and a colleague who traveled with him on the circuit? I contacted the United Methodist Archives at Drew University, but they couldn't identify the star or the other design as part of their symbolism.

Could these be people who aren't in Peggy's family? Anything is possible.

At this point I'm waiting to hear back from a few folks ... I'll keep you posted. If you have any ideas, contact me.


1860s photos | men
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 7:24:46 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, September 14, 2009
One More Time: Funny Pictures
Posted by Maureen

I have another album of funny pictures to share with you. This time, there's even an entry from faraway Chile. Thanks to the Web, this column has readers around the globe.

Cook6 Jul 1913 Mt  Washington 001.jpg
Laura Cook sent me several images of her grandmother Marie Schultheis clowning with friends in the summer of 1913. This is my favorite (above). I love the pained expression of the guy on the bottom.

caponeLadies with dresses pulled up (2).jpg

Barbara Capone sent in a family mystery. It was taken in Scotland County, Mo., at what she thinks was Minnie and Joseph Cook Walker's house, but she has no idea who these people are. The Walkers were her Capone's grandparents.

PeelEarlMarionNeil (3).jpg

Here's a fun snapshot of Faith Peel's father, aunt and uncle. She doesn't know the names of the rest of the folks.

sebaskyunidmen275 (4).jpg

Marlys Sebasky thought this picture and the next one looked very similar to the original posting of the card players in Fergus Falls, Minn. What do you think?

unidmen122.jpg

Gonzalo A. Luengo O. of Chile sent the image below. It's a postcard sent from Sestri Ponente (near Genoa, Italy) to Luengo's great-great-grandfather Antonio De Filippi Montaldo. It's a bit of a mystery. The banner reads "Premio Beneficenza, 28 febbraio 1903" which translates to "Charity Prize, February 28, 1903."  Does anyone have any information on the tradition shown? E-mail me if you do.
GonzalesANTONIO DE FILIPPI 1.jpg


1920s photos | 1930s photos | candid photos | group photos | Photo fun | photo postcards
Monday, September 14, 2009 4:16:12 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, September 07, 2009
An Album of Funny Pictures
Posted by Maureen

Last week I asked readers to submit funny pictures. Thank you to everyone who sent images. I've been laughing all week. So here they are...fun images that leave you wondering, "What were they thinking?"

EdminsterWill Samels Robt Shane and others.jpg
Sue Edminster sent in this photo (above) of men with numbers on the soles of their shoes. Why?  Who knows!  The men are, bottom to top, Will Samels, Bob Shane (Edminster's grandfather) and Will Young. The photo was taken circa 1890.

mcclenahan2kirk brothers.jpg

Here's a card-playing group courtesy of Merna McClenathen. With her grandfather, Milton "Tom" Kirk (2nd from right), are his brothers, William McCready "Crede" Kirk (3rd from right) and Alfred "Alf" Kirk (far right). The man holding all the cards on the far left is unknown. McClenathen thinks this photo was taken circa 1890 in the Black Hills of South Dakota near Lead, SD,when the Kirk brothers were working as carpenters at the Homestake Mine.

McClenathenGeo Alford.jpg

Merna sent in two images. Above, you can see what a double exposure looked like taken with either the real Freako-Shutter mentioned last week, or a similar device. Your eyes aren't playing tricks. It's the same man, George P. Alford.

PierceManFeedingDoll.jpg

The earliest funny picture I received came from Rachel Peirce. This one (sbove) dates between Aug. 1, 1864 and Aug. 1, 1866. I know this because on the back is a tax revenue stamp. One can only wonder why this man posed feeding a doll. The doll probably has a china head and cloth body, and could be an imported model. The man is "feeding" it from the dish on the table. The photographer hand-colored the doll's dress a light pink.

PikePoker girls.jpg

Sharon Pike sent the most recent image in this set. It dates from c. 1900. I've seen other images from this time frame of women dressed like men in funny pictures. Here, it's Belle and Fanny Curtis. Belle was born in 1882. Their father, Asaph Curtis, owned the Hotel Rockford on Long Lake in Washburn Co., Wis.

Come back next week, when I reveal an unusual coincidence in a reader's picture.


1860s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | group photos | men | Photo fun | props in photos | women
Monday, September 07, 2009 8:59:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, August 31, 2009
Funny Ancestral Pictures
Posted by Maureen

Roxanne Turpin sent me a photo that made me think about the transition in photo poses. In most of the images from the 1840s, 1850s and even 1860s technology and our ancestors' discomfort with being photographed combine to make folks look like they're in pain. Then suddenly, people started to relax in front of the camera. They had fun with photography. Photo studio props and poses caught sitters in action.

I own a picture of a man with a curious expression on his face. It's a little odd:

men066.jpg

Turning over the image gave me the answer. The photographer's imprint says the following: "Caricatures, (patented) Ask to see those Funny Pictures taken only at... Theo. F. Chase, Photographer."  The pose was intentional! It was taken about 1880. 

Now let's look at Turpin's image taken around 1900 (I'm still refining the date) in Fergus Falls, Minn.

turpin.jpg

It depicts five men playing poker. Their cards and money are on the table. It's a friendly group of men all smoking cigars. The man in the middle moved a bit and blurred—I wish he hadn't moved so I could see his odd hat. 

In the July 1909 issue of Photographic Topics (published by the Obrig Camera Company) is a brief news item about how amateur photographers could take funny images of their friends:
Freako-Shutter for Funny Photographs. Fits any camera. The Freako-Shutter is a simple, amusing attachment, and everyone who used a camera should have one. It can be fitted to any camera in a few seconds, after the first adjustment. It will cause no end of amusement in making funny pictures of friends, etc. ...
Basically, the Freako-Shutter allowed the user to shoot two exposures on the same negative. It first became available in 1903. Users could also shoot stereo images with the attachment.

Taking "funny pictures" is still going strong today. Think about the times you put rabbit ears behind someone's head. <grin> If you have a funny ancestral photo in your family album, send it to me. I'll feature in an upcoming post.


1880s photos | 1900-1910 photos | men | Photo fun
Monday, August 31, 2009 5:16:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Collecting Pictures of Your Ancestors
Posted by Maureen

Genealogists are famous for collecting relatives, but what about acquiring images of those folks? Is it really possible to find previously unknown photos of family members from the advent of photography in 1839? The answer is that it depends.

Family circumstances, their comfort level with photography and the availability of photographers all determine if your ancestors sat for pictures in photo studios or not.

By the time the amateur photographer era with Kodak’s “You Push the Button, We Do the Rest” slogan came along in the 1880s, many families were interested in having pictures taken. But it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that snapshots really took off. Years of traveling around the country looking at family photos has taught me that most families had access to a camera by the early 20th century. There was suddenly an explosion of images. I’ve seen the proof.

This doesn’t mean that your family only took snapshots and didn’t sit for cabinet cards, tintypes, ambrotypes, or daguerreotypes. Frankly, the inheritance of images is a little sketchy. Sometimes images go to the oldest, sometimes the youngest and occasionally no one wants those unidentified images. At each junction of your family tree are opportunities for photo collections to be split amongst living relatives.

So who got what in yuor family? To figure that out you need a plan. It’s a lot like a research plan for information, only this time you’re hunting for pictures.

Mark Your Family Tree

If you own images of various folks on your family tree, mark that information by highlighting or if you’re using family tree software attach those images to the person’s information. This helps you see where the gaps are.

Contact Relatives

This means locating all living relatives to see if they have any photographs. If you have a gap for a particular branch of the family, this could mean that either they didn’t take pictures or someone else inherited them. Read my article on tracing your family forward for tips on researching family lines from 1839 to the present.

Post Your Search

A colleague once used a message board to see if anyone had data on a branch of her family. The person who responded said they didn’t, BUT they had a photo album. Hurrah! My friend asked to copy all the images in it. She didn’t have the material she sought, but she did find a few dozen images all taken in the 1860s.

Look Online

I have bad research luck. My family just doesn’t want to be found. At least that’s what I’ve decided. Imagine my surprise when I decided to type a name into Ancestry.com and click on a family tree. Turns out a very distant cousin created an Ancestry family tree and on it he’d posted images. They were pictures of my great-grandparents that even my mother had never seen. I did the genealogical happy dance that day!

Online searching includes using image search engines like Google.com and reunion sites such as DeadFred.

Library Bound

Let's not forget the treasure troves of images held in local history collections in historical societies, archives and public libraries. Search their online digital collections first then contact the organization and find out how to hire someone to ferret out images in their collections.

There are lots of opportunities to find pictures. Your family tree is a map and a compass combined. If you've been successful in your hunt for pictures send me an e-mail. I love to hear good news!


photo-research tips
Tuesday, August 25, 2009 9:42:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, August 17, 2009
Spotlight: Denver Public Library Picture Collection
Posted by Maureen

It's over 90 degrees in my town today. The heat and humidity make me start thinking about winter.

With months to go before the snow, I did the next best thing. I looked at pictures of cooler temperatures I found on the Denver Public Library Web site.

All right. Not all of the images depict winter scenes, but if you have any family in the Denver area, this is one collection you have to consult. The library has about a 100,000 images online and that's just the tip of their very large collection.

The National Endowment for the Humanities gave the Denver Public Library a grant in 1997, and since then, the library has been quickly adding material to this gorgeous digital archive. To bring the "chill" of winter into my office, I began by browsing through images of the 10th Mountain Division, then wandered over to the picture galleries of children and scenes of the Denver area. It's armchair traveling at it's best.

While you're exploring the site, check out the links to the electronic finding aids. They're fully searchable.

The Denver Public Library isn't the only library with such collections. Public libraries all over the country usually have picture and manuscript collections. Their librarians are custodians of local history. I strongly advise you to ask about the holdings of your local library.

I'd also like to send a big thank you to James Jeffreys of the Western History and Genealogy Department of the Denver Public Library for his help with an Photo Detective article slated for the December 2009 Family Tree Magazine.


children | house/building photos | Military photos | photo-research tips
Monday, August 17, 2009 7:38:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Pictures Without Provenance
Posted by Maureen

Hilda Barton sent me this lovely photo of a young girl with the subject line: "No Idea Who This is..." It's a picture without provenance.

unknown girl.jpg

I've written about provenance before. It's the history of ownership of a photograph or other object. It's easy to underestimate the value of knowing the previous owner of a picture, but this is actually one of the keys to figuring out who's in an unidentified picture.

Start by asking the following questions:
  • Who owned the picture before me? 
  • Did the photograph hang on the wall in relative's house? 
  • Was it loose in an album or on a page with other relatives?
These questions can determine which branch of the family owned the image and bring you one step closer to putting a name with face. But remember, the photo could show a friend's child—not a relative at all. Facial similarities to people in identified photos may help.

Then answer the next set of questions:
  • Where was it taken? Look for a photographer's name and address on the image. Then consult your family history to see who lived in the area.
  • How old is the person?  In this case, it's a young girl, probably less than 5 years old.
  • When was it taken? In 1916, The Ladies Home Journal published a short photo essay on "Arranging Your Little Girl's Hair." Younger children wore narrow bows, like this youngster. Her short bobbed hair was popular around 1919.
If Hilda can answer these questions, she can consult her family tree and make a short list of who's the right age to be in this picture.

On a side note, a fascinating new book by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo is called Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Penquin Press, $26.95). It's amazing how one man could dupe the art world with falsified documentation. I couldn't put it down.


1910s photos | children
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 12:11:47 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, August 03, 2009
Tweet. Tweet. I'm on Twitter.
Posted by Maureen

I've watched fellow genealogists talk about Twitter, but I've held back. Books, magazine articles and newspaper articles mention the power of Twitter. Oh boy, I thought. 

What is this new tool and how will I use it?   I'm not really sure at this point, but I decided to tip toe into this relatively new phenomena.  Over the weekend I signed up and had followers in seconds!

Want to follow my tweets?  You can find me on Twitter. I'm open to suggestions on how to use it.  Sound off in the comments section of this blog post.


Web sites
Monday, August 03, 2009 4:07:16 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, July 27, 2009
Adding Up Photo Clues
Posted by Maureen

I had trouble deciding the angle for this story. Would I discuss the problem of trying to figure out the photographic method or mention a family brick wall? Then I re-read all the emails from Randy Majors and decided to cover those topics as well as how he identified his picture.




What is it?
Electronic files are wonderful for sharing pictures, but nothing compares with looking at the original, especially when you're trying to determine the photographic method. One of the first questions I asked Randy was, "Can you describe the picture?"

There were two types of metal images in the first 20 years of photography. Daguerreotypes are shiny, highly reflective images that are reversed, but tintypes are on a thin sheet of iron and usually varnished. They aren't really shiny. He said that the image was somewhat shiny, but not mirror-like. 

So what is it? Without seeing the original, I'd guess a tintype. If you look very closely at the left of the picture you can see a crackled pattern in the photographic emulsion. I've never seen that in a daguerreotype, which is created by chemical salts on a silver plate. 

Williamcrop 1.jpg

The other detail that makes me think this is a tintype is the hole in the upper-left corner. I've seen scads of tintypes with this, but never a daguerreotype.

This lovely picture was once covered by an oval mat, appropriate for either a daguerreotype or a tintype.

When was it taken?
Let's look at the subjects' attire from left to right. The boy wears a jacket several sizes too large. The stiff wave of hair atop of his head was particularly popular in the 1850s. His father wears a collarless shirt, a vest and a jacket. His hair is long and combed back. A full under-the chin beard completes his appearance.

It wasn't unusual for little girls in the 1850s and in the early 1860s to wear dresses with shoulder-bearing necklines and short epaulette sleeves, with strings of beads around their neck. Their attire could be from the late 1850s or even the early 1860s.

The girl's doll could date the picture. I'm no doll expert, but determining whether this is a rag-style doll or a china doll could help place this image in a time frame. I think it's a china-headed doll. The problem is that the detail is missing from the face. For help with dating dolls in images, consult Dawn Herlocher's 200 Years of Dolls, 3rd edition (KP Books, $29.95).

crop2.jpg


Who is it?
One of the best ways to identify a picture is by swapping with relatives to see if they have similar images. The unidentified picture Randy sent was his great-aunt's. In Rady's collection was an identified picture of William Riley Majors, (1821-1881).

 William Riley Majors (2).jpg
Notice anything familiar? You guessed it.  It's not only the same man—it's the same picture, only a copy.

So who's in the first picture with William? His son William Andrew Majors and his daughter Martha Etta Majors. Based on the children's ages, Randy thinks this picture was taken about 1865 in the Madison County, Ill. or St. Louis, Mo., area. He could be right. This late a date also would suggest that the image is indeed a tintype.

Randy's biggest problem is that no one has been able to find out the lineage of William Riley Majors. He was born in either Alabama or Kentucky, and died in Cowley County, Kan. "He remains my biggest brick wall," Randy wrote.

Anyone have any research suggestions for Randy?
1850s photos | 1860s photos | children | men | Tintypes
Monday, July 27, 2009 8:55:27 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Photos on the Web: Copyright Woes
Posted by Maureen

If you've ever tried to copy a family photo at a store or photo lab and been denied due to copyright issues, there's an article you might be interested in.

On July 19, the New York Times published an article about photos on Wikipedia, "Wikipedia May Be a Font of Facts but It's a Desert for Photos."

If you've used this vast internet archive of user-contributed material, you know the picture quality/quantity is iffy. That's because these are "unofficial" photos anyone can use. According to the article, the site uses a "Creative Commons license, which allows anyone to use an image, for commercial purposes or not, as long as the photographer is credited." It's a bit more complicated, but the article explains it. 

There are legal and common-sense rules relating to photo usage. Basically, the store with the photo kiosk denied you the right to copy your picture because the photographer holds the reproduction rights for it. Even if the photographer is deceased or you don't know who it was, as for an old family portrait, the store might decide it doesn't want to take the chance.

A handy guide for when you need formal permission to use an image appears in Sharon DeBartolo Carmack's Carmack's Guide to Copyright & Contracts: A Pricer for Genealogists, Writers & Researchers (GPC, $15.95)

Here's a common sense rule for internet usage of family photos. If you want to post a photo of a living family member on your Web site or FaceBook page, make sure you have that person's permission, too. It's a common courtesy.


photo news | Photo-sharing sites
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 2:55:56 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]