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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, May 16, 2011
Asking the Big Questions
Posted by Maureen

I sat with a friend today as she showed me her latest online family history discoveries. It was all very exciting.

She's worked on this particular genealogy problem for several years. All of a sudden, an unknown distant relative joined an online site and posted family information and lots of pictures. My friend was amazed to see photos of her great-grandparents and some of their children.

While it was thrilling to see all that new material that solved her brick walls, I couldn't help but look at the photos critically.

If you find yourself gasping over images of your long-lost relatives, try not to jump to conclusions and accept them at face value. Follow some basic tips for analyzing those images.
  • Remember those captions are not necessarily the truth. Misidentifications happen all the time. 

  • Look at the clues—clothing, photographer and any other evidence in the pictures to see if they add up.
     
  • Is the person the right age to be the named ancestor? 

  • Clothing clues, especially hats, sleeves and ties, are often fashion statements that tell you not just about your ancestor's fashion sense, but can place the image within a narrow time frame.

  • One of the photos depicts a man in a police uniform. This employment tip could help her unlock more family information. Her next step is to contact the appropriate department to try to obtain employment records.

  • Another photo shows a woman in a very expensive-looking fur hat and coat. Family lore claims this woman had financial means. To prove this, I suggested tracking down probate records to follow the money trail.
Each new picture is an opportunity to find fresh genealogical data. Evaluate the picture sense using the techniques presented each week in this column. It's too easy to accept visual material at face value rather than digging a bit deeper to tell the story behind the image.

I hope you'll be able to join me this week for my Photo Detective Live! event on May 18, or for one of my new tele-seminars through AskMaureenTaylor.com


Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • photo-research tips | preserving photos | props in photos
    Monday, May 16, 2011 3:05:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Friday, May 13, 2011
    Aging Well
    Posted by Diane

    Dating a photograph of an older person presents a unique dilemma: Is the subject wearing contemporary fashion, or an older style that he or she was hanging on to?

    On FamilyTreeMagazine.com, Photo Detective Maureen A. Taylor addresses this question as she analyzes these two photos that might show the same woman at different ages.


    Click here to see what clues Taylor finds.

    Got a photo mystery of your own? Enter it into our Photo Mysteries Contest.

    And remember to sign up for the free Photo Detective Live! webinar taking place May 18. 


    1890s photos | 1910s photos | group photos | men | women
    Friday, May 13, 2011 5:01:49 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, May 09, 2011
    A Soldier's Story
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week, I spent time browsing the Liljenquist Collection on the Library of Congress website. It's a jaw-dropping set of gorgeous Civil War photographs. You can view them online or in person at an exhibit at the Library of Congress.

    Charles Bickford.jpg

    This portrait depicts Charles H. Bickford of Massachusetts as a young boy. As a genealogist, it's difficult for me to see a name on a photograph and not dig a little deeper into a life story.

    The LOC cataloging record provides a few details, while some library research fills in the blanks.
    • It's an ambrotype. The date created field suggests a time frame of 1850-1855, but ambrotypes were patented in 1854.

    • The cataloging record also includes information from a handwritten label in the cased image. It supplies a date of birth (March 1844) and his death date (May 3, 1863).

    • Bickford served with B Company of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. A quick search in a series, Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War compiled by the Adjutant General and published in 1931 (volume 1, page 80), yields even more data. Bickford was a resident of Lowell, Mass., and a machinist when he enlisted at age 20 on May 25, 1861. He died on May 3, 1863, at Chancellorsville, Va. May 3 is considered the bloodiest day of the Battle of Chancellorsville and resulted in the loss of 14,000 Confederate soldiers. General Stonewall Jackson was fatally wounded that day, as well.

    • Searching for vital records for Bickford suggests he was born in New Hampshire. There is a Charles H. Bickford, age 17, living in Strafford County in the 1860 federal census. 
    Telling a soldier's story involves looking at vital records, census records, Civil War material and of course studying the evidence in a family photo.

    In this picture, Bickford is a young boy dressed in a typical suit—buttoned jacket with the collar peeking out, and a large bow at the neck. Born in 1844, it's possible he's about 10-12 years old in this photo. If he were older than that, he'd be wearing a different style of attire. This data suggests the photo was taken between 1854 and 1856.     
      


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1850s photos | children | Civil War
    Monday, May 09, 2011 1:33:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, May 02, 2011
    Civil War Era Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    nance002.jpg

    Did you know that you can mail us a copy (no originals please) of your family photos for this column? To find out more about submitting photo click on the How to Submit Your Photo link in the left-hand column. This week's photo mystery was mailed to the editors of Family Tree Magazine, who in turn forwarded it to me.

    Betty Nance's great-grandmother knew the identity of the man in this photo. Sarah Jane Elizabeth (Jennie) Renfro told her daughter (Betty's mother) his name.

    Unfortunately, by the time Betty asked about this photo, her great- grandmother was deceased and all her mother could remember was his first name "Thomas" and that he was a cousin to Sarah Jane.

    There are big questions about this photo. First, which branch of Sarah Jane's family does he represent?

    Sarah Jane was born in 1866, and since this is a Civil War photo of a Confederate soldier posing with a revolver, it's possible that she knew him. Well ... that could be the case if he didn't die during the war. 

    So who is he? I've poked around a bit looking for men with that first name in both the Renfro and Fowler family lines—but no direct hits.

    I've also searched Ancestry.com family trees and found one for the Renfro family. Based on the information that Betty sent me, it appears to be the right one, but no Thomas.

    The 1860 US census might hold a clue. I used the census on HeritageQuest Online (available through many public libraries). There are 93 Thomas Fowlers in the census, but only a few in Illinois and Tennessee, where the family lived, and no Thomas Renfros in those states. Of course, he could have a different last name if his mother's maiden name was Renfro or Fowler.

    This is an involved family history project, but one that is solvable. I'd start by looking for Civil War enlistment lists for the states in which the family lived, and hope for a direct match. If not, then Betty would have to find all the collateral lines for her ancestor, Sarah Jane Renfro. With any bit of genealogical luck, she'll find her Thomas.

    One of the problems is that Betty doesn't know what degree of cousin Thomas was. If he's not a first cousin, then even more research is needed.

    Untangling this mess could take a bit of time.  I did a general Ancestry.com search for Thomas Fowler, and found a Thomas Jefferson Fowler who died in 1862 during the war. Other research is needed to determine whether that's the connection.

    The young man in this photo isn't very old—I think late teens or early 20s. That will narrow down the number of possible candidates in Betty's family tree.


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1860s photos | Civil War | men | Military photos
    Monday, May 02, 2011 2:56:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, April 25, 2011
    A Picture Pile-up
    Posted by Maureen

    I love unusual surnames. It's probably because my last name and many of my ancestral surnames often end up on those top 10 lists of popular names.

    Laurie Clement has a great chance to identify the folks in her unidentified image. She thinks this large family group shares the surname of Burkepile.

    All she needs is a date and she's on her way.

    burkepiles.jpg

    I think this could be an impromptu itinerant photo studio shot. The whole family is standing in front of a white backdrop that looks suspiciously like a sheet. Mom, Dad and seven children stare directly at the camera. There's a single boy in the back row. Finding this family in the census should be possible. 

    The tight dress sleeves and hairstyles suggest a date of circa 1900.  It's a great picture of a family caught on the cusp of a new century. 

    A quick look at the 1900 federal census using HeritageQuest Online (available through many libraries) found families of Burkepiles living in Kansas, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania.  I didn't find any obvious matches, but Laurie and her distant cousins are working on a solution.

    My fingers are crossed!


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1900-1910 photos | children | group photos
    Monday, April 25, 2011 8:39:36 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, April 18, 2011
    Help a Fellow Genealogist (Civil War-Style)
    Posted by Maureen

    Two weeks ago, I attended the New England Regional Genealogical Conference in Springfield, Mass. A lot of folks stopped by my booth to talk about Civil War images in their family. Several told me about locating images of their Civil War soldiers in unlikely places. If you have a story to share, please e-mail it to me or add your thoughts in the Comments section below.

    One woman said she found her ancestor’s picture in a town hall. The entire unit died in battle and someone in that town collected photographs of those men from each family. The end result—a framed memorial with portraits of every man in that unit. You can look for photos of Civil War ancestors by following the tips offered in my column, Drum Roll For the Civil War

    A few months ago, I featured photos submitted by readers in Civil War Roll Call and in Civil War Roll Call Part 2

    One of those photographs was found on eBay and matched an image already owned by the family. You’ll have to look to find out which one though .

    If you have a photo of your Civil War ancestor you might find my column, Deciphering A Photo, Civil War Style, helpful to learn more about the image. 

    I’m still trying to solve the cold case file for the pictures posted some time ago of the two men in embroidered shirts and I’m hopeful that with all things Civil War related in the news, that someone can answer the questions posed by the images in the columns Two Texas Mysteries and Texas Twosome Revisted

    Want to know more about your family's Civil War photos? Maureen A. Taylor's book Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album is available from ShopFamilyTree.com.


    Military photos
    Monday, April 18, 2011 2:59:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, April 11, 2011
    Bad Hair Day Winner!
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you for voting in the Bad Hair Day Contest and for sending in all those great hair photos. There is a winner!

    Here's how the votes stacked up.

    83.7 % of the voters selected this photo. Congratulations go to Pat Daughtery for winning the contest and a copy of Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900.

    editdaugherty0157.jpg

    The runner up is ...
    editSophie Bentley.jpg
    71 % voted for this photo.

    I promised a few more photos this week so here goes.

    editpeirceHunterCWhite9andHalfYearsOld.jpg




    Rachel Peirce sent in this before-and-after picture of her ancestor Hunter Carson White at 9-1/2 years old during the Civil War. She owns a picture of the boy's father with his hair standing up on his head and wonders whether the second photo was taken to make the boy look more like his father.

    editchaseimg501.jpg

    Photo collector David Chase sent me this photo. It proves that man's best friend also can have bad hair. <smile>.

    Last weekend I was at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference. I met Janine Penfield who showed me this unusual photo in her family album.

    SCAN0136.jpg

    It depicts a female performer known as Illavaro at age 14. She was photographed at several different times by Charles Eisenman of New York City. She would have been very comfortable in the late 1960s when this hairstyle was a fashion statement.

    Hope you've enjoyed this look back at 19th-century hairstyles!


    1860s photos | 1870s photos | 1880s photos | african american | children | Civil War | hairstyles | unusual photos
    Monday, April 11, 2011 5:08:38 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, April 04, 2011
    Vote for Your Favorite Bad Hair Day
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time to vote! My inbox is full of photos from readers and and Facebook followers. So which photo will win? You decide. I've create a survey form on SurveyMonkey.com. Click here to see the photos I selected for the survey and to vote for your favorite. The person who submitted the winning photo will receive a signed copy of my Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900. Photos 1 and 2 are from the 1870s, 3 and 4 from the 1880s and photo 5 dates from 1900.

    Drum roll please...the finalists are:

    editSanders Sylvia (pix found in album of DHSaunders).jpg
    Linda Greff submitted this photo of Sylvia Sanders sporting a combination of extremely curly hair and the full hair styles of the 1870s, making an extreme fashion statement. 

    editSophie Bentley.jpg
    Another 1870s full head of hair. Sophie Bentley was born Dec. 6, 1849. Thank you to Katherine Maddox for sending in this image.

    editdaugherty0157.jpg
    Oh, those flat greased hairstyles of the 1880s were a dramatic contrast to the previous decade's look. Molly (Mary) E. Banning Ross (born 1867) was an older teenager in this photo, submitted by Pat Daugherty.

    editNorwood1880sUnknown.jpg
    Carol Jacobs Norwood sent in this unidentified family photo. It's a variation of that earlier 1880s picture.

    editdavisonMinnie  Everell Dutton Smith.jpg

    It's not the woman in this picture that has the hair problem. It's her companion. His natural wave and longish hair combine to make the style standout from the top and sides of his head. This circa 1900 image is lovely. He was a teacher in Kansas. The couple is Anne Davison's great grand aunt and uncle.

    O.K...Please vote for your favorite here.

    Next week I'll be back with some other photos -- a before and after hairstyle and proof that not just humans can have a bad hair day.


    1870s photos | 1880s photos | 1890s photos | hairstyles
    Monday, April 04, 2011 9:27:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, March 28, 2011
    Uniforms in the Family
    Posted by Maureen

    It's not too late to enter your ancestral bad hair photos in my blog contest. See details in last week's post. I can't wait until you see what folks sent in! 

    In the meantime, it's time for another photo mystery. This one is a 20th century challenge.

    Nancy Yates sent in a few pictures of her father, taken when he was about 15 years old, between 1930 to 1932. In the first one, he's standing alone wearing a uniform with plain sleeves.

    yates1.jpg

    In the second he's wearing a different uniform with hash marks on the sleeve indicating his rank of corporal. He's standing with his sister.
    Yates2.jpg

    yates3.jpg

    The mystery is the uniform. It doesn't look like a Boy Scout uniform. It's too bad I can't read the pin on his hat or the badge on his other sleeve. 

    Nancy knows her Dad once served in the Civilian Conservation Corp as an adult. Men had to be at least 17 years old to serve in the CCC.

    So what uniform is it? I'm not sure. There were several groups for teens in the 1930s. The 4-H Club, the Future Farmers of America and the Junior Birdmen of America are a few prominent groups, but this uniform doesn't represent any of those organizations. A great book on the period is William H. Young and Nancy K. Young's The 1930s (Greenwood Press, $25.00).

    One lead is a group sponsored by the American Legion. They formed the Air Cadets in 1933, to train young men as pilots in case of war.

    Do you have any ideas? I'm still looking.


    1930s photos | children | unusual clothing
    Monday, March 28, 2011 7:12:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [12]
    # Monday, March 21, 2011
    Hair in the Family: A Contest
    Posted by Maureen

    At a recent lecture, an attendee told me about an ancestral photo that scared him as a child. The woman had a curl that stood up straight on the top of her head. (He's promised to send me a scan, and as soon as I have it you'll see it here. Can't wait!)

    His comments made me think about hairstyles in the family. On page 83 of Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900 there is a picture of a woman wearing a hair piece. It's not unusual for a 19th century woman to add false hair to create a fashionable hairdo, and in this photo I doubt it's real hair. Women could buy expensive human hairpieces or fake ones made from horsehair or even yak hair.
    ftmphoto48.jpg

    Her natural hair is very fine and curly, and the loops on her head are an entirely different texture. You can also see long hair trailing down behind her head.

    Inspired by the photo that scared a child, I've decided it's time for a contest. Send me photos of the most outrageous hairstyles worn by ancestors. You can send in 20th century photos of yourself, but not of living family members. You can email them to me at mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com. I'll feature as many as I can in this space and readers can vote for their favorite in the comment section.


    hairstyles | unusual photos
    Monday, March 21, 2011 1:19:50 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]