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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, November 30, 2009
Finding the Story: Picture Clues and Family Facts
Posted by Maureen

There's nothing like a photo riddle when the picture and the facts don't add up. In my experience solving that particular problem relies on more than the pictorial evidence. You have to dive into family history in detail.

Let's take Joan Lee's photo of a young couple and their child as an example. It's a symbol of a long complicated family story that has so many twists and turns it's like a maze. A good way to gain freedom from the intricacies of this tangled web is to sort out the facts and list a series of questions.

Klingbeil Fred baby and wifeedit.jpg

This photo was given to Joan by a descendant of her husband's great grandfather's brother. He's identified as Fred Klingbeil, his wife and their son. It came with a sad story: The little boy supposedly drowned in Three Mile Lake in Ontario. If this is true, Joan can't find the proof. There's no death record, no cemetery record and no headstone where the family lived in Ontario.

But Joan has an even bigger problem. Does this photo even depict Fred Klingbeil? A timeline of his life compared to the photographic details conflict. He was a man on the move. (If anyone wants the exact citations for this article, please send me an email to mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com. Joan will be happy to supply them.)

Here are the facts of his life:

1882: Fred is born in Detroit, Mich., to Julius and Amelia Klingbeil, recent immigrants from Germany. According to family letters, Amelia was pregnant with Fred during their passage to America.

1891: Fred appears on the Canadian census for Windermere, Ont.

1902/03: A newspaper in Enderlin, ND, mentions that he's in town to build an addition onto his widowed mother's house.

1910: According to the U.S. Federal Census, Fred lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota working as a wallpaper hanger.

In October of 1910 he marries for the first time in Idaho. His bride, Marie Evans, states on the marriage record she's from Aberdeen, Wash.

Here's where it gets tricky. For this to be a photo of Fred and Marie with a son, it would have to be taken after 1910. But this woman's dress, with the belted waist and tight-fitting bodice, dates from about 1900.

Her hairstyle confirms the date. In my new book, Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles, I examine photos and discuss men's and women's hairstyles. The topknot on the crown of her head was common from the late 1890s to the turn of the century. By 1910, women wear their hair full around the face with a bun on the top. It's a different look from what's seen here. The father's upturned collar, suit style and silk tie are consistent with c. 1900 as well.

So is it a different Fred, or does it depict a different family?

You won't believe where this family history mystery goes! I'll be back next week with part 2. Stay tuned.


1900-1910 photos | photo-research tips
Monday, November 30, 2009 9:48:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, November 23, 2009
It's a Family Tree Magazine Reunion!
Posted by Maureen

In July, I wrote a column, Which Immigrant Is It, on a photo submitted by Jeannette Bias.

Last week, another woman contacted me to say that she's related to Jeanette and is the great-great-granddaughter of Simon (1843-1892) and Mary (1850-1932) Dulas, the couple possibly depicted in this portrait.

Bias Unknown Dulas.jpg

Except that this "new" relative doesn't think the man is Simon. She thinks he could be their son Joseph with whom Mary lived after the death of her husband. Oh boy!  The facts in this case make my head hurt. 

Here's the line-up of details.  I didn't originally assign a date to this image because I was hoping for a little more photographic evidence.
  • Simon Dulas dies in 1892 when Mary is only 42.  This couple looks a lot older than their early to late 40s.
  • There is another picture of Mary for comparison.
Dulas Mary (2)crop.jpg Unknown Dulas (2)close-up.jpg 

The image on the left was taken in the early 20th century, probably not long before her death. It is definitely Mary.

On the right is a close-up of the photo from above. Both of these photos appear to be of the same woman, but I wonder. There's a slight difference around the eyes.

There is yet another positively identified photo of Mary, only this time, she's posed with her children behind her.

Dulas Simon 1901 .jpg

That's certainly Mary in the front row. Standing directly behind her is her son Joseph (b. 1880).  This picture of him confirms that it's not Joseph in the very first photo in this column. The baby on Mary's lap is her first grandchild. 

So the mystery remains. If the woman in that first photo is Mary then who's the man standing next to her?
  • It's not a brother.  All of her brother's were still-born infants.
  • Could it be Simon's nephew John (1856-1918)?  There are no known pictures of him. 
  • Could it be Mary's parents? Johan Glowik (1822-1896) and Elizabeth Staloch (1823-1884) Her father immigrates after his wife's death.
  • Or is it a very old looking Simon?
If only Jeanette had the original of the first photo. Unfortunately, she doesn't. She obtained a copy from a relative who had gotten a copy from a now unknown other relative. The location of the original cabinet card is now completely a mystery.  That's unfortunate.  A photographer's imprint on the back could tell us where the picture was taken and help date the photo,  perhaps clearing up the identity of the folks in it.

At this point I'm leaning towards the couple in the first column and in the first photo in this column being Mary's parents. That would account for the strong resemblance of the women in all the photos. If that's the case then the couple posed for a picture around the time of Mary's mother Elizabeth's death in 1884.  Photos in this time frame could certainly be on white card stock and often featured elaborate painted backdrops of interior scenes.

I'm not completely certain and neither is Jeanette, but it does clear up the age issue.  If this couple were Mary's parents and they posed for a portrait in 1884 then Johan would be 62 and Elizabeth 61. Seems likely.

Any one have any aspirin? This case gave me a headache <smile>.


1880s photos | 1900-1910 photos | Immigrant Photos
Monday, November 23, 2009 5:46:03 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Monday, November 16, 2009
A Blast From My Past
Posted by Maureen

Last week after writing the column on photo storytelling I decided to take my own advice and browse through all the family photos I scanned last summer. I looked at pictures of my Mom as a young child and saw pictures of my own childhood. All of a sudden I spotted one of me as a pre-school age child sitting on a couch intently working on something.  What was IT? 

family275.jpg
I didn't know right away. So I kept browsing through pictures and discovered I had other images taken on the same day.  They are all snapshots.

I went back to this picture and tried to think about the folks in the other images in the roll, where it was taken and when. All that thinking triggered a memory flashback.  Suddenly I could remember that day and what I was doing.  I was playing with my favorite toy--A Wooly Willy. I remember spending hours working on different mustaches, beards and hairstyles. Drawing the iron filings across Willy's face with my pen magnet.   (Here's the proof, I was into thinking about pictures at a young age!)

A picture memory flashback is a funny thing. All kinds of things come to mind. The sound those patent leather shoes made on the kitchen floor, the shushing noise that dress made as I twirled around, and the painful curlers my mother used to achieve those curly locks.

This holiday when you're dragging out boxes and albums of pictures don't forget to share the pictures and stories of your own childhood.  Pay attention to the details in the picture and those in your memory.  As for the year of this picture-- I'll never tell <smile>.

If you're wondering what happened to all the pictures you've submitted to this space, I'm working on a blog calendar.  If you haven't heard from me you will soon.


candid photos
Monday, November 16, 2009 4:52:44 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, November 09, 2009
Photo Storytelling
Posted by Maureen

The holiday season is nearly upon us! It's a time of year I associate with food, family and friends, but it's also storytelling season. One of the traditions in my family is looking at old pictures—not just those taken a century ago, but those considered "old" by the kids in the family. You know ... their baby pictures! <smile>

Memory is a funny thing. You can show an older relative the same picture year after year and get no new information. Then all of sudden someone else in the room starts talking about an event related to the image, and remembrances start pouring out of that older relative. It's all about finding the right memory trigger. 

Help the process along by taking steps. This means collecting details on the images in your photo collection.
  • Start by trying to place images in a time frame based on the clues discussed in this column—photographers' work dates, family history and fashion for instance.

  • Next, organize your images into a timeline so they're grouped by generation. I guarantee this will work. If you're going to show Great Aunt Hazel an unidentified photo taken in the 1930s, it helps to have other images from the same time period. Each detail in the pictures will help her sort out the facts.

  • If you've discovered any additional information about the picture, now's the time to share it.
Once the storytelling starts, it won't be limited to that one picture or even the group of images. You'll begin hearing about your great aunt's memories of that person, where they lived, how she knew them and what it was like to grow up during the Depression.

If you've remembered to bring along a tape recorder, you'll be able to listen to it again. She might even share some long lost family secret!

As for those youngsters who can't stop looking at their own childhood pictures, ask them to tell a story too.  What were they doing or feeling on the day a particular picture was taken?  What do they think about their clothing?  Can they help you write a caption for the images in the family album?  You bet! 

Finding out the facts for each of your photos is fantastic, but it's the family storytelling that will last for generations. Photo storytelling is about using your photographs as visual treats to gaze while replaying the story of each one.


Photo fun | photo-research tips
Monday, November 09, 2009 5:35:27 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
# 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]