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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, 13 February 2017
How to Take the Headache Out Of Old Confusing Photos
Posted by Maureen

Carol Tear has a photos that's full of contradictions. It's enough to give a genealogist a headache, but it doesn't have to.

She thinks this is Hannah Marquart Obenshain (born in 1788, dies sometime between 1850 and 1860). With a bit of research and family data, some of the identity confusion should disappear. Here's how you can do it:



 
1. Study the history of ownership.
A two times great grandmother, Edmonia, once owned the picture. Edmonia's father and grandparent's once lived with Hannah's eldest son.

Seems good, right?

Here's the problem: The picture bears the name of a photographer, W.B. Atkins, in West Virginia. West Virginia didn't become a state until 1863. Carol wonders how it's possible for this photographer to take this picture years after Hannah's death.

There's another problem with her photo. The white cardstock it's printed on dates from the 1890s. That tells us that this image is a copy of a much earlier picture.

2. Study the image.
This is a wonderful photo. Hannah wears a daycap under her headscarf. The caps ruffles frame her face in the style of the early 19th century. She clasps her hands together perhaps to keep her still.

Don't you love her glasses?  They could be a tarnished brass. That style and material was common in the mid-19th century. There is an interesting article on historic eyeglasses online, History on Your Face. Glasses stayed pretty much the same from 1835 until 1870.  

When did Hannah sit for her portrait?  I'd estimate circa 1860. 

3. Research the photographer

W. B. Atkins first appears in the Bluefield Daily Telegram newspaper beginning in 1896. In the 1920s, he's referred to as the town's pioneering photographer. You can find this paper online at Newspapers.com.

Now Carol has another question to answer: Who in her family was living in Bluefield and took an old photo of Hannah to Atkins to have a copy made? 

In this instance, the clues of ownership and the photographer help clear up some of the puzzling features of this photo.
  

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
    1860s photos | 1890s photos | women
    Monday, 13 February 2017 01:40:06 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 05 February 2017
    3 Old Photo Stories You Can Tell Today
    Posted by Maureen




    What are you going to do with all your old photos? You can tuck them away for safekeeping or you can use them to tell your family about their ancestors. Or, you can do both. 

    Your original prints belong in acid- and lignin-free boxes, but you can use the high-resolution scans to study details and write about the people depicted. Here are three tools to help you:
    • Twile.com won last year's RootsTech conference Innovator Challenge. On this site, you can create a free timeline of pictures and events for people in your family tree (uploads are limited for basic memberships). Share that information with relatives and, for an annual fee, encourage them to tell their side of the story on Twile. It's effortless collaboration. 
    • MyCanvas.com, a photo book and poster site, has been around for a bit. The page templates here are geared more toward genealogy than other photo book sites'. I'm working on a book for a friend (a surprise for her granddaughter), and it's easy and fun. You can create your book online and download PDFs of pages for free, and order professionally printed books. Watch your page count, though, because those extra pages can add up.
    • Scrivener is a app/program costing about $45 that works on both OS and Windows, as well as on your tablet/phone. Used by professional authors, this writing tool helps you organize your notes, develop an outline and add pictures. When you're done, you'll have a project you can print for the family. There is a learning curve, but my colleagues who use this regularly tell me it's worth the time. See Family Tree Magazine's review of Scrivener here.
    I'll be explore the expo hall at this week's RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, looking for new ways to use photos in genealogy. Of course, I'll share my favorite finds with 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
    Photo fun | photo-research tips | Photo-sharing sites
    Sunday, 05 February 2017 22:59:17 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 29 January 2017
    3 Easy Best Practices For the Photos You Take Today
    Posted by Maureen

    Trust me. Your descendants will thank you if you follow these three best practices. 

    Our ancestors didn't take as many pictures as we do today.

    They had film cameras or had to go to a studio to document a moment. A photo do-over wasn't as easy as it is today. Bad pictures were a costly mistake.



    Our ancestors didn't have cell phone cameras ready for picture taking every second of every day. This is one of the reasons we're not swamped with images from the 1920s, versus the boxes and slide trays we have from our parents' generation. 

    Here's what you can do to save your descendants the trouble of going through all your photos.

    1. Thoughtfully take pictures of significant people, events and places. Document your life, but imagine you can only take a few pictures not hundreds.

    2. Weed out bad and near-duplicate pictures immediately. This is one of my husband's best practices. He takes a lot of pictures, but he deletes droves of them. Out of focus, off-center and multiple images go in the digital trash can. He picks the best one.

    3. Print out significant images.  If a picture isn't worth the price of those penny-a-print offers, then is it worth keeping at all?

    Vintage albums are making a comeback. Remember what it was like to look at an ancestor's album? Create that same feeling with your family photos by placing them in an acid- and lignin-free album. You can find archival-quality albums through these online suppliers.

    Your children and grandchildren will appreciate the time you took to tell your story in pictures.  
    SaveSave
    photo albums | Photo fun
    Sunday, 29 January 2017 16:45:58 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Sunday, 22 January 2017
    Old Photos: The Secret Ingredient to Discovering Family History
    Posted by Maureen

    You're probably wondering what I mean by photo clues being the secret ingredient. 

    Think of your family history as a recipe.  In my grandmother's terms, that would consist of a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Genealogy is the same way: We look at documents, manuscripts and photographs for information. It's how these things come together that helps you tell the story of your family.

    For instance:
    • The details you find in a census record, added to what you learn in an old letter, can tell you who's who in a mystery photo. 
    • Or ... the hat, sleeve or prop in a photo identifies a time period that sends you scurrying for more details on your family's lives in your favorite genealogy database. 
    Pictures really are the secret ingredient. Sure, you can test your DNA and find a census record, but photos are a visual link to that data. They enable you to look eye to eye with an ancestor. It causes goosebumps just thinking about it.

    Here's how it works: Let's think about sleeves for a second.

       

    Look carefully at the design of this sleeve.  The slight fullness at the shoulder and the tight lower sleeve suggest a date of circa 1889.

    Now, let's look at the whole image.


    Collection of the author
    .

    This young woman is wearing the latest fashion, from the hair piled on her head to the shape of her bodice and the drape of her skirt. All confirm the date of 1889.

    The imprint states that the photographer, A. Marx, had studios in Frankfurt and Hamburg. The photo album prop is a nice touch, but we don't know if it's significant to her family or just a photographer's prop.

    If this were your family photo, you'd know the following:
    • It was taken in either Homburg (Hamburg) or Frankfurt.
    • It shows a young woman, likely a teenager.
    • You (might) know who gave it to you.

    Each of those clues is part of the recipe, as is the date of the image. You might next research the history of those cities to understand why your ancestor left the area.

    You'd also gather what you know about your family history—and determine whether you need to find out more--so you can answer the question: Who's the right age to be this girl living in that part of Germany?

    You might know immediately who she could be. Now try to find another picture of her later in life to see if the faces match. 

    You can learn more about dating clothing from Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats and Hairstyles 1840-1900. Both available at ShopFamilyTree.com.

    That picture might help you tie up a piece of unknown or confusing family history.  It's all in the details of the secret sauce that make family history so fascinating.


    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
    1880s photos | sleeves | women
    Sunday, 22 January 2017 19:47:13 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # 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]