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# Sunday, 11 June 2017
How to Figure out Which Holiday Is Shown in Old Family Photos
Posted by Maureen

Here's a picture problem that family photo historians often encounter: Photos of an unnamed, unknown celebrations. It could be local event, a national holiday, or a gathering of relatives for some family event. All too frequently, it's unclear.

For instance, let's look at Flag Day. 

Flag Day, June 14, commemorates the adoption of our flag on June 14, 1777. Flag Day wasn't an official occasion until 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation.


Library of Congress

Above, a crowd of thousands gathers around the Washington Monument for a Flag Day ceremony in 1918. 

Flag Day isn't a federal holiday, but some cities still celebrate the day with parades, including Fairfield, Wash.; Appleton, Wis.; Quincy, Mass.; Troy, NY; and Three Oaks, Mich.

Flags and bunting are common during other holidays, too, such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veterans Day, so it can be difficult to determine the occasion for a patriotic picture. Here are a few tips:
  • Watch for signs and banners in parade photos. You may need to use a photographer's loupe, or scan the photo at high resolution and zoom in on your computer screen.
  • Search newspaper websites and local history sites to see how the towns in which your ancestor lived celebrated the day. You might find an article about the very event shown in the photo.
  • School children were often photographed carrying flags in schoolyards for Flag Day.
  • If you see a flag in the photo, count the stars. Every time a new state joined the Union, the flag gained a star (Hawaii was the last state, in 1959), helping you date the photo. Visit USFlag.org for photos of flags over the years.


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
    1910s photos | Flag Day | photo-research tips
    Sunday, 11 June 2017 21:48:49 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 04 June 2017
    3 Clues to Solve an Old Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen



    When a family member won't talk about a person in a picture, it makes you wonder why. It also leaves you with an unidentified family photo. 

    Dale Wheeler's father never spoke about the woman in this photo. Dale has three possible identities for this young woman:
    • Julia Ann (Stewart) Wheeler (1853-1931)
    • Sarah (Cunningham) Linville (1842-1917)
    • Gertrude (Linville) Wheeler (1886-1924)

    This colorized tintype contains clues that help narrow the time frame. 

    • The chair: Fringed photography studio chairs first appear in the mid-1860s.
    • Her clothing: The wide bow, heavy beads and belted waist suggest a date in the late 1860s to circa 1870. 

    The tentative date for the image eliminates Gertrude Wheeler from consideration. Now take a good look at this woman's face and estimate how old she is.



    This woman looks young. If this picture was taken in 1869, Julia Ann would be 16, and Sarah, 27. I think this image depicts Julia Ann. 

    There is one other clothing clue that supports this conclusion—her hemline.



    The skirt is short, not floor-length. This is a dress length worn by girls, not grown women.  

    The provenance (history of ownership) of this image also needs to be confirmed, with these considerations in mind: 
    • Who is Julia Ann in relation to Dale's father? 
    • Dale's father was born in 1926 and would've been a toddler when Julia Ann died. Did he know her?
    • Do relatives have any photos known to be Julia Ann for comparison? 

    In this case, the three clues of fashion, props and age suggest a identity for this woman.


    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 | Tintypes | women
    Sunday, 04 June 2017 14:37:06 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 28 May 2017
    Honor Your Family's Veterans With an Online Photo Memorial
    Posted by Maureen

    Memorial Day is the day we honor our fallen military service members with parades and speeches. The backyard barbecues held afterward kick off summer.

    How Memorial Day Began
    There wasn't always a Memorial Day. In 1868, people gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to honor Civil War soldiers buried on the land once owned by Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The government had bought the parcel at a tax sale and set aside 200 acres for a cemetery.

    Planners of what was then called Decoration Day chose May 30 because it didn't commemorate any battles and because flowers would be in bloom. You can read more at Decoration Day, 1868.

    decoration daycropped.jpg

    In this Library of Congress photo of Decoration Day in 1873 (the LOC catalog entry notes a penciled-in date of 1868 on the back of the image is wrong), Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Gen. James A. Garfield are in the reviewing stand. Grant was president from 1869 to 1877, and Garfield served as president for 20 days in 1881, until he was assassinated. 

    Decoration Day officially became Memorial Day in 1971, more than a 100 years after the first ceremony.

    Create an Online Photo Memorial to Your Family's Veterans
    Fold3.com makes it easy to create an online memorial to the military men and women in your family. You can view what other memorials look like here. Hover over Memorials to chose US Honor Wall, US Vietnam Wall (based on names from the Vietnam memorial), or U.S.S. Arizona Wall (based on names from the U.S.S. Arizona memorial).

    Before creating a new memorial, search for the veteran's name to see if one already exists. You can create a free basic Fold3 account and add information to what's already online.

    If there isn't a page for your relative:
    1. In the Memorials menu, select Add a Memorial Page (or click here). You'll need to create a free basic Fold3 account if you're not a member of Fold3.
    2. Set up a profile page with a name and picture.
    3. Add a summary of facts about the person.
    4. Identify related pages (perhaps another relative served as well) or add them yourself.
    5. Upload photos and digitized documents.

    You can add a story about the person and ask others to contribute their memories. When you're finished, share the page on your social media accounts.

    For an example of what's possible, take a look at this page for William Taylor (no relation to me). There's a list of personal details, a cemetery stone as a profile picture, and short stories about him. In the upper right of the screen is a prompt for page visitors to tell a story about him. 

    If you've created a Memorial Page, please share the link with us.


    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
    Decoration Day | Memorial Day | patriotic | Veterans
    Sunday, 28 May 2017 16:57:42 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    # Sunday, 21 May 2017
    Don't Forget the Women and Children in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen



    Last week, I examined the cataloging record and photo format clues for this stereograph picture, taken between 1860 and 1864, from the Library of Congress online photo collection. This week, let's talk about the individuals shown.

    The Library of Congress caption states they're members of the Wallack family of New York actors and stage managers. James William Wallack (1795-1864) sits in a chair while his son Lester Wallack (1820-1888) stands to the side with his hand in his coat pocket.

    There are so many unanswered questions that aren't addressed in the caption.
    • Who are the woman and children?
    • Where was the picture taken?
    • Why was it taken?
    • Is the date correct?

    James Wallack

    A quick Google search for James Wallack turned up a Wikipedia page and  many more images of him as a younger man. James acted on the New York stage and his parents were comedians in London. In 1861, James opened Wallack's Theatre, a popular venue in New York.

    Since the stereo photo was taken circa 1860, let's look at the census for information on his family.  


    At that time, James Wallack lived with 6-year-old Charles Wallack (whom we know from other records is his grandson; the 1860 census doesn't state relationships), a druggist of a different surname, two servants and a waiter.

    Each clue generates another query. For example, why does Charles live with his grandfather?

    The Wikipedia page for James has a photo of him with a grandson. A caption, apparently added later by the child, states "I am the boy Charles E. Wallack." 




    Here's a close-up of the boys in the 1860-64 stereoview for comparision:




    We still don't know for sure which boy is Charles, who the other boy is, or who the woman is.

    Lester Wallack
    Before jumping to any conclusions, let's do more looking for the Wallacks. James' son Lester, born in New York, acted in London before returning home to the States and managing Wallack's Theater.

    The 1870 census shows "John" and wife Emily with children Florence, Charles and Harry. The family lived with several servants at 30th Street between 6th and Madison Ave in New York. If you're wondering why the census gives Lester's first name as John, it's because he used John Lester as a stage name.



    Find A Grave has memorials for Lester, Emily Mary Millais Wallack, and Florence. Other memorials may belong to Charles E. and Harold, but aren't identified as such.

    Another mystery?
    If the two boys in the stereograph are Charles and Harry and the woman is Emily, then where is Florence?

    In 1860 Harry was 5; Charles, 6; and Florence, 11. She's missing from this image. 

    The house in the stereo picture doesn't look like Manhattan to me. It's possible that the family had a country house or were posed someplace else.

    An 1860/61 date for the stereograph works. The boys appear to be about the right age. In 1861, the Wallacks were well-known for their theater businesses and acting talents. This stereo of a famous family would be a collectible image for your ancestors interested in celebrities of the period.

    Apply these techniques to your own mystery photos:
    • Start by identifying the photo format.
    • Generate a list of questions to be answered.
    • Research the people.
    • Estimate their ages at the time the image was taken.
    • Put it all together and tell the story of the people and the picture.


    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 | children | photo-research tips | women
    Sunday, 21 May 2017 22:52:54 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 14 May 2017
    Seeing Double: 5 Clues in an Old Stereograph Photo
    Posted by Diane

    I love the Library of Congress. I can lose myself for hours in its online historical photos collection doing random searches. Sometimes I even tackle one of their photo mysteries for fun.

    If there's one thing that gets my attention, it's when I see a photo with a partial caption. Like this photo, for instance: It's obviously posed for dramatic effect, but why? What's the real story here?

    When I see an interesting image, it's important to step back and study the clues. Remember, not all the details are in the image itself. Picture evidence is only one part of the process. 



    Library of Congress, stereo 1s05258

    Five clues stand out in this stereograph image of a well-dressed family seated on a porch:
    1. It's unusual to see a "family photo" stereograph. This format was popular for scenes and themed collections, like the Civil War. Stereos consist of two nearly identical images mounted next to each other. When viewed using a stereopticon viewer, the image appears 3-dimensional. The blur on the right side of this card on the seated man's face) may interfere with seeing it clearly.

    2. The Library of Congress has this dated to circa 1860 to 1864.

    3. The first stereo cards were published in 1854. Generally, yellow card stock wasn't available until the early 1860s. There were ivory cards, and it's possible the color of this paper has changed over the years.
       
    4. The catalog record suggests that the image was taken by George Stacy, who operated a studio from 1854 to 1861 in New York.   

    5. The record identifies the men in the image, but not the woman and children.
    Let's push the research envelope and see what else I can discover about the people in this picture. It should be possible to identify everyone in it.

    Do you have any stereo views in your family photo collection? They indicate a pastime enjoyed by an ancestor. Tell me about them in the comments below. 

    Stay tuned for next week.


    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 | children | stereographs | women
    Sunday, 14 May 2017 21:56:36 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
    # Sunday, 07 May 2017
    Stamp Boxes, Messages & More: Family Clues in Old Photo Postcards
    Posted by Maureen



    Old postcards among your collection of family letters and photos might contain a variety of clues worth exploring. From stamp boxes to postmarks and messages, there can be genealogical gold in the littlest things.

    I've written about real-photo postcards (RPPCs) in the past. These are family photos printed with a postcard back. An RPPC is an actual photo, not a chromolithograph print.

    Not all postcards were mailed. Printing on a postcard back was just another option when you visited the photo studio or had your snapshots printed.

    Do you have RPPCs in your family photo collection? If you're not sure, take a close look with a magnifying glass or loupe, or scan and zoom in. A chromolithograph print appears to made up of tiny dots; an RPPC does not.

    Here's where to look for information about RPPCs in past Photo Detective blog posts:
    • RPPCs debuted in 1900, but there were changes to the backs of these cards within a few years. Read Old Family Photos on Postcards to learn more about the history and formats for these cards.

    Postcards were popular both in the United States and overseas. Do you have one to share?  Email it to me here, following the instructions in our How To Submit Your Photo section.



    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 postcards | unusual photos
    Sunday, 07 May 2017 22:23:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [6]
    # Sunday, 30 April 2017
    Turn It Over! Genealogy Clues on Old Postcards
    Posted by Maureen



    This ordinary postcard captioned "R. I. Institute for Deaf and Dumb, Providence, R.I." contains a photo clue and it's not the building pictured. It's the message on the back:
    Dearest Ma got my proofs to day only one out of five that looks like me. The rest looks as if I was going to cry. The two of Ed and I are good. Grace wants to know how much the cards are up there. She wants to sent you some money for you to get some. With lots of love and kisses Ella. Sent to Mrs. Charles Hoxie, 36 Twelfth St. Norwich Conn
    Let's add up the clues in this message:
    • Ella posed for a school picture and so did her friend or brother Ed.

    • Ella's mother is Mrs. Charles Hoxie of Norwich, Connecticut.

    • I can't read the postmark, but this style card was popular circa 1910.

    • Students are named in various Rhode Island records. I'll be looking for Ella, Ed and Grace.

    • We don't know if Ella ordered final prints, but this type of message would send me sorting through family photos.

    While I'm working on the Hoxie family, let me know about any interesting family history-related messages you've found on old postcards. 


    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
    1910s photos | photo postcards
    Sunday, 30 April 2017 22:07:08 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [19]
    # Sunday, 23 April 2017
    What's the Story in this Old Family Photo? The Big Reveal!
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time to look at the big picture, the whole image and the rest of the details. If you've followed the last two posts, you've heard Mikael Hammerman's family story and seen some of the clues in the picture. 

    Let's answer his big question: Is this his great-grandmother's sister and her daughter?



    The big sleeves on this woman and her daughter date this picture to the mid- to late-1890s. Sharpeyed individuals will see the fashion plate on the sleeping mother's lap.

     

    The hat and the dress style in the fashion plate date from 1897 to circa 1900. Before Mom fell asleep, she was browsing the new fashions.

    Also on her lap is a paper that says "Bon-Ton." There was a Gazette du Bon-Ton published in France from 1912 to 1925, but those dates are too late for this image.

    This could be an advertisement for Bon-Ton, a department store that debuted in 1898 in York, Pa.

    Adding up the Clues
    Mike's great-grandmother's sister, Mathilda Ericson (born 1859), immigrated to New York in 1879 when she was 20. By 1899, she'd be 40.  Could this woman be her?

    Possibly. The rest of the facts need to add up, including where she lived around the turn of the century.

    Could the girl playing the piano be the daughter Mathilda was possibly pregnant with in 1879?

    No.

    This girl looks to be a lot younger than 20.  Perhaps Mathilda had several children.

    What's needed is a timeline of her Mathilda's life from when she moved to the United States until the year this picture was taken. Here are the primary names to trace:

    • Matilda Ericson (born Aug. 25, 1859 in Sweden)
    • Anders J. Carlson (born April 11, 1843, in Sweden)

    According to Mikael, they arrived in New York on January 31, 1879, as Auguste J. Carlson and Mathilda Carlson, a married couple. 

    Next stop: Digging into genealogy databases for more information. A photo mystery needs more than picture clues. It also relies on family history and good old-fashioned genealogical research.


    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
    1890s photos | children | photo-research tips | women
    Sunday, 23 April 2017 17:16:43 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [10]
    # Sunday, 16 April 2017
    How Clues in Your Old Family Photos Can Keep You Out of Trouble
    Posted by Maureen

    It's time for another installment of Mikael Hammerman's mystery photo, which shows a mother and a daughter—and just might shed light on his family legend about a young mother who ran away with her employer to America

    Clues in a picture can keep you from jumping to conclusions about how the photo and a handed-down family story are connected. Before I read readers' email submissions of mystery photos for analysis, I always look at the picture first to see what it says about time period. Only then do I consult your description of the problem. 

    Here are three clues in Hammerman's picture that require more study. I purposefully haven't yet shown you the whole photo—I'm keeping you in suspense!

    1. Examine the image to see if other pictures are displayed in the background.

    In this case, they're on a shelf, but look for photos hung on walls, too. 



    Here's a close-up of the two clusters of pictures:





    You can get a closer look by using a photographer's loupe or by scanning the photo at a high resolution, then zooming in on he digitized image.

    This type of clue would send me running back to my collection of pictures to see if I have any matches to the background photos.   

    2. Look for obvious date clues. 
    The little girl in this picture is seated at a piano. Her hands are on the keys and her eyes are cast downward at sheet music. I'm not musically inclined. Can you read this sheet music and play it? (Unfortunately, the original image resolution doesn't allow a better close-up shot of the music.)     



    Wouldn't it be great to hear what she's playing?  If you can, I'd love to hear a recording of what it sounds like.

    Looking at this picture and hearing the music would bring a new dimension to this photo, and possibly offer a date (based on when the music was released or was popular).

    3. Watch for subtle clues.



    This little chair, decorated with ribbons, occupies a space between the mother and daughter. I wonder why. The problem with older photos is you can't see the original colors—the ribbons could be black (signifying mourning) or bright red. The seat is well-worn. It could be used as a step-stool, or it could memorialize a little child who died. 

    Photo clues come in all varieties. What's the oddest clue you ever seen in a picture? 

    Come back next week for the big reveal about this clue-filled picture!


    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
    children | photo backgrounds | photo-research tips
    Sunday, 16 April 2017 16:49:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [24]
    # Sunday, 09 April 2017
    Can an Old Mystery Photo Prove a Passed-Down Family Tale?
    Posted by Maureen

    Don't you love a good story? I do. As genealogists we're trained to listen to the tales told at family gatherings and sort fiction from fact. Pictures not only come with their own set of stories, but they also can be used as proof of a genealogical event. 

    Mikael Hammerman of Sweden sent me a beautiful family photo of a woman and a girl participating in an ordinary activity. He's hoping that the picture can verify a whopper of a immigration story. For the next few posts, we'll explore the details in the picture and see if all the clues add up. 

    Could these two people be part of the following story? Wait and see.



    This mother is in the middle of an afternoon nap. 



    This is her daughter.

    Here's the family story, full of love and intrigue:
    Mike's great-grandmother's sister was born in 1859 in Sweden. She served as a maid and ran off with her employer. They arrived in New York in January 1879. She changed her last name and marital status for the trip, and he used a different last name.
    According to an aunt of Mike's second cousin Doris, the family rumor is that the sister was pregnant when they left.  Her employer left his wife and five children behind. He sold horses and goods to finance their trip.
    Family tales have the sister living alone with her daughter. Even today, rumors swirl in the family. Did she and her lover break up before leaving Sweden? Or did the separation occur once they arrived in New York?

    The man's parents were already in the United States, having arrived in 1869.  The young woman had cousins who immigrated in 1882 and lived in Wisconsin.

    Could Mike's photo be tied to this love story? He's hoping the clues will lead to the woman and girl in this image being the young pregnant relative and her daughter. Mike's also hoping for a little help with his mystery story.

    When faced this type of picture puzzlement, step back and really look at what the photo says. I'll show you how in upcoming blog posts with more details about Mike's photo and the family legend it could shed light on.


    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
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    children | unusual photos | women
    Sunday, 09 April 2017 16:13:07 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]