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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, October 19, 2009
Which Generation is it?
Posted by Maureen

There are photos that just drive you CRAZY. Ronald E. Wade is a very dedicated genealogist, but this image has him confused. His relative Mary Beulah Petty gave him all her pictures and that's great. Ronald has a fantastic picture history of his family thanks to her, but there's one problem—this picture:

StinsonsSmaller (2).JPG

It's a lovely picture of a couple in their later years posed with canes in hand. He's rumpled but she's neat and tidy. It's just a gorgeous photo. The question is, who is it??

Let's start with the provenance, ie., the history of ownership of the pictures. This is actually where it gets confusing:
  • Mary Beulah Petty inherited her photographs from her mother, Texie Ann Busby (1861-1918). 
  • Texie received the photos from her mother, Matilda Stinson Busby (1831-1903).
  • Matilda got them from her mother, Mary Polly Robertson Stinson (1789-1833), or so the story goes. 
Do you see the problem?

First, photography isn't available until 1839, years after Mary Polly dies, and paper photographs aren't widely available until at least 1859.

Here's the other issue: This photograph dates from circa 1900. This estimate is based on the style of the picture, the photographer's imprint and the clothing. Yet, family members dated this picture to the 1850s. 

If these folks were in their 70s in this photo, then they were born about 1830. Seems like a neat solution—it's Matilda Stinson Busby and her second husband, John Busby (1822-1907), right? Possibly wrong. Ronald Wade has pictures of Matilda and John, and these folks don't resemble them.

While Mary Beulah called these folks Grandma and Grandpa Stinson, she claimed that they were Mary Polly Stinson and her husband, Alexander, the couple who died years before photographs were available. Mary claimed her mother, Texie, also thought this image depicted Mary Polly and Alexander. Ronald can't imagine Texie's mom misidentifying her own parents. 

On the back, someone wrote Matilda Stinson—why not Busby?  It's a real tangled mess of family history, family folklore and photographic facts.

Ronald knows that only a few of the Stinsons moved to Arkansas, which should narrow the field of possibilities. He's been collecting family pictures for decades and even wrote a genealogy. I told him I'd present his case here and see what turns up. Now's he's considering that maybe this photo comes from the Robertson side of the family.

The facts are clear:
  • The picture was taken about 1900
  • It's not Mary Polly and Alexander
  • The couple is at least 70, which suggest birth dates in the 1830s period.
I love their expressions. It's a family history treasure!


1900-1910 photos | men | women
Monday, October 19, 2009 6:40:46 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Monday, October 12, 2009
Texas Trouble: Readers Respond
Posted by Maureen

It's been three weeks since the first post on the photos of two Texas men with mysterious decorations on their shirts. In the second column, I really didn't have much to add, but since then, readers have sent in their suggestions/comments.

Here's the latest news.

092109img041 (5).jpg092109img038 (3).jpg

The Smith County Historical Society couldn't find anything relevant in their archives, but the staff members will keep their eyes peeled just in case something shows up. I really appreciate their help.

Kim Lawonn and a couple of other folks wrote to me with a suggestion, "Could the men be wearing early Western-style shirts?" It's possible. In the 1860s, most shirts lacked collars and closed with the double-butto,n as seen here. I'm looking for proof.

Beni Downing sent me a long e-mail outlining her thoughts. She's an avid needleworker. Beni wants me to consider that the shirts were made for a special occasion, such as a wedding, and to think about a Central European origin. I'm intrigued by the first suggestion.  As far as I know, Peggy Batchelor Hamlett doesn't have any central European ancestry.

Beni wishes she could see the shirts more closely. I second that desire!  Here are close-ups for further inspection.

092109img0413.jpg
Above is a close-up of the design from the left-hand photo.

092109img0383.jpg
Here's the pattern from the right hand photo.

Both Kim and Beni's suggestions have merit. These elaborate designs are similar to patterns seen in needlework. The eight-pointed star is a common quilt design. 

Beni's suggested I have my genealogist/needlework hobbyists check needlework pattern books for matches. Good idea! Beni has already looked in her books on Scandinavian designs.

I really think we're getting closer to solving this one.  I'll be in touch with Peggy to see if there's any family information to help. 

Thank you for all your help!


1860s photos
Monday, October 12, 2009 5:11:47 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Monday, October 05, 2009
Snapshot of the Past: 1937
Posted by Maureen

Does a single snapshot tell a story?  I think it does.  Take for instance this glimpse of circa 1937. 

100509Spencer Brothers 1937 (3).jpg

Cynthia Wilson sent in this picture of two of her uncles with an unidentified man in overalls. She wants to know if the man in the middle is an actor?

The two brothers worked as Pullman Porters and sometimes traveled together. Here the brother on the left wears a double-breasted suit with a notched lapel, a silk tie and a high-crowned fedora style hat. In his hand is an ice cold bottle of Coca-Cola recently purchased from the cooler behind him. The brother on the right wears a single breasted suit with a silk tucked into the breast jacket pocket and a high crowned fedora. He looks at the camera while the other man's attention is caught by something in the distance. While I know their names, I won't mention them because the image is a mid-twentieth century photograph.

Between them stands the man in overalls with the word Atlantic stitched on it. His attire signifies that he works/owns the station, not that he's an actor. It's a coincidence that his rugged appearance resembles movie stars of the 1930s. In the 1930s gas companies supplied service stations with overalls emblazoned with the name of their company and a cap. A clean and neat appearance was the sign of a reputable establishment thus the man's clean white shirt and silk tie.

These men aren't dressed for a special occasion. This is a snapshot of not just a moment but an era!

A photography studio name appears on the back of the image along with the date the image was printed, November 9, 1937.  100509Back of Spencer Brothers 1937 (3).jpg

Also on the back is a stamp for Nutone photo paper and a number, 147. A big thank you to Pam Young of the Virginia Collection at the Roanoke Public Library for researching company names in their phone book collection. She found that the Roanoke Photo Finishing Company, was located at 105 1/2 Campbell Ave., in Roanoke, Virginia. The 147 is a bit of a mystery. It could refer to the number of images processed by the company.

We tried to locate a Roanoke gas station that sold both Capital and White Flash gasoline, but didn't have any luck. It's quite possible that Cynthia's uncle's had their picture taken elsewhere. Unfortunately the reflection in the window to the right, doesn't offer any clues to location. Atlantic White Flash gasoline and Capitol gasoline were also sold outside of Virginia. 

The next time you go to "the pumps" compare what you see to this image. You can still buy a soda at most stations, but the appearance of the pumps is different. No more gauges and glass globes advertising the type of gas.  There are a lot of other details in this image from the "contains lead" sign on the White Flash pump to the first aid symbol in the window and the cans of oil stacked in the window. 


1930s photos
Monday, October 05, 2009 8:35:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Monday, September 28, 2009
Texas Mystery Photo Puzzle: No News
Posted by Maureen

No news ....is not good news in this case. A week ago I posted the Two Texas Mysteries column with the hope that someone out there would be able to shed some light on these two pictures. Nope! Not a word.

I received an email from David Lintz of the Improved Order of Red Men (I'd consulted him because I wondered if the interesting designs on the men's shirts had to do with a fraternal organization), but he didn't have a solution either.

So for now, this mystery remains just that: a mystery.  I'm temporarily out of angles. I'm back to considering either religious or Masonic symbolism, because Dr. Francis Marion Montgomery, who may be in one of the images, was linked to both types of organizations.

Here are a couple of interesting links I found this week. 
  • Freemason Symbols This site didn't prove helpful to this particular case, but if you have a picture of a man in fraternal attire, look for the symbols here and solve your own mystery.

  • 8-Pointed Star This explanation of the star symbol comes from the Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sterling, Illinois.  An interesting perspective.
Now if I could only figure out the symbols on the second man's shirt. Any guesses?


1860s photos
Monday, September 28, 2009 9:39:41 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# 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]