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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, 27 July 2015
5 Clues to Solve an Old-Photo Mystery
Posted by Maureen



Every old mystery photo is full of clues if you know where to look. Let's break this one down into five steps:

1. Consider the provenance.
Phyllis Reakes' first cousin gave her this photograph. Phyllis knows the man sitting on the far right is her great-grandfather, born in 1839. That chain of ownership of this photo helps confirm the man's identity.

2. Look at the faces.



I love looking at these two faces. It appears to be a father and son, who share everything from the shape of their noses to the tilt of their heads when they pose for a picture. 

3. Add up the genealogical clues.
Which son is it? Phyllis told me that her great-grandfather had several wives and children. I'd date this photo to the early part of the 20th century based on the women's dresses, circa 1900-1910. A tentative time frame for the image helps determine which son is depicted and allows for possible identities for the rest of the individuals. The woman seated next to the son to our left could be his wife or his father's.

It's important not to jump to quick conclusions about this picture. Depending on when great-grandfather was married for the last time and the age of his wife, those children could be his. Each identity has to be proven.

4. Study the clothing details.
The three young women in the back row wear interesting accessories.



Two have decorated their dresses with ribbons. This could just be a simple way of accessorizing their outfits, without other significance. The woman in the middle wears a long beaded chain around her neck. This was generally worn with either a watch or a pair of pince nez glasses. Either could be tucked into a waistline pocket.

5. Study the location.
Phyllis believes this image was taken in Keiv, Volh, Russia. The studio name isn't on this image, but by reaching out through social media, she might be able to locate other pictures taken in the same area.  It's worth the search to see what turns up.  Photographs have a way of bringing families together. Each of the individuals in the picture likely had descendants. As families grow, these connections are lost. This image might re-connect them.


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 | eyeglasses | Immigrant Photos | men
    Monday, 27 July 2015 20:41:06 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 19 July 2015
    Old Mystery-Photo Success Story: Six Years Later
    Posted by Maureen

    So how long does it take to identify an old mystery photo? Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes not. It all depends on how many facts you have about a photo and if you can rule out possible subjects. In Michael Boyce's case, it took six years.

    He's determined to bring together Boice/Boyce genealogy with family photos. In 2009, I wrote about this image from his collection in a post called "Family Tall Tales:"



    He initially submitted the photo of the man with a partial missing finger to try to sort out stories in the family  Name changes, migration to the West Coast and a message board contact eventually helped sort out the Boice/Boyce family connections. But what about the man?

    Who was he? John Boice (born 1794) had three brothers, Eli, Jacob and William. Michael Boyce tracked down images of two of the other brothers and was able to rule them out. Last week, he wrote to me and said he'd found a photo of William:
      


    Comparing two images of the same person requires studying the facts of his life and the clues in the image. It helps to put them in a timeline too. The same is true for comparing images of family members. Sometimes there is a striking familial resemblance.

    In the first image, taken in the 1860s, the man is balding. He has a full face. In this new image William is older and has a lot more hair.  Men wore their hair combed front in the late 1860s to early 1870s.

    Can you spot the family features? They both have blue eyes, prominent eyebrows and a down turned mouth. They also share an intense expression.

    Now that Michael's found pictures of all the other brothers he's pretty convinced that the man in the 2009 column is his ancestor John Boice. Through process of elimination and photo comparison it looks like Michael can finally put a name with a face. 

    You can check out all of Michael's Boyce family research on his new family history website.

    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

  • 1870s photos | hairstyles | men
    Sunday, 19 July 2015 15:16:48 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 13 July 2015
    Identifying Mystery Photos in an Old Family Album
    Posted by Maureen

    eileen poulin.JPG
    A family photo album opens the door to new genealogy discoveries, but reading the clues in an album isn't always easy. It often comes down to what you know about your family and who's depicted on each album page.

    The most important people to the person who laid out the album are usually at the beginning, especially the first three pages. Those individuals are significant. If you know who they are, it's a lot easier to figure out who else is in the album and who's been left out.

    Adding to the mystery is the fact that many people used their albums as part family photo collection and part scrapbook. You'll often find pictures of famous individuals and friends as well as relatives.

    For Eileen Poulin, the whole question of who's in her great-grandmother Josephine Payeur's album is complicated by the ancestor's four marriages. The album may represent her own family as well as those of her spouses.

    Josephine's family hails from Three Rivers, Quebec, Canada. She was born in Vermont and later moved to Connecticut. She had two children with her first husband and one each with the next two husbands. There were no children from her fourth marriage.

    To analyze who's who in Josephine's album, it's important to study the milestones of Josephine's life—such as her birth and death dates as well as those for each of her husbands and the birth dates of her children. I'd also like to know when they lived in various places. This data provides an outline in which to study the images.

    The next step is to place each of the images in to a time frame based on the usual clues of clothing, photographer's work dates and photographic format. For instance, she submitted a picture from the album (above). It's a lovely photo of a young woman posed with a puppy. Remarkably, the puppy stood still for the picture. The young woman smiles for the camera.

    Two fashion clues immediately place the photo in a time frame: puffy sleeves and an asymmetrical hat with high plumes. These date the picture to the late 1890s. If we estimate the woman's age at about 20, she would've born sometime in the late 1870s. Elaine can match that picture with her outline of people and facts. Unfortunately, there's no photographer's information on the picture to further narrow the possibilities.

    I'd love to know more about the album and see the first pages to help Elaine figure out the story behind it and the woman who created it.


    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


  • 1890s photos | dogs | women
    Monday, 13 July 2015 15:51:18 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 06 July 2015
    Triple Tintype Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    Most of us feel lucky to have one picture of an ancestor, but imagine finding three images of an identical person in family photos and not knowing who he is. Obviously this man was important to someone in Kyndahl Carlson's family. This triple mystery appears in a family photo album.

    Here are the three pictures:






    In this image, he's posed between two men. The two men each rest a hand on his shoulder showing a close relationship. Kyndahl has no idea who they are. One could be the young man's father and the other a brother or they could be other relatives. 

    The young man wears a suit from the 1860s, with a velvet collar and wide lapels. The other two men also wear suits from the 1860s, but the tie on the man on the right suggests a date of circa 1870. There was a market for second-hand clothing, so it's possible that the young man's suit is a hand-me-down.

    He wears the same watch fob in both images.



    The man on the left has light blue eyes. A few weeks ago I wrote about Spotting Light Colored Eyes. This could be an identification clue if there are family stories about this man and his blue eyes.

    The final tintype is very interesting!



    In this image, the same young man is posed with pants tucked into boots, no jacket, a fiddle, a pipe and an old hat. He's ready to perform. Is he really a performer, or was this arranged by the photographer? Fiddlers often tucked their pants into their boots and wore hats, but not necessarily this style.

    When faced with three images of the same person, it's helpful to arrange them in a timeline. In this case, that's difficult since all three images were taken around the same time. He doesn't age from picture to picture.  Here's the order that I think makes sense:



    A side-by-side timeline of images often reveals details overlooked when examining the images individually. What's apparent from this collage is the expression on his face. He's a solemn person with no smile and sad eyes. 

    Carlson's family lived in Maine, Wisconsin, Montana, South Dakota, Oregon and Idaho. The young man's identification depends in part on his branch of the family. At this point, that's unclear. I'd start by figuring out the following:
    • He's a teen. Who in Carlson's tree was in his mid-teens around 1870?
    • Does he look like anyone else in family photos? There could be another picture of him at an older age. He has a slim nose, a small mouth with narrow eyes and thin brows. Watch for men with similar features and facial shape.

    I'm hoping these additional details help Carlson figure out an identity.


    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


  • 1860s photos | 1870s photos | hats | men | unusual clothing | unusual photos
    Monday, 06 July 2015 18:05:40 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]