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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, 26 June 2016
Aerial Photographs and Ancestral Home Towns
Posted by Maureen

In the 19th century, daring photographers climbed into woven baskets held aloft by balloons in order to take pictures of local landscapes. While French photographer Nadar's photograph of Paris from the air in 1858 no longer exists, other such landscapes still do.

J.W. Black of Boston photographed Boston from a balloon in 1860. That picture is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. You can read more about it in Smithsonian magazine.

The world seemed enamored with aerial photography in the 1860s. During the Civil War, Gen. Ambrose Burnside employed a balloonist, Prof. James Allen of Providence, RI, to take reconnaissance photographs of battlefields and troop locations.

Visual Time Traveling with the Library of Congress.
A large number of aerial images are in the collection of the Library of Congress. Search the Prints and Photographs collection using the term, "aerial photography," then use the "Refine your search" options on the left side of the screen to narrow results by date, place or online availability. You might locate an image of an ancestral hometown taken in the time frame your ancestor lived there.


Richmond, Virginia looking west, April 1865. Library of Congress.


Kite Photos
Balloons weren't the only way to photograph from the air. In 1882, a British meteorologist developed a way to attach cameras to kites. The caption of this postcard states that a kite-held camera took this scene.


Aerial photography never went out of style. Airplanes replaced balloons and kites, and now there are drones. Visit any gadget store and you're apt to see drones capable of taking videos. Search online for "drone film of [fill in the blank]" to see if there's virtual aerial tour of an ancestral hometown.

You can read more about the history of aerial photography on Wikipedia.


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 | 1880s photos | 1910s photos | aerial photos | Airplanes | Civil War
    Sunday, 26 June 2016 22:13:57 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 19 June 2016
    College Girls in an Old Mystery Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    Did your grandmother, great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother go to college? The proof may be in an old photo album.



    In the early part of the 20th century, young women filled black paper albums and scrapbooks with pictures of their family, friends and college activities. You might have one of those albums tucked away in an old trunk. If you don't know where your female ancestor went to school, study those images for clues. 

    I recently found a series of five photographs of young women at an unidentified school. At least five clues immediately stand out in one of the pictures. These details could add up to identify the school, and then maybe the women.



    1. The fluted column.
    This is a distinctive feature. Columns come in various designs, but the size and shape of this one stands out. It signifies a large building. The wall visible behind the column is brick. Right away those two clues come together: It's a large brick building with fluted columns, likely one on either side of the doorway.

    2. Engraved stairs.
    "Class of 1910" engraved into the riser of the top stair provides a starting time frame for the photo. The clothing clues suggested it was taken circa World War 1, but this clue, combined with the column, adds a more specific piece to the puzzle. 

    3. A plaque.
    These two women sat on the stairs of an important building on campus, one with a commemorative plaque. Unfortunately no amount of tinkering with the image could make it readable. 

    4. Clothing clues
    It's possible the girl on the left is wearing a uniform of some sort. This signifies a school with a dress code perhaps. Her attire and that of the woman next to her place this image in the circa-World War 1 period.

    5. Activity
    The girls are making something.

     
    It looks like luminaria. The woman on the right holds a candle. The two bags on the stair have bases that could be filled with sand and an opening for a candle. These are generally made for special occasion. Neither woman is dressed for cold weather so these could be for a graduation, an induction ceremony, a fall festival or some special school event.

    Brick+column+engraving+plaque =a very recognizable building standing as of likely 1910. The problem is...WHERE?

    Where was it taken?
    Posting on social media as a crowdsourcing experiment didn't help, so it's back to research. A timeline of women's colleges in the United States on Wikipedia works as a checklist. I'm using the process of elimination to try to figure out where these women and the other women were photographed.

    It's a three-step process.
    • Use Google Images to look for pictures of each of the colleges listed on Wikepedia to see if there are any buildings with fluted columns built circa 1910. 
    • If there are buildings with columns on the campus, then the next step is to look at digital collections in the school archives on their website.
    • Send an email to their archivist asking if they recognize the building.
    This research takes time.

    So far I've heard back from the following colleges: Wellesley College, Hollins University and Barnard. No matches. 

    So...if you recognize those distinctive features or know of someone who might, please share this.


    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 | school photos | women
    Sunday, 19 June 2016 21:36:53 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [5]
    # Sunday, 12 June 2016
    Daguerreotype, Ambrotype and Tintype: Telling Them Apart
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week's post discussed Jay Kruizenga's ancestor James Pennington's dreamy blue eyes and trendy 1850s fashion.



    When an individual visited a photo studio in the late 1850s, he could choose the style of portrait—shiny reflective daguerreotype, glass ambrotype, metal tintype or a paper card photo. 

    This is a key part of identifying a photo from the mid-19th century. If an image was taken before 1854, then it's a daguerreotype, but if it was taken after that point, then it could be one of the others. 

    Daguerreotypes, introduced in 1839, have a distinctive appearance. Because they're reflective, you have to tilt them at a 45-degree angle in order to view the image. Otherwise, the silver-coated copper plate is often so shiny you just see yourself in the plate.

    Ambrotypes, patented in 1854, are on glass. Backed with a dark substance (such as varnish or paper) they look positive, but when the backing starts to deteriorate, you can often see through the glass. This gives the image a ghostly appearance.

    Tintypes, patented in 1856, are actually on iron, not tin. Unlike a daguerreotype, tintypes are not reflective. While you can find them in cases (like the previous two image types), most tintypes found in collections aren't in any type of protective sleeve or case.

    Card photographs (introduced in the United States about 1859) are on cardstock and instantly recognizable.

    So James posed about 1857, which means his portrait could be a daguerreotype, ambrotype or tintype. Jay's cousin sent him the pictures digitally. When she photographed the images, she propped them on a dark surface to decrease the reflection. Plus, the image has a type of deterioration known as a halo, usually found on daguerreotypes.
     
    I'm leaning toward it being a daguerreotype, but sometimes a digital image can be deceiving. We're waiting for verification of the appearance of the original.

    Photo Milestone
    After reading Jay's family history website, it's pretty clear when James posed for this image. He married his wife Esther Inwood in 1857. Both James and his bride are dressed for the occasion. 

    Mysteries usually come in twos. The picture of James came with another. The woman is Esther, an ID based on other photos of her. The mystery is the identity of the girl.




    Esther's attire also suggests the photo was taken circa 1857 for her wedding. The wide collar and dress design are appropriate for the time period. You can even see the outline of her corset.

    So who's the girl?  The couple didn't have children at this point. I wonder if she could be a flower girl? 

    Esther's brother had a daughter Sarah, but in 1857, she'd only be 4, and this girl is older. She could be the daughter of one of the witnesses at the wedding.

    If you'd like to see a wonderful example of how to present your family history on the web, take a few minutes to look at Jay's site on James Pennington.  You'll find everything from narrative to documents and DNA. 



    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 | cased images | daguerreotype | wedding
    Sunday, 12 June 2016 20:27:46 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, 06 June 2016
    Old Blue Eyes in a Family Photo
    Posted by Maureen

    This man's pale blue eyes stand out in this portrait.



    Jay Kruizenga submitted the photo with an inquiry about a date for the picture. He's hopeful it was taken circa 1857, making James Pennington (1828-1903) a potential ID for this man. Pennington would be 29 years old in 1857.

    This is a typical mid-19th century portrait. It doesn't show the background; the focus is on the sitter and what he's wearing.

    Nineteenth-century fashion trends originated in Paris and spread from there. In the United States, our ancestors wore Americanized French fashion. Here's a fashion plate from an 1857 issue of Journal des Merchants Tailleurs:


     
    A well-dressed man wore a jacket, vest and tie, just like the men in this illustration and the man in the photo.

    A few fashion details visible in Kruizenga's photo help date the portrait:
    • He wears his hair combed back with oil.
    • His necktie is a wide silk stock, wrapped under his collar and tied. By 1857, another type of tie also was available—a wide, horizontal looking bow tie.
    • In the 1850s, patterned vests were common. A little bit of patterned fabric shows in this closeup. 
    • Often, one of the key details in a man's outfit is the width and shape of the jacket lapels. In this case, his lapels are quite wide.  
    Next week, I'll examine the types of photos available in the 1850s. It could help confirm the photo's time frame.


    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 | men
    Monday, 06 June 2016 17:00:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]