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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, July 27, 2009
Adding Up Photo Clues
Posted by Maureen

I had trouble deciding the angle for this story. Would I discuss the problem of trying to figure out the photographic method or mention a family brick wall? Then I re-read all the emails from Randy Majors and decided to cover those topics as well as how he identified his picture.




What is it?
Electronic files are wonderful for sharing pictures, but nothing compares with looking at the original, especially when you're trying to determine the photographic method. One of the first questions I asked Randy was, "Can you describe the picture?"

There were two types of metal images in the first 20 years of photography. Daguerreotypes are shiny, highly reflective images that are reversed, but tintypes are on a thin sheet of iron and usually varnished. They aren't really shiny. He said that the image was somewhat shiny, but not mirror-like. 

So what is it? Without seeing the original, I'd guess a tintype. If you look very closely at the left of the picture you can see a crackled pattern in the photographic emulsion. I've never seen that in a daguerreotype, which is created by chemical salts on a silver plate. 

Williamcrop 1.jpg

The other detail that makes me think this is a tintype is the hole in the upper-left corner. I've seen scads of tintypes with this, but never a daguerreotype.

This lovely picture was once covered by an oval mat, appropriate for either a daguerreotype or a tintype.

When was it taken?
Let's look at the subjects' attire from left to right. The boy wears a jacket several sizes too large. The stiff wave of hair atop of his head was particularly popular in the 1850s. His father wears a collarless shirt, a vest and a jacket. His hair is long and combed back. A full under-the chin beard completes his appearance.

It wasn't unusual for little girls in the 1850s and in the early 1860s to wear dresses with shoulder-bearing necklines and short epaulette sleeves, with strings of beads around their neck. Their attire could be from the late 1850s or even the early 1860s.

The girl's doll could date the picture. I'm no doll expert, but determining whether this is a rag-style doll or a china doll could help place this image in a time frame. I think it's a china-headed doll. The problem is that the detail is missing from the face. For help with dating dolls in images, consult Dawn Herlocher's 200 Years of Dolls, 3rd edition (KP Books, $29.95).

crop2.jpg


Who is it?
One of the best ways to identify a picture is by swapping with relatives to see if they have similar images. The unidentified picture Randy sent was his great-aunt's. In Rady's collection was an identified picture of William Riley Majors, (1821-1881).

 William Riley Majors (2).jpg
Notice anything familiar? You guessed it.  It's not only the same man—it's the same picture, only a copy.

So who's in the first picture with William? His son William Andrew Majors and his daughter Martha Etta Majors. Based on the children's ages, Randy thinks this picture was taken about 1865 in the Madison County, Ill. or St. Louis, Mo., area. He could be right. This late a date also would suggest that the image is indeed a tintype.

Randy's biggest problem is that no one has been able to find out the lineage of William Riley Majors. He was born in either Alabama or Kentucky, and died in Cowley County, Kan. "He remains my biggest brick wall," Randy wrote.

Anyone have any research suggestions for Randy?
1850s photos | 1860s photos | children | men | Tintypes
Monday, July 27, 2009 8:55:27 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Photos on the Web: Copyright Woes
Posted by Maureen

If you've ever tried to copy a family photo at a store or photo lab and been denied due to copyright issues, there's an article you might be interested in.

On July 19, the New York Times published an article about photos on Wikipedia, "Wikipedia May Be a Font of Facts but It's a Desert for Photos."

If you've used this vast internet archive of user-contributed material, you know the picture quality/quantity is iffy. That's because these are "unofficial" photos anyone can use. According to the article, the site uses a "Creative Commons license, which allows anyone to use an image, for commercial purposes or not, as long as the photographer is credited." It's a bit more complicated, but the article explains it. 

There are legal and common-sense rules relating to photo usage. Basically, the store with the photo kiosk denied you the right to copy your picture because the photographer holds the reproduction rights for it. Even if the photographer is deceased or you don't know who it was, as for an old family portrait, the store might decide it doesn't want to take the chance.

A handy guide for when you need formal permission to use an image appears in Sharon DeBartolo Carmack's Carmack's Guide to Copyright & Contracts: A Pricer for Genealogists, Writers & Researchers (GPC, $15.95)

Here's a common sense rule for internet usage of family photos. If you want to post a photo of a living family member on your Web site or FaceBook page, make sure you have that person's permission, too. It's a common courtesy.


photo news | Photo-sharing sites
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 2:55:56 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, July 13, 2009
Which Immigrant is It?
Posted by Maureen

I've been asked to determine which wife is in a picture or which child, but this is the first inquiry that referred to an immigrant-ancestor mystery.

Jeanette Bias told me that "she knows everything about her family," just not who's in this picture. It's a scan of a cousin's original. This ardent genealogist has written two books on her family and is coordinating a reunion for late summer. She really wants to know who's in this image! 

Bias Unknown Dulas.jpg

This elderly couple's portrait makes a great example of an immigrant portrait. First, their clothing isn't current to the late 19th century; they're wearing simple clothing from their homeland. His high boots and her bonnet are clearly not fashionable, but rather, functional and cultural. 

Bias knows that all of her family immigrated from a small village in Silesia (now part of southwest Poland).

In order to help Jeannette date the picture and identify the couple, I need a couple of other details.

  • Color of the card stock of the original: Different color photographic mounts were popular at different times.

  • A photographer's name: I'm hopeful that either the bottom margin of the card or the back contains the name of a photographer.

The backdrop isn't unusual enough to jump to conclusion, but could this be a couple who remained in Silesia? The additional information will help.

Jeannette originally thought this was Simon (1843-1892) and Mary Dulas (1850-1932). She owns several pictures of Mary, but none of Simon. The couple immigrated on Nov. 1, 1884.  When Simon died at 55, Mary was only 42. This couple is much older than that.

So who's in the image?  I'm working with Jeannette to figure out this puzzle in time for her family reunion. The card stock, photographer's info. and perhaps even geography will help solve this one. Stay tuned!


Immigrant Photos
Monday, July 13, 2009 9:06:10 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Scanning Photos: Convex Images
Posted by Maureen

An integral part of the FamilyTreeMagazine.com web site is the reader forum. Did you know there's one called Photo Detective? Anyone can post, all you have to do is register. Last week, someone posted a question that deserves a whole blog column. K. Pherson wrote
I have a photo of an ancestor in its original old oval wall frame, which has a convex (outwardly-rounded) glass over it. It's large (approximately 18 by 24 inches) and the photo itself is convex. I have a similar empty frame, and I'd like to copy another picture to put in this frame, but no photo lab in my area seems to know how to duplicate a photo so that it looks good on a rounded surface. The photo becomes distorted.
Click here to see an explanation of how these convex images, popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, were created, and what they look like.

This is actually a two-part response. I want to talk first about scanning those convex images, then offer advice on how to create a print to place in one of those frames.

Copying a Convex Image
If you have a convex image (glass or tin) and have tried to scan it, you know how difficult it is. If you can find a photo business in your area that has a 3D scanner, getting a copy will be easy. These specialty 3D scanners cost in excess of $2,000. They're cool devices—Jay Leno has one to photograph cars and they've been featured on the show "Mythbusters." A company called NextEngine manufactures them; its Web site is full of fascinating examples and a demo video.

For the rest of us, duplicating a convex image is a challenge. My usual method is to take photograph. Scanning such an image in sections and "stitching" them together using photo editing software might work, but I haven't tried it. If any reader has a successful way to duplicate a convex image, please comment on this article.

Removing a Picture from a Conves Frame
Be extremely cautious if you want to remove an image from one of these convex frames. These images are often stuck to the glass and trying to remove them will destroy the picture. If you're in doubt, consult a professional photo conservator.

Creating a Convex Effect
To create that curved effect for a flat image so it looks nice in his empty frame, K. Pherson doesn't need a photo lab. It's possible to do it using Adobe PhotoShop. I found a couple of online tutorials to help: The first is a step-by-step video by Luv2Help.com. ShapeShed also has written and video instructions.

If you'd like to create that effect but you don't own PhotoShop, try contacting a digital photo restorer in your area. I hope this helps!


preserving photos | unusual surfaces
Tuesday, July 07, 2009 6:27:33 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]