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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, January 28, 2013
Confirming Identities in Old Family Photos
Posted by Maureen

I'm working on a photo mystery that is making my eyes hurt and my brain spin. With any luck I'll be able to present it here next week. 

In the meantime, Milah Goler Pasto contacted me through Facebook to ask about a couple of her family photos. She was hoping for confirmation that the mother and the child in this picture were who she was told they were.

margaretmahoneysullivanedit.jpg

Their dress styles, the wicker chair and the painted backdrop all suggest a date of circa 1900. In that period, women's sleeves could have a slight fullness at the shoulder and bodices were pouched and full at the waist. Wicker chairs were a popular studio accessory in the 1890s and in the early 20th century. While painted backdrops were common throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, at the turn of the century they often featured household scenes.

So who's in this lovely picture?  Irish immigrant Margaret (Mahoney) Sullivan (born 1873) and her daughter Margaret (born 1892).

John Nathan Sullivan (born 1848), a "free person of color" married Margaret Mahoney and they had two daughters. He was a coachman for Dr. Hubbard of Taunton, Mass., and according to Milah, his obituary said "he was well and favorably known throughout the vicinity."


Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1900-1910 photos | african american | children | Immigrant Photos | women
    Monday, January 28, 2013 4:50:29 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, January 21, 2013
    Lincoln's Inauguration and Your Family
    Posted by Maureen

    From movies to today's inauguration, all things Lincoln are in the spotlight. On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln participated in his second inauguration. Thousands of individuals came to Washington, DC, to witness it. The news media of the time were present, reporting on the events of the day.

    Photographs of inaugurals usually focus on the President, but in 1865, at least one photographer captured the crowds. This rainy inaugural photo is from the Library of Congress collection and captures Washington, DC, at a key moment. The Civil War was drawing to a close, and Lincoln spoke to that in his address:

    "With malice toward none, with charity for all ... let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds ..."

    lincolninauguration3.jpg

    A reporter for the Sunday Mercury published in Philadelphia on March 5, 1865, wrote about the weather:

    "Rain had been falling all yesterday and last night, making the proverbially filthy streets of the political metropolis filthier and more unpleasant than ever. (page 3)"

    If you look closely at this photo you'll see people dressed for inclement weather, wearing heavy overcoats and hats, standing in deep puddles. There are a few children in the foreground. Somewhere in this group are African-American troops who marched in the Inaugural Parade.

    lincolninauguration4.jpg

    A crowd scene like this allows a peek into the past. There is a wide variety of clothing, from wool coats to hoop skirts, worn by these individuals. Take a close look at the hats worn by the men in the crowd. Only one man is wearing a stovepipe hat; the rest are in smaller hats and caps. The man in the tall hat is dressed formally for the occasion. Men of means or who had significant jobs usually dressed the part. In the 1860s, the hat a man wore could tell you a lot about their occupation or fashion habits. For more information on men's hats, see Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900.

    lincolninauguration5.jpg

    Do you know about the political leanings of your ancestors?

    • There may be images of women bearing suffragette banners or men wearing political memorabilia such as pins.
    • Even if your ancestor wasn't politically active, study the history of your ancestors' lives to see how political decisions influenced their everyday experiences.
    • Take a close look at the pictures in your family, set them in a time frame and investigate the history in your genealogy. There may be images relating to immigration, military service and even social events—all a result of the political situation of the country in which they lived. 


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1860s photos | Civil War | group photos | hats | men
    Monday, January 21, 2013 3:26:59 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, January 14, 2013
    Turn-of-the-Century Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Terry Graham's mother showed him a few unidentified photographs and now he's using the power of the web to try to identify them. He's posted them on his Ancestry.com family tree so that family members can comment on them.  He thinks the mother's maiden name could be Turgeon.
    Graham.jpg


    It's the little girl in this picture that captures our attention. The photographer posed her with head turned and eyes on the lens. It's a lovely picture of a turn-of-the-century family.

    Women's Clothing
    Women's fashion began to change circa 1900.
    • More women were employed, and clothing in washable fabrics became a necessity. This woman wears her "Sunday best" dress for this formal family portrait.
    • Wide high-necked lace collars were very popular before 1905. Skirts were worn approximately 2 inches off the floor.  
    • Hairstyles puffed out from the face. Extreme hairstyles were often caricatured in magazines, but this woman has chosen wisely. Her hair frames her face. A large wide-brimmed hat would accessorize the outfit.

    Men's Clothing
    Styles varied from casual dress worn by laborers to suits. The man in the family portrait wears his best suit. Collars worn standing up with a variety of silk ties were fashionable in the period. Men's mustaches were trimmed and waxed in the 1890s; in this turn-of-the-century portrait, he's retained his full mustache.

    Children's Clothing
    Play clothes for children were introduced in the early 20th century, but this little girl wears a light-colored dress that mimics some of the design elements of her mother's dress, i.e. the wide collar.

    Photo Details
    Watch for the spontaneous moments in a family picture. The little girl looks like Mom has just brushed her hair for the portrait, but both parents have little wisps of hair sticking out from their heads: Look at the left side of Dad's head and the hair above the neckline of the mother's dress.

    About the Photographer
    Alfred Adt of Waterbury, Connecticut, took this photo. According to city directories of Waterbury found on Ancestry.com and details in census records, Adt was born in approximately 1863 and was a photographer in Waterbury from at least 1894 to 1909.  


    Use the comment field below to tell me how you came to own your family photos. Which relative gave them to you?  


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1900-1910 photos | children | men | women
    Monday, January 14, 2013 4:15:39 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Monday, January 07, 2013
    "Downton Abbey" and Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    I can't resist the pull of a period piece be it a television series or a movie, so it's no surprise that last night I sat down to watch the first episode of Season 3 of PBS' "Downton Abbey." There were a lot of moments relevant to both family history and photography.

    The 1920s were a time of transition. Women's hairstyles changed and dresses became less form-fitting. Compare the styles worn by the Dowager Countess of Grantham and the attire of the American Martha Levinson for instance. You can view their attire on the PBS Character Hub.

    The Dowager Countess is conservative and clings to tradition. Her dress and hair support that; she wears dresses from the early 20th century and her hair pulled back. The hourglass figure is the shape attained with corsets and fitted dresses. 

    Martha Levinson is all about being modern. She dresses like a contemporary woman of 1920 with her waved colored hair and shorter, loose dresses. The opening sequence of her appearance says it all. She steps out to greet the staff in a wide-collared brocade coat and a rakish hat with a plume.

    If these women were members of your family and you had a photo of them taken individually against a simple background, then dating the photo based on the Countess' clothing could be misleading. Her appearance suggests a date earlier than 1920.

    Both women's fashion choices also reveal their personalities. I'll be watching to see if the Dowager Countess changes her style as the series progresses or if she remains tied to her long dresses.

    Personally, I love checking out their hats—wide-brimmed summer hats for the wedding of Matthew and Mary, as well as the everyday ones worn by staff and family. You can learn more about women's hats in Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900. I've included several English photos of women "in the service." It's a reference to their occupation of working for families.

    Photo identification and dating an image relies on information. What a person wears is helpful, but not the whole story. Pictorial context is important--where was it taken, who took the image and what else is visible. Adding up the clues can solve the mystery, date the image and identify the person.


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1900-1910 photos | 1920s photos | hairstyles | hats
    Monday, January 07, 2013 4:21:56 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]