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<2017 June>

by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, 27 September 2015
Graveside Clues in an Old Photo
Posted by Maureen

Our family photo collections are full of pictures of happy occasions, such as weddings, parties and kids having fun.

But sometimes the camera was used to document a sorrowful family history moment. Pam Fisher owns this graveside group portrait from the Shepardson family. She thinks it was taken in southern Washington state.

She also sent along a second photo for comparison. It's possible her great uncle Ben stands in the back row on the right of this group photo. Next week, I'll compare the two images and see if that's possible.

Before I do that, though, I need to study the clues in this picture. If these clues suggest the picture was taken after Ben's death, then he naturally won't be in the crowd. "When was it taken?" is the first question to answer.

Hats are a great piece of evidence to determine a photo's time frame. Sometimes women held on to favorite hats for years. In other cases, a woman who couldn't afford to update her entire wardrobe would purchase a new hat to look more fashionable. The hats in this group date from about 1919. Each one has a brim and a rounded crown, typical details from that time frame.

The people at the grave are likely close relatives to the deceased.  

So who died? The size of the grave and the two people standing closest offer insights into who's buried there. It's a small grave. Standing behind the mound is a man and a woman. They don't look very old. I'm wondering if they could be parents of a child who died. They might also be siblings of the deceased.

The expressions on their faces convey their deep sadness over the loss of this person. Behind them stands a middle-aged man. An older man with similar features to the first middle-aged man stands to the side. They could be grandparents.

It's important to remember that this picture represents a gathering of family and friends. It's a useful family history document.  
  • Who died?  Study family history to see who dies circa 1919. The flu epidemic of 1918/1919 occurred in three waves in those years. Perhaps the deceased contracted that illness.  

  • Who's in the family group? If the man in this grouping is great-uncle Ben, this information may help to identify the couple in front of the grave.

  • Who else is at the funeral? I'd look at the family tree again to see who lived in southern Washington state circa 1919, then examine family photos for pictures of those individuals. Next step is to compare those pictures to the faces in the crowd.

The lack of foliage in the background and the mourners' heavy coats suggest it's cold outside. These details further narrow the time period. It's winter or spring of 1918/1919.

While this image depicts a sad moment for Pam's relatives, for their descendants the very existence of this picture is worth celebrating.

Next week I'll try to spot great uncle Ben. 

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

  • 1910s photos | men | mourning photos | women
    Sunday, 27 September 2015 16:23:16 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 21 September 2015
    Crowdsourcing an Identity in an Old Vacation Picture
    Posted by Maureen

    Alex Jenner of Ipswich, Suffolk, England, bought this photo at a "boot sale." He's fascinated by it and he'd like our help figuring out who posed. Crowdsourcing is a way of spreading information on the internet and trying to find answers through the viral qualities of the web. It might help Jenner figure out who these people are.

    The scenery isn't a mystery. The distinctive landscape is the Gap of Dunloe, Ireland. In researching the image he stumbled upon a column I wrote years ago about an earlier picture of a group near this landmark.

    Photography and family vacations go hand in hand. The first known family vacation photo likely dates from the daguerreotype era of the 1840s, when people posed in front of tourist locations like Niagara Falls.

    Alex also researched the photographer of this image, L. Anthony of Killarney. A quick Google search turned up information on Louis Anthony, a popular photographer in the area. He'd travel daily in the tourist season to the Gap to take pictures, return to the studio to develop them and have them ready for pick up by the time the tourists came back from the Gap.   It's possible that he also took the image in the previous column I wrote about that carload of visitors to the Gap.

    The first number in the close-up above refers to the vacationing group. This information was written on the negative.

    If you're on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media platform, let's get this picture on the web and see what happens. Tell your friends too. It's a good test of the virtual world.

    Let's see if we can make crowdsourcing work to identify this couple.

    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

  • 1910s photos | men | women
    Monday, 21 September 2015 21:04:28 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 13 September 2015
    What Does It Take to Solve a Mystery?
    Posted by Maureen

    Bet you're thinking this is a good question. Solving an old photo mystery relies on different things. It all depends on the picture but there are certain family facts that help.

    Denise Valentine submitted this 20th-century picture.  She's unsure who's in the picture but she has some ideas.

    I love the expression on this woman's face. Her pose with hand on top of the column and her straight forward gaze suggests she's got a strong personality.

    This young couple could be Denise's grandparents but she doesn't know for sure and no one in the family does either.  Her mother was born in 1930. Could they be her parents?  Denise's mother gave her the photo with no information. It's incredible to consider, but photo identifications can disappear within a generation.

    The clothing immediately told me that this was a 20th century image. The young woman's calf-length dress and cropped hair are two clues. Skirts got shorter after 1910. The 1920 passage of the 19th amendment, giving women the vote, encouraged women to cut their long locks. This hairstyle was all the rage in Hollywood too.


    She wears a t-strap shoe with an ankle wrap. He wears highly polished two tone high top short boots. Her shoes were fashionable in the mid to late 1920s. Two tone shoes for men were also common in the period.

    Dresses with soft ruffled collars and drop earrings like the ones she's wearing also date from the 1920s. There were many styles and types of ties available for men throughout the early 20th century. In this case his collars lacks long points and his bow tie is small.

    It looks like she has a corsage pinned to her dress.

    Sunday best attire, shiny shoes and a corsage combined with their young age suggests a significant event, such as a wedding.

    A good possibility, but here's where the answer to the question in the title comes in. What do you need to solve a picture mystery?  In addition to pictorial evidence like clothing and photographic method, you need family data.

    In this instance, a marriage license could help identify the picture. And vice versa. This picture suggests that a wedding took place in the late 1920s.

    Denise's mother Lillian was born in 1930. She had one older brother named after his father Walter.  Their mother was Mabel.  I'm not using their last names because their births are within 100 years (a time period usually assigned for privacy purposes).

    The family lived in Coffeyville, Montgomery County, Kan. I've done a lot of digging and discovered that a lot of people in that area had the same last name. I may have found the right couple with their two children in the 1930 census.  At the time the couple was in their 20s—they could be the man and woman in this picture.

    The next steps are to rule out other possibilities and to find other pictures of the couple at a later date.  

    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 | wedding | women
    Sunday, 13 September 2015 16:52:53 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 06 September 2015
    Labor Day: Work Clothes in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    The first Labor Day was held Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City, sponsored by the Central Labor Union. You can read more about the history of Labor Day here.

    In honor of Labor Day, let's take a look at an occupational portrait of a latch maker in the collection of the Library of Congress.

    Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-3597

    It's a gorgeous daguerreotype taken between the late 1840s and 1860. The key dating clues in this image are the style of the mat and the case that holds the image (not visible here).  

    Did you notice that this man is wearing a vest? He likely wore a jacket on his way home. Men generally dressed in shirts, vests and jackets.  He's rolled up the sleeves on his collarless work shirt. I've even seen photos of farmers plowing fields in full dress with a hat on their heads.

    He's posed with one of his lock mechanisms. Bringing an object into a photo helps the viewer identify his trade. Without the lock, it would be a mystery work picture. He's even demonstrating how the lock works with the key. 

    As soon as I enlarged the digital image, I realized that the daguerreotypist colored his cheeks and slightly tinted his lips for a more realistic look. 

    While his hair isn't visible in this picture, that's an interesting clue. Many men in the 1850s wore their hair longer than this man does. Perhaps it's short so that it doesn't interfere with his work by getting in his eyes?

    The hat looks like it's a heavy fabric rather than felt.  It's seen some use, fraying at the edges.

    If you have a work related picture of an ancestor, please email it to me using these submission guidelines. The last time I asked for images, there were enough for weeks' worth of blog posts.

    1850s photos | daguerreotype | hats | occupational
    Sunday, 06 September 2015 23:03:32 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]