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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, August 31, 2009
Funny Ancestral Pictures
Posted by Maureen

Roxanne Turpin sent me a photo that made me think about the transition in photo poses. In most of the images from the 1840s, 1850s and even 1860s technology and our ancestors' discomfort with being photographed combine to make folks look like they're in pain. Then suddenly, people started to relax in front of the camera. They had fun with photography. Photo studio props and poses caught sitters in action.

I own a picture of a man with a curious expression on his face. It's a little odd:

men066.jpg

Turning over the image gave me the answer. The photographer's imprint says the following: "Caricatures, (patented) Ask to see those Funny Pictures taken only at... Theo. F. Chase, Photographer."  The pose was intentional! It was taken about 1880. 

Now let's look at Turpin's image taken around 1900 (I'm still refining the date) in Fergus Falls, Minn.

turpin.jpg

It depicts five men playing poker. Their cards and money are on the table. It's a friendly group of men all smoking cigars. The man in the middle moved a bit and blurred—I wish he hadn't moved so I could see his odd hat. 

In the July 1909 issue of Photographic Topics (published by the Obrig Camera Company) is a brief news item about how amateur photographers could take funny images of their friends:
Freako-Shutter for Funny Photographs. Fits any camera. The Freako-Shutter is a simple, amusing attachment, and everyone who used a camera should have one. It can be fitted to any camera in a few seconds, after the first adjustment. It will cause no end of amusement in making funny pictures of friends, etc. ...
Basically, the Freako-Shutter allowed the user to shoot two exposures on the same negative. It first became available in 1903. Users could also shoot stereo images with the attachment.

Taking "funny pictures" is still going strong today. Think about the times you put rabbit ears behind someone's head. <grin> If you have a funny ancestral photo in your family album, send it to me. I'll feature in an upcoming post.


1880s photos | 1900-1910 photos | men | Photo fun
Monday, August 31, 2009 5:16:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Collecting Pictures of Your Ancestors
Posted by Maureen

Genealogists are famous for collecting relatives, but what about acquiring images of those folks? Is it really possible to find previously unknown photos of family members from the advent of photography in 1839? The answer is that it depends.

Family circumstances, their comfort level with photography and the availability of photographers all determine if your ancestors sat for pictures in photo studios or not.

By the time the amateur photographer era with Kodak’s “You Push the Button, We Do the Rest” slogan came along in the 1880s, many families were interested in having pictures taken. But it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that snapshots really took off. Years of traveling around the country looking at family photos has taught me that most families had access to a camera by the early 20th century. There was suddenly an explosion of images. I’ve seen the proof.

This doesn’t mean that your family only took snapshots and didn’t sit for cabinet cards, tintypes, ambrotypes, or daguerreotypes. Frankly, the inheritance of images is a little sketchy. Sometimes images go to the oldest, sometimes the youngest and occasionally no one wants those unidentified images. At each junction of your family tree are opportunities for photo collections to be split amongst living relatives.

So who got what in yuor family? To figure that out you need a plan. It’s a lot like a research plan for information, only this time you’re hunting for pictures.

Mark Your Family Tree

If you own images of various folks on your family tree, mark that information by highlighting or if you’re using family tree software attach those images to the person’s information. This helps you see where the gaps are.

Contact Relatives

This means locating all living relatives to see if they have any photographs. If you have a gap for a particular branch of the family, this could mean that either they didn’t take pictures or someone else inherited them. Read my article on tracing your family forward for tips on researching family lines from 1839 to the present.

Post Your Search

A colleague once used a message board to see if anyone had data on a branch of her family. The person who responded said they didn’t, BUT they had a photo album. Hurrah! My friend asked to copy all the images in it. She didn’t have the material she sought, but she did find a few dozen images all taken in the 1860s.

Look Online

I have bad research luck. My family just doesn’t want to be found. At least that’s what I’ve decided. Imagine my surprise when I decided to type a name into Ancestry.com and click on a family tree. Turns out a very distant cousin created an Ancestry family tree and on it he’d posted images. They were pictures of my great-grandparents that even my mother had never seen. I did the genealogical happy dance that day!

Online searching includes using image search engines like Google.com and reunion sites such as DeadFred.

Library Bound

Let's not forget the treasure troves of images held in local history collections in historical societies, archives and public libraries. Search their online digital collections first then contact the organization and find out how to hire someone to ferret out images in their collections.

There are lots of opportunities to find pictures. Your family tree is a map and a compass combined. If you've been successful in your hunt for pictures send me an e-mail. I love to hear good news!


photo-research tips
Tuesday, August 25, 2009 9:42:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, August 17, 2009
Spotlight: Denver Public Library Picture Collection
Posted by Maureen

It's over 90 degrees in my town today. The heat and humidity make me start thinking about winter.

With months to go before the snow, I did the next best thing. I looked at pictures of cooler temperatures I found on the Denver Public Library Web site.

All right. Not all of the images depict winter scenes, but if you have any family in the Denver area, this is one collection you have to consult. The library has about a 100,000 images online and that's just the tip of their very large collection.

The National Endowment for the Humanities gave the Denver Public Library a grant in 1997, and since then, the library has been quickly adding material to this gorgeous digital archive. To bring the "chill" of winter into my office, I began by browsing through images of the 10th Mountain Division, then wandered over to the picture galleries of children and scenes of the Denver area. It's armchair traveling at it's best.

While you're exploring the site, check out the links to the electronic finding aids. They're fully searchable.

The Denver Public Library isn't the only library with such collections. Public libraries all over the country usually have picture and manuscript collections. Their librarians are custodians of local history. I strongly advise you to ask about the holdings of your local library.

I'd also like to send a big thank you to James Jeffreys of the Western History and Genealogy Department of the Denver Public Library for his help with an Photo Detective article slated for the December 2009 Family Tree Magazine.


children | house/building photos | Military photos | photo-research tips
Monday, August 17, 2009 7:38:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Pictures Without Provenance
Posted by Maureen

Hilda Barton sent me this lovely photo of a young girl with the subject line: "No Idea Who This is..." It's a picture without provenance.

unknown girl.jpg

I've written about provenance before. It's the history of ownership of a photograph or other object. It's easy to underestimate the value of knowing the previous owner of a picture, but this is actually one of the keys to figuring out who's in an unidentified picture.

Start by asking the following questions:
  • Who owned the picture before me? 
  • Did the photograph hang on the wall in relative's house? 
  • Was it loose in an album or on a page with other relatives?
These questions can determine which branch of the family owned the image and bring you one step closer to putting a name with face. But remember, the photo could show a friend's child—not a relative at all. Facial similarities to people in identified photos may help.

Then answer the next set of questions:
  • Where was it taken? Look for a photographer's name and address on the image. Then consult your family history to see who lived in the area.
  • How old is the person?  In this case, it's a young girl, probably less than 5 years old.
  • When was it taken? In 1916, The Ladies Home Journal published a short photo essay on "Arranging Your Little Girl's Hair." Younger children wore narrow bows, like this youngster. Her short bobbed hair was popular around 1919.
If Hilda can answer these questions, she can consult her family tree and make a short list of who's the right age to be in this picture.

On a side note, a fascinating new book by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo is called Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Penquin Press, $26.95). It's amazing how one man could dupe the art world with falsified documentation. I couldn't put it down.


1910s photos | children
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 12:11:47 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, August 03, 2009
Tweet. Tweet. I'm on Twitter.
Posted by Maureen

I've watched fellow genealogists talk about Twitter, but I've held back. Books, magazine articles and newspaper articles mention the power of Twitter. Oh boy, I thought. 

What is this new tool and how will I use it?   I'm not really sure at this point, but I decided to tip toe into this relatively new phenomena.  Over the weekend I signed up and had followers in seconds!

Want to follow my tweets?  You can find me on Twitter. I'm open to suggestions on how to use it.  Sound off in the comments section of this blog post.


Web sites
Monday, August 03, 2009 4:07:16 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]