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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, November 02, 2009
Family Stories: A Photo at a Time
Posted by Maureen

Sharon Pike wrote to me with a question about the clothing on the children in this photo, "Do you think the photographer brought clothing as props for the children?" 

It's a really common query. In her e-mail, along with her question, was the story of this family. Since I believe every photo tells a story. I couldn't resist sharing this lovely bit of family history.

110209Tilley.jpg

Thomas "Tom" Schuler and his wife Matilda "Tilly" Mueller (Miller) sit on the stoop of their Louisville, Ky., house with their first four children. The two children flanking the parents are Leo Thomas Schuler on the left and his twin sister Verena Marie Schuler on the far right. The little boy on Dad's lap is Edward Joseph Schuler, and the baby is Louise Matilda Schuler. The presence of Louise dates the picture to the summer of 1899; she was born May 19 of that year. 

To answer Sharon's question, I don't think the photographer brought their clothes with him. Photographers often carried props and some accessories, but not a wagon full of clothes.

The kids and their parents are dressed in typical fashion for the turn of the century. Leo's wide-collared shirt and tie were worn by boys across the United States. None of the children is dressed for play; they're all wearing clothes for a special occasion—the family photo. Dad's the informal one: In this time frame, men wore coats in all types of weather, so it's a bit unusual that he's not wearing a jacket for this formal portrait. It was probably taken on a really hot summer day.

Each photo also tells the "backstory" of the folks depicted. A picture becomes a symbol to remember these family members. According to Sharon, Tom Schuler was born in Switzerland and immigrated with his family in 1870. As a young man, Tom and all the men in the family went back to Switzerland for a visit. It was a timely event. On the return trip to the United States, a young woman named Tilly Mueller was also en route to America with a work contract for a job as a maid. 

This shipboard romance has a happy ending. Sharon told me that Tom went to the house where Tilly worked and helped her climb out the window so they could elope. They eventually had seven children.

Telling the story of a picture and a family requires digging for names and dates, but family history and oral tradition fit together with the visual elements of a picture to tell the tale. Next week I'll be back with some tips on how to write your own photo story.

Thank you, Sharon, for sharing!


1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | children | group photos
Monday, November 02, 2009 4:06:57 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, October 26, 2009
Photo Sites: Read the Fine Print
Posted by Maureen

Yesterday's New York Times featured an article, Guardians Of Their Smiles, on the uses and abuses of photo sites. In it, a woman had posted baby pictures to Flickr without using the privacy settings, and later discovered that someone had used her daughter's pictures on a social networking site in Brazil. 

The article mentioned several other examples, including a father who posted a video of a school play on a video site. Parents of the other kids complained and demanded he take it down.

So here's the question: "How do you safeguard your online photo identity?"
  • Start by reading the fine print before clicking the "I Agree" box for any website. You might be allowing others to copy and use your family photographs. Sure, sites like the Library of Congress use Flickr to promote their photo collections, but those images are in the public domain.

  • Use privacy settings. You can disable those public features on popular sites by finding their privacy controls and activating them. On YouTube, you can privately share videos or prevent downloading/sharing online.

  • If you want to publish photos of an event, either have folks sign a model release that states how and where you'll publish those images, or don't show faces. A few months ago, I gave a workshop for kids and I really wanted to show off their genealogy artwork in my e-newsletter. Since I didn't want to use their faces, I had the kids hold up their projects in front of their faces. I used the picture, but didn't name the kids. Basically, don't use images without permission.

  • Watch for right-click copying. You can copy all kinds of things on the web by right-clicking with your mouse (control-clicking on a Mac). Should you? No. It's a ethical thing. I use a photo site that allows me to turn off the right-click option. Family members can order prints if they want to, but not copy the images. You also can put a watermark on images to discourage usage. It's an option in many types of photo editing software, that's what many photo stock houses do.

  • Don't put high-resolution images online. For online use, you don't need to use an image at more than 72 dpi. This doesn't prevent online copying, but at that resolution, print quality is awful.
The New York Times article was a cautionary tale for anyone posting images online.  You can sound off in the comment section below or on the Photo Detective Forum.


photo news | Photo-sharing sites
Monday, October 26, 2009 1:47:12 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
# 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]