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<2017 June>

by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Friday, 26 September 2008
An Early Paper Print Confirmed!
Posted by Maureen

Way back in June 2005, I wrote a Photo Detective column for Family Tree Magazine on a mysterious-looking paper photograph. This week, the owner of the image, George Pek, sent me an update.


In 2005, I surmised that Pek's image was a salted paper print, but I didn't have  proof. At the time, he didn't have a scan and lived too far away for me to see the original. This week, however, he sent me this lovely scan. It clearly shows the thin paper image and the heavier paper backing.

(By the way, I've made several attempts to even up the contrast without any luck. The surface of the paper is shiny and reflects the light from the scanner.)

Pek also sent me proof that I'd identified the photo correctly: results from  tests on the image. Using an electron microscope, a scientist had captured an X-ray spectrum of a fragment of the image that clearly indicated it's a salted paper print. The testing showed that the paper contained not only sodium and magnesium, but also traces of bromine—which the scientist says was an experimental additive at the time. His report concluded that, although there's no way to confirm the picture's date from this testing, the results are consistent with 1848.

That's the year on the image. Pek continues to look for evidence that this is Judith Simpson, a woman who appears in Quebec records. If the name and age are correct, Simpson was born about 1774.

Salted paper prints date from 1840 to circa 1860—the same era as silver-plate daguerreotypes. Interestingly, the pricier daguerreotype images were more popular than paper prints in the 1840s and 1850s, at least in America.

The most charming part of this portrait is Simpson's attire. Her clothing reflects fashions of the 1830s, not the late 1840s when she sat for this picture. It's clear proof that not everyone dressed in the latest fashion for their portraits—so it's important to consider all the clues in an image.

women | 1840s photos
Friday, 26 September 2008 16:42:14 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 22 September 2008
Tackling an Albumful of Mystery Photos
Posted by Maureen

Bobbi Borbas wrote back after I posted her unidentified group portrait to say that after looking at her family history, she still isn't sure who the folks are in her mystery image. Some photo mysteries take a great deal of time and patience to solve. I still think the case can be cracked!

A similarly vexing mystery: I was on the road again this weekend meeting people at the Ruth E. Lloyd Information Center in Manassas, Va. I saw some gorgeous photos and new mysteries. One in particular stands out. A woman brought in a photo album that had been passed down in the family. She didn't know who any of the people were, but I really believe she can put the pieces together.

I don't have any photos to share, so I'll describe the album: It had two clusters of photos. The first half featured photos from the late 1880s, all taken in Grand Island, Neb. The last couple of pages had photos from the 1860s, with no photographer's name or address. It appeared that at least two generations were included.

Here's how I'd approach this problem (similar steps can work for your own photos):
  • Research the population of Grand Island in the 1880s. That's the easy part. According to Wikipedia, less than 3,000 people lived there in 1880, but close to 7,500 did as of 1890. The reason for this population boom: the railroad. 
  • When was the photographer in business? I'd start this search by contacting the Nebraska State Historical Society. Its reference department might have a list of photographers in the area.
  • Next, look at surnames in the family and think about the following questions: Who lived in Nebraska in that time frame? When did they settle in the area and why? Those answers can lead to sources such as land and church records, which can fill in for the "lost" 1890 federal census schedules. 
  • The number one spot in a photo album is key. In this case, that picture was a young boy, with the second and third images showing a couple, followed by two girls. Did the boy die?
  • Look for facial similarities. In this album, there were clusters of pictures where it was clear from their noses and mouths that they were all close relatives.
  • Re-examine the family history. By adding up all the clues, I think it's possible to assign some probable names to these individuals.
Every piece of evidence helps tell the story of a photo album. There was a reason behind the order of the images. Who created it often becomes clear, and by solving one of the picture mysteries, you get that much closer to figuring out the rest. 

This is one problem I'd love to help solve.  If the woman from RELIC would like some assistance, send me an e-mail. It'd make an interesting case study for a future column. 

1860s photos
Monday, 22 September 2008 15:04:05 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 15 September 2008
Photos Handed Down in the Family
Posted by Maureen

Raise your hand if you've discovered a cache of family photos you didn't know about after the death of a relative.

I'm sure if I asked an audience of hundreds, few hands would remain down.  You'd think there wouldn't be any surprise photos in my family, but no ... Even my Dad squirreled away a few I didn't know about. I think he forgot he had them. Now I'm trying to figure out the significance of those long-lost pictures.

Bobbi Borbas is in a similar situation. She found these three images in a box of photos that once belonged to her mother.

In the first (below), a family sits for a group portrait. Look closely—only the father gazes at the lens, the rest of the family's eyes aren't on the camera, but on the person who stands to our left, near the photographer. It makes you wonder what's happening on the other side of the camera. Was the assistant trying to distract the children or making last-minute suggestions?


The clothing (note the mother's full upper sleeves) and the decorative embossing on the mat date the picture between the late 1890s to about 1905. That gives Bobbi a starting point.

When she wrote, she thought the picture might depict her great-grandfather.I called her today and asked her to send me a family chart. She's looking for a family that fits the following details around the turn of the century:
  • Six children (three girls and two boys, plus a baby less than a year old)
  • The oldest boy and girl (behind their parents) close to their early teen years.
  • A boy (standing between his parents) around school age. 
Borbas' second image (below) is a tintype of a young girl. This is a gorgeous image without any of the darkening varnish so often seen in early tintypes.


The photographer added gold leaf to the girl's jewelry to make it stand out. She's probably an older toddler, not yet school age, and sits with a hand in a pocket of her cotton dress.

The dress style dates the image to the early 1860s; Wide necklines like this for young girls are seen in photos of the 1850s and 1860s. The identification clue is clearly her ears—Bobbi needs to watch for similarly shaped ears in other family pictures.

The third image is very interesting. It's set in a tiny piece of photo jewelry, only 3/8 inch wide by 1/2 inch high. The photo itself is only a quarter inch. You'll have to wait until next week to see it—I'm still working on a couple of the details. With any luck, I'll be able to report success in identifying the individuals in these two images. Stay posted!

1860s photos | 1890s photos | 1900-1910 photos | group photos | women
Monday, 15 September 2008 20:55:39 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Sunday, 07 September 2008
FGS Wrap-up
Posted by Maureen

As readers of this blog know, I had a booth at last week's Federation of Genealogical Societies conference.

Wow! A lot of you stopped by to say hello and share your photo stories. Yes, some people brought photos with them, too <smile>. I also got to meet several FaceBook friends and fans. It was a tremendous amount of fun and very exhausting. Thank you for visiting with me!

My train ride home during Tropical Storm Hanna was something I'm not going to forget for a very long time. Who knew it could take 11 hours to go from Philadelphia to Boston? A series of misadventures, including the train hitting a tree across the tracks, made for a lively overnight experience.

My favorite part of the conference (aside from meeting all the readers of Family Tree Magazine in attendance) was walking around the exhibit hall checking out news at the booths.

For instance, I got to meet Kim Screen of Good Stock Press & Bindery. This creative woman takes family history publishing to a new level. Yes, her books are expensive, but the final product is worth every penny. She produces limited edition books (and other heirloom items) that are so beautiful you can't help but flip through them. Her illustrated family histories are particularly wonderful. Her clients provide all the text, photos and other illustrations and Kim transforms their genealogy into a work of family history art. 

My advice...spend some time on her Web site and explore the creative possibilities for your family history publishing endeavor. I know I will.

photo news
Sunday, 07 September 2008 16:24:18 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 01 September 2008
Orphan Photos and Photo Sharing
Posted by Maureen

Last week on the Today Show I mentioned It's a fun site for folks trying to reconnect with lost family photos or to post pictures if you want photos to lead the way to a reunion with lost family.  It's a win-win either way.

There are a couple of other sites I'd like to mention though.  If you've ever lost a camera and thought those pictures (and the camera) are gone forever, think again. There is a blog that tries to link up individuals with their equipment and precious pics.  Found Cameras and Orphan Photos has a Facebook group, a link to success stories and updates every Thursday. What a fun idea!  You'll see wedding images, vacation shots and candid pictures all waiting to be claimed by their rightful owner.  I'll definitely be adding this to my Facebook page.

Photos aren't the only focus of a site called Ancient Faces. If you want to share and collaborate on family history you can set up a family space. Share stories, pictures and even a recipe or two. Sign up for their e-newsletter to keep up with any new developments.

Don't forget to check out the PhotoDetective booth (305) at the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Philadelphia this week.  Please stop by and say hello.

Photo-sharing sites
Monday, 01 September 2008 14:39:17 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]