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<2017 June>

by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, 30 November 2014
5 Brick Wall Busters for Old Mystery Photos
Posted by Maureen

Give yourself a present this holiday season by taking time to solve one of your unidentified-photo mysteries. Here are five proven ways to break down that pictorial brick wall:

1. Broadcast your picture. Take it to family gatherings, post it on your social media pages and share it in Facebook groups related to your family history, such as surname pages or location-specific pages.

2. Study the clues (again). Try to forget that you've ever seen that picture before. Start with a clean slate and re-examine the clues—the photographer's work dates, clothing clues, props and whatever else is present in the image. Combine it with information from your family history research.

3. Broaden your search. Photographs don't always go to family. Just because an image was in your great-grandmother's collection, doesn't mean it's a picture of her. It could be a collateral relative or a friend.

4. Look for family patterns. Think about your family photographs as documents and fit them into a timeline of a person's life. You might be surprised to see how those images line up with historical and genealogical data.

5. Submit your mystery to this blog. Fifty-two blog posts plus three Photo Detective Family Tree Magazine columns per year means a lot of people are taking advantage of this free way to get expert advice on their pictures. Your photo might be one selected for publication. All you have to do is follow the guidelines for submissions. Can't wait to see what's in your photo shoebox!

Looking for more tips on solving picture puzzles? Check out my book  Family Photo Detective.

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

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • fraternal | occupational | unusual photos
    Sunday, 30 November 2014 16:32:34 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 23 November 2014
    Thanksgiving Day Masquerade
    Posted by Maureen

    It's easy to be confused by this photo from the Library of Congress.  It's a group of children dressed in costume, but the photographer labeled it "Thanksgiving." The signage in the window advertising a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, sweet potatos and cranberry sauce (for 40 cents!) supports the caption.

    So what's going on?

    According to Greg Young, author of the Bowery Boys: New York City History blog and podcast, this dress-up once was part of a Thanksgiving event. He wrote about it last week in a Huffington Post column.  

    There were plenty of street urchins in ragged clothes in New York City in the circa-1900 period. Young states that children dressed like impoverished youth was part satire and part of the history of "mumming." The latter term is associated with men who'd dress in costume and go door to door asking for food and money. In return they'd play music. 

    Long before Macy's began its Thanksgiving parade tradition, groups of New Yorkers in costume would march down the streets. You can read more about the traditions behind this photo combining Halloween-type dress and Thanksgiving in Young's article. If your ancestors lived in New York, perhaps they passed down a story or two about going door to door on Thanksgiving.

    If you want to see more images like the one above, there's a slide show on The Weather Channel site.

    I love how photographs and history intersect.  This week's photo is a perfect example of that.

    I'm thankful for all the readers that check out this weekly blog column! 

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    1900-1910 photos | Halloween | holiday | thanksgiving
    Sunday, 23 November 2014 20:58:04 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 16 November 2014
    A Yard-Long Old Photo Brick Wall
    Posted by Maureen

    Cathy Jordan found three panoramic photographs in her father's old trunk. These oversize photos can cause eye strain and headaches as you try to find your relative in them!

    Thankfully, Cathy's been able to locate her father in two of them, but the third one baffles her. It's a group portrait of students at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. Her father lived in Conway, but didn't attend Hendrix.

    She photographed it in sections to make it easier for me to see it and share it with you.

    There are lots of clues in this long picture.
    • She contacted the Hendrix College archives. Staff told her that the building is College Hall. They looked in college newspapers and yearbooks for more information. The school's 1918 Troubador yearbook contains a photo that shows the same 18 band members. The archivist felt that this photo was taken around 1917-1918. At that time, College Hall was called Martin Hall.

    • The clothing clues and hairstyles agree with the 1917-1918 time frame.

    • One of the mysteries is why this is an all-male group.  Women attended the school at that time.

    These military style haircuts were very popular. Just about every young man in the picture has the same cut.

    In 1917, Hendrix was both a secondary school and a college. In the first image, you'll notice some boys who look younger than college freshmen.

    Hendrix did its part for the WWI war effort, building a Student Army Training Center during that 1917-1918 period.  At the same time, more than half the student population contracted the Spanish flu. Two died of it. 

    No one knows why this picture was taken.  There were no significant events at the school. The band played for football games and other school functions, but the all-male nature of the group rules out a school-wide event.

    Cathy doesn't know why her father owned the picture. He graduated from Little Rock Senior High in 1924. She has his report cards from the Arkansas Normal School, a teacher's college also located in Conway. Maybe this is a joint event between Hendrix and the Arkansas Normal School?  

    Today the Arkansas Normal School is the University of Central Arkansas. I'd follow-up with the university archivist and see if they have a copy of this picture.

    These yard-long pictures were very popular in the late teens and early 1920s. Identifying them is one problem but so is storing them. When I was a photo curator, we placed them in a large folder made from acid- and lignin- free cardstock in an oversize archival box. 

    Do you find vintage panoramic photos as fascinating as I do? Last summer I wrote about a panoramic photograph of the Pershing Family Reunion.

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

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1910s photos | panoramic photos
    Sunday, 16 November 2014 18:35:19 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 09 November 2014
    Religious Clues in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    A single photo tells a story of a person, place or event, but an album often tells the tale of an entire family. Katy Krause inherited a photo album. It all started with single question.

    Katy asked her father-in-law about his family history and said, "I wish I had a picture." That statement triggered his memory, and he brought her an album full of pictures. They appear to be of his grandmother Stella's family. He was able to identify his own father, his uncles and his aunt Irene. Katy thinks that Irene put the album together.

    The album includes several photos of Stella. Here are two:

    Stella, her mother and an unidentified woman, 1916.

    Stella and her children, 1922.

    Then there's this mystery image:

    Is this Stella in front? It's a First Communion photo. The little girl's dress and the white arm bows worn by the boys identify the occasion. The oldest boy holds a small bible and rosary beads.  The cross hangs down.

    The back is a postcard format. The stamp box identifies the symbol for Cyko (a producer of photo paper). 

    According to Playle, this particular design dates from 1907 into the 1920s.  You can use this site to match up the stamp boxes on your photo postcard images, too.

    So who's in the mystery photo? Is it Stella or Irene with two brothers? The children in that family were born as follows: Stella (1900), Jane (1902), Theodore (1906), Irene (1908) and Henry (1919). 

    Those knicker-style pants for boys were in style from the WWI era through the 1920s. The WWI-era styles featured a belted coat. These suits don't have that feature.

    If Stella made her First Communion at age 7, then this isn't her. The dress style is wrong for the first decade of the 20th century. But if that's Irene making her First Communion in our mystery photo, then the ages of the boys are wrong to be her brothers.

    Those children also could be other relatives—or Stella's offspring. In the photo shown above, she had a girl and two boys of the same age range as the children in the mystery picture. The mystery children bear a resemblance to the tots in the picture with their mother. I think they're Stella's children.

    A photo like this is a genealogical document. It's picture proof of a family event. I wonder if there is a church record that supports the evidence in the picture? A record of the children's First Communion could support the tentative identification.

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

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1920s photos | children | First Communion
    Sunday, 09 November 2014 19:15:29 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 02 November 2014
    Old Family Photos: Mystery Child, Part 2
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week I shared Jacqueline Curry's 1910s mystery photo of a woman and a young child. The family identification didn't hold up.

    Several people commented that the tot could be a boy. I'm waiting for a bit more family information from Jacqueline to help answer that question, but it certainly is possible. In the early 20th century, little boys wore dresses until about the age of 5. 

    Jacqueline's great-great-grandmother Harriet, born in 1862 in Sussex, England, would be about the right age to be the mother. In this photo, she's facing away from the camera so that it's difficult to see her face. 

    From Jacqueline's family tree, here are two candidates for the woman and child in our mystery photo:
    • Harriet Day, born 1862
    • Her daughter Elsie, born in 1902. (Another daughter, Dorothy, born in 1891, is definitely not in the photo.)

    Here are a other photos of these folks for comparison:


    A lovely day at the beach in the 1930s for Harriet and her granddaughter Jeanne. Jeanne is Elsie's daughter, born in 1931.

    Elsie and her future husband Thomas at the time of their engagement.

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

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1900-1910 photos | children | facial resemblances | women
    Sunday, 02 November 2014 15:52:48 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [1]