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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, 29 June 2015
Our Ancestors' Fourth of July Celebrations
Posted by Maureen


 
How did your ancestral town celebrate the Fourth of July? In this image by John Lewis Krimmel, the citizens of Philadelphia honor the day in 1819.

Researching Fourth of July celebrations in historical newspapers published in your ancestral hometowns can tell you how your family marked the occasion. I learned that in my city, the day started with cannon fire at dawn. Later in the day, a balloon ascension was held in the downtown.

Providence, RI, was well known for featuring balloon ascensions on Independence Day. In the first such ascension, in 1800, the passengers in the basket were a dog and a cat. Local celebrity Prof. James K. Allen and his son experimented with balloons in Providence before and after the Civil War. During the war, the Allens flew surveillance balloons for the Union Army, under the command of Gen. Ambrose Burnside.

Each generation celebrated the Fourth of July differently.

In this Library of Congress print from circa 1875, families gather for picnics. Today, July Fourth fireworks, parades and concerts are common activities.

Patriotic symbols like flags often appear in family photos. Count the stars in the flags to pinpoint a time frame for the image.  The number of stars changed throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries as new states joined the union.

One of my favorite photos featuring patriotic symbolism is a stereograph of Fontanella Weller. Her father posed her as Columbia in 1876.

If you want to learn more about how and why we celebrate the 4th of July, Peter de Bolla's The Fourth of July (2007) is an good read. 

Happy 4th of July!


Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 4th of July | patriotic
    Monday, 29 June 2015 15:23:03 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 22 June 2015
    Twentieth-Century Childhood Fashion
    Posted by Maureen

    Kyndahl Carlson's aunt is writing down all the family stories she can remember. A family photo album in a cousin's collection may contain key details to add to those tales.

    The album may have belonged to the cousin's grandmother, Ruth Scrivner Laughter. The photos are laid out with the elders first, followed by images of Kyndahl's grandmother and Ruth's children and grandchildren.

    The context of the way all the images in an album are presented can tell you about who's important to the person who created the album, and can yield identification clues based on which photos are on which pages. I haven't seen the whole album, but I can add a few details about the individual images.



    This timeless photo of three children lacks any information about the photographer, but the clothing clues and chair help date the picture.



    The boys wear suits popular from about 1899 to World War I. There were subtle variations in the design of these suits over time, including ties, belts and different insignia. The insignia here is an abstract flower-like design, but I've also seen nautical anchors stitched into the placket of these sailor-collared outfits.



    This style was also popular for girls' dresses. The Sears Roebuck's catalog (searchable on Ancestry.com) sold suits similar to these for approximately $2. 

    Because these suits were common for more than a decade, it's hard to pinpoint a more-specific year without extensive research. 

    Wicker chairs as studio props first appear in the 1890s and continue in use for several decades. I own a wedding portrait from 1916 of my maternal grandfather leaning on a wicker chair.

    Posing three children together suggests a close relationship between them. I think this photo shows siblings, though I've also seen cousins posed together. Add up the family facts first before jumping to conclusions.

    Kyndahl can look at her family tree for a family with two brothers and a sister (or a brother) born close together. In the 19th century, girls wore center parts and boys wore side parts, but that's not so clear for the 20th century. All three children in this image part their hair in the center.

    The oldest boy could be about 5 years of age, the younger light-haired boy close to 3, and the baby could be 1 or 2. 

    Photo albums are collections of close family pictures, as well as images from friends and other relatives. There is no guarantee that these three are on the family tree. Fingers crossed!


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1900-1910 photos | children
    Monday, 22 June 2015 13:34:32 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, 14 June 2015
    Spotting Light-Eyed Ancestors in Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Paul Newman, Frank Sinatra, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Craig and other Hollywood actors and actresses draw attention with their variously shaded blue eyes. Eye color is easy to spot in contemporary color pictures, but how can you tell if you inherited your baby blues from your maternal or paternal great-grandparent? The proof may be in a family photo. 

    Here's a quick identification tip: Look at your ancestor's eyes. Do their irises look dark or are they ghostly in appearance? Blues and light greens often appear pale and ghostly in old pictures. The lighter the eye color, the whiter they appear.

    Here's an example:



    This is one of my favorite images from the Library of Congress website. It depicts Maria Boyd of Warwick, RI, holding a weaving shuttle in the mid-1800s. Take a close look at her eyes. 



    Her irises are pale in color, suggesting blue or light green eyes. This one detail can help you identify the right ancestor if you have additional information such as:
    • a family story about the blue-eyed greatgrandmother
    • a pension or military service papers that mention eye color 
    • an already-identified photograph of a person with similar facial features and the same eye color

    However, identifying a person based on eye color comes with a warning. Not everyone liked the appearance of their light-colored eyes in pictures, or sometimes the pale eyes need additional definition to be clearly seen in a photo. Photographers sometimes added color in hand-colored images, or darkened the eyes in enhanced black-and-white pictures. 

    On a somewhat-related note, blue eyes and DNA have been in the news. Scientific studies suggest all blue-eyed people descend from the same ancestor. Interesting!



    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1850s photos | occupational | women
    Sunday, 14 June 2015 13:10:59 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 07 June 2015
    Finding Your Ancestors' Graduation Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    This time of year makes me think about graduations. I live near two universities and often see graduates in cap and gowns smiling for pictures. Our ancestors also posed for school pictures, whether they were graduating from eighth grade, a trade school, high school or a college/university.

    In the mid-19th century, class books included actual card photographs of the graduates. The yearbook format we're familiar with debuted in the 1880s.

    Here are some tips on locating images of ancestral graduates in your family.
    • Contact the public library or historical society in the town where they lived to see if either institution has a yearbook collection. You can also try the local department of education, but usually older records are donated to a local historical society.

    • If your ancestor attended a private school, try contacting the school library to see if it has an archive. Most colleges and universities maintain an archive with yearbooks and other items. In some schools, incoming freshmen posed for pictures, not just when they graduated. Don't forget to check the school website in case there is a digital collection.

    • Try searching for yearbooks online. For starters, here are some websites with yearbooks:

      • Genealogy Today has a large collection of yearbooks and school materials. Search this list to see if a school your ancestor attended is mentioned.
      • Search for yearbooks and school materials published before 1922 on the Internet Archive. Enter the name of the school in the search box and narrow by year. 
      • Looking for a more recent yearbook? It might be worth subscribing to E-Yearbook.com. The cost is $19.95 a year or $4.95 for a month. 
      • The Library of Congress collection has a few graduation-related photographs. Search by surname and by school. 
      • Cyndis List.com has a category for Yearbooks and Annuals.

    In my book Searching For Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now! you'll discover other research tips for locating family photos.

    You may have a graduation photo and not know it. Watch for clues such as rolled-up diplomas. Some studio photographers used these as props.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • photo-research tips | school photos
    Sunday, 07 June 2015 18:51:21 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 01 June 2015
    Head-to-Toe 1920s Wedding Fashion
    Posted by Maureen

    June is a popular month for weddings, so Diane Smith's submission of a mystery photo is a perfect way to start off the summer bridal season.



    Her maternal great-grandmother owned this picture. Could this be a picture of Diane's great-grandfather's parents, who married in Poland in 1876?

    Diane's in for a surprise! This image dates from the 1920s, not the 1870s.  It's a head-to-toe wedding portrait. Here's how the clues stack up:



    The young man's hairstyle was called a "boyish pomadour" by the Tonsorial Artist magazine (tonsorial meaning "of or related to a barber or barbering") in 1924. It would be easy to jump to conclusions based on a single clue, but it's important to add up all the facts first.

    Short hair was very fashionable for young women in the 1920s. The bride wears a variation of the wavy shingle, or short hair with waves. Those waves could be created by a permanent wave treatment or using a curling iron to "marcel" it. A few weeks ago I wrote about wavy hair in old photos and showed a picture of an 1870s Marcel wave, named after a hairdresser.

    In the 1920s, bridal bouquets featured long trailing ribbons, like the one shown here.

    Shoes are rarely visible in 19th century images, but are a prominent photo- dating clue in the 20th century. There were three basic shoe styles for women in the 1920s:
    • pumps
    • t-straps
    • ankle straps
    In the early 1920s, heels were thicker, but by the later part of decade thinner heals were common. This woman's shoes feature a cuban or spike heel. To view more examples of shoes from the 1920s, click here.

    Let's take another look at the picture and their wedding outfits.



    The bride wears an ankle-length satin dress with a bias cut and full sleeves. The groom's suit likely features a two-button front. He's wearing a formal shirt and a light-colored (perhaps white) bow tie.

    While his haircut came into fashion in the early 1920s, it likely remained popular for several years. Their wedding outfits, especially her shoes and sleeves, date from the late 1920s, probably between 1927 and 1929.

    To determine who's in this picture, Diane needs to re-check her family history for any weddings in that period. Because the picture was owned by her maternal great grandmother, the bride or groom probably has a connection to her. 

    There is one more clue in the picture: The groom has light-colored eyes, which might help in finding him in other, already-identified images.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1920s photos | men | wedding | women
    Monday, 01 June 2015 16:57:38 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]