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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Happy Holidays! Tips to Remember
Posted by Maureen

I've been writing this column for so long I've lost count of the years.  Every one of them has been wonderful. I've had a chance to work with so many  interesting photos and to chat with their owners. (Yes, I really do use those phone numbers you supply with your contact information.) I really like the blog format because it enables you to respond to the columns I've written. Thank you for all your support! 

My next two columns are shorter than usual due to the holidays. It's definitely a hectic time of the year. I don't know about the traditions in your family, but in mine, no holiday is complete without dragging out albums and boxes of photos. It gives us a chance to reminisce about those no longer with us. 

This is also a great time to think about those mystery photos and take another look at the details.

During the years of writing this column I've compiled a list of the top four details often overlooked by individuals when trying to date and identify family photos. It's easy to do when carried away with the bigger puzzle of who's in a picture.


Calendars
Is there a calendar in the background?
womencalendar.jpg

The one in this photo establishes a date of May, 1904. Even without the calendar, the map of the United States behind them makes an interesting clue.




Flags
If there's a US flag in a photo, start dating the picture by counting the stars in the flag. The addition of states during the late 19th and early 20th century meant that flags were frequently changed. Of course, you'll have to add up the rest of the clues in the picture to see if it's a flag current to the details in the image.

Signage
Use your genealogical know-how to use city directories and other tools to research the businesses mention in a sign in a picture.  It could pinpoint a location as well as supply a time frame.

Tax Stamps
From Aug. 1, 1864, to Aug. 1, 1866, the United States taxed photographs. If you own a carte de visite with a stamp on the back, you'll have a two-year time frame for the image. The value of the stamp is a clue to how much your ancestor paid to have the image made. Photographers were supposed to put their initials and a date on the stamp, but that didn't always happen.

There are lots of other details that appear in pictures from postage stamps to even dress collars (I'll save that tip for later) and cars. Next time you look at a family photo make a list of all the evidence in a picture and then try to solve the identification problem. 

Happy holidays!

photo-research tips
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 2:04:16 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, December 15, 2008
Capturing the News
Posted by Maureen

Joan Enders sent this photo of a man she believes is her great-grandfather William Riley Keeth, of Iberia, Miller County, Mo. She wanted to know more about the backdrop and to verify it's him.

William Riley Keeth.jpg

In the late 19th century, photographic props and backdrops were very elaborate. Some even included bales of hay and faux stone walls. A photographer posed this man with a backdrop that looks like the interior of a Victorian mansion, complete with a multi-paned window and what resembles wallpaper. Of course, it's all just paint and canvas.

I wish there were a directory of photo backdrops! It would be so useful to know which photographers were using which backgrounds. It might even help pinpoint where a picture was taken.

For example, Joan could contact a historical society in the area where her ancestor lived. The Miller County Museum might have a collection of local images. Then she could compare backdrops in those images to her own to see if they were shot by same photographer or studio. A city directory could tell her when the photographer was in business, helping to date the image.

One of the largest online databases of pictures is Dead Fred. While it's primarily a photo-reunion site, I searched for Missouri photographers to see if I could find anyone near Miller County. No luck! But it's a good tip to try: Use the search feature to look for surnames or place names.

The best part of this image isn't what's behind the man, but what he's holding— a letter. Notice how the envelope (in his left hand) is ripped open. Despite being a posed image, this picture has captured a spontaneous moment. The man looks at the camera with a surprised expression. 

He's wearing work clothes and appears to have rushed into the photo studio to document the receipt of this written news. So what was in the letter?  There might be a family story associated with some sort of important information.

Based on his clothing, the background and the plain brown cardboard backing, it appears this photo dates from about 1900.

Does the photo really show William Riley Keeth? Keeth was born in 1865 and married in 1888. Here's a known photo of Keeth with his bride Mary Ella Thomas, taken in the year they married:

William R and Mary E Keeth.JPG

While the man in the first photo shares many of the facial characteristics of the man in this image, their ears are different. Notice how small this man's ears are. There's something odd about this tintype, too—it almost looks like a tintype of a painting. The edges of the couple's features are blurred. 

Before deciding if these two men are the same person, I'll ask Joan for a better scan or picture of this image, and ask some additional questions about her family. I also still have a question about the backdrop: The window looks like backgrounds I've seen in English photographs, not like an American home.  I'm still looking for an image with a similar backdrop. If you have one in your family collection, send it in and let's help Joan solve this.


1900-1910 photos | photo backgrounds | props in photos
Monday, December 15, 2008 10:38:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Tag I'm It...Again!
Posted by Maureen

Gosh. Sean Sexton tagged me for another online meme and told me to blame Randy Seaver <smile>. This time I'm supposed to tell you eight random things about myself and of course tag eight others. So here goes. First, the rules.
  1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  3. At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their name.
  4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and to read your blog.
1. Like Sean, I'm usually reading more than one book at a time. Right now it's a James Rollins novel, Tribes by Seth Godin, and a book on training my puppy. This doesn't include the daytime reading I do to solve your picture mysteries. Can you tell I was an early reader?

2. I have dog. These memes can get a little personal so I hope this doesn't cross over into the TMI (too much information) category. She's a lovely little Maltese.

3. I owned my first camera at 7 and have the photographic proof to prove it. You might have caught a glimpse of me with camera in hand on my FaceBook page.

4. My current favorite museum is the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. They have a special membership fee for folks who live a certain distance from the Big Apple so I joined. Now I wish I lived closer to the city so I could go more often.

5. I once tried to learn Russian. Do I need to say more? 

6. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to work with photographs. My first job out of college was as a reference assistant at a historical society and as an assistant photo curator. It was a spilt job--one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

7. My office is organized by color. As a visual person it's a lot easier for me to locate files if I assign different colors for different types of material.  The only problem I've had is when a company discontinues a color. 

8. My ancestry is French-Candian, English, Irish and Scottish. Some day I hope to travel to Scotland, but first I have to track down the birthplaces of those ancestors. I'm working on it.

I'm going to tag the following people:

Photo fun
Tuesday, December 09, 2008 6:36:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, December 01, 2008
Photo Clones: Duplicates in the Family
Posted by Maureen

Hunter sisters-six of themEMAIL SIZE-circa after 1892.jpg

This photo's owner Diane Gould Hall knows these six women are the Hunter Sisters. In the back row (left to right) are Grace Hunter (1874-1946), Daisy Hunter (1876-1948), and Ada Emily Hunter (1865-1949). In the front row are Estelle M. Hunter (1867-1947), Florence Hunter (1869-1946), and Myra Hunter (1859-1938). Florence is Diane's great-grandmother.

Diane knows this was taken after 1892 because another sister died that year, and she's not present. The sisters' beautiful, diaphanous blouses appear in fashion catalogs for the period 1910 to about 1915. If this picture was taken about 1915, the sisters would range in age from 39 to 56.

In the course of our email correspondence, Diane mentioned two  interesting facts:
  • Grace Hunter's husband Charles Fenner and his brothers owned a photo studio in Lima, Ohio. That's where this picture was taken.

  • When she posted this image on her Ancestry.com family tree, a cousin contacted her. Turns out, that cousin owned a picture from this same studio sitting. Diane was amazed. In the second image, the sisters are seated in a different order!
How often have you considered that a photo in your collection might not be the only copy? Our ancestors went to the photo studio to acquire a picture, but "package deals" offered the opportunity to obtain multiple copies of the same image. Duplicates made it easy to share pictures to relatives. 

Since professional photographers usually took several different poses to make sure all parties were happy with the final image, the extra prints might be slightly different.

Diane's discovery is proof that you should ask to see the photo collections in the hands of distant cousins. Who knows what you'll uncover!  You could solve that photo identification mystery or find new pictures.

The latter happened to me recently. A distant cousin posted online pictures of my great-great grandparents. My mother and I had no idea that these images even existed.


1910s photos | group photos | photo-research tips | women
Monday, December 01, 2008 3:14:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]