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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, December 24, 2012
Christmas Trees and Family History
Posted by Maureen

Every year I photograph our Christmas Tree. I know I'm not alone. So why do I do it?  It captures a piece of my family history.  A Christmas Tree is a holiday symbol but it's also a family history treasure. 

Each one of the ornaments on my tree has a memory attached to it. From the yarn ornaments I made for my first tree to the ones passed down from my mother to me. I haven't recorded the history of those ornaments yet, but I should. About a week ago, the New York Times featured a story about a woman who'd collected three thousand ornaments.  They represent her life story.

In 1900 the Wright brothers--Orville and Wilbur--photographed their family tree.

wrighttree1900edit.jpg

This image lets us peek into a turn of the century holiday. The neatly wrapped presents under the tree and a little girls doll in a stroller.
wrighttreegifts.jpg

The ornaments are a mix of hand-made and store bought.  There is no artificial trim visible, instead someone patiently strung popcorn to decorate the boughs.
wrighttreeornament.jpg


As you pack away the ornaments, think about including a note on acid and lignin free paper that tells the history of that item.

These interior photos also show us how our ancestors lived. The Wright brothers liked bold wallpaper on their walls but also their ceiling.  In the center of the ceiling is a lovely gas chandelier. It's a pretty typical Victorian scene from the decorations on the tree to the style of rug on the floor.

Before you take down the tree, snap a picture of it so that later generations can see what the holiday was like for your family in 2012.

Happy Holidays!


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

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

  • 1900-1910 photos | preserving photos | props in photos
    Monday, December 24, 2012 2:02:21 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, December 17, 2012
    More on Backyard Snapshots
    Posted by Maureen

    frankqdonnellyedit.jpg

    Last week I focused on the details in the background of this backyard snapshot of Francis (Frank) Q. Donnelly. It's a great picture of a man taken in the first half of the 20th century. His relative, Dennis Rodgers, has a lot of information about him.

    Frank Donnelly (1879-1940) was born and died in Washington, DC. He was second generation on his father's side. His mother was born in Ireland.  Census records and his WW I draft registration pinpoint where he lived. He worked as a tinner and later as a steamfitter.

    Known addresses and time frames include:

    1900—486 E. Street SW
    1910—1008 F Street SE
    1918—1116 B Street NE (This is now Constitution Avenue)
    1920—721 3rd Street NE
    1930—721 3rd Street NE

    A quick search of Google Maps for the last address shows a lovely brick townhouse. Wonder if this image was taken in the rear of the building?

    His clothing suggests a time frame circa 1920:
    • a soft collar shirt with a small collar
    • a medium-width tie
    • a jacket with narrow lapels
    • trousers that narrow toward the ankle. (In the 1930s, pants legs were wider.)

    In 1920, a good worsted suit cost approximately $60 from the Sears Roebuck Catalog while a tie cost less than a dollar. For a fun look at men's neckwear, see Roseann Ettinger's 20th Century Neckties Pre-1955 (Schiffer, 1998).



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

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

  • 1920s photos | men
    Monday, December 17, 2012 6:32:48 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, December 09, 2012
    Backyard Snapshots
    Posted by Maureen

    Studio portraits are lovely and very formal, but to find signs of everyday life, there's nothing like a snapshot. Ever since George Eastman introduced the amateur camera in the late 1880s, our ancestors have taken informal pictures. 

    Dennis Rodgers sent in this picture of a known relative—his great-uncle Francis Q. Donnelly who lived in Washington, D.C. 

    frankqdonnellyedit.jpg

    When I see photographs like this, I ask, "Where's the rest of the pictures from the roll of film?" This is just one of the pictures that the unknown photographer would have taken. Perhaps they were given to other family members or even tossed.

    This backyard snapshot shows us details of Donnelly's life (providing this is where he lived).
    • It's a brick row house with high wooden fences separating the yards.
    • There are well-worn paving stones instead of a grass yard.
    • Wooden steps provide an entry through the back door. 
    • Laundry or blankets being aired outside hang out the second-story window.
    • The family dog is off to the right.

    donnellydog.jpg

    • To the left is a shelf with large cans. A shovel placed near a basement door looks like a small coal shovel.

    donnellyard.jpg

    These items provide details about Connelly's life in the first half of the 20th century. 

    I'll be back next week to discuss his clothes. In the meantime, what's the oddest thing you've ever seen in a family snapshot?



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

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

  • men | occupational | photo backgrounds | props in photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, December 09, 2012 7:32:33 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, December 03, 2012
    Reader-Submitted Multi-Generational Pictures
    Posted by Maureen

    I've been thinking about holiday cards. On Thanksgiving all 14 members of my husband's family—three generations of relatives—stood in the yard and posed for a group portrait. 

    I find the thought of having even more generations represented in a single image amazing. Yet that's just what a reader submitted when I asked for multi-generation pictures.

    Kay Haden sent me two five-generation images from her family. There is no duplication of people in the two pictures.

    ComstockFiveGenerationsedit.jpg
    In the first, someone used a ballpoint pen to write the names on the people. I wish they'd written on the back with a soft pencil, but there are lots of family photos with inked IDs.

    While the image states a date of 1907, Kay knows that it was actually taken two years later in 1909. This is based on the birth year of the baby.
    The baby is Graydon Earl Comstock (1908-1983). He's sitting on his father's lap—Kenney Marcus Comstock (1887-1958). Kenney's father, James Monroe Comstock (1860-1928), stands behind him. Next to James is his mother, Miranda Jane (Brown) Comstock (1842-1912). The oldest person in the image is the 2x great grandmother of the baby, Rebekah Poindexter (Jones) Brown (1822-1912).

    Five Generations edit.jpg

    In this 1961 image, Kay is the young woman in the back row. Her mother stands next to her. The baby is her oldest son. In the front row is the baby's great-grandmother and his 2x great grandmother. I don't usually publish images of living individuals, so I've withheld their names. 

    There is so much family history in these photos! If you pose for one, please take time to also sit with the family members and reminisce about their lives. Bring along a voice recorder/video capture device so that you can relive the moment later on—as well as save a piece of your family history.


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

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

  • 1900-1910 photos | Reunions | women
    Monday, December 03, 2012 12:52:55 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Monday, November 26, 2012
    Multi-Generation Portraits, Redux
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week, I featured a multi-generation picture submitted by Mary Lutz. We've been communicating about this photo via email, and I have a few more details to share.

    Lutz1edit.jpg
    The original post mentioned that the baby is Mary Ruth Talbott Godwin. There is one problem with that identification. She was born in 1892. The clues in this picture (hairstyles and bodice styles) don't add up to that timeline. Instead, it's an early 20th century picture.

    Thank goodness Mary also recognized the discrepancy. She provided an alternative identification for these women, one that makes sense based on the photo clues.

    The baby is Ruth Waterstradt (born 1909). The mother is Pearl Godwin Waterstradt (born 1885). The grandmother in the center is Jennie Witten Godwin (born 1864) and on the left is great-grandmother Mary Brown Witten (born 1834). The baby is likely less than a year old which dates this image to circa 1910. 

    In addition to the four-generation picture, Mary sent in another group portrait. The two individuals in the center are Mary Brown Witten and her husband Samuel. The picture was taken in Grundy County, Mo.


    govertson2edit.jpg

    The woman in the center is the same woman who appears on the left in the four-generation image.
    marywitten.jpg

    This photo also dates from the early 20th century. Since Mary knows the identity of the two people in the center, the rest of the pieces should fall into place.


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

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

  • 1900-1910 photos | children | men | women
    Monday, November 26, 2012 4:04:45 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, November 19, 2012
    Multi-Generation Portraits
    Posted by Maureen

    It's Thanksgiving! If you're planning a family gathering and are wondering how to keep folks occupied until the meal is ready, try getting them to chat about family photos. It doesn't matter if they are identified images or a group of mystery pics. I'll be taking out a box of snapshots, setting up my digital tape recorder and hopefully capturing some "new" memories.  Images can trigger all types of memories relating to the people depicted, not just the story of that photographic moment. Try it and see.

    Mary Lutz Govertsen sent in a complicated multi-generational photo of several generations of her family. She's hoping that I can compare it to another of her images and identify the date and the people. Isn't it lovely?

    Lutz1edit.jpg

    On the back it says "4 generations: Granny [Mary Ruth Godwin, the baby], her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother." In the photo are the two Brown sisters who, due to marriage and disparate ages, are Mary Govertsen's grandmother's grandmother and great-grandmother.

    Family trees are full of twists and turns. Mary's family is a little more complicated. Her family moved from Tazewell, Va., to Missouri; due to multiple re-marriages and inter-marriages everyone is related. This is a family tree that I can't wait to see.

    It's a beautiful family photo that's sure to inspire some great family stories. I'll be back next week with more details on the group and the other image. If you have a multi-generational photo, I'd love to see it and feature it in this blog. The How to Submit Your Photo link provides details on how to send me your picture.

    Hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!


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

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

  • 1900-1910 photos | children | unusual photos | women
    Monday, November 19, 2012 1:50:16 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, November 11, 2012
    A Veterans Day Salute
    Posted by Maureen

    This weekend I attended the annual Daguerreian Society 24th annual symposium in Baltimore, Maryland. I love those early images. The shiny reflective surface makes the viewer a part of the image because you can see your reflection. There were approximately 56 vendor tables full of mostly unidentified images. These pictures meant something to their original families, but now they are appreciated for their picture quality. With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, one of the most sought-after type of picture were military images. 

    In honor of Veterans Day, here's a look back at some of the men (and women) in uniform featured in this blog.

    Spanish American War
    Deb Wilson's great aunt Mary L. Keeler served as a nurse during the Spanish American War. Her photo appeared as a Women's History Month tribute.


    Civil War

    There are thousands of photographs of soldiers who posed in uniform during the War Between the States.

    Here are some pointers for deciphering the Civil War photos in your collection. Look for uniform clues, research the photographers and study your family history documents.

    There were two blog posts of Civil War-era photos submitted by readers.  Part 2 looks at clues in a piece of photographic jewelry and in a veteran's badges.


    Overseas Veterans
    One of my favorite photo mysteries belongs to Justin Piccirilli. It depicts a member of his family in an Italian uniform.

    If you want to find more military-themed blog columns, use the keyword list to the left. Click "military" to scroll through all the appropriate columns. 

    Next week I'll tackle two multigenerational family photos.


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

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

  • 1890s photos | Civil War | Military photos
    Sunday, November 11, 2012 3:46:31 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, November 04, 2012
    Historical Fact or Fiction?
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I wrote about ways to spot manipulated photos in your family collection. My inspiration was an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

    Mathew Brady is the most well-known photographer of the Civil War. His studio documented well-known figures of the period as well as ordinary soldiers. When he died in 1896, his nephew Levin Corbin Handy inherited the collection. Handy was a photographer as well, and at times he tinkered with his uncle's images. In the exhibit is one of those composites. It depicts Ulysses S. Grant on horseback at City Point, Va. Or does it? Take a good look at the composite—it's actually made from three pictures.

    First the composite.
    Grantcitypoint.jpg
    The three images are as follows.

    Handy used a Brady image of Grant at Cold Harbor, Va. (1864) and removed his head. He then placed it on the body of General Alexander McDowell McCook on horseback taken in 1864. I don't have the image of McCook, but here's the Cold Harbor one.

    grantcoldharbor.jpg

    Handy placed the composite of Grant over a Brady image of Confederate prisoners after the Battle of Fisher's Hill, Va., taken in 1864.

    Here's that scene.
    Fishers Hilledit2.jpg
    Handy created the composite in 1902. Because Americans were still clamoring for images depicting the Civil War, Handy found new ways to market his uncle's images.

    The full story of this picture appears in the book Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop. Thank you to the curators who put this exhibit together. The exhibit will also be at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., from February-May 2013 and at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in Houston, Tex., from June-August 2013.

    If you'd like to see more pictures taken by the Brady Studio, go to the Library of Congress website, and search the Prints and Photographs collection for "Mathew Brady."


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

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

  • 1860s photos | 1900-1910 photos | Civil War | men | Military photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, November 04, 2012 6:32:11 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, October 29, 2012
    Photo Manipulation Before Photo Shop
    Posted by Maureen

    Last weekend I was in New York City for The Genealogy Event. If I'm going to be in New York City, I always make time for a visit to the Metropolitan Museum. I can't resist their photo exhibits. This time I saw Faking It : Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop. It was fascinating!

    Spotting a manipulated photo in your family collection might be easy or difficult. It all depends on the technique. Here are some things to look for:
    • Handcoloring

    There were technical limitations with early photography. One of them was the lack of color. Customers wanted their images to look as realistic as possible so photographers developed ways to add color to their images.

    • Ghostly images in the background

    In the 1860s and early 1870s some photographers took double-exposure images and suggested that spirits were present.

    • The addition of a background

    It was possible to add a background into an image. If you see a person posed in front of an unlikely landscape then it's possible that this image is a composite of two different images.

    • A person added in

    Years ago I bought one of these at a photo sale. Look closely at the background. There is a woman the wrong proportion to the rest of the family. She's also wearing a dress from the early 1890s while everyone else is dressed in the styles of the late 1890s.

    family045.jpg

    familyclose-up.jpg

    You can see a line around her head that illustrates the place where the studio dropped her into the scene.

    • Multiple poses of the same person

    Here's an example.

    composite.jpg This image dates from circa 1910, but this technique was common before this date.

    This young woman has three poses of herself combined into one photo. 

    Next week I'll be back with a famous example based on two Civil War photos taken by the Brady studio. 


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

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

  • 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | Photo fun | unusual photos
    Monday, October 29, 2012 3:27:10 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, October 22, 2012
    Photos and Family History Vacations
    Posted by Maureen

    Last weekend I spoke at a meeting of the Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia (GRIVA). My last lecture of the day covered family history vacations and discussed ways to use photos of homes, cemteries and other places to create an itinerary. I talked about visiting old family homes in person and virtually (using Google Earth).

    I also mentioned what to do with those vacation photos afterwards. I suggested posting them on sites like Historypin.com and Whatwasthere.com.

    Then I turned the meeting into a forum and let folks share their family history vacation tips. They asked if I would share their suggestions with the readers of this blog and I said YES! So if you're planning a family heritage tour, here are a few things they recommended.
    • Don't forget to visit the courthouse. One woman stressed the importance of looking for legal documents.

    • If you know the name of the cemetery where your ancestors are buried, but you can't find it, try calling the local funeral homes. A man said that a quick phone call helped him find the cemetery.

    • Take pictures of gravestones in the vicinity of your ancestors' monuments. Those folks might be relatives and you don't know it yet.

    • If your ancestors lived along a waterway, try consulting old nautical maps. They often show docks and can help you pinpoint a residence.

    • Look at church windows. Your ancestor may have paid for a memorial window.

    • Call the local public library to see if they have a history/genealogy collection. Verify the hours, too—websites don't always have up-to-date information.

    The GRIVA attendees also shared some general travel tips:

    • One woman loves to take Grayline tours of a city to orient herself.

    • If you go to Europe, take a small suitcase. Larger cases are too much work to lug around.

    • Another woman says she travels with old clothes and shoes. At the end of the trip she throws them away, leaving plenty of room for all the trip treasures she's collected.

    If you have a family history trip tip, please share it in a comment (below).  


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

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

  • candid photos | house/building photos | Photos from abroad | Web sites
    Monday, October 22, 2012 5:38:36 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [14]