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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, 28 August 2016
School Days in Old Photos
Posted by Diane

September means schools are in session for another year of reading, writing and arithmetic. Today's students learn a lot more than the basic three subjects. Topics taught and student life bear little resemblance to your ancestor's school year.

It's a good thing many families documented school days in pictures. We can compare the pictures of the past with those taken today. There are similarities, of course: A little kid going off to his very first day of grade school has always been a milestone moment.

You'll find class portraits. Your great-grandfather might sit in the crowd with an x above his head to identify him, leaving you wondering about the names of other students. Those photographs tell the story of your ancestor's education.

Turns out mystery school pictures aren't that unusual. Here's an assortment of past Photo Detective blog posts featuring students and teachers:



This group of mystery pics still lacks identification. The College Girls in an Old Mystery Photo sit on a step engraved with "Class of 1910." Anyone recognize the location?

If you find a picture of a relative posed holding a rolled up document, it might be proof of graduation. Find a list of what to look for to identify graduates in family pictures in Finding Your Ancestors Graduation Photos.



The post A Yard-Long Old Photo Brick Wall depicts students at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. It was found in a reader's grandfather's collection. He didn't attend Hendrix, so why did he own the picture?




Did your ancestor attend a technical school during World War II?  I'd love to learn more about these schools from folks who participated in them. You can learn more in the post World War II Victory Corps.




Fall and Back to School features one of my favorite photos from my own collection. Without the caption, you'd think the young girl posed with her mother, not her teacher.




British Schoolboy Uniforms Or The Bluecoats are Coming shares a mystery still waiting to be solved. British school uniforms are very specific, but so far no one has come forward to name the location or the school in this picture. Can you help?


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


  • group photos | school photos | students
    Sunday, 28 August 2016 15:06:46 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Sunday, 21 August 2016
    Figuring out Where an Old Family Photo Was Taken
    Posted by Maureen



    Laura Katz knows that this is picture of her paternal great-grandparents Baruch and Asna Lipitz. They immigrated from Russia in 1906, and Laura wonders if this picture was taken there or in the United States.

    Comparing the date the photo was taken to the date of the couple's immigration should help. The fashion pinpoints a timeframe for the picture. Asna's square neckline became popular in the WWI period and remained a common design element in the early 1920s. Not every woman in the 1920s was a flapper with dropped-waist dresses. There were styles for the young and fashionable, designs for more conservative dressers and everyone in between.

    That's just one of the variables in dating photos based on clothing styles.  For instance, a person may have held onto a dress for a number of years.

    Asna wears her hair in the style of the earlier part of the century--piled on her head with a bun at the crown.

    The checks in her dress fabric, the natural waistline, and the calf length of the dress suggest a date circa 1919. 

    Baruch (born 1862) and his wife Asna (born circa 1863) look like they could be in the vicinity of 60 years old.

    This looks like a metal photograph popular in that time period. There was a stand attached to the back so it could be propped up for viewing.

    The date of the picture clearly indicates they posed for this picture in the United States, years after they arrived here.

    It's a lovely picture taken in the garden.  The mystery for me is why Baruch placed his chair in trees, so that leaved saplings shield the lower half of his body.


    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
    Sunday, 21 August 2016 21:16:59 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 14 August 2016
    3 Next Steps in Photo Identification
    Posted by Maureen

    Last week's How to Tell Men's Faces Apart in Old Photos examined two photos thought to be the same man. Two branches of the family identified him as Patrick Sheridan, but the facial clues didn't add up.



    When looking at pictures, it's important to examine other family history details as well. Here are three:

    Family Stories
    According to family members, one of Patrick's granddaughters remembered seeing him when she was young. The feature she recalled was his curly white hair.

    Another story circulates among his Fayette County, Ohio, descendants. Passed down from generation to generation, it claims that he was a stowaway on a ship that arrived in New Orleans.

    A transcription of an obit (the original hasn't been located) states that on his deathbed he mentioned a brother he hadn't seen in 20 years. The family is working on proving this.

    Family Data
    Photos can become a stumbling block even for genealogists who know every detail of an ancestor's life. Pat Dwyer has accumulated a lot of material on Patrick. This is an overview of what she learned:
    • Patrick's naturalization papers from Mason County, Ky., state that he was under 18 when his arrived. He was naturalized April 11, 1853. He must have been in the U.S. by 1848. No age is mentioned in these papers.
    • He lived in Maysville, Mason County, Ky. He was from Cavan County, Ireland.
    • He was either 60 or 70 when he died in Clinton County, Ohio, in 1888. The obit says one and his headstone, the other.
    • In the 1860 census for Maysville, a Patrick Sherdon is a wagoner. If his age is correct, then he was born in 1828. That fact then helps determine his age at immigration (15) and death (60). More census data and other records could dispute or confirm that exact year.

    Family Connections
    The notes on the back of the older man's photo says Wes' grandfather. Wesley, was the son of William. When someone bought Wesley's farm, the new owners found a box of photos in the barn and brought it to the one man in town with the Sheridan surname. 

    Last year, Pat Dwyer visited this Ohio branch of the family and is still overwhelmed by all the documents and information she collected.

    Patrick Sheridan had 12 children. It's possible that the descendants of each one of them have details about his life. Tracking down those individuals could tie all the stories together, plus give Pat even more photos and documents. She's descended from Patrick's son, George. As she reaches out to cousins, she discovers that many of them also have copies of the picture of Patrick as an older man. The younger man is still a mystery.

    It seems that every picture solution opens another avenue worth exploring. Pat Dwyer is going to be busy for years to come.


    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


  • 1880s photos | facial resemblances
    Sunday, 14 August 2016 23:24:16 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, 07 August 2016
    How to Tell Men's Faces Apart in Old Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Pat Dwyer reached out through Facebook to ask a question about some confusing family photos. This post is the first of two.

    Pat owns a photograph of Patrick Sheridan, and her cousin thinks he does too.


    Patrick Sheridan



    Unknown man thought to be Patrick Sheridan

    When comparing two pictures of men, look closely at their facial features— especially ears, eyes and mouth. Examining pictures of men also involves comparing their facial hair growth patterns and hairlines.

    Establish a Time Frame
    The second photo of the unknown man likely dates from the late 1870s. The wide lapels and the style of the card the photo is printed on make this clear. It was more common to see men with small ties with loose ends under their collars, but a necktie was an option.

    Here's a photo of Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady wearing similar neckwear.


    Mathew Brady, 1875, Wikipedia.com

    Pat's photo of the older man standing with his hand on a fake column also dates from the 1870s.

    Look at Facial Features


    What do you see?

    Here are the differences that I immediately notice:
    • Hairlines are different
    • One man has curly hair and the other straight, but the man on the right has greased hair.
    • On the right, the tops of the man's ears tilt away from his head. The other man's ears are larger.
    • The beard is fuller on the man on the left.

    Here are some traits in common:

    • Shape of the nose
    • The brow line close to the eyes
    • A narrow chin

    While these two images don't depict the same man in my estimation, these could be a father and son. I'm hoping Pat has more information on the Sheridans.



    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 | facial resemblances | men
    Sunday, 07 August 2016 20:22:24 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]