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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Thursday, June 02, 2011
Question Checklist for Old Family Photos
Posted by Diane

If you’re lucky enough to be able to go over family albums and boxes of old photos with a relative, you want to make sure you learn everything you possibly can about the pictures.



At FamilyTreeMagazine.com, Maureen has put together a list of what to ask so you won't miss any research clues.
 

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
    Thursday, June 02, 2011 8:34:37 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Tuesday, May 31, 2011
    And the Winner Is? And a Runner-up
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you to everyone that contributed pictures to the Family Tree Magazine Photo Contest.   So many great pictures....it was a tough decision.  I'll be featuring many of your pictures in future columns.

    The winner is (drum roll please):
    contest winneredit.jpg
    Congratulations to J. Hansen!  I'll write more about this picture as soon as I have more details. Here's what I know.  It was found covered in dust in a storage area in her father's company that dates back to 1886.  Can't wait to unravel this one!

    In the meantime, here's another photo submitted for the contest.
    editVanheemsPhotographer.jpg
    Patricia Manwell thinks that this lovely girl depicts someone in her Gawne family.  They immigrated from the Isle of Man to Australia.   A date for this picture would help Patricia figure out who she is.

    • Reddish brown card stock was extremely popular in the 1880s.
    • The design of her dress is a clue. All those vertical pleats were common in the late 1880s.
    • In the mid-late 1880s, studios invested in props to make settings mimic the outdoors. In this case, fake greenery and a "rock" chair.  
    • This little girl sports short hair.  Perhaps it's a clue to a recent illness. Families often cut off long hair when children were very ill.  Long hair was thought to be physically draining.
    There are family history details that I don't have such as when the family moved to Australia.  This could be very helpful.  I wonder if the photographer Vanheems was related to William Henry Vanheems, who taught optics in Australia. Optics is related to photographic lens. 


    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

  • 1880s photos | children | hairstyles | Immigrant Photos
    Tuesday, May 31, 2011 4:17:08 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Wednesday, May 25, 2011
    Clothing Clues in Photos of Male Ancestors
    Posted by Diane

    Women's fashion changes seem dramatic when compared to the subtle differences in men's clothing over time. That's one of the challenges when assigning a date to a man's portrait.

    In this FamilyTreeMagazine.com article, Maureen A. Taylor points out costume clues to look for in photographs of your male ancestors.





    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

  • 1880s photos | men
    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 7:56:21 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, May 23, 2011
    Scenic Assistance
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you to everyone that attended last week's Photo Detective Live! webinar. Don't worry if you missed it. You can still watch and listen to it online. There's even a free PDF download to go with it.

    This week's photo was submitted as part of our call for images for the contest that accompanies the webinar. (The Photo Mysteries contest concludes this Friday, May 27—here's how to enter.) I'll be featuring these photos and questions in the next few weeks.

    Sharon Woodsum sent in a great set of images. Her family called this photo "Roberts on the Cliff" and believed that it was taken in Wales, home to her husband's grandfather of that surname.



    That's until Sharon spotted this postcard of the exact location.


    Notice the similarities in the background. You can see the lighthouse and the other buildings on the cliff. Now Sharon thinks the family is actually the Emersons of Portland, Maine. It's possible that her grandfather Anthony E. Roberts is in the picture. I'll fill you in on that comparison next week.

    So why did the family go to Nubble Light? It's a beautiful lighthouse and has been in that location since 1879. If this is the Emerson family, they could be on a day-trip to York, Maine, but since it's more than 40 miles from Portland to York and the lighthouse, perhaps the family is on vacation in the area. The date for the photo of this group on the rocks is circa 1900.

    Sharon was lucky to find a postcard view that confirmed the location of the first photo. It yielded a clue that is helping her sort out the evidence in the group portrait.


    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 | group photos | photo backgrounds | unusual surfaces
    Monday, May 23, 2011 6:56:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # 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]