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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, February 10, 2013
Clues in Old Photo Postcards
Posted by Maureen

Last week I wrote about orphan photos and how you can reunite them with family. This week I'm featuring one such image that Jennifer Bryan bought. I'm hoping that a descendant will see this two-part story.

flossiehowelloregon.jpg

These three young women—Desca, Mabel and Hazel—sent this real photo-postcard to their friend Flossie. It's a postcard with clues on the front and back. Postmarks, postage stamps, address information and the message all add up to tell the story of these women. 

I'll start with the front. The high necklines of these blouses suggest a time frame of circa 1910. These white lawn fabric blouses could be purchased through the Sears Catalog for 49 cents to $1.35. You can view the Sears Catalog pages on Ancestry.com.

I especially love the fashionable hairstyle of the woman on the right. She's rolled her hair away from the sides of her head. She's accessorized her appearance with a hairstyle she may have seen in a women's magazine, a watch pinned to her bodice, and a neck ribbon.

flossiewatch.jpg

Just like the best- and worst-dressed issues of People magazine, ancestral fashion magazines had articles about fashion foibles. What do you think of this young woman's hair? 

The other two women are not as fashion-conscious as their friend, based on their simpler hairstyles and lack of accessories. Their hair and blouses agree with the tentative time frame about 1910.

Next week, I'll examine the clues on the back of this photo-postcard to see how the clues add up.


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

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1910s photos | photo postcards | women
    Sunday, February 10, 2013 11:37:28 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, February 04, 2013
    Reuniting Orphan Photos With Family
    Posted by Maureen

    Have you ever walked into an antique store and found a photo with a name on it? This is known as an orphan photo. 

    At some point in its photographic lifespan, it became separated from its family. Photos are rarely mentioned in probate records, their inheritance often a matter of serendipity. When family members die and no one steps forward to claim pictures, they end up in tag sales, antique shops and on eBay.

    The next time you see one of these pictures, consider purchasing it. Using your genealogical research skills, you might be able to reunite it with family members that "lost" a piece of the past. They'll be glad you found it.

    I'm working on two such images, but haven't solved the ownership mystery yet. Here's what I've done to research the images.

    1) Date the Image
    Unless the name on the image is unusual, it's necessary to have a time frame. Photographer's work dates, clothing details, props and photographic format can place the image within a range of dates. Next, I estimate the age of the person in the image.

    2) Consult the Census
    Using information in the photographer's imprint, such as geographic location, can help narrow down the search parameters. I start by searching the census using full names. Since the name on the image might be a nickname, also try wildcard searching. If the photo was taken in a small town, it's sometimes useful to browse through the census for that area to locate others with a similar surname.

    3) Use City Directories
    Ancestry.com, Fold3.com and local libraries and historical societies often have city directories. Search for the photographer and for the surname of the person pictured.

    4) Survey the News
    Since it was common for family to visit photo studios when they were on vacation or visiting relatives, it's a good idea to see if there are any newspaper stories about special events or advertisements for the photographer. Each resource provides you with an opportunity to verify the information in the caption.

    5) Check Genealogical Databases
    Search a variety of genealogical databases such as Ancestry.com and Geni.com. On Ancestry, click the box "Family Trees" at the bottom of the search screen to search for matches. On Geni.com, use the Search People box on the top right.

    In addition to these tips, I also analyze the handwriting to determine if someone living within the lifetime of the person depicted wrote the caption, or a descendant did it later. For instance, ballpoint pen is a 20th-century invention.

    Sometimes success is just a few clicks away, while other times the answer seems out of reach.

    This month, I'll also blog about other ways to reconnect with your "missing" 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

  • Photo fun | photo-research tips | Photo-sharing sites | Reunions
    Monday, February 04, 2013 8:13:50 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, January 28, 2013
    Confirming Identities in Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    I'm working on a photo mystery that is making my eyes hurt and my brain spin. With any luck I'll be able to present it here next week. 

    In the meantime, Milah Goler Pasto contacted me through Facebook to ask about a couple of her family photos. She was hoping for confirmation that the mother and the child in this picture were who she was told they were.

    margaretmahoneysullivanedit.jpg

    Their dress styles, the wicker chair and the painted backdrop all suggest a date of circa 1900. In that period, women's sleeves could have a slight fullness at the shoulder and bodices were pouched and full at the waist. Wicker chairs were a popular studio accessory in the 1890s and in the early 20th century. While painted backdrops were common throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, at the turn of the century they often featured household scenes.

    So who's in this lovely picture?  Irish immigrant Margaret (Mahoney) Sullivan (born 1873) and her daughter Margaret (born 1892).

    John Nathan Sullivan (born 1848), a "free person of color" married Margaret Mahoney and they had two daughters. He was a coachman for Dr. Hubbard of Taunton, Mass., and according to Milah, his obituary said "he was well and favorably known throughout the vicinity."


    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 | african american | children | Immigrant Photos | women
    Monday, January 28, 2013 4:50:29 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, January 21, 2013
    Lincoln's Inauguration and Your Family
    Posted by Maureen

    From movies to today's inauguration, all things Lincoln are in the spotlight. On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln participated in his second inauguration. Thousands of individuals came to Washington, DC, to witness it. The news media of the time were present, reporting on the events of the day.

    Photographs of inaugurals usually focus on the President, but in 1865, at least one photographer captured the crowds. This rainy inaugural photo is from the Library of Congress collection and captures Washington, DC, at a key moment. The Civil War was drawing to a close, and Lincoln spoke to that in his address:

    "With malice toward none, with charity for all ... let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds ..."

    lincolninauguration3.jpg

    A reporter for the Sunday Mercury published in Philadelphia on March 5, 1865, wrote about the weather:

    "Rain had been falling all yesterday and last night, making the proverbially filthy streets of the political metropolis filthier and more unpleasant than ever. (page 3)"

    If you look closely at this photo you'll see people dressed for inclement weather, wearing heavy overcoats and hats, standing in deep puddles. There are a few children in the foreground. Somewhere in this group are African-American troops who marched in the Inaugural Parade.

    lincolninauguration4.jpg

    A crowd scene like this allows a peek into the past. There is a wide variety of clothing, from wool coats to hoop skirts, worn by these individuals. Take a close look at the hats worn by the men in the crowd. Only one man is wearing a stovepipe hat; the rest are in smaller hats and caps. The man in the tall hat is dressed formally for the occasion. Men of means or who had significant jobs usually dressed the part. In the 1860s, the hat a man wore could tell you a lot about their occupation or fashion habits. For more information on men's hats, see Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900.

    lincolninauguration5.jpg

    Do you know about the political leanings of your ancestors?

    • There may be images of women bearing suffragette banners or men wearing political memorabilia such as pins.
    • Even if your ancestor wasn't politically active, study the history of your ancestors' lives to see how political decisions influenced their everyday experiences.
    • Take a close look at the pictures in your family, set them in a time frame and investigate the history in your genealogy. There may be images relating to immigration, military service and even social events—all a result of the political situation of the country in which they lived. 


    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 | Civil War | group photos | hats | men
    Monday, January 21, 2013 3:26:59 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, January 14, 2013
    Turn-of-the-Century Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Terry Graham's mother showed him a few unidentified photographs and now he's using the power of the web to try to identify them. He's posted them on his Ancestry.com family tree so that family members can comment on them.  He thinks the mother's maiden name could be Turgeon.
    Graham.jpg


    It's the little girl in this picture that captures our attention. The photographer posed her with head turned and eyes on the lens. It's a lovely picture of a turn-of-the-century family.

    Women's Clothing
    Women's fashion began to change circa 1900.
    • More women were employed, and clothing in washable fabrics became a necessity. This woman wears her "Sunday best" dress for this formal family portrait.
    • Wide high-necked lace collars were very popular before 1905. Skirts were worn approximately 2 inches off the floor.  
    • Hairstyles puffed out from the face. Extreme hairstyles were often caricatured in magazines, but this woman has chosen wisely. Her hair frames her face. A large wide-brimmed hat would accessorize the outfit.

    Men's Clothing
    Styles varied from casual dress worn by laborers to suits. The man in the family portrait wears his best suit. Collars worn standing up with a variety of silk ties were fashionable in the period. Men's mustaches were trimmed and waxed in the 1890s; in this turn-of-the-century portrait, he's retained his full mustache.

    Children's Clothing
    Play clothes for children were introduced in the early 20th century, but this little girl wears a light-colored dress that mimics some of the design elements of her mother's dress, i.e. the wide collar.

    Photo Details
    Watch for the spontaneous moments in a family picture. The little girl looks like Mom has just brushed her hair for the portrait, but both parents have little wisps of hair sticking out from their heads: Look at the left side of Dad's head and the hair above the neckline of the mother's dress.

    About the Photographer
    Alfred Adt of Waterbury, Connecticut, took this photo. According to city directories of Waterbury found on Ancestry.com and details in census records, Adt was born in approximately 1863 and was a photographer in Waterbury from at least 1894 to 1909.  


    Use the comment field below to tell me how you came to own your family photos. Which relative gave them to you?  


    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, January 14, 2013 4:15:39 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, January 07, 2013
    "Downton Abbey" and Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    I can't resist the pull of a period piece be it a television series or a movie, so it's no surprise that last night I sat down to watch the first episode of Season 3 of PBS' "Downton Abbey." There were a lot of moments relevant to both family history and photography.

    The 1920s were a time of transition. Women's hairstyles changed and dresses became less form-fitting. Compare the styles worn by the Dowager Countess of Grantham and the attire of the American Martha Levinson for instance. You can view their attire on the PBS Character Hub.

    The Dowager Countess is conservative and clings to tradition. Her dress and hair support that; she wears dresses from the early 20th century and her hair pulled back. The hourglass figure is the shape attained with corsets and fitted dresses. 

    Martha Levinson is all about being modern. She dresses like a contemporary woman of 1920 with her waved colored hair and shorter, loose dresses. The opening sequence of her appearance says it all. She steps out to greet the staff in a wide-collared brocade coat and a rakish hat with a plume.

    If these women were members of your family and you had a photo of them taken individually against a simple background, then dating the photo based on the Countess' clothing could be misleading. Her appearance suggests a date earlier than 1920.

    Both women's fashion choices also reveal their personalities. I'll be watching to see if the Dowager Countess changes her style as the series progresses or if she remains tied to her long dresses.

    Personally, I love checking out their hats—wide-brimmed summer hats for the wedding of Matthew and Mary, as well as the everyday ones worn by staff and family. You can learn more about women's hats in Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900. I've included several English photos of women "in the service." It's a reference to their occupation of working for families.

    Photo identification and dating an image relies on information. What a person wears is helpful, but not the whole story. Pictorial context is important--where was it taken, who took the image and what else is visible. Adding up the clues can solve the mystery, date the image and identify the person.


    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 | 1920s photos | hairstyles | hats
    Monday, January 07, 2013 4:21:56 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, December 31, 2012
    Twelve Months of the Photo Detective
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time to look back at the year. Every week I write a Photo Detective blog post—that's 52 columns in 12 months. It's a lot of free photographic advice and tips. Here are my month-by-month 2012 favorites.

    January
    Last New Year's I offered advice on sharing images online, tackled a photo mystery about the identity of the mother in a picture, and discussed a Scottish picture.

    February
    I got into the planning for my trip to WDYTYA Live in London by comparing British and American fashion. 

    March
    Hat's off to spring! Last March I featured toppers for men, graduation caps, and talked about the relationships between hairstyles and hat design. If you want to learn more about hats or hair, my books, Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900 and Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900, will help.

    April
    The whole month of April focused on identifying photographs of children. Study the clues to add names to those pictures of tykes.

    May
    A trip to the National Genealogical Society inspired a series of columns on the Jeffers Family photo.

    June
    You can view the entries in the Family Tree Magazine photo contest, study a photo of ancestral blue jeans or be awed by the images of wheat threshing.

    July
    With the world watching the Olympics, I deciphered the clues in a picture from the 1908 Olympics.

    August
    I revealed the winner of the Family Tree Magazine Photo Contest. That photo mystery now appears in my new book, The Family Photo Detective. It's now available in the ShopFamilyTree.com store.

    Have you considered the relationship between photography and genealogy? I took a look at the types of records that help solve a picture mystery.

    September
    This month was all about preservation. A badly damaged image encouraged me to talk about ways to save family pictures. There is more information on storage and labeling images in Preserving Your Family Photographs.

    October
    A picture of a giant mechanical grasshopper appeared in my Photo Detective column in Family Tree Magazine, and some readers stepped forward to tell the story of their ancestors' fascination with creating these creatures.

    I shared the story of a woman who found a family picture after three decades and explained how old-time photographers could alter pictures long before the development of Photoshop.

    November
    Have you ever posed for a multi-generation photo? It's not a new phenomena. Our ancestors did, too. Mary Lutz sent me several images of her family. It turned into a series on identifying who's who in a group picture.

    December
    I love snapshots! They are spontaneous and often capture bits of everyday life. Follow this series on a picture of a man standing in his backyard.

    Thank you for reading this column and for submitting your family photos. If you'd like to participate, there is a link, "How to Submit Your Photo," in the left-hand margin. I can't wait to see your pictures!

    Happy New Year!


    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 | 1870s photos | 1880s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | 1920s photos | candid photos | cased images | children | Civil War | group photos | hairstyles | hats | holiday | house/building photos | photo backgrounds | preserving photos | props in photos | ShopFamilyTree.com
    Monday, December 31, 2012 4:07:01 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # 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]