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# Sunday, 15 January 2017
On the Web: Breathtaking Panoramic Photos of Ancestors' Towns
Posted by Maureen

The next time you need a break, don't book a plane ticket. First take a trip into the past in a panoramic photo. The Library of Congress has quite a collection.

A panoramic photo can be a single image or a set of pictures aligned together that offer an expansive view of a place. For instance, this lovely view of Paris.



It's so detailed, you feel like you're there. 

Panoramic photographers sought the highest building with the best view. The puzzle in these pictures is often trying to determine exactly where they stood. Maps and other images offer helpful clues.

For a number of years I've researched a local Rhode Island photographer, Francis Hacker. Imagine my surprise to discover that he shot a series of five images of the Washington D.C. Mall from the Smithsonian Castle. Now I want to know exactly how he came to be the photographer of this lovely set. You can view it here.




The 1879 image captures a Washington, D.C., much different from the one we know today. Many of the familiar monuments haven't been built yet. Look closely at the center of this picture.  Recognize the landmark?



You guessed it: That tower is the Washington Monument under construction.

Search for panoramic images of your ancestor's hometown (or your own) at the Library of Congress website by entering the name of the city or town and panorama in the search box on the home page. Choose Photos, Prints, Drawings from the dropdown menu.

On the search results page, look to the left for filters that let you narrow your results by date and location. Tell me what you find.

Panoramic pictures exist from the 1840s and theyre still popular today. All you have to do is select the panoramic feature on your camera (or in the camera app in your mobile device).  Hacker and his contemporaries would be amazed.


Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1870s photos | panoramic photos
    Sunday, 15 January 2017 21:43:50 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 08 January 2017
    The Most Important Question To Ask Cousins About Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Way back in the 1990s, Roma Bennett's cousin gave her this photo. 



    At the time her cousin told her she didn't know anything about this tintype. Hmmm. In my experience, people usually know something about a picture, but they don't know they know it until you ask the right question.

    The most important question to ask about an image is:

    Who owned this photo before you did?

    This may seem like a teeny-weeny question, but the answer will set you on the right branch of the family to make the identification.

    In Roma's case, how she's related to that cousin is important. The photo could be from their mutual family tree, or from an unrelated branch on her cousin's other parent's side. 

    There can be a lot of unknowns with a photo, starting with who's in it.  Most individuals remember where they originally saw the picture (on a grandparent's mantel), where they found it (in a deceased person's things), or who gave it to them.

    I hope it's not too late for Roma to ask her cousin that question. 

    Photo Clues

    Roma's picture is a tintype that's seen it's share of wear and tear and has darkened over time. I've tweaked it using photo-editing software to better see the details.

    The woman's skirt with all those layers of ruffles and her neck scarf suggest a date of about 1878.

    The props and backdrop don't help much to refine the date. Painted backdrops were popular in this period. The fringed chair first appeared in studios in the 1860s and remained a fixture for a couple of decades. The cloth-covered table was common in pictures beginning in the 1840s.

    This young couple were either married or siblings. The hand on the shoulder is a symbol of a close relationship. 

    After reaching out to her cousin, Roma could look at her family tree for marriages in the 1878 period. It should help narrow down the possibilities of who's in the picture. Maybe her cousin has other pictures of this couple later in life.  


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now

  • Save
    1870s photos | Tintypes
    Sunday, 08 January 2017 16:37:29 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 01 January 2017
    Why I Love Old Photos (And You Should, Too!)
    Posted by Maureen

    Happy New Year! 

    babies008.jpg
    Collection of the author, 1898
    .

    It's that time of year for resolutions. If you feel you need to make one, here's an easy one that's simple to keep—but very important: Take care of your photos.

    Investing in a few of the right kind of storage containers, archival-quality acid- and lignin-free boxes, will keep your images around for the next generation. You can find archival storage materials at these online suppliers.

    Here are three reasons why I love old photos:
    • Each one tells a story. The people and places depicted in each one are a part of your family tale. Decipher the clues and find out more about your ancestors.
    • Each one is a time portal. I love time travel plots in stories, don't you?  Every old photo takes us into a different time and place. There's history in those pictures. Forget wishing for a time machine, you have that already. It's an old picture.
    • Each one is an artifact.  Your old photos are ancestral artifacts just like furniture and silver.  Learning more about the history of those images offers insights into how much they cost and their importance to your relatives.

    You can learn more about your old family photos by following this blog. Every week brings a new tip, technique or identification example.  If you love old photos too, tell me why by adding a comment. It's great to hear from you.



    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now

  • Save
    holiday | organizations | photo albums | Photo fun
    Sunday, 01 January 2017 17:24:51 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, 26 December 2016
    A Year of Passionate Photo Detecting: What Did You Miss?
    Posted by Maureen

    On this Photo Detective blog, 2016 was a year of early color (and colorized) photos, photo-ID tips and crowd-sourcing. 

    If you missed the most-popular posts, don't worry. The links in this 2016 wrap-up will take you them.

    Photo Identification Tips

    Newspapers
    We started the year off right with a big tip. Newspapers solved one woman's photo mystery—they might help with your pictures too. The King family case study shows you how to apply those tips.

    Google
    I made a breakthrough in my own family history this year. Google helped me locate images of all the ships on which my Civil War ancestor served. Can you say jackpot? Follow my tips and see what you discover.

    Group Picture Mysteries
    My favorite old photo this year was the group portrait with the girl sleeping (or blinking?) in the second row. Can you spot the clues in this Old Family Gathering photo?

    Foreign Images
    Captions in a foreign language or pictures taken in an unfamiliar-sounding place can be a research problem. In two columns, Foreign Caption Mystery and Caption Mystery, you can learn more about how how tackle this photo-identification trouble.

    Can You Help Solve This Mystery?
    Two high school- or college-aged girls are in this picture. The date is about 1910, but who are these young ladies, and where are they?  Read about the clues and see if you can help. 



    Coloring the Past
    Wherever you stand on the colorizing of photos, you'll find the images pretty neat to look at.

    See how the details pop in a Thanksgiving tablescape colorized using Algorithma, an online coloring tool.

    The Library of Congress has a very large collection of period color images called Photochroms. They're amazing!  The real scenes of ancestral hometowns will keep you mesmerized for hours.

    Thank you for another fantastic year of family photo mysteries! Here's where to find instructions on how to share your mystery photos for possible free analysis on this blog. Can't wait to see what you'll share in 2017!


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now

  • Save
    1900-1910 photos | 1910s photos | enhanced images | family reunion | group photos | Photo fun | unusual photos
    Monday, 26 December 2016 20:32:34 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 18 December 2016
    Dating Old Family Photos: Clues Under the Christmas Tree
    Posted by Maureen



    There are heaps of clues in this charming old picture of two children admiring their Christmas tree. It's an image from the Library of Congress, whose cataloging record dates it to between 1910 and 1935. That's a pretty big 25-year time frame. 

    Can you spot the clues in this picture? They include:
    • tree ornaments and trimmings
    • children's clothing
    • vintage train set
    • household decorations

    Keep reading for a little more about each clue.

    Tree Trimmings

     

    The glass tree topper in this picture looks a lot like the one my mother always put on our tree. F.W. Woolworth's led the American market by first selling glass ornaments made in Germany and later, ones made in the United States. There is a good chance your ancestors bought their tree trimmings at Woolworth's.

    Tinsel has a long history that dates back to Germany in 1610. By the 20th century, artificial, aluminum-based tree trimmings had replaced natural garland made from cranberries and popcorn. Some were lead-based. The FDA didn't restrict the sales of lead-based tree materials until 1971. 

    Clothing



    Bobbed hairstyles for girls became popular about 1915 and remained in style throughout the estimated time frame for this picture. Dropped-waist dresses for little girls debuted at about the same time, but this outfit has a scalloped hemline. Those were common in the early 1920s.

    Vintage Train Set



    A whole village with "snow"-frosted foliage rests under this tree. It's an electric train set with real street lights. It could belong to the children's father or be a gift for the Christmas shown.

    If you have a toy train collector in your family, show him or her this photo and let's see if they can date the era of this set. The National Toy Train Museum is another resource. Weigh in on this train set on our Facebook page.

    Household Decor

    Similar household decorations could be found in the Sears Catalog, which is digitized on Ancestry.com. (I'll look there for the train, too.) Dating photos based household items is difficult, because families would keep themse items for years. The rug in this house is well-worn with a big spot near the train track, so the curtains and carpet also could be several years old.

    Dating this picture relies on all the clues. The train could be key.

    Count The Clues in Your Own Images

    This image is a good example of how to break a picture down into clues. Establishing the dates for specific clues will not only help you verify the time frame for a picture, it'll also help you tell a holiday tale.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now

  • Save
    children | Christmas
    Sunday, 18 December 2016 18:53:02 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Sunday, 11 December 2016
    Old-Photo Problem Solving: A Man Named "Christmas"
    Posted by Maureen

    Genealogists groan when they find a Smith, Brown or Taylor (don't I know it!) on their family trees.

    Common-name woes abound, but what about a name that triggers too many search results for a different reason: It's also a holiday. Take the surname Christmas, for instance.

    In searching for holiday-themed photos, I went to the Library of Congress website and started looking for pictures featuring Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas.

    That last one caused the problem. There were plenty of images relating to Dec. 25th but mixed in was a man's portrait titled "Christmas, Joseph." But is this Joseph?



    Let's start with the facts. According to the LOC cataloging record, the C.M. Bell studio of Washington, D.C., made this picture between February 1894 and February 1901. The studio was in business from 1873 to 1916. You can view more images by Bell on the Library of Congress website.

    Along the top left edge of this photo is a negative number:
     


    This young man in a striped silk bowtie has a sparse mustache, suggesting he might be in his late teens or early 20s. The bad areas on the right of the photo are damaged areas of the original negative.

    Now here's where the problem comes in. "Joseph Christmas" is written on the negative envelope. But that label doesn't specify if that's the name of the person pictured, or if this picture was taken for a client named Joseph Christmas. So is this Joseph Christmas or someone else?

    City directories for Washington, D.C., for this period list one Joseph Christmas. A quick Ancestry.com search for the name in 1898 plus or minus five years turns up a few possibilities, but none are a good match to the age of the man in this image. 

    In the 1900 census, there is a Joseph Christmas living in Washington, D.C., and born in Germany in 1838. Could he be a relative if the man pictured?

    It might take a Christmas miracle to solve this mystery, or at least a LOT more searching.

    Have you encountered problems like this in researching your own surname?



    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now

  • Save
    1900-1910 photos | Christmas | men
    Sunday, 11 December 2016 21:28:51 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [8]
    # Sunday, 04 December 2016
    Colorized Old Photos Offer Rare Glimpses of Your Ancestors' World
    Posted by Maureen

    Recently a collection of colorized historical images of immigrants at Ellis Island went viral. It's a pretty snazzy group of pictures. And these images are historically accurate: The historians behind this project researched actual colors in use at the time. You can see the photos here.

    Somehow, the color makes the people seem more real. The black-and-white images seem to create a visual distance between us and them.  It's wonderful to have an idea of how our immigrant ancestors dressed and the colors they wore. 

    Did you know that the Library of Congress has a collection that shows our immigrant ancestors' hometowns? Every one of the images in that collection is in color. They're called "photochrom prints".



    Produced between 1890 and 1910 by Photoglob and the Detroit Publishing Co., they feature scenes popular with travelers—more than 6,000 photochrom prints of Europe and the Middle East, and 500 of the United States. Most are 6.5x9 inches.

    I'm in love with the collection. Not only can you time travel to foreign lands, but you can view images of people wearing their native costumes.  Get ready ... hours will go by before you think to look up from your screen!

    The newly reorganized Library of Congress user interface makes it easy to look at collection overviews, view specific collections organized by country or read articles on the topic.

    Let me know what you found out about ancestral homelands by viewing this collection.




    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now

  • SaveSave
    photochrom
    Sunday, 04 December 2016 21:05:36 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 27 November 2016
    Clues in a Curious Old Family Photo: The First Mannequin Challenge?
    Posted by Maureen

    It's not the first time a family photo begs the question "What were they thinking?" That's the case with this image of family sitting as though they're doing a mannequin challenge.



    The story behind this clowning for the camera has been lost, and the picture lacks identification. It was found in the collection of Sherry Yates' great-grandmother. Sherry and her mother wonder if the older woman in the middle could be Mary S. Veal Parker (1834-1908).



    Approximating Ages

    Mary was Sherry's great-great-grandmother, who lived in Glassboro, Gloucester County, NJ, and died in 1908. Whether this is Mary depends on the date of the image. The clothing clues suggest a date from just before 1908, so it's quite possible this is Mary. 

    If it is her, then identifying the rest of the folks may fall into place. A family group sheet of who's living and their ages in about 1905 should help with that task. The little boy in the front, for example, is around 5 years of age. 

    Interior Views
    When you find an indoor photo in your collection, take a good look around. It's a glimpse into the everyday life of your ancestors.

    In the days before HGTV, decorating ideas came from magazines, which included instructions on how to make table scarves and wall hangings.  Sometimes you can spot photos of other family members hanging on the wall.

    Have you spotted the frame on the left side?



    Unfortunately we can't enlarge it to see the picture itself. It looks like a group portrait—there are multiple heads.

    My favorite part of this picture is this duo (father and son?) staring into each others eyes in the foreground. So cute!



    Family group portraits are a challenge worth trying to solve.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now

  • SaveSaveSave
    1900-1910 photos | group photos | unusual photos
    Sunday, 27 November 2016 20:30:56 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 20 November 2016
    Colorizing Old Photos: A 1923 Thanksgiving Tablescape
    Posted by Maureen



    Our Ancestors' Thanksgiving

    Happy Thanksgiving! This 1920s table is set for a holiday meal. In 1923, the Underwood Co., publisher of stereoviews, sold this image. I'm not sure the intent of the picture, but perhaps it shows a model for our ancestors' idea of the perfect holiday meal.

    You can tell a story with a single picture. What do you see in this image?
    • two chairs
    • two candles
    • two place settings
    • a turkey (or perhaps a large chicken)
    • a cloth table covering
    • a basket cornucopia of fruits and vegetables (the centerpiece)

    Besides the table, this room has a hanging lamp, a couple of pictures on the wall and a combination sideboard/hutch (on the right).

    This picture gives us insight into the holiday festivities for this mythical couple. It's a time capsule of Thanksgiving in 1923.

    This particular image tells us that only two people were at dinner and that the turkey/chicken was the main part of the meal.

    Have you ever taken a picture of your holiday table before everyone sits down? I have. It helps me remember what we had for dinner that year, how I decorated the table (now called a "tablescape" on the decorating shows), how many people came, and who brought what dish.

    Colorize Old Pictures for a Look at Your Ancestor's World

    It's easy to imagine our ancestors' world as black and white, but of course they were surrounded by color. Algorithmia is a free site that helps you colorize black-and-white pictures to bring them closer to a real-life view.

    It's easy to use. Upload a picture to the site and see a comparison of the image in black and white, and color. You can move the purple line to see where the tinting happens. In this case, the stark-looking setting becomes a warm dining room. 




    Here's the colored image. Notice that not all of the items on the table were colorized. This isn't a professionally Photoshopped colorization with historically accurate shades, but it does enable you to quickly take a different look at your pictures.

    You can download the comparison and the final colorized image, albeit with the site's watermark.

     

    This Thanksgiving, take a break from the after-dinner clean-up and see  how this site transforms your old family photos. The dishes can wait.

    See others' colorized photos and share your favorite colorized photo with us on the Family Tree Magazine Facebook page. We'd love to see them!


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now

  • SaveSave
    1920s photos | facebook | Photo fun | thanksgiving
    Sunday, 20 November 2016 16:59:49 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 13 November 2016
    Behind the Scenes in Old Photos: How Your Ancestors Got The Thanksgiving Turkey
    Posted by Diane


    Few tables in America are without a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. It's an old tradition to roast a bird (although whether a turkey was actually at the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving is unknown).

    This father, accompanied by his young son, went to pick out a turkey big enough for their family gathering. (See the picture larger here.) In the middle of the photo, the poultry farmer weighs a turkey on a scale. The two men on the right of the image may be buying that particular specimen. Behind them are a lot of turkey's already cleaned and ready for purchase.  Doesn't look like they sell gravy and potatoes like the farm I used to go to though!

    The Bain News Agency took this image around 1910-1915. It's a great everyday scene captured for a newspaper. The George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress contains thousands of images of newsworthy pictures.

    This photo connects us to our ancestors. For years I visited a turkey farm to purchase the main course, but most nowadays get a frozen or fresh turkey from the grocery store. Our ancestors either shot one, took one from their own poultry stock or bought one in a setting like this. They were also available in city butcher shops.

    While shopping is usually done by women in the family, from this image it appears that obtaining the turkey was man's work. It was usually Mom's job to pluck and clean the bird.

    Preserve your Thanksgiving celebration by making like a news photographer:
    • If you buy your turkey at a farm, take a picture. That farm may not always be around. By doing so you're documenting a bit of local history.

    • I'm not sure how a grocery store would feel about you taking pictures as you shop, but imagine your grandchildren looking back on that image years from now. What would be familiar or foreign to them?

    • Using a video app on your smart phone, make a movie of a relative preparing a traditional side-dish or dessert. If they'd rather not be photographed, try zooming in on their hands and the ingredients.
    • Take pictures of guests. You can also delegate that responsibility to a younger member of the family, and have the child ask each person a family history question.

    The StoryCorps Great American Thanksgiving Listen encourages families to share stories this holiday. You may be asked by a student in your family for an interview. If not, be the person to bring up family history!


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now

  • SaveSaveSaveSave
    1900-1910 photos | storycorps | thanksgiving
    Sunday, 13 November 2016 18:54:04 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]