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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, April 27, 2009
House History Help: My Favorite Books
Posted by Diane

My bookshelves are an eclectic mix of volumes on everything from forensic identification of facial features to button history. Any book I think might help analyze a picture ends up in my library.

This diversity of titles includes several tomes on house history. If you find yourself with an architecture problem, these books should help you tell the differences among styles:
  • Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia McAlester and Lee McAlester (Knopf, $45.00).  This is a classic. Full of illustrations and easy to understand diagrams.
  • Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms: 1600-1945 by John J. G. Blumenson (W.W. Norton, $15.95). This is a pocket size guide to house details.
  • The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture by Rachel Carley (Holt, $27.00). Extensive text accompanies the drawings in this reference volume.
Don't forget to check out the architecture problem in my most recent Photo Detective column in Family Tree Magazine (July 2009). The second installment of that column appeared in this space.

If you're looking for a social history of early American architecture, my favorite is Where We Lived: Discovering the Places We Once Called Home, The American Home from 1775 to 1840 by Jack Larkin (Taunton, $40).

It covers everything from outhouses to mansions. Once you start reading Larkin's book you'll be hooked. I couldn't put it down. Fascinating first person accounts make it so much more than a reference tool.


house/building photos
Monday, April 27, 2009 2:50:25 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, April 17, 2009
Cars in Family Photos
Posted by Maureen

I'm taking a break from the house photo this week to give you time to receive copies of the print version of Family Tree Magazine and read about the other clues in that image. I have one more short installment to post.

In the meantime, I pulled out a different type of photo mystery. It's all about a car. I live with two gear-heads who can talk about engines and car design for hours. It runs in the male line of the family—every one of them has an antique automobile.

Naturally I was really happy to receive this photo in my inbox:

Chuck Baker3.jpg

This is Chuck Baker's dad's family. His question is about the car on the left. Could it help date the image?

Absolutely. He thought the picture was taken pre-World War II and that's likely. Here's why.

Chuck Baker2.jpgThe car definitely provides a beginning year for a time frame.  It appears to be a 1938 Dodge touring sedan. According to The Ultimate Auto Album: An Illustrated History of the Automobile by Tad Burness (Krause, $16.95) approximately 73,417 of these vehicles were produced. It sold for $898. 

The double-rear window is what led me to that identification.  The 1937 Chrysler Airflow also had two windows in the rear, but a different trunk design. There might be more automobiles out there with a double-rear window. If so, please let me know.

This identification was based on all the details visible in the back of the car. Ah ... if only I could see the front.

You're probably wondering if the license plate helped. It would have if I could've enhanced the image enough to see it clearly. It's quite blurry when I enlarge the image.

However, Chuck's family lived in southwest Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania first issued license plates in 1906, and every year a car owner had to get a new set of plates. That practice ended in the 1950s.

In 1956, license plates became a standard 6x12 inches.  If you want to read more about plates in Pennsylvania and see examples of late 20th-century versions, consult Vehicle Registration Plates of Pennsylvania on Wikipedia.

As for when this picture was taken, 1938 is the earliest everyone could have posed for this family gathering. The clothing suggests a time frame of late 1930s to early 1940s. Chuck Baker was right—the picture was taken before World War II.


1930s photos | candid photos | group photos | Vehicles in photos
Friday, April 17, 2009 7:13:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Monday, April 13, 2009
Raising the Roof: Architectural Images
Posted by Maureen

This week's blog column is actually the second part of a photo mystery.  The first installment appears in my Photo Detective article in the July 2009 Family Tree Magazine. That issue should be in your mail boxes starting this week.

Here's a synopsis of the problem: Bergetta Monroe has a mystery photo (of course!) of a farm. She doesn't know where it was taken or when, but she has a list of possible surnames for folks that could have owned the property. 


In the article, I offer tips to solve this family mystery and promise to discuss the architectural details in this blog.

I've taken this picture apart section by section, looking for elements that could help identify this mid-19th century farm. The main house appears to be in the Greek Revival style, which is characterized by Doric columns on the front porch and a pitched roof. The windows feature six-over-six panes of glass. Greek Revival design was popular from 1825 to 1860.

Other features are visible when you enlarge the front yard of the house:
BergettaDSC_4511 NEFposts.jpg

Look closely. You can see the simple Doric columns, but also visible are nine hitching posts for horses and a fence on the other side of the house. That could signal a road nearby.

The dominant greenery are pine trees. In front of the fence in the foreground is tilled land and some young trees, possibly fruit bearing varieties. If this house and yard is still intact, those saplings would be much bigger by now.
BergettaDSC_4511 NEFtrees.jpg

My favorite building on the property is the Italianate style barn, with its turreted roof and bracketed cornices (along the roof line).  It even has arched windows, one of the determining details in that architectural style.
BergettaDSC_4511 NEFbarn.jpg

This particular building style dates from 1850 to 1880, possibly making the barn newer than the house. Why else would the owners build their dwelling in one style and the barn in a more elaborate style? So many questions...

There are many outbuildings on this property, and the size and condition of those structures suggest this was a prosperous farm. It appears that there are smaller farms in the vicinity. Note the dwelling to the rear left, behind the barn. That doesn't appear to part of this estate.

In the July 2009 Family Tree Magazine, I discuss a date for this photo, but that only begins to tell the story of this farm. Given the family information Monroe supplied, this picture was taken in New England, either Vermont, New Hampshire or Massachusetts. The likeliest location is Vermont. You'll have to read the story to find out why (grin).

We're still trying to identify the exact location.

photo-research tips | house/building photos
Monday, April 13, 2009 3:44:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Monday, April 06, 2009
Why the Long Faces in Old Photos?
Posted by Maureen

Every so often I bump into a 19th century photo in which the subjects are grinning. It's a rare event. Occasionally, you see a Mona Lisa smile, but it's difficult to locate an image from the 19th century where folks actually showed teeth the way we do today. So, you're probably wondering—why the long face in most pictures?

In the beginning, I imagine that sitters were nervous in front of the camera. It was new, and having your picture taken was an uncomfortable procedure.

Look closely at your early photographs and see if you can spot a posing device such as a wooden stand behind the subjects' feet. This device sometimes extended as far up as the head and had clamps around a person's waist or head to keep him still for the long exposure time. Would you feel like smiling?

In this 1870s tintype, you can see a chair with the adjustable back. This man holds the the chair back, but if you look closely at his feet, you can see a wooden brace stand.

men046.jpg

You can learn more about photographic patents and these tools in Janice G. Schimmelman's American Photographic Patents 1840-1880: The Daguerreotype & Wet Plate Era (Carl Mautz, $25.00). Unfortunately, I don't own a picture of a full clamping device. Anyone got one to share?

I have a small collection of women and babies I call "hidden mothers." Women hid under blankets and rugs to keep their babies still for the camera.  In this photo, a mother or a photographer's assistant braces the toddler for the picture.

babies022.jpg

There were also devices to hold babies that look like medieval instruments of torture.

Let's not forget another reason individuals didn't smile for the photographer: dental care. Forget cosmetic dentistry—few folks had a full set of pearly whites. In fact, dentistry was a new profession in the mid-19th century. The online Encyclopedia Britannica has a short article on the history of dental care.

If you have a picture of a "hidden mother," a smiling ancestor, or a photo that includes a posing device, email it to me and I'll post it in this space. Both of the images above are from my research picture collection.


1870s photos | children | men | photo backgrounds | women
Monday, April 06, 2009 5:26:27 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [7]
A Blog Worth Reading
Posted by Diane

Just wanted to say congratulations to Maureen for making the Photo Detective blog one of Chris Dunham's 10 Genealogy Blogs Worth Reading.

And thanks to Dunham! (He's the Genealogue's more serious alter ego.)


Photo fun
Monday, April 06, 2009 2:52:17 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]