Best of the Photo Detective



Best of the Photo Detective
Best of the
Put names and dates
to mysterious old family
photos with step-by-step
guides and investigations of
real-life cases from Family Tree
Magazine’s professional picture
sleuth, Maureen A. Taylor
very family has boxes or albums full of old photos—
including pictures whose subjects or dates are a
mystery. But those images contain hidden clues that
can help you determine who’s in them and when they were taken.
How you do know what to look for? Family Tree Magazine’s Photo
Detective, Maureen A. Taylor, is a professional photo historian and
genealogist who specializes in identifying historical images. Here
we’ve compiled some of her best advice and most interesting cases so you can discover
how to tease out those clues­—and solve your photo mysteries.
If you like what you see, you’ll find more of Maureen’s advice in Family Tree Magazine
and on our Photo Detective blog, where Maureen tackles readers’ photo conundrums
and shares tips for identifying and preserving pictures from the past. A new blog post is
featured each week in the free Family Tree Magazine E-mail Update newsletter. You’ll
Click any bulleted item to to go to
that article.
Starting Strategies
• Step-by-step photo identification
guide and worksheet
• Success stories
Clues in Clothing
Photographs, available through bookstores and online retailers. For more on Maureen’s
• Styles by era, 1840 to 1900
• Ethnic dress
• Women in pants
• Halloween costumes
• Children’s fashion
professional photo identification services, visit <>.
Answers in Accessories
also find in-depth help in Maureen’s book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family
• Hats and headwear
• Political campaign jewelry
Evidence in
Group Portraits
• Two photos of the same family?
• Unknown faces in a crowd
• Class portraits
• Wedding portraits
Caption Conundrums
• Labels as a starting point
• Inaccurate captions
Object Lessons
• House photos
• Automobile images
Visit the Photo Detective blog »
Special types
of Photographs
• Salt prints
• Photo postcards
Unusual Cases
Learn more about this book »
• Woman under a blanket
• Doctored photos
10:38 AM
Page 19
[ first
P H O T O S : C O U R T E S Y O F M A U R E E N A . TAY L O R
o your great-aunt Alma bequeathed
Having trouble
attaching names to
the faces in your
family portraits?
Fill in the blanks
with our step-by-step
guide and worksheet.
a boatload of family photos to you, but she didn’t label them—now
what? Whatever you do, don’t throw them away. Identifying and dating old pictures can be a challenge, but it’s also a good way to learn more about
your relatives. Have you ever wondered where you got your curly hair and
freckles? Now’s the time to find out. You might discover you’re the spitting image
of Great-great-grandma Lucille. Are you curious which side of the family a
group portrait depicts? With a little research, you can discover that, too.
The worksheet on page 23 will help you solve your picture puzzles one step
at a time. By writing down everything you know about an image, you’ll uncover
ancestral connections and ultimately save yourself plenty of genealogical grief.
Just fill out the form and attach a copy (not the original!) of your mystery photo
for your future reference. We’ll walk you through the entire photo-identification
process so you can start piecing those puzzles together like a pro.
Maureen A. Taylor
May 2005 19
10:39 AM
Page 20
E N A . TA
1. Type of photograph 2. Type of enclosure
Both tintypes (top) and
daguerreotypes (bottom)
are made of metal.
Begin by identifying the photographic
method: Do you have a daguerreotype, tintype, ambrotype or paper print? Certain
types of photos were popular at different
times. The first photographs, daguerreotypes
(1839 to 1860), are easy to spot because they
have reflective metal surfaces, and you must
hold them at an angle in order to see the
image. You’ll usually find glass ambrotypes
(1854 to 1860s) in protective cases
(see step 2); look for holes in the
backing material. Iron tintypes
(1856 to mid-1900s) resemble
daguerreotypes because both are
made of metal, but they stayed
popular longer than daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. Paper
prints (1855 to the present), of
course, have endured the longest,
and have come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. For help
identifying early paper prints,
consult Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints by James M. Reilly (Eastman
Kodak Co., out of print).
signed, sealed,
Certain clues can immediately date an image.
Between Aug. 1, 1864, and Aug. 1, 1866, the US
government levied a tax on photos. Photographers
had to affix stamps to the backs of their images, and
hand-cancel each one with their names or initials and
the sale dates. If your mystery photo has one of these
stamps, you’ll know exactly when it was taken.
Pay attention to postage stamps and cancellations
on picture postcards and old envelopes that held photos,
too. These clues can place a picture in a certain country
at a particular time. Postal history books such as the
Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue series (Scott
Publishing Co.), available in print and on CD-ROM at
large libraries, will help you date international stamps.
E N A . TA
During the 19th century, daguerreotypes and
ambrotypes generally came in cases. Consumers could buy tintypes in cases, too,
though these images often had paper enclosures instead.
Cases came in a variety of sizes, shapes and
designs—from simple to elaborate. Woodframed cases, such as the one shown at left,
were popular in the 1840s and 1850s. They
were replaced by union cases, which were constructed from gutta-percha (a tree resin) and
other substances that could be molded into
sturdier cases with elaborate surface designs.
Various shades of velvet line the insides
of most cases. Brass mats (plain in the
1840s and embossed in later decades) frame
the images.
To learn more about cased images, consult Adele Kenny’s Photographic Cases: Victorian Design Sources, 1840-1870 (Schiffer,
$59.95). Note the type of enclosure (case,
paper mat or frame) on your worksheet.
3. Size
Measure your photograph in inches (width
by height) and write down the dimensions.
Cased images (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes
and tintypes) were made in standard sizes,
from the sixteenth plate (2x2 inches) to
the mammoth plate (61⁄2x81⁄2 inches or
larger). Diminutive 1x1-inch tintypes,
known as gems or thumbnails, came in
paper enclosures.
Most 19th- and early-20th-century
paper photographs were mounted onto
cardstock or cardboard for support.
These images also came in standard
sizes. The carte de visite,
which first showed up in
the United States in 1859,
measured 41⁄4x21⁄2 inches;
the cabinet card (1866)
was 41⁄2x61⁄2 inches; the
Victoria (1870), 31⁄4x5
inches; and the Promenade (1875), 4x7
inches. After you see
how your mystery photo measures up, use these dates as a
guide to when it could have
been created.
10:39 AM
Page 21
[ first
6. Subjects &
Finding a photographer’s name and/or
address, known as an imprint, on a picture is
like winning a prize. That one detail can tell
you where and when a photograph was
taken, narrowing the identification possibilities considerably. On cased images, you’ll
likely find the imprint scratched into a plate
attached to the case, or on the brass mat or
velvet interior of the case. Bear in mind,
though, that the majority of cased photos
don’t have imprints. With paper prints, you
don’t have to hunt quite as hard for the photographer’s name: You’ll see it on the front or
back of the image. Study the photographer’s
imprint carefully, and record the information
exactly as it appears. Then see the next step.
A caption such as “Aunt May” or
“Aunt May’s sister” gives you a
possible identification—but take it
with a grain of salt. You don’t know
who wrote the caption or how reliable the information is. Copy the
caption onto your worksheet and
then try to confirm it. Start
by comparing your photograph to identified images of
Aunt May or her sister, and
see if the facial features match
up. Examine the handwriting:
Does it resemble other writing
samples in your collection? Try
to figure out whose it is.
5. Photographer’s
dates of operation
7. Costume
Once you have a name, you can find out
when the photographer was in business. Look
him up in the surname section of an old city
directory (a listing of a town’s residents, similar to today’s phone books—see the August
2003 Family Tree Magazine for help finding
one), or consult the commercial listings for
photographers in the back of the book. Use
several directories to track his business over a
period of time. You also might find him in
Biographies of Western Photographers by
Carl Mautz (Carl Mautz Publishing, $50) or
a similar directory. And check out Photographers: A Sourcebook for Historical Research
edited by Peter E. Palmquist (Carl Mautz
Publishing, $25) and the Finding Photographers Web site <www.findingphotographers.
com> for a list of books and online resources
arranged by geographic focus.
Take out a magnifying glass and
look closely at your ancestors’
outfits. Notice the shapes of their sleeves, the
lengths of their skirts, the widths of their
trousers, their hairstyles and accessories. Fashion constantly evolves, and clothing clues
such as these can tell you if you’re looking at
a picture of your great-grandparents or your
great-great-grandparents. Write down everything you see. In the next step, we’ll explain
how to date your images based on these clues.
Note that baby boys and girls dressed
alike until about age 5. You can tell them
apart by their hairstyles: Girls usually wore
their hair parted in the middle, and boys
parted on the side. After their toddler years,
children generally dressed like mini adults.
Clothing can convey more than a time
period. For instance, folk costumes clue you
A photographer’s imprint can point
to the date and place where your
photo was taken.
4. Photographer’s
Pay attention to the hairstyles,
clothing and props in your photos.
in to your ancestors’ ethnicities,
and fraternal-order regalia—
such as medals, buttons, sashes
and badges—provide evidence
of membership.
8. Costume time frame
By comparing the clothing in your photograph with fashion depicted in a costume
encyclopedia such as Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion,
1840-1900 by Joan Severa (Kent State University Press, $60), you can establish a time
frame for the image. To get started, use this
19th-century style timeline. You can learn
more about costume dating from the August
2004 Family Tree Magazine.
■ 1840 to 1849: Dresses had long, tight
bodices with fan-shaped gatherings that usually were pointed in the front. Women often
wore fingerless gloves, gold watches on long
chains, caps, bonnets and ribbon bracelets.
Men’s outfits consisted of coats with extralong, narrow sleeves; tailored white shirts
with small, turned-up collars; and dark neckties worn in horizontal bowknots.
■ 1850 to 1859: Broad-collared dresses had
sleeves that were narrow at the shoulder and
widened at the wrist, displaying white undersleeves. Men wore generously cut suit coats
with vests and wide-legged pants. Shirt collars turned over 2-inch-wide ties, worn in
wide half-bows.
■ 1860 to 1868: Women wore hoop-skirted
dresses with military trim and sleeves gathered
May 2005 21
11:58 AM
Page 22
Having trouble identifying a family
photograph? Send it to photo
historian Maureen A. Taylor. If she
selects your image for identification,
we’ll publish it along with Taylor’s
analysis in the online Identifying
Family Photographs column < www. / photos /
current.htm >.
Scan the picture you’d like to
have identified in JPG format with a
resolution of at least 300 dpi. Then
send it as an e-mail attachment to
[email protected] If
you can’t scan the photo, mail a
photographic copy (no originals,
please!) to Family Tree Magazine,
Attention: Identifying Family
Photographs, 4700 E. Galbraith
Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236. Sorry,
we can’t return photo submissions.
at the wrist or flared. Accessories included
shawls, hairnets, wide belts, elaborate earrings
and brooches. Men favored white shirts with
narrow ties, oversized sack coats, wide-legged
pants and suspenders.
■ 1869 to 1882: Ruffled bodices and necklines were all the rage. Skirts trimmed with
apronlike overskirts had large bustles. Common accessories were hairpieces, black-velvet
neck ribbons and large jewelry. Between 1875
and 1877, skirts had smaller bustles and long
overskirts and trains. Into the early 1880s,
bodices extended over the hips, and women
posed with fans and parasols. Wide black or
striped ties worn in a loose knot or overlapping ends accented men’s close-fitting jackets,
which were buttoned only at the top to display
the vest and watch chain underneath.
■ 1883 to 1889: Form-fitting bodices extended
below the waist and had low-standing collars and tight, three-quarter-length sleeves
with trim at the cuff. Women accessorized
with muffs and novelty jewelry. Men sported
a variety of hats, from straw sailor hats to
black homburgs (felt hats featuring dented
crowns and shallow, rolled brims).
ask the PRO
Paper stereographs, which you view through a special lens for a 3D effect, usually date from 1854 to
1938. Most stereographs were collectible scenes—it’s rare to find one showing a family member.
1890 to 1900: By mid-decade, women
favored balloonlike “leg-o-mutton” sleeves
worn tight at the wrist. After 1896, sleeves
got smaller, with fullness at the shoulder and
a slight flare over the hand. Feather boas, large
fans and parasols show up in pictures from
1893 to 1896. Later in the decade, women
wore small earrings, watches pinned to their
bosoms, and small decorative combs placed
high on the back of the head, but visible from
the front. Throughout the 1890s, men wore
narrow coats buttoned to the top, narrow
black or patterned bow ties and slim trousers.
9. Props & background
It’s easy to overlook background details, but
they can be the most telling parts of a picture.
Some people sat for portraits with tools of
their trade: A milkmaid might have posed
with her stool in one hand and bucket in the
other. Perhaps you have a picture of an ancestor holding a foreign-language book—that’s
a clue to his origins. Use antiques guides such
as Treasures in Your Attic by Joe L. Rosson
and Helaine Fendelman (HarperCollins, $18)
to research such props.
10. Owner’s name &
contact information
Note the name of the image’s current owner
and her contact info. Ask where she got the
photo and if she knows who originally owned
it. Tracing the picture’s provenance can lead
to more photos held by the owner’s relatives.
11. Clues in
genealogical records
Once you’ve narrowed the photo’s time frame,
use genealogical records to identify the subjects. Vital records provide a person’s life dates,
census records and city directories confirm a
place of residence, and military papers supply
evidence of service and sometimes a physical
description. If your portrait was taken in
Boston, for instance, scan your research for a
relative who lived there—even for a short
time. Record any details that look promising.
This is a good place to jot down family stories associated with an image, as well.
12. Possible subjects &
their life dates
After examining clues in the photo and rummaging through records, you should have an
idea when the picture was taken. Now list
each family member whose age, sex and location at the time make him a possible match
for the photo’s subject(s). Further narrow the
options by comparing the mystery image to
identified pictures of people on your list.
Store your photo worksheets with your
genealogical research forms (see page 65) so
you’ll have all your data in one place. We
guarantee this form will keep nagging you to
fill in the blanks until you finally solve your
picture puzzles. 3
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor is the
author of Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs, revised edition (Family Tree Books, $21.99).
10:41 AM
Page 23
photo-identification worksheet
Solve your family photo mysteries one step at a time. Using the accompanying article as a guide, fill in the following information
about your mystery photo, then attach a copy of the image to the form. (Feel free to photocopy this form for personal use.)
Type of photograph
Type of enclosure
Costume time frame
Props & background description
Photographer’s imprint
10. Owner’s name & contact information
Photographer’s dates of operation (cite source)
11. Clues in genealogical records
Subjects & caption
Costume descriptions
12. Possible subjects & their life dates
© family tree magazine 2 0 0 5
1:29 PM
Page 34
Our expert photo sleuth reveals how she solved
8 photographic mysteries— and how
you can piece together your own picture puzzles.
herlock Holmes solved many a mystery, but his exploits
don’t compare to the patience and persistence required by
genealogists trying to identify old family photos. I’ve spent
four years analyzing readers’ picture puzzles for the Identifying
Family Photographs column at < www. / photos / current.htm > and the Photo
Detective column in this magazine. Although I haven’t cracked every
photographic code, I have put names to dozens of unfamiliar faces.
Successful identifications result from partnerships: Readers supply
their family data, and I sort through the clues. Faithful readers know
it’s possible to identify a picture based on their knowledge of family
history and attention to photographic details, such as image type,
photographer’s imprint and costume clues.
The following eight strategies have brought me success, either by
dating a picture, identifying the subjects or eliminating suspects.
Employ these surefire methods to tackle your own mystery pics.
34 Family Tree Magazine February 2005
N A.
Page 35
11:51 AM
Get fashion conscious, and you
could solve a photo mystery. The
woman’s dress in the picture
above helped date the image.
Sometimes you have to consult
genealogical resources in order
to make a positive identification.
An obituary confirmed the
identity of the man at left.
www. familytreemagazine. com 35
1:31 PM
Page 36
she wrote, “It’s possible that
this picture is of my grandmother’s mother, who was
orphaned in Indiana and
raised by family members in
Illinois.” She had shown the
picture to several relatives, but
no one could identify its subjects. Yet they did notice a
A cousin could
provide the
strong resemblance to her grandmother’s side
missing piece of
of the family.
a picture puzzle—
Werner specifically wanted to know if the
in this case, it was
picture predated World War I. The little girl’s
another image.
hair bow and the length and style of the
women’s dresses dated the image to 1900 to
1. Consult family.
1910. Although I answered Werner’s quesIn 2001, Rita Werner sent me a candid pho- tion, I couldn’t identify the image’s subjects.
tograph of two women and a young girl (see
The photo seemed to be a dead end. No
above), which appeared in the column one could identify the group, and having a
“They’ve Got Personality—But Who Are date didn’t help, either. Then a cousin mailed
They?” at < / Werner the missing piece to the puzzle—an
photos / may10-01.htm >. Werner had found
early 1900s picture of her grandfather’s famthe image in an album that belonged to her ily (see above left). Werner sent me a jubilant
grandparents, both born in 1910. At the time, e-mail: “When I saw this picture along with
the original one in question, I knew beyond a
doubt that I had the identity! Notice the tiny
waist on the woman on the right in both pictures. Also, the hairstyle of the woman on the
right is the same in both pictures.”
Connecting with family and comparing
images resulted in a positive identification.
The women belonged to Werner’s grandfaNeed help identifying one of your
ther’s side, not her grandmother’s, as others
family photos? Send it to photo
had suggested. Werner discovered that the
historian Maureen A. Taylor. If she
woman on the left in both pictures is her
selects your photo for identification,
great-grandmother Adah (Whitaker) Brown,
we’ll publish the picture and
born in 1880. The woman on the right is
Taylor’s professional analysis in
Adah’s sister Dessa Mae Whitaker, born in
the biweekly Identifying Family
1885. The child in the first picture is Dessa
Photographs column, online at
Mary Gerzella Brown, the only sister of
< www.familytreemagazine.
Werner’s grandfather. She was about 5 years
com / photos / current.htm >.
old when the picture was taken. Werner
Scan the picture you’d like to
recalled that her great-aunt never went by
have identified in JPG format with a
Dessa Mary, only Gerzella. “Now when I look
resolution of at least 300 dpi. Then
at her with fresh eyes, I can see the resemsend it as an e-mail attachment to
blance to my grandpa!” she wrote. “Gerzella
[email protected]
was born in 1904. So now I know that it’s
If you can’t scan the photo, mail a
Gerzella holding onto her mother’s and aunt’s
photographic copy (no originals,
hands in a picture taken prior to 1910 because
please!) to Family Tree Magazine,
that’s when Grandpa was born—and as you
Attention: Identifying Family
can see, Adah is definitely not pregnant.”
Photographs, 4700 E. Galbraith
Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236. Sorry,
2. Use genealogical resources.
we can’t return photo submissions.
Some of the same resources used to collect
family history information—such as city directories, newspapers and vital records—can
36 Family Tree Magazine February 2005
solve picture puzzles, too. The photographer’s
imprint “M. Chandler, Marshfield, Mass.” on
the man’s portrait on the previous page
started the identification process. (See “Unraveling the Past” < www.familytreemagazine.
com / photos / june10-04.htm >.) By checking
A Directory of Massachusetts Photographers
by Chris Steele and Ronald Polito (Picton
Press, $89.50), I learned that a Martin Chandler worked in Marshfield between 1853 and
1896. You can find information about the
photographers of your family pics by consulting city and professional directories and
the Web site Finding Photographers < www.>. Knowing when
a photographer was in business can help narrow a picture’s time frame and the identification possibilities. In this case, a date appeared
on the back of the image: 1879.
In 1879, Marshfield was still a small town,
and it couldn’t have had many residents
around this man’s age (I guessed he was at
least 90). Working with that hypothesis, a colleague checked Vital Records of Marshfield,
Massachusetts to the Year 1850 compiled by
Robert M. Sherman and Ruth Wilder Sherman (Society of Mayflower Descendants, out
of print), which actually included vital data
beyond 1850. A quick scan of the listings provided a possible candidate: “Samuel Curtis,
died 21 August 1879, aged 100, 22 days.”
The final clue was Curtis’ obituary in the
Boston Daily Advertiser Aug. 25, 1879. This
sentence confirmed my hunch: “On his last
birthday he had his photograph taken twice,
once alone and once in a group.”
3. Get fashion conscious.
Recognizing fashion details, such as a
leg-o-mutton sleeve or a shawl collar, and knowing when they were in
style can help you date a photograph
at a glance. When Barbara DiMunno
submitted a group portrait of a woman
and her children (see the previous page
and “More Than Meets the Eye”
may08-03.htm >), owned by either her
great-aunt Lillian (Clark) Hewitt (18731955) or Lillian’s mother, Harriet (Ogden)
Clark (1842-1912), she asked for help dating the image.
The woman’s clothing provides the most
clues. With one hand on her hip and the
other on the photographer’s chair, she draws
attention to her small waistline, which is held
1:31 PM
Page 37
in by a restrictive corset. According to Support and Seduction: A History of Corsets and
Bras by Beatrice Fontanel (Harry Abrams,
$19.98), these undergarments were popular
from the 1870s through 1914, which provides a tentative time frame for the image.
John Peacock’s costume encyclopedia
20th Century Fashion (W.W. Norton & Co.,
$31.85; see the box on page 38 for other
resources) indicates that the mother’s dress—
with the deep V-neck opening, white highnecked shirt with full collar, and tight lower
sleeves with fullness at the upper arms—
resembles dresses worn around 1906. These
details suggest the picture was taken between
1900 and 1910, accounting for style variations within the decade. The three girls in this
photograph wear dresses of similar design
and fabric. Girls’ attire mimicked women’s
fashions; notice that the oldest child wears her
hair in a topknot like her mother’s.
At this point, DiMunno can’t name the
family in the portrait. Hewitt would be the
right age for the picture, but other portraits
of her disprove this theory. Although the costume clues weren’t enough to identify these
individuals, they did allow DiMunno to narrow the possibilities.
4. Know your photo history.
Determining the photographic method can
establish an image’s time frame and correct a
Can you name the type
of photograph in this
case (right)? Knowing
your photo history will
make the identification
process easier.
misidentification. Different types of photos
were popular at different times. For instance,
the earliest images—
shiny metal daguerreotypes (1839 to 1860),
glass ambrotypes (1854
to 1865) and iron tintypes (1856 to mid-1900s)—all debuted in the
mid-19th century, but only the tintype
remained popular into the 20th century.
Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes and
paper prints all came in cases like the one
above, which Carole Dolisi Bean discovered
in her grandmother’s sewing box. (See the
June 2004 Family Tree Magazine.) If you
have to hold a cased image at an angle
to view it, you know it’s a daguerreotype.
Ambrotypes often have holes in their backing
material; this makes them look transparent.
Tintypes are magnetic. If at first glance you
can’t determine the photographic method,
resist the temptation to remove the image
The key to dating this picture was
the number of stars on the flags.
Magnify your images to see details
you’d otherwise overlook.
from its case. Doing so can cause irreparable
damage to both the picture and the case. The
cover glass is missing on Bean’s image, so I
could tell that it’s a paper print.
Dating an image’s enclosure—frame, mat
or case—also can aid the identification process.
Cases came in a variety of sizes, shapes and
designs. Two great guides to cased images are
Floyd and Marion Rinhart’s American Miniature Case Art (A.S. Barnes, out of print) and
Adele Kenny’s Photographic Cases: Victorian
Design Sources, 1840-1870 (Schiffer, $59.95).
The Rinharts’ book lists names and locations
of case manufacturers—a handy reference tool
if your case bears its maker’s name.
All the evidence in Bean’s photo case—the
wood frame and ornate mat—dates the
image to the 1850s. The man’s patterned vest,
colorful tie, white shirt and loose sack coat
with velvet collar suggest the picture was
taken in the late 1850s. These clues disproved
Bean’s theory that the subject’s her greatgrandmother’s brother August Edward Moll
(born 1847). Using the photo’s date, she’s still
trying to discover the man’s identity.
5. Magnify your images.
The key evidence in the photograph at left,
submitted by Valerie Moran, was so obvious
that she initially overlooked it. (See “Star
Signs” <
june05-03.htm >.) Sometimes the smallest
details can be your biggest clues. In this case,
the details were the flags. By simply magnifying the image, counting the number of stars
on each flag and reading up on Old Glory’s
history, I discovered the picture was taken
within a four-year time frame—July 4, 1908,
to Jan. 6, 1912.
www. familytreemagazine. com 37
Our past includes food
and the time we spend
with our family in the
kitchen and at the table
sharing our lives with
one another.
Reading up on yesterday’s fashion
trends can help you analyze your
ancestors’ dress and ultimately date
those old photos.
■ Battledress: The Uniforms of the
World’s Great Armies 1700-Present
by I.T. Schick (Artus Co., $95)
■ Illustrated History of Hairstyles 1830-1930
by Marian I. Doyle (Schiffer, $39.95)
■ Men’s Fashion: The Complete
Sourcebook by John Peacock
(W.W. Norton & Co., $29.95)
20th Century Jewelry: The Complete
Sourcebook by John Peacock
(W.W. Norton & Co., $35)
U.S. Army Headgear, 1812-1872 by John
P. Langellier and C. Paul Loane (Schiffer
Books, out of print)
Gather family recipes
so you can publish
them using CookBook
Maker™ software. The
software includes a
space for a short story.
Tabs, margins, and
page breaks of your
cookbook are preset for
Preserve your food
heritage for
generations to come.
For information go to:
or call (402) 253-2382.
Family is
more than
Page 38
1:32 PM
■ Victorian Costume for Ladies 1860-1900
by Linda Setnik (Schiffer Books, $29.95)
Vintage Hats and Bonnets, 1770-1970 by
Susan Langley (Collector Books, $24.95)
■ Women’s Shoes in America 1795-1930
by Nancy Rexford (Kent State University
Press, $60)
Everyone in this picture wears summer
attire—most of the women have on white
summer dresses or shirts, while the men pose
without jackets. The women’s pouched-front
blouses, wide belts, straight skirts and Gibson
Girl hairstyles fit the flags’ time frame.
When identifying a photograph, I usually
try to narrow the time frame even further. The
flag’s history came in handy here. Oklahoma
joined the Union Nov. 16, 1907, but the new
flag didn’t debut until July 4, 1908. The subjects’ summer attire and crisp flags suggest
these people were celebrating the Fourth of
July, or maybe the introduction of the new flag.
Based on her family data, Moran suspects
the photograph was taken in 1912. She thinks
the young man on the right is Clifford John
Caminade (born 1885), who would have
been 27 that year, and the older man on the
left is his father, Louis Cass Caminade (born
1852). Their apparent ages and the photograph’s date support this conclusion.
38 Family Tree Magazine February 2005
Be sure to examine
the props in your pictures.
Mid-1800s photographers used this
style of chair to hold children still.
6. Examine props.
Many photos submitted for analysis have
identifications, but no dates. Such is the case
with Betty Ann Tyson’s hand-colored tintype,
tentatively identified as “Grandma Tyson”
(see above left and “A Rosy Glow” < www.
htm >). Positive identifications rarely rely on
a single piece of evidence; you must add up all
the clues before drawing a conclusion. Here,
the child’s dress and chair date the picture. The
girl wears a white summer dress with a wide,
open neckline; ruffled (perhaps eyelet) trim;
and shoulder bows—features of dresses
popular in the late 1860s and early 1870s,
according to The Child in Fashion 1750-1920
by Kristina Harris (Schiffer, $29.95) and
Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary
Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 by Joan
Severa (Kent State University Press, $60).
The chair in this image was a common
photographer’s prop during the same time
period. Since it usually took a few minutes for
a camera to capture a scene, photographers
used furniture or special braces to hold subjects still. You’ll find examples of this furniture in Identifying American Furniture by
Milo M. Naeve (Altamira Press, $15.95) and
The Tasteful Interlude: American Interiors
through the Camera’s Eye, 1860-1917 by
William Seale (Rowman & Littlefield,
$19.95). Judging by the furniture, clothing
clues and subject’s age, we’re sure this image
depicts Betty Ann’s grandmother Lizzie
Tyson, who was born in 1867.
1:32 PM
Page 39
kin through surname message boards, such as
those at RootsWeb < >.
Through photo-reunion sites such as DeadFred
< > and AncientFaces
< >, you might even
find some long-lost images of your ancestors.
8. Be persistent.
Still can’t put a name to that mystery face?
The owner of this tintype found success by
networking via the Internet.
7. Network online.
By connecting with cousins over the Internet,
Michael R. Boyce has discovered that some
of the seemingly far-fetched stories his father
told him—including the one about their
relation to a Dutch sea captain—are true.
(See “Tall Tales and True Stories” < www.
htm>.) Through these “Internet cousins,”
Michael also has uncovered a surname change,
an unexpected link to his ancestor Stephen V.
Boyce and a tintype (above) of a man he thinks
is Stephen’s father, John Boice (born 1794).
Confirming that identification requires
comparing family pictures to eliminate other
prospects. Michael thinks the portrait above
depicts his third-great-grandfather because he
already has identified images of two of John’s
three brothers. The third brother died as a
young man, so this couldn’t be him.
Clothing clues further support the identification. This man wears work clothes suggestive of the 1860s. At that time, John would
have been in his 60s.
Although Michael still can’t confirm this
man’s identity, he’s off to a good start. Perhaps his photographic family tree posted on
the Buys/Boice/Boyce Web site < webpages. / boyceweb > will help bring new
information forward. Consider creating your
own family Web site, or connect with distant
It took Jackie Hufschmid three years, but she
finally identified the young couple in a photo
she’d submitted for my first Identifying
Family Photographs column (see “Frame of
Reference” <
photos / feb08.htm >). Initially, I researched
the photographer, Bonell, and the couple’s
clothing to place the portrait in Eau Claire,
Wis., between 1875 and 1890, but that’s as
far as I got.
An amazing thing happened when the
picture appeared online and then again in the
August 2000 Family Tree Magazine. We
received e-mails from several people who said
they’d seen the photograph before—some
even owned copies of it. A network of family
historians developed, and they worked
together to try to identify the couple. Hufschmid refused to give up.
In summer 2003, she finally found the
missing link to Eau Claire. A cousin in
Wisconsin revealed that two of their female
relatives had moved there in the late 19th
century—one to open a dress shop and the
other to work in it. Upon hearing their
names, Hufschmid realized that she had
another picture of the couple taken years later.
Once she placed the identified 1920s image
of the couple and their children next to the
original portrait of the young couple, she
knew she had a match. The mystery people
are Julia Gullickson (1872-1948) and her
husband, James Wood (1868-1933). Scanning and enlarging sections of the images
to compare facial features confirmed the
Like Hufschmid and these other Family
Tree Magazine readers, you can date and
identify your own old family photos. Just put
on your detective cap, pull out the magnifying glass and start sleuthing. All it takes is a
little time, perseverance and old-fashioned
genealogical research. 3
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor is the
author of Preserving Your Family Photographs (Betterway Books, $19.99). Her Identifying Your Family Photographs (Family Tree Books) is due out this fall.
www. familytreemagazine. com 39
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Tracking ~ eterday's
fashion trends could solve your picture
Puzzles. We'll show you how to analyze your ancestors' dress
for successful photo identification.
When we h n k of destones in US hstory
the Revolutionary WX Civil Wir and civil
nghts movement immdately come to mind
Knowing the details of events such as these
puts your ancestors into historical context.
But rnrning points in American fashion
history-for instance, the first riveted blue
jeans (1873),sunglasses (1885) and nylon
stodungs (1940)-matter, too. Match them
with clothing and accessories in old photos,
and you can identify those mystery faces.
Fashion constantly evolves, and our photographs reflect
the changing styles. By examining the clothing clues in your
unidentified images, you can narrow their time frames to just
a few years, and determine which relatives peer back at you.
Even a single accessory could tell you whether you're looking
at your great-grandmother or your great-great-grandmother.
For example, during the 1840s,women wore daycaps (bonnets made of starched white cotton) for everyday and special
occasions. By the 1850s, this headgear had fallen out of fashion,
though elderly women continued to wear them for several more
decades. If you have a picture of a relative wearing one of these
hats in her youth, the image likely dates back to the 1840s. (Of
have to examine other clothing clues to
Once you've narrowed the photo's time frame, you should
consult your genealogical records to determine whether your
female ancestors' ages at that time correspond to the age of dx
picture's subject. With luck, you'll find a match.
You don't have to be a fashion maven to spot clothing clues
in photog~~phs.
JW follow these identificationt i p and OW 19thcentury fashion-trend timelines, and you'll be putting names to
those mystery faces in no time.
STYLE baSzc~
Begin by enlarging segments of an unidentified picture with a
magmfymg glass or by scanning it. Examine every detail of the
subject's outfit. Look at the shape of a woman's bodice, neckline,
sleeves and skirt-and don't forget accessories and hairstyle. Pay
attention to a man's coat shape, trouser width, necktie style, hairstyle and accessories. Any of these details could clue you in to
when the photo was taken. Of course, shoe styles have changed,
too, but they're usually difficult to distinguish in old photos.
Most family portraits show relatives dressed in their "best."
In the 19th century, popular magazines such as Godey's Lady's
Book advised women on what to wear. But if your ancestor
lacked the latest accessory, some studios kept shawls, pins and
hats on hand for patrons to borrow. After all, a happy customer meant repeat business and referrals.
Our ancestors' economic circumstances did influence their
clothing choices, but style variations between classes usually
aren't significant. Women who lacked financial resources or
period, though
the center part is
not. The bride's
dress has a tight
bodice, small
ustle and trim
t the wrist and
alongthe hem.
Her short,frilzed
hangs andflowerdorned veil
Iso suggest the
lived in rural areas still followed fashion trends-they would
remake dresses or add a few accessories to fit the current styles.
You'll find more-significant style variations in portraits of
recent immigrants or ancestors living in foreign countries.
These differences actually could simplify the identification
process, though. For instance, a headdress worn for a wedding
photo could tell you whether the image comes from your Russian mother's side or your Scottish father's side of the family. See
the February 2002 Family Tree Magazine to learn more about
clues in immigrant images.
Dating a photograph through costume requires some
knowledge of fashion historyand that's easy to get. Consult
the books on page 39, and keep this guide handy. Here, we
identify key components of 19th-century fashion since the
advent of photography, decade by decade, so you can sta.rt solving even your toughest picture puzzles now.
W H A T women wore
Women's fashion has changed dramatically
through the years, so even the length of a skirt or
the shape of a sleeve can help you date an image.
jewelry, hats and fans
Accessories such as gloves,
have fallen in and out of fashion, which means they can aid
identification, too.
The basic elements of our female ancestors' clothing remained
the same regardless of their economic status. Pantsweren't popular unt~lthe mid-1900s, so women typically wore dresses. Frugal women often pieced together two or more dresses to create
an oudit reflecting current styles. Be on the lookout for dresses
with bodices and skirts made of different materials.
Before drawing conclusions about your photographs, be sure
to add up all the clues, rather than focusing on a single style
detail. When in doubt, make a list of an outfit's significantcharacteristics. Look not only at the shape of a sleeve, but also the
width of the cuff. Since most women made their own clothes
until the 20th century, you will see some style variation. But
watch out for these common elements:
The first photographs, known as daguerreotypes, appeared in
the United States in 1840. Throughout the next decade, a resurgence in religious and moral conservatism led women to dress
in modest, restrictive clothes, which often inhibited natural
movement, according to Dressed for the Photographer by Joan
Severa (see box, page 39). Worn over corsets, back-fastening
dresses had long, tght bodices with fan-shaped gatherings. The
wide, shallow, horizontal necklines gradually narrowed later in
the decade, when high-standing collars came into vogue. Sleeves
were long and tight, especially on the upper arms. Popular
accessories included fingerless gloves, gold watches on long
chains, ribbon bracelets and bonnets that extended past the
chin. Women wore their hair close to the head, with a center
part, long ringlets and large combs.
Women's fashion loosened up a bit in the 1850s, and ladies'
magazines such as Godey's increasingly reported on the
trends. Dress sleeves were still narrow at the shoulder, but
clothjng clues: draped ovmkirl
collars; center-parted koirr
ered at the wrist once again.
During the Civil War, women selected bodices that buttoned
down the front and had pointed or round waists decorated
with d i t a r y braid. Most dresses featured high, narrow, round
collars, but some had V-necks with lapels. Sleeve styles varied:
Some came in at the wrist, and others flared. Skirts worn over
hoops were pleated, and some looped up (with assistance of
cords on the inside of the skirt) to expose underskirts. Women
accessorized with shawls, hairnets, wide belts, elaborate earrings and brooches. They wore their hair with a center part
and covering their ears. Some opted for braids or short ringlets.
Bonnets changed shape from round to oval early in the decade.
As hairstyles became more elaborate after the war, women
sported smaller hats.
(1869to 1874)
Ruffles were all the rage during t h s era: Bodices featured ruffles and large, prominent buttons; necklines were high with
trimmed with apronlike overskirts, and bustles--some quite
large-expanded underskirts. Accessories included black velvet neck ribbons with brooches or charms attached to the
front, large lockets on gold chains, crosses, and long jet-bead
necklaces with matching earrings. Women continued to part
their hair in the centel; and began to wear false locks with large
combs. They often braided their hair at the crown and left the
rest streaming down their backs. Small hats and bonnets
trimmed with feathers, lace and flowers accented these high,
full hairstyles.
(1875t0 1877)
During the mid-1870s, waistlines lengthened, and two-piece
dresses gained popularity. Front-opening necklines featured
low collars or V-necks with ruffles. Sleeves were narrower and
decorated with trim. Skirts began to lose their fullness, and
had long overskirts and trains.
to the chin. In the early 1890s, women wore large, balloonliie
"leg-o-mutton" sleeves that were tight at the wrist. After 1896,
sleeves got smaller, with fullness at the shoulder and a slight
By the late 1870s, the full hoop skut had gone out of .style, and flare over the hand. Skirts were smooth at the hips, but flared
the bustle disappeared. Skirts now fell straight from hip to floo~ dramatically. Between 1893 and 1896, women favored feather
Front buttons adorned tight-fitting bodices, which came down boas, large fans and parasols. At the end of the decade, they
over the hips. Necklines were high with low-standing collars, accessorized with small earrings, watches pinned to their
and sleeves remained narrow. Women continued to part their bosoms, and small decorative combs worn high on the back
of the head, but visible from the front. Short bangs, worn with
hair in the center, and wore short, frizzed bangs.
a small topknot, remained popular during the first part of the
decade, but went out of style by 1896. Then, women parted
and flattened their hair into waves along the temples. Although
By the mid-188Os, women had entered the work force as sec- older women still sported bonnets, most young women had
retaries, telephone operators and department-store clerks, and switched to hats, especially small hats with vertical trim.By the
demanded less-restrictive clothing. Draped overskirts, often end of the decade, wide-brimmed hats also were popular.
apronlike in shape, appeared. The bustle returned in 1883 and
reached its maximum size in 1886, before deflating the next
Men's clothing is harder to date because style varyear. Tight bodices extended below the waist, and had high
ied little in the 19th century. Their dress clothes
necklines with low-standing collars. Tight, threequarter-length
comprised a coat, sh~rt,trousers, necktie and possleeves with trim at the wrist also were popular. Look for lace
a vest. Work attire consisted of a collarless
parasols, muffs and novelty jewelry. Hair remained frizzed
and sometimes a vest. The best
around the face with a bun in back. Women chose hats in a
variety of styles, the most popular being high-crowned hats clothing clues are hats, vests and shirts, as these garments changed
the most over time. You'll have to look closely for subtle clues.
with wide brims and elaborate trim.
The demand for less-restrictive clothing increased as women
began to exercise outdoors. As a result, corsets loosened, and
shirtwaists came into vogue. Necklines had high collars worn
CLOTHESmake the man
During this decade, men wore coats with extra-long, narrow
sleeves; tailored white shirts with narrow sleeves and small
turned-up collars; and dark-colored neckties in horizontal
Clothing clues:
sleeves; high, st$
bowknots. Smocklike work shirts came in a variety of colors
and patterns. Men kept their hair at ear length and parted high
on one side. Most were clean-shaven, but some sported fringe
beards that framed their jaws. Hat styles included wool stocking caps, black felt bowlers and shiny silk top hats.
Narrow sleeves remained stylish into the first part of the
1850s. Around 1854, generously cut suit coats (worn with
vests) and wide-legged pants came into vogue. Shirt collars
turned over Zinch-wide neckties, worn in wide half-bows.
Men wore dress shirts in a variety of colors and patterns. They
also bought fancy starched shirtfrontsto dress up their attire.
Most men were clean-shaven until the end of the decade,
when full beards appeared. They wore their oiled hair long on
top and combed into a wave at the center of the forehead.
Later in the decade, their hair grew long enough to cover the
ears. Young men wore cloth caps, which resembled railroad
caps. Tall black hats with flat brims also gained popularity.
Men's suit coats came in a range of new shapes in the 1860sthe most popular being the long, oversized sack coat, worn
with wide-legged pants that were longer at the heel and held
up by suspenders. A white, striped or plaid shirt and narrow
necktie completed the look. Men parted their ear-length hair
on the side and grew whiskers, rather than full beards. After
the Civil War, they continued to wear military caps to work.
The popular sack coat got shorter and narrower during this
decade, and buttoned only at the top in order to display the
vest and watch chain worn underneath. White, striped and
plaid shirts were made without collars-our ancestors bought
those separately. They wore wide black or striped neckties in
loose knots with overlapping ends. Fur hats and coats also
gained popularity at this time.
In the 1880s, men's coats got even shorter and narrower, and
the necktie. Our
they closed high at the throat, nearly con&g
ancestors wore these coats with narrow, creaseless pants and
wide shirts. Neckties varied in width. Throughout the decade,
young men sported a wide variety of hats, from straw sailor hats
to black homburgs (felt hats featuring dented crowns and shallow, rolled brims), which businessmen favored.
Narrow was the key characteristic of 1890smen's fashion: narrow coats worn buttoned to the top, narrow black or patterned
bow ties and narrow trousers. White shirts had small, stiff,
pointed collars at the beghmg of the decade and high, stiff collars at the end of the decade. Men wore their hair short and
grew large mustaches. Bowlers and derby-style hats' popularity exploded during this decade.
m InternationalCostumers' Guild
',* ,.,
r Accessible Archives
Subscribe to this archive of 18thand 19th-centurypublications to
view the full texts of Codey's Lady's
Book from i830 to i880.
Bissonnette on Costume
costume>: This visual fashion
dictionary from Kent State
University Museum covers 1700
through today.
The Costumer's Manifbsto>: Follow the
links to histories of corsets and
underwear, ethnic dress, military
uniforms, religious dress and more.
<>: Created to
"bring hobbyist and professional
costumers from around the world
together," this organization offers
three fashion-focused mailing lists
and links to costume-related resources.
Saundra Ros Altman's: Past Patterns
<>: Re-create
your 19th- and early 20th-century
ancestors' outfits with these patterns.
m 20th Century Fashion by John Peacock
Dressedfor the Photographer: Ordinary
Americans and Fashion 1840-7900 by Joan
Severa (Kent State University Press, $60)
Illustrated History of Hairstyles 18301930 by Marian I. Doyle (Schiffer, $39.95)
B An
m Men's Fashion: The Complete
Sourcebook by John Peacock
(Thames and Hudson, $29.95)
U.S. Army Headgear 1812-1872
by John P. Langellier and C. Paul Loane
(Schiffer, $69.95)
Victorian Costumefor Ladies 1860-7900
by Linda Setnik (Schiffer, $29.95)
(Thames and Hudson, $34.95)
= Vintage Hats and Bonnets 1770-
B 20th Centuryjewelry: The
1970 by Susan Langley (Collector
Books, $24.95)
Sourcebook by John Peacock (Thames
and Hudson, $34.95)
m The
Child in Fashion 1750-1920
by Kristina Harris (Schiffer, $29.95)
Women's Shoes in America, 1795-1930
by Nancy E. Rexford (Kent State
University Press, $60)
K I D - F R I E N D L Y ~ ~ J ~ ~ O ~ ALL IN fbe details
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, babies of both sexes wore
long dresses; current adult fashion trends dictated the gowns'
lengths and details. Toddlers sported shorter dresses to accommodate movement. The best way to tell girls and boys apart is
to look at their hairstyles. Girls usually wore their hair parted
in the middle, and boys' hair was parted on the side.
Parents dressed their older sons in short pants and their
daughters in dresses. Children's fashion generally followed
the same trends as adults'. As children grew older, their
clothing styles changed-which enables you to estimate a
child's age based on his or her clothing. For instance, the length
of a girl's s k i gradually got longer as she approached adulthood. Boys wore short pants until approximately age 12, then
donned long pants.
Frances Hodgson Burnett started a fashion trend for boys
when her book Little Lord Fauntleroy was published in
1886. Until the early 20th century, mothers dressed their sons
in outfits that mimicked those in the book's drawings by
Reginald Birch. A typical outfit consisted of a white shirt with
a full Vandyke collar (a large linen or lace collar with a scalloped edge), a satin sash, a plumed hat and long, curled hair.
Not only can clothing help you date an image, but it also can
clue you in to your ancestors' experiences. Keep an eye out for
these telling details:
rn Traditional ethnic dress: Upon arriving in America, immigrants often abandoned their full ethnic dress so they could
better assimilate. But occasionally, accessories such as caps,
head scarves and mantillas will identify their ethnicity. Robert
Harrold's Folk Costumes of the World (SterlingPublishing Co.,
$29.95) offers an overview of clothing styles around the globe.
r Fraternalorder regalia: You might find photographic evidence of an ancestor's membership in a fraternal order, such as
the Freemasons, Modern Woodmen of America or Elks.
Medals, buttons, ribbons, badges, sashes and jewelry (including watches, fobs, pins and rings) could contain symbols and
slogans of one of these organizations. For tips on researching
fraternal orders, see the June 2004 Family Tree Magazine.
Militaryun'ihrms: Studying headgeq buttons, shlrts, pants,
weapons and decoration can date a photograph and provide
evidence of military service. For instance, during the Civil Wal;
many Union volunteers wore belt buckles with their states'
abbreviations; Confederate soldiers wore buckles with the
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letters CSA, whch stood for Confederate States of America. If
you're trying to trace Civil War ancestors, those belt buckles
could give you enough clues to locate military records.
Occupationalclothing: Look for hats, aprons or props suggesting your ancestor's employment. Consult Dressed fov the
Job by Christobel Williams-Mitchell (Blandford Books, out of
print) for pictures of people on the job.
Religious attire: Photos of altar boys, priests, nuns and
other people in religious garb can be difficult to date because
the clothing styles don't change. But these portraits can provide clues about your ancestors' religious affiliation. Look for
Bibles, candles, flowers and other religious symbols.
As you add up all the costume clues in your photographs,
remember: Looks can be deceiving. Just because your ancestor's outfit seems to date to the 1880s, that doesn't mean it
actually does. For example, in some tourist spots, you can have
your picture taken in period clothing. One of my friends has a
tintype of himself in a Civil War uniform. Not only did the
photographer copy the 19th-centuryphotographic process, but
the clothing looks authentic. To an unsuspecting descendant,
this photo might appear older than it actually is.
It's easy to misidenufy both the person and the time period
if yau look onIy at costume clues. Wedding pictures, for
instance, can offer conflicting evidence if the bride wears an
heirloom gown. So be sure to look for other hints, such as
props, before drawing a conclusion.
Once you've used costume clues to estimate a picture's time
frame, consult magazines and store catalogs from that period,
or flip through books with historical photos to confirm your
analysis. If you're still having trouble placing the photograph
within a fashion context, youmight w&t to consuit a costume
professional. Some historical societies and museums have staff
who specialize in costume history.
Over the years, I've developed a fascination with historical
fashion. The clothing provides glimpses into our ancestors'
everyday lives and insights into their personalities. The next
time you pose for a picture, think about what you're wearingand what those clothes will say to your descendants.
Contributing editor MAUREEN
is the author of PreservingYour
Family Photographs (Betterway Books. $19.99) and [email protected] Your Family Photographs (FamilyTree Books), due out next fall. She helps solve readers' picture puzzles in Family free Magazine's Photo Detective column
and the biweekly Identifying Family Photographs column at <www.
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3 a L d aw 30mum
photo d e t e c t i v e
Your kin’s ethnic dress can tell you where
they came from. Here’s how to read the clues.
| By Maureen A. Taylor
f you have a family photograph of
people in unfamiliar attire—such as the
outfits on these two women—you might
wonder “What in the world?” Instead, ask
“Where in the world?” That photo could
show your immigrant ancestors dressed in
clothing common in their homeland.
Fortunately, you needn’t make a transAtlantic voyage to figure out the origins of
a foreign photograph. Finding your family’s
homeland based on a picture is easier and
cheaper than buying a travel package on
Orbitz. The same clues that helped me sort
out this photo mystery can lead to breakthroughs in your own immigrant ancestry.
Fashion fiction
First, let’s clear up a myth regarding immigrant forebears: People from other countries didn’t always wear ethnic-looking
“folk” costumes like those on the women
here. Your ancestors’ everyday clothing
depended on their country of origin and
whether they lived in a city or the countryside. Urban dwellers often wore the
same fashions popular throughout Europe
and the United States. For instance, in the
1890s, the leg-o-mutton sleeve (a puffy
shoulder tapered to a narrow forearm)
showed up on Western-style dresses in
Copenhagen, Paris, Rome and Ankara,
Turkey. In rural areas, attire was usually
a mix that depended on cultural identity,
economic status and lifestyle. Women
occasionally accented everyday clothes
with ethnic headgear, such as the beaver
hats shown here.
70 Family Tree Magazine February 2007
Outfit origins
Unusual clothing requires a special costume guide. Check libraries for Auguste
Racinet’s The Complete Costume History,
first published in 1888 (reprinted in 2003
by Taschen, $200). It covers the entire history of costume, most of which predates
photography, but the final chapter is a
genealogical gem full of color plates illustrating traditional fashions up to 1800.
A smaller book, Robert Harrold’s Folk
Costumes of the World (Sterling, $29.95),
describes the history of Welsh dress,
which became a symbol of national identity. Today, ladies might wear outfits like
those shown here for occasions such as
St. David’s Day, which honors the patron
saint of Wales.
This 19th-century photo is sepia tone,
but Harrold’s illustrations let you imagine the clothing in full color. A typical
late-1800s or early-1900s Welsh costume
consisted of a tall black beaver hat with
a white frilled bonnet, a white blouse
with red trim at the cuffs, a bright red
underskirt, a checked apron and a shawl.
These women aren’t wearing bonnets,
white blouses or folded-back skirts, but
one sports a checked apron and both
have shawls and hats. According to the
Welsh National Costume Web site <www.> , women started
wearing these hats—based on the men’s
top hats popular from 1790 to 1820—
during the 19th century. The longevity of
this style of dress doesn’t do much to narrow the photo’s date.
Informative imprints
Ideally, your picture will bear a photographer’s imprint, which provides the studio name and, often, its location. Then
you can research the locale—in this case,
Holyhead—using gazetteers. The 1884
Gazetteer of the World (Lippincott, out
of print) tells me Holyhead was an island
off the coast of Wales (it’s now called Holy
Island), home to a town of the same name.
I also found out the closest port is Dublin,
which was under British rule during the
19th century. This last bit of information
would come in handy when searching for
a point of emigration.
Pay attention to the style of the photographer’s imprint—whether it’s printed,
script or part of a decorative logo. This
2½x4-inch gilt-edged beveled card has the
photographer’s name in script, common in
the mid-1880s. To learn more about narrowing a photo’s time frame by researching photographers’ imprints, see my online
Identifying Family Photographs column at
< / photos /
apr13-06.htm >.
Family History Online
Foreign Affairs
1 Head case. Women often
mixed traditional accessories with
contemporary clothing.
2 By the book. Costume
encyclopedias supply clues these
women’s outfits are Welsh.
Courtesy of Maureen A. Taylor
3 Sense of place. A gazetteer puts
this town on an island off the coast
of Wales.
4 Back up. The elaborate painted
backdrop dates to the mid-1880s.
Got a picture puzzle? Post
your photo questions on the
Photo Detective Forum at
< www.familytreemagazine.
com / forum >.
If your photo lacks a photographer’s
name and you’re not sure where the subjects came from, try browsing costume
books for clothing similar to what’s in
your picture. You also can compare your
photos to the images of immigrants in
native dress in Augustus F. Sherman:
Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920 (Aperture, $40). For descriptions of props and
backdrops, such as the painted one in
this photo, see Linda Setnik’s Victorian
Costume for Ladies 1860-1900 (Schiffer,
$29.95). The next time you see a foreign
image, instead of wondering “What in the
world?” you can say “Aha!” And if you
can make that trans-Atlantic voyage after
all, plan a trip to your ancestral homeland
and check out a few genealogical documents while you’re there. Don’t forget to
take a copy of the picture in case you meet
some long-lost relatives. 3
Contributing editor and photo historian Maureen
A. Taylor is the author of Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs, 2nd edition (Family
Tree Books, $24.99). We found the records
so you can FIND ANCESTORS! Visit TODAY!
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Immigrants from Russia?" Let us
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Web site:
Expert Italian & Latin Translation.
Handwriting specialist.
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1908 Grant Street, Berkeley, CA 94703;
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photo d e t e c t i v e
Your Aunts in Pants
Fashion clues may not apply if women wore the
britches in your family photos—but you still can
identify gender-bending images. | By Maureen A. Taylor
ace it: The hoop skirts, bustles and corsets our female ancestors wore most of
the time weren’t exactly comfortable, especially for active pursuits. In Women in Pants:
Manly Maidens, Cowgirls, and Other Renegades (Abrams, $35), Catherine Smith and
Cynthia Greig explain why genteel ladies of
the past—such as the pair pictured here—
sometimes donned men’s clothes. From
the early feminists of the 1850s to Calamity Jane in the 1890s, photos prove women
wore bloomers, knickerbockers, breeches,
pantaloons, pants and trousers.
Pants were outside the norm for 1800s
and early 1900s ladies, though, so a fashion encyclopedia might not help you interpret a portrait of Great-aunt Nell sporting
the latest in trouser wear. Instead, learn
about your female relative by using other
photo details and focusing on the interests
and activities her legged outfit reveals.
Pretty political
Clothing reflected our ancestors’ economic
status, personality and, for women’s rights
advocates such as Amelia Bloomer, their
politics. In 1851, Bloomer began publishing articles in her biweekly newsletter, The
Lily, advocating less-confining clothing
for women. In place of their heavy dresses
and restrictive undergarments, Bloomer
wrote, ladies should wear shorter skirts
over ankle-length pants (a garment eventually named for its proponent). A few brave
early feminists, including Susan B. Anthony
and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, embraced
bloomers, but the style faded around the
end of the decade. Several different types
of photographs existed during the 1850s,
so look for a photographer’s name (called
an imprint) on the back of a paper print,
20 Family Tree Magazine February 2006
or embossed in the brass mat of a cased
picture. Then look up the business in city
directories and consult your research to see
who lived in the area at that time.
Secret service
Mary Livermore, who headed the Midwest area of the US Sanitary Commission
during the Civil War, estimated more than
400 women disguised themselves as men to
enlist. Perhaps the female soldiers agreed
with Medal of Honor recipient Mary
Walker, one of three women surgeons
known to have served the Union, who
declared, “Patriotism has no sex.” Such
convictions weren’t confined to the Civil
War: Until women were officially allowed
to join the armed services, they infiltrated
the ranks in all wartime conflicts. Some
managed to remain undetected; others
were sent home once injured and discovered. These soldiers carefully concealed
their identities, and many are indistinguishable from men in photographs. Maybe you
have Civil War photos but no male relatives
the right age, or the soldier pictured bears
a strong resemblance to a female ancestor’s
portrait. If you suspect your soldier is really
a woman, pay attention to family folklore,
look for military records (see the October
2005 Family Tree Magazine for research
advice) and read Richard Hall’s Patriots
in Disguise: Women Warriors of the Civil
War (Paragon House, out of print).
Good sports
In the late 19th century, special bifurcated
costumes, practical for recreational activities,
offered women acceptable alternatives to
wearing their husbands’ altered clothing. All
sorts of legged costumes became fashionable
Courtesy of Maureen A. Taylor
for horseback riding, gymnastics, swimming,
bicycling and tennis. Compare clothing in
your photos with the examples in Smith and
Greig’s book and in American Dress Pattern
Catalogs, 1873-1909 edited by Nancy Villa
Bryk (Dover Publications, $14.95).
Business casual
Women engaged in farming, ranching,
painting and carpentry found pants comfortable for doing “men’s work.” In England, women who worked in mines donned
men’s attire for safety and ease of movement. Unlike men, however, women often
complemented their pantaloons with simple
accessories, bodices reminiscent of dresses
and, as the two ladies in the photo above
demonstrate, hats to shade their faces from
the sun. Honing in on those details gives you
more clothing evidence to work with. The
exact occupation of these women is unclear,
but their bucket, large-brimmed hats and
flat shoes suggest an outdoor endeavor.
Getting a Leg Up
1 Clothes call. These feminine fitted
bodices with minimal trim date from
the 1880s.
2 Professional advice. Some props,
such as the one-handled bucket in this
photograph, are occupational clues.
3 Fancy footwork. Compare shoes to
the descriptions in Nancy E. Rexford’s
Women’s Shoes in America, 1795-1930
(Kent State University Press, $60).
4 Background information. During
the 1880s, photographers often
decorated their sets with props such
as wooden fences, rocks and hay.
5 Twenty questions. Asking family
members about unusual photographs
may be the best way to get the scoop.
Sometimes, dressing in men’s clothing
was scandalous but reasonable. When
Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich
wore pants in the 1930s, they were taking
cues from theater mavens such as Sarah
Bernhardt, who often played male roles.
Although 19th- and early 20th-century
social conventions suggested women
belonged in skirts, strong-willed, independent ladies often felt otherwise. Rather than
trying to “wear the pants in the family,”
the majority of women photographed in
trousers wore the unconventional costume
to ease their work or recreational activities.
Date these pictures using enclosures, photographer’s imprints, genealogical information and clothing clues, but don’t overlook
the larger story they tell about your family’s
founding mothers. 3
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor helps
solve your picture puzzles in her online column. Learn
how to submit photos for free analysis at < www. /photos / photohelp.htm>.
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of sa nd y
fo re st
Don’t be scared!
There’s nothing tricky
about gleaning
genealogical treats
from Halloween photos.
| By Maureen A. Taylor
ph ot os : co
ur te sy
photo d e t e c t i v e
onning a Halloween costume, ringing
doorbells and getting a pillowcase full
of candy is one of the great joys of childhood. The curious group portrait here—
one of a set Sandy Forest owns—shows
“big kids” enjoy celebrating in masquerade, too. With a few photo-research tricks,
Forest can treat herself to the story behind
this intriguing image.
Revealing identities
The woman in buccaneer attire is Forest’s
aunt Connie, who was born in 1908 and
lived in the town of Maspeth on Long
Island, NY. Forest doesn’t recognize anyone else in the photo, but a comparison of
facial features suggests the clown on the
left has a similar nose, mouth and face
shape to Connie’s. Perhaps she’s a relative.
Such comparisons are subjective, of course,
so don’t take physical resemblances as evidence of relationships—instead, use them
to form hypotheses for further research.
This group also could be high school
friends. To investigate further, Forest should
find out when her aunt graduated and
browse school yearbooks for familiar faces.
The local public library, historical society
or school district office might have yearbooks, or Forest can peruse digitized annuals on sites such as Dead Fred < deadfred. com > and < www. >.
62 Family Tree Magazine November 2007
Mastering disguises
Obviously, you can’t rely on the shape of
a sleeve or trim on a bodice to date the
clothing here. Instead, examine the subject of impersonation. In the 20th century,
cartoon character and politician costumes
joined the standard witch, goblin and
pirate Halloween fare. For example, during the Depression, going as a hobo was a
popular choice.
Connie poses here in a buccaneer outfit
complete with a hat and knife. Two comedic harlequins standing in the back sport
pom-poms and ruffled collars; the woman
between them is wearing a flapper-style
dress and headpiece. Seated on the left is a
lady dressed as a Spanish princess (holding
a fan); a fashionable 18th-century woman
perches next to her. These costume choices
were common during the 1920s.
Commercially produced costumes
weren’t available until the 1930s. But an
illustration in Dressed for Thrills by Phyllis Galembo (Harry N. Abrams, $24.95)
shows a 1925 Pictorial Pattern Co. sewing
pattern for Connie’s outfit, from her hat to
her swashbuckler boot tops. She modified
the pattern’s skirt hem.
Collecting yourself
In addition to studying the details of each
photo, look at all your family photos as a
group. Connie’s costume and the identical
background make it obvious the images
shown here are part of a set. But Forest also
has wedding and first communion photographs of family members standing in front
of the same painted scene. Though the photographer’s imprint doesn’t appear here, the
backdrop is evidence her family frequented
the same photographer. She can use city
directories to find studios in the neighborhood and, based on years of operation, estimate date ranges for the photos.
Check the backs of all your photos, too.
The single portrait of Connie is a photo
postcard, printed on sturdy cardstock with
designated spaces on the back for a message and stamp. The stamp box design
can indicate when a photo postcard was
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Tricks of the Trade
1 Costume check. Date Halloween
photos based on when the costumes
were in vogue.
2 Unmasked. Try to identify mystery
friends using high school yearbooks.
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Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau
3 Familiar faces. Use a magnifier
to examine subjects’ faces. Treat
similarities as clues, not evidence.
4 Cool and collected. Study your other
photos for those taken on the same
occasion or in the same studio.
Faced with a frightening photo
mystery? Post your picture on
our Photo Detective Forum at
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printed. I compared the stamp box on the
back of Connie’s portrait with the examples
in Real Photo Postcard Guide: The People’s Photography by Robert Bogdan and
Todd Weseloh (Syracuse University Press,
$39.95). It was used around 1910, then
reintroduced in 1926.
Are we done?
Clowning around
Private parties to celebrate Halloween were
all the rage in the Victorian period; later,
cities and towns began holding festivities.
It’s likely this group marched in a parade,
then had their portrait taken. Connie’s
boldly patterned costume makes her stand
out in the group photo, and her front-andcenter position suggests she organized the
Kodak moment. Forest could sweeten this
family history treat by checking the area’s
historical newspapers for coverage of Halloween celebrations. 3
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor blogs
about mystery photos at < www.familytreemagazine. com / photodetectiveblog >.
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photo d e t e c t i v e
Oh, Boy … or Girl?
That’s right—once upon a time, little boys
wore long hair and skirts. Use our photo
pro’s secrets to practice some genealogical
gender discrimination. | By Maureen A. Taylor
uring the 1960s, older folks used to
say it was hard to tell the boys from
the girls because of the unisex fashion
trends and long hairstyles. But the same
can be said for your youthful ancestors
in family photos from the late 1800s and
early 1900s: Both boys and girls wore
curly locks and skirts, like the tyke shown
at right, so it’s not hard to make a genderbending mistake. If you can’t tell whether
you’ve got a picture of Aunt Ethel or Uncle
Bert, use these head-to-toe tips for distinguishing the males from the females.
Hair it is
Many a genealogist looks at a photo, sees
a skirt and long hair on the subject, and
immediately—often incorrectly—concludes
it’s another picture of Great-grandma
Mabel. But looks can be deceiving, so rely
on this identification tip that’s so simple it’s
hard to believe: Check out where the child’s
hair is parted. Mothers parted their daughters’ hair in the center and their sons’ hair
on the side. (For the record, the child shown
on this page is a boy.) When boys reached
school age, they usually started sporting
shorter haircuts.
Wear apparent
A quick glance at a fashion tome such as
The Child in Fashion 1750-1920 by Kristina Harris (Schiffer Publishing, $29.95)
shows you can’t rely on short hair and
pants to pinpoint boys. Throughout the
19th and early 20th centuries, babies of
both sexes wore long dresses until they
learned to walk. Thereafter, moms dressed
68 Family Tree Magazine December 2006
those restless toddlers in skirts that were
short enough to let them motor around.
Diaper changing and toilet training were
easier in these outfits, too. School-age children are simpler to identify in photos—
that’s when boys and girls began wearing
distinctive attire.
Junior’s clothing usually mimicked
designs for women’s dresses. That means
you can date kids’ outfits by comparing
them to significant ladies’ fashions from
the same period, such as the bolero jackets of the 1860s and the pointed bodices
of the 1840s. Also use the following childhood fashion trends, which Joan Severa
describes in Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion,
1840-1900 (Kent State University Press,
$60): During the 1840s, young boys
and girls “both wore dresses, either the
frock type or ones with set-in belts and
full skirts, although little boys sometimes
wore full-length dark ‘trowsers’ under
the frock.” From the 1850s through the
1880s, boys’ dresses came in tartan plaids
or featured military trim, which differentiated their clothing from their sisters’.
Outfit for a prince
In this 1890s photo, the boy poses in a
skirt, short jacket, ruffled shirt and large
bow similar to the velvet suits first seen
during the 1860s. This is a feminine look
by modern standards, but it became
wildly popular for boys when author
Frances Hodgson Burnett published her
children’s novel Little Lord Fauntleroy in
1886. The velvet knickerbocker suit with
a lace Van Dyke collar and broad sash
turned into a persistent fashion trend that
forever after was associated with Burnett’s
main character.
Eventually, the Little Lord Fauntleroy
look encompassed all velvet suits (including those with pants) and any suit with a
lace collar. You can learn more about this
fashion fad at < www.sallyqueenassociates. com / fauntleroy.htm >.
Aging well
In addition to noting gender-related fashion details, try to estimate the child’s age
by examining his clothing. Here’s your
basic rule: Boys wore long white dresses
until about age 3, and short skirts until
they turned 5. School-age boys dressed
in knee-length pants until around age 12,
when they donned long trousers like their
fathers’. The boy shown above is probably 3 to 5 years old—the photographer
who took his portrait captured his pride
at wearing “grown-up” attire.
Family History Online
Boys Will
Be Boys
1 Parting ways. Boys’ hairstyles
were parted on the side, as shown
here; girls wore their hair parted
in the middle.
courtesy of maureen a. taylor
2 Trend watch. Compare outfits
to fashion reference books and
adult clothing. This boy’s Little
Lord Fauntleroy look dates to
the 1890s.
3 Age-old advice. The length of
this child’s skirt puts him
between 3 and 5 years old. We found the records
so you can FIND ANCESTORS! Visit TODAY!
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See solutions to readers’
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< / photos / current.htm >.
[email protected]
We are based in Belarus
Free consultations and estimate.
Software data-entry, typing,
transcriptions, proofreading, Scottish/
Texas research. Carolyn McNicholl,
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(512) 388-1976, [email protected];
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Country Club Dr., Pearland, TX 77581
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Prop yourself up
If you still have any doubts about the sex
of the child in your picture, look at the
props. Photographers kept toys on hand
to occupy fidgety tots, and the selections
were pretty stereotypical—it’s a safe bet a
wagon means the subject is a boy, and a
doll indicates a girl.
Now you know it’s a snap to tell boys
from girls in vintage photos. After you
decide who’s who, date fashion trends and
compute the child’s age, rely on other factors, such as the type of image (daguerreotype, tintype, photo postcard) and your
genealogical data, to verify the time
frame. No more mixing up family photos
of Bert and Ethel: With this discriminating
advice, you’ll make the right ID. 3
Wales & English Midlands — Research
by experienced local researcher. Contact
[email protected]; Searching
the record offices and archives of
Scotland and Northumberland.
Contact [email protected]
19 Sunnyside Mews, Tweedmouth,
Berwick Upon Tweed, Nothumberland
England TD15 2QJ United Kingdom
Canada — National Archives and Library
research. All provinces. Prompt reply. BA
(History). David Agar, 1712A Lamoureux
Drive, Orleans, Ontario, K1E 2N2.
[email protected]
Expert Italian & Latin Translation.
Handwriting specialist. Juliet Viola
Kniffen, M.A., 1908 Grant Street,
Berkeley, CA 94703; e-mail scans to:
[email protected];
Translator of old German Script. Free
estimates. Gordon Hartig, P.O. Box 931,
Westford, MA 01886. (978) 692-5781
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor analyzes readers’ old photographs in her free, biweekly
online column, Identifying Family Photographs.
See < / photos / photohelp.htm > for instructions on submitting
your photo. 69
photo d e t e c t i v e
Hats Off to You
Earn a feather in your cap when you use costume
details—such as hats—to solve photo mysteries.
| By Maureen A. Taylor
ears ago, you could commit a major
fashion faux pas by not wearing a hat,
or by wearing the wrong one. You don’t see
hats as often today, but their past popularity makes them useful photo clues: If your
ancestor posed in a trendy topper, you can
learn when it was in style. Hats also can
indicate whether your ancestor was a businessman, farmer or—as may be the case for
this young man—a streetcar conductor.
Ellen Copper’s father-in-law stumbled
upon this picture in his mother’s collection
of treasured possessions. Since then, the
family’s been trying to figure out who the
person is, and when and where his portrait
was taken. Before attempting a positive
ID, though, it’s important to find as much
background information about the family as possible. For instance, Ellen’s family
knows the picture’s original owner, Ellen’s
grandmother Laura (Netzle) Copper, was
born in 1883 in McKeesport, Pa. They also
believe Grandma Copper’s German parents
probably immigrated to Pennsylvania in
the late 1870s or early 1880s. Grandma’s
brother Fritz was a streetcar conductor, but
according to Fritz’s daughter, this isn’t him
in the photograph.
Curious case
Now that we know a little bit about the
family, let’s start with the photograph’s
worn wooden case for date clues. The
design on the back is a variation on a
common flower-filled urn style. Several
similar cases appear in Adele Kenny’s Photographic Cases: Victorian Design Sources,
1840-1870 (Schiffer, $59.95). These
wooden cases became available in the early
1850s—the same decade as the ornate oval
brass mat that frames the image.
70 Family Tree Magazine December 2005
Most cases like this one feature a strip
of brass that holds the picture, glass and
mat firmly in place—but this case lacks
that strip, suggesting it originally held a
different image. And with no strip to protect the photo, dirt has built up on the glass
and the picture. The tarnished brass mat
indicates exposure to fluctuating temperature and humidity. A gentle wipe with a dry
cotton swab will remove the grime. (But
never swab the surface of an image—that
removes any loose pieces of the picture.)
courtesy of ellen copper
Drop of a hat
The young man’s clothing corroborates the
suspected date of the photo. He’s wearing
a wide-lapel jacket with a double-breasted
vest, wide silk tie and white shirt—all suggesting this picture dates to the 1850s or
early 1860s. The young man’s distinctive
headgear is either an occupational clue
or a fashion accessory. In Dressed for the
Photographer: Ordinary Americans &
Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent State University
Press, $60), author Joan Severa says a new
type of hat, “a pilot’s cap, which is very
deep crowned and crisp and had a leather
band and bill,” was a common boys’ accessory in the 1850s.
But is this man’s cap fashionable attire
or work wear? In the mid-19th century,
just like today, hats could identify the
wearer’s occupation. Streetcar conductors,
for example, wore hats similar to the one
in this photo. Ellen can investigate that
possibility by contacting the McKeesport
Heritage Center (1832 Arboretum Drive,
McKeesport, PA 15132) to ask when
streetcars began running in Grandma
Copper’s hometown. The center also might
have images featuring conductors in its
collection—comparing such photos to this
one will help determine whether this young
man posed in his occupational uniform.
All ashore!
So far, clues seem to date this photo to
the 1850s. But as you’ll recall, the Netzle
and Copper families weren’t in America
in the 1850s, so this portrait may have
been taken overseas. Verifying when family members immigrated to the United
States will help Ellen make that determination—one branch of the clan may have
crossed the pond earlier than the rest.
She’ll find resources for immigration and
naturalization documents in Michael Tepper’s American Passenger Arrival Records
(Genealogical Publishing Co., $14.95),’s < > US
Immigration Collection (a $79.95-peryear subscription), and Cyndi’s List < www. > pages on immigration, emigration and migration.
February 12-17, 2006
Out Ahead
1 Case the joint. Research when the
type and design of the photo case and
mat were commonly in use.
pieces. The photo may
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not be original to the case if the metal
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3 Jacket required. Use clues such as
• Research Service
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the lapel and tie widths, as well as the
tie knot, to confirm a photo date.
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4 Wear many hats. Search photo
archives for men sporting caps
similar to the one in the photo.
5 Gaze into his eyes. Compare the
subject’s features with identified
family photos.
Spitting image
This young man appears to be in his early
teens, so he probably was born during the
1840s. Ellen should compare his features
to already-identified portraits of other
male relatives with birth dates around the
same time. Similarities in the shapes of
subjects’ noses, eyes and mouth—features
that don’t change much over time—are
particularly telling. And don’t forget eye
color: Even though this photograph is
black and white, you can tell the young
man has light eyes.
As you solve your own photo mysteries,
remember to think big—keeping the larger
family history picture in mind—and start
small, with details such as photo cases,
lapels, ties and hats. 3
Family Tree Magazine contributing editor Maureen
A. Taylor helps solve readers’ picture puzzles in her
biweekly online photo-identification column. Learn
how to submit your photos for free analysis at < www. /photos / photohelp.htm>.
To learn more visit
or call toll free 877-896-0974 9am-6pm MST
photo d e t e c t i v e
Playing Politics
A tiny detail in your photo may reveal
a relative’s political views.
| By Maureen A. Taylor
n a 1776 letter, Abigail Adams admonished her husband, John, to “remember
the ladies” as the Continental Congress
struggled to establish a government. Even
though women weren’t allowed to vote on
a national level until 1920, many, like Abigail, took an interest in political affairs.
Frances Althea Cuppernell, shown here
on the right, didn’t leave writings expressing her views. But as you’ll see, details in
this portrait reveal hidden aspects of her
political leanings. Her great-great-grandson
Orville S. Paller sent this image to me
because he’s been unable to crack the identity of the two ladies posing with Cuppernell. Paller wondered if his ancestor’s
unique bar pin could hold the answer to
this pictorial brick wall. Let’s stack up the
facts and find out.
Pinpointing a date
Even before we consider the pin, the
women’s outfits provide a time frame. All
wear dresses with high necklines and buttons down the bodice. The one in front
has a wide lace collar; her hair is up on the
crown of her head. Frances and the woman
in back both wear center-parted hair with
soft waves. These dress styles and hairdos
were popular in the mid-1880s.
Cuppernell’s pin in the shape of the
word Blaine, though, more-specifically
dates the image and gives us a glimpse into
this woman’s life. Paller realized the jewelry is a clue, but wasn’t able to identify its
significance—Blaine isn’t the name of any
branch of his or an in-law’s family.
Research into US history reveals the
accessory doesn’t relate to the family, but to
Cuppernell’s political leanings. Even when
they couldn’t vote, women still supported
or opposed political causes.
In this case, the pin shows Cuppernell’s
backing for little-known presidential candidate James G. Blaine. The Republican tried
to earn his party’s nomination in 1876 and
1880, finally achieving his goal in 1884.
Democrat Grover Cleveland challenged
him in a tense campaign: Cleveland admitted he’d fathered a child illegitimately;
Blaine was accused of being anti-Catholic
and accepting bribes.
According to Jordan M. Wright’s Campaigning for President: Memorabilia From
the Nation’s Finest Private Collection
(Smithsonian, $35), US political memorabilia originated around 1796, when John
Adams became president. He’d used paper
lanterns to promote his candidacy. Franklin
Pierce, elected president in 1852, first used
photos on a variety of campaign propaganda, some of it—including aprons, hairpins and jewelry—designed for women.
(See examples of campaign propaganda
in the New York Times article at <www.
28muse.html>.) Blaine’s campaign made
pocketbooks for his female supporters.
The combination of clothing and Cuppernell’s bar pin date this image to the few
months in 1884 between Blaine’s acceptance of his party’s nod and his election loss
to Cleveland.
Political leanings
Paller was surprised to learn this photo
could establish Cuppernell as a Republican. At the time, the Republican party—to
which Abraham Lincoln had belonged—
was considered the more liberal faction.
It’s unknown what influence (if any) Cuppernell’s political values may have had on
her husband’s vote, whether she supported
women’s suffrage, or why she backed
Blaine. But by setting this photo into the
context of her life, you get a sense of her
as a person.
Born Feb. 8, 1845, in Illinois, Frances
Althea (aka Allie) married William Henry
Vredenburgh at age 17. Three years later,
May 26, 1865, their divorce was finalized.
At the time, divorce was granted only in
extreme circumstances. Illinois statutes
in 1856 define those as bigamy, adultery,
desertion for at least two years, cruelty,
drunkenness or felony conviction, says
Ray Collins, reference librarian at the Illinois State Library.
Cuppernell’s husband had deserted her.
In August 1865, she remarried to Albert
Marion Swarthout, who remained her
spouse until her death in 1891. Paller’s
genealogical research and the visual
62 Family Tree Magazine November 2008
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1 History matters. Studying
history can help you add context
to old photos.
2 Pinned down. Look carefully at
jewelry: It might be more than mere
3 Costume check. Clothing and
hairstyles can help establish a time
frame for an image.
4 Record review. Your genealogy
research may add insight to clothing
and accessory choices.
forum Post photos of your
ancestors’ jewelry and other
accessories in our Photo Detective Forum
evidence in the photograph suggest she
was a woman of strong convictions. Why
else wear a piece of political propaganda in
an era when a woman’s place was at home
caring for her family?
Perhaps her choice to wear political jewelry also reflects her position on women’s
issues. In the 1880s, the American Women’s Suffrage Association and the National
Women’s Suffrage Association advocated
for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. Interestingly,
members of the NWSA also supported
easier divorce laws for women—a stance
Cuppernell might’ve appreciated—and an
end to sex discrimination in employment.
So are the other two women pictured
Cuppernell’s relatives, or friends with a
similar political stance? The Blaine pin
hasn’t yet led to their identities, but it has
yielded insights about its wearer. 3
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor tackles
more cases online in the Photo Detective blog <www.>.
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photo d e t e c t i v e
Names are just part of
the story in a group shot.
Learn photo clues that
can reveal the occasion
for the get-together.
| By Maureen A. Taylor
ven though this photo is a question
mark in Linda Hess’s family today,
someone once knew who’s pictured and
why they’re there. Perhaps that’s the person
who circled two of the women. It wasn’t
hard to come up with pretty solid IDs for
those ladies, but who is everyone else, and
why are they there? Let’s look at clues Hess
can use to get the full story.
Doing the wave
Hess remembers her aunt telling her that
this image is somehow connected to family from Missouri, and one of the women
was supposed to be the mother of a relative named Grace Mink. The name serves
as a starting place, but a general date would
help Hess narrow her search. That’s the
easy part of this photographic brick wall:
Three women in the picture have permanent waves, with hair styled in what was
called the “wavy shingle” during the early
1920s. The no-waist dresses confirm this.
Playing family detective
Now Hess has to figure out who’s depicted
here by researching leads in oral traditions
about Mink. Her family disputes Mink’s
marriage to a man named William Curtis
Nunnally, and their daughters’ deaths at a
young age. Nunnally’s sister, Hess’ greatgrandmother, always said her brother
died an unmarried man, yet Hess’ aunt
found proof of the marriage at St. Simon’s
Church in Washington, Daviess County,
Ind., Sept. 17, 1901. Federal census records
fill in missing bits. In 1910, William (listed
as Doug), Grace, their daughter Irene, and
Grace’s mother, Honora (Nora, nee Smith),
lived in Madison County, Ill. After William’s death in 1914, the 1920 census finds
Grace Nunnally living with her mother and
daughter in Missouri. She’s 36; Irene is 14.
The household includes Grace’s mother, her
brother Marion, his wife, their three children, and two lodgers. Irene—if that is in
fact her circled in the front row—is a young
teen, confirming the date of about 1920.
Making matches
The circled heads were someone’s attempt
to point out a relationship. Hess and a distant relative believe Nora is the woman
seated on the far right and Grace is standing behind the seated Irene. I tend to agree.
Grace and Nora have same-shaped faces,
mouths and noses; Irene probably favors
her father. Their apparent ages here are
right, too. But who are the rest of the
young men and women in the picture? In
1920, Nora’s son would’ve been too old
and her grandsons too young to be the
men in this photo.
The key to solving their identities probably lies with extended family members’
photos. Several of the girls here resemble
the Mink women, but let’s consider other
possibilities. The others in this photo could
be Nora’s own Smith kin; relatives of her
husband, Andrew Mink; or family members of William Nunnally.
Shared facial traits may indicate a family
group. For instance, the man standing second from the right resembles Irene—both
have long faces. He could be her uncle or an
older cousin. The younger man standing on
the far left also looks like them, with strong
eyebrows and facial features.
Meeting up
I’m not sure this picture was taken in a
home. The high ceilings, pictures hanging
high on the molding and strong overhead
light are characteristic of institutional,
rather than homey, decor. Even the furniture appears uncomfortable—wooden
straight-back chairs and a bench on the
right for Nora. Notice the pillow behind
her head to make her comfortable.
72 Family Tree Magazine July 2008
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Northeast Texas History
and Genealogy Center
The Center is a research facility dedicated to
encouraging the exploration and appreciation of the
rich historical legacy of Northeast Texas.
The Center offers access to a wide range of rare
items, records, newspapers, photographs, and
databases to ensure generations can understand and
share in their unique heritage.
The Whole Story
1 Homing in. Use markings, family
tales and research to pinpoint relatives.
2 Cut ’n curl. Look to hair as well as
clothing for a photo date.
3 Look-alikes. Facial similarities
suggest relationships.
4 Inside information. Study the
background and compare it to other
photos for location clues.
5 Common traits. Characteristics
everyone shares, such as age, sex and
attire, could indicate an occasion.
Want more photo solutions?
See the Photo Detective blog <www.
Located in historic
Greenville, Texas
Located in the W. Walworth Harrison Public Library
# 1 Lou Finney Lane, Greenville, Texas
Phone: 903-457-2992 Web:
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Where did your ancestors originate? Many are just like you and do not know where grandpa and
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AHSGR is an international organization dedicated to the discovery, collection, preservation and
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Settlers in the Russian Empire and their descendants regardless of where they resided or reside.>.
Since the dresses’ predominant color is
dark, two possibilities are likely: Grace and
Nora are chaperoning an evening gathering
of young people, or this is a family attending a wake. More research on collateral
lines might turn up supporting evidence,
such as an obituary or death announcement naming survivors. But the absence of
older men and women other than Grace
and Nora is unusual at a wake.
If this picture was taken in Missouri,
finding Grace’s address in city directories
or other documents could help identify the
setting. With a street name, Hess could contact the local historical society to inquire
about pictures of the neighborhood—
home styles could indicate whether these
folks posed in a house or business.
Since this is a 20th-century photo, many
of these young people would’ve lived into
the late 1900s. That makes it likely someone in Hess’ extended family will recognize
them and name the occasion. It’s a matter
of networking with distant cousins to figure out who’s who. 3
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5. Our SOAR database (Save Our Ancestral Records) contains information on thousands of German Russian Families with names, dates of
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72-73 JUL08FT PD.indd 73
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photo d e t e c t i v e
Pop quiz: Two dozen
bright-eyed students
stare at you from an old
school portrait. Which
one is your relative?
We’ve got the answers.
| By Maureen A. Taylor
f you’ve had kids, you know the drill:
Every fall or spring, your child would
come home with an order form for school
portraits. You’d pin some money inside
your little one’s backpack and several weeks
later, he’d trot home clutching the photos.
School photos go back to the early days of
photography when, in 1840, Yale class of
1810 alumni posed for the camera.
Some school images are easily confused with photographs from events such
as weddings. For instance, in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries, young women
dressed in white for graduations. A rolledup diploma indicates a photo of an ivorygowned woman isn’t a bridal portrait.
If your photo collection has a class picture like this one, an ancestor is probably
standing among those cute kids. But which
one is he (or she)? Here’s how to earn an
A+ in school-photo research.
Cheat sheet
To make an ancestral ID, you’ll need to
learn when and where the picture was taken.
You may be able to take the easy way out:
Turn over your picture to see if it’s labeled
with the school name, a date and names of
anyone in the picture. Some of our ancestors made marks above their own heads on
64 Family Tree Magazine October 2006
class portraits. In the case of this picture,
someone identified several students for a
town scrapbook; a relative might have put
names on your photo.
Style school
No luck? Assign your photo a date by figuring out when the clothing styles were popular. Here, the girls’ dresses have high collars
and fitted sleeves, and several in front
sport frocks with trim. Compare these key
aspects of their outfits to the fashion plates
in JoAnne Olian’s Children’s Fashions
1860-1912 (Dover Publications, $14.95)
and Kristina Harris’ The Child in Fashion: 1750-1920 (Schiffer Publishing Co.,
$29.95). The dresses and suits shown here
date from around 1901 and would’ve cost
their parents from $2 to $4 each, according to Children’s Fashions 1900-1950 as
Pictured in Sears Catalogs edited by Olian
(Dover Publications, $14.95).
Age gap
Combine the fashion facts with what you
know about child development to guess
the ages of children in a picture. Skirt and
pants length can help: To allow for more
active play, little boys wore short pants and
girls wore calf-length skirts. Boys and girls
started wearing longer pants or skirts about
age 12. Based on their outfits and their
appearances—ranging from baby faces to
the more mature look of adolescence—
they’re probably 10 to 12 years old.
Geography lessons
Now that you’ve estimated a date for the
picture, do some local history research
into schools near your ancestors’ hometowns at the time. If you don’t know
where they lived, try using census records.
Though it’s more of a long shot, the school
building may give you location clues, too:
Schoolhouses reflected whatever architectural design was in vogue when and where
they were constructed—a one-room adobe
schoolhouse is a hint the picture wasn’t
taken in New England. You can compare
your photo to historical images of schools
around the country in the Library of Congress’ American Memory online collection
<>; just type school into the
search box. See the August 2006 Family
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2Life stages. Younger children wore
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Courtesy of Maureen A. Taylor
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Multiple choice
Fetch your family group sheets for ancestors who lived near the school, and use the
process of elimination: Obviously, if you’re
looking for a female ancestor, you can
remove boys from consideration. Then find
children about the age your relative was at
the time of the photo. Finally, compare them
to known pictures of your relative. Enlarge
the photos and study the eyes, ears and
noses—features that change less over time.
Add to the story of your ancestor’s
youth by seeking school records, such as
class rosters, report cards and yearbooks
(which may have additional photos); see
the October 2005 Family Tree Magazine
for a primer on finding these records. Now
go to the head of the class. 3
Submit your photograph to contributing editor
Maureen A. Taylor for expert analysis in her
biweekly online Identifying Family Photographs column. See < / photos / photohelp.htm > for instructions.
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photo d e t e c t i v e
Sort out the bevies of
bridesmaids and gaggles
of guests in your old
group wedding portraits.
| By Maureen A. Taylor
ou’ve searched fruitlessly for proof
your ancestors actually married, and
you’re starting to think they were living
in sin. In the absence of written documentation, though, you can look for another
convincing piece of evidence: a wedding
picture. Large group portraits such as this
one weren’t common until the 1900s—but
they give you extra reason to rejoice: If
you can figure out the names of the happy
couple in the center, the rest of the identifications will fall blissfully into place. You’ll
be party to wedding photo success when
you marry your genealogical research with
this advice.
All dressed up
Start by dating your wedding pictures
based on clothing clues. Since a bride
would sometimes wear her mother’s or
grandmother’s gown, however, don’t draw
any conclusions until you’ve looked at
everyone’s attire. Women’s clothing varied
more than men’s over time, so it’s usually
easier to date. Compare key details such as
the shapes of sleeves and bodices to outfits shown in costume encyclopedias; my
favorite is Joan Severa’s Dressed for the
Photographer (Kent State University Press,
$65). You also can study wedding pictures
from 1900 to 1920 at
< / bridal / bridal6.htm >.
The dresses women are wearing in this
photo date to around 1900.
72 Family Tree Magazine June 2006
Although multiple attendants were less
common for our ancestors than for modern
brides and grooms, you can look for matching dresses and suits to pick out the members of the wedding party. This couple had
flower girls with identical white dresses,
hats and bouquets. Two bridesmaids are
easy to spot, too: They’re attired in matching gowns and standing one behind the
other over the groom’s shoulder.
Strategic positioning
What you can learn about an image doesn’t
stop with a date. In group wedding portraits, photographers usually posed wedding parties in a traditional arrangement:
The groom sat to the bride’s right with their
respective parents beside them, and siblings
close by. Generally, the closer someone is
to the couple, the closer the relationship,
making it easy to figure out who’s in the
immediate family. We see a slight variation in this picture—a woman, probably
the groom’s sister, occupies the spot next
to him, followed by his parents. Beside the
bride are her parents and a woman who,
based on her age, is probably an aunt.
About face
You can sometimes tell who’s related to
whom by examining each person’s facial
features and looking for matches. (It helps
to scan the image at a high resolution and
zoom in on the details.) This groom’s narrow jaw, large ears and distinctive nose
appear elsewhere in the picture: The
woman to his right has his nose, and the
fellow behind him shares all three features.
It’s more difficult to pick out the bride’s
side of the family, but you can tell the ring
bearer, sitting front and center, shares her
nose, eyes and face shape. Some people
here don’t resemble anyone, so it’s likely
in-laws and friends are present. Of course,
you won’t be able to make many hard-andfast conclusions using this method, but
you can hazard some guesses to confirm in
genealogical records.
Where can you buy
Club Wed
1 Get cozy. People standing or
seated nearest the couple probably
are close relatives.
2 Costume party. Identical outfits
give away the members of the
wedding party.
Courtesy of Maureen A. Taylor
3 Clothing in. The women’s
sleeves and bodices date this photo
to the early 1900s.
4 Face the truth. Similar features
can suggest who’s related.
5 Present and past. The message
written on the back indicates this
photo was a gift—other family
members may have copies.
Love notes
Not all identification clues are in the image.
Based on the way this unidentified image
is signed, “With love and best wishes from
Maud and Arthur,” it must’ve been a gift
from the bride and groom. If you have a
photo with a similar message, network with
cousins to turn up duplicates, one of which
may have names on the back or an owner
who knows something about it. You might
even come across a guest book or gift register listing people who attended the wedding
and may have posed for the portrait.
With these clues in hand, examine your
family group sheets and pedigree charts
for couples married around the estimated
photo date, with siblings and parents of the
right ages. Your genealogy research will be
one step closer to happily ever after. 3
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor helps
solve readers’ picture puzzles in her biweekly online
photo-identification column. Learn how to submit
your mystery images for free analysis at < www. / photos / photohelp.htm >.
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photo d e t e c t i v e
In Plain
Look past obvious
clues to uncover the
real stories behind
family photos.
| By Maureen A. Taylor
ometimes your photo ID work is cut
out for you even when it seems the
answers are right there. Judy Bennett
knows where this portrait of the TiftMitchell clan, whose ancestors helped
found Albany, Ga., was taken: at a family
home on Albany’s Society Street. And it’s
a bit hard to tell here, but the names of
those pictured are written on the image.
An open-and-shut case, right? Not quite.
Several aspects of this photo raise questions. Exactly when was it taken, and
why did these particular family members
pose together? It’s an example of how
every picture has a story.
Writing on the wall
The names are faintly written below the
brick-edged garden. A photographer’s
loupe or magnifying glass can be a huge
help when reading faded ink. You also
can scan an image, open the digital file
in a photo-editing program, and adjust
the contrast and brightening controls to
enhance the writing. Of the 19 people in
this picture, Bennett was able to decipher
10 names. By comparing faces to other
family pictures and matching key physical
features—ears, eyes, nose, mouth and face
shape—she added two more names. The
children are still unidentified.
An easy time
Developing a time frame for this picture
wasn’t difficult. The women’s front-pouched
blouses, narrow waists, straight skirts and
Gibson Girl hair date the image to between
1900 and 1910, a range confirmed by the
men’s high, stiff collars, neckties and short
hair. Even the season is apparent: If you
look closely, you can see a blooming narcissus or daffodil in the garden and a budding
tree in the right foreground. In Georgia,
these spring flowers bloom in February.
Birth dates of those in an image can
help narrow the time period. For instance,
the baby on the far left, if identified, would
date the image to within a year. I’d guess
the oldest girl (sitting on the steps) is in her
early teens, perhaps 13 to 15. The caption
identifies her as Maria Isabel Mitchell;
genealogical research reveals she was born
in 1889. Based on her estimated age, this
photo would’ve been taken between 1902
and 1904. Walter Mann, the white-haired
man on the right standing next to the column, was 62 years old in the 1910 US census (he died in 1915). Nelson Tift, on the
far right, was 60 in 1910. Both men were
in their 50s between 1902 and 1904—
about right for their appearance here. The
young men clasping shoulders on the right
were both born in 1880, making them 22
to 24 years of age, also likely.
Children, please!
Genealogy can help ID the children, too.
Bennett should research the identified
adults to learn their children’s names and
birth dates, then compare the data to the
estimated ages of children in this image.
This will take time and patience.
The posture of three children sitting on
the steps is interesting. They’re wearing
dresses and hair bows, but mothers likely
would’ve admonished girls to sit with their
knees together. Perhaps the three kids displaying their drawers escaped their moms’
notice—or maybe these are boys. During the early part of the 20th century, it
wasn’t uncommon for boys to wear their
hair in long curls tied up in bows, as I’ve
noted on Family Tree Magazine’s Photo
Detective blog <blog.familytreemagazine.
62 Family Tree Magazine March 2009
62-63 MAR09FT PHOTODETECT.indd 62
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Northeast Texas History
and Genealogy Center
The Center is a research facility dedicated to
encouraging the exploration and appreciation of the
rich historical legacy of Northeast Texas.
The Center offers access to a wide range of rare
items, records, newspapers, photographs, and
databases to ensure generations can understand and
share in their unique heritage.
Digging Deeper
1 Fading away. Use a magnifying glass
or photo-editing software to decipher
pale writing.
2 Latest styles. Dresses, hairstyles and
accessories will help date the image.
3 Ageism. Reconcile census data with
subjects’ estimated ages to make IDs
and narrow a date.
4 Posture pointers. A curious pose
may be a clue to the person’s identity.
5 Glaring omission. Note relatives
whose absence from the image doesn’t
make sense.
forum Get help uncovering photo
clues in the Photo Detective Forum
As important as who’s in this picture is
who’s missing. Both husbands and wives are
present without their spouses, and interestingly, some here are in-laws. For example,
Clara Jane Tift Woolfolk is absent from the
photo, but her husband is on the far left.
Such details could help determine the occasion for the photo. Bennett initially thought
it was a funeral, but the lack of dark clothing suggests otherwise. It could be a simple
family gathering or the baby’s christening.
Bennett should re-examine her research
for clues to relatives’ whereabouts around
the time the portrait was taken. She may be
able to identify the gathering or even find
out one of the written labels is wrong.
Only by adding up all the bits of information will it be possible to put a name
with every face and officially date the
image. I’ll write more about this image and
update you on any new discoveries on the
Photo Detective blog. 3
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor is a
professional genealogist and photo historian. Learn
more about her work at <>.
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62-63 MAR09FT PHOTODETECT.indd 63
12/1/08 1:57:31 PM
photo d e t e c t i v e
Misled by Labeling
You can’t always believe what you read on
family photos, but details in the image may
reveal the truth. | By Maureen A. Taylor
his photo is full of fascinating details
about life on the frontier. A young
woman in a dirty dress poses holding her
child. It’s been a hard laundry day, judging
by the cloths hanging from the fence rail
in the foreground and the line next to the
house. The washtub hangs on the lean-to
and a coat is slung over the tree on the left.
Refuse litters the yard near pockets of
snow. The home’s vertical plank walls look
like weak protection from winter winds.
But even though the family appears poor,
their house has glass windows.
Joyce Ring owns this pioneer photograph, but doesn’t know the woman’s name.
She sees a resemblance to her grandmother
Helen “Nellie” Clarissa Burns Delimont,
who was born in 1887 and lived her whole
life around Almena, Kan. A cousin’s copy
of this picture has the caption, “Grandma
Nellie Delimont had an uncle killed in a
mining accident—picture probably taken
in Washington state.” But another copy is
labeled, “Alice Gray and Louis Delimont
taken in Washington state.”
Louis Delimont was Nellie’s son, and
Gray, born in 1886, was her cousin. Which
caption is right? We’ll use the rich detail in
this photo to help tease out the truth.
Tree time
You never know when a photo caption
may be inaccurate, so first up was researching the stated location. Behind the house, a
modest hill hints this isn’t Nellie Delimont’s
hometown in Kansas or the surrounding
Seeing Is
1 Back to nature. Identify and
research the habitats of trees and
plants in the image.
2 Dress dilemmas. Conflicting
fashion elements may indicate the
wearer updated an older outfit.
3 Facing facts. Use genealogy
data to identify candidates for an
unknown subject, then compare her
facial features to identified pictures.
area. Research in my library’s topographical maps and at Google Images <images.> (searching on almena kansas topographical map) confirms Almena
doesn’t have any hills of this size.
The trees in this rural scene offer more
clues. Pines dominate in the background,
and the front yard features the white bark
of aspen or birch. Sparse leaves suggest
it’s late fall or early spring. Using Google
Images again, I searched for aspen forest
and birch forest to find photos of trees and
maps of their growing areas. Consistent
with the captions, Wildlife Habitats <www.> says
aspens grow in Oregon and Washington.
But we can add the Upper Midwest to possible locations: According to a Forest Service map <
img/presettlement.jpg> forests of mixed
aspen, birch and pine occur in northern
areas such as Minnesota, Michigan and
Wisconsin—worth noting because one of
Ring’s ancestors wrote about living in the
“deep forest country of Wisconsin.”
wore long skirts, and some blouses in the
Sears catalog featured trimmed bodices.
In 1900, women’s outfits had high collars,
but this blouse has a turned-down collar
similar to those from the early 1910s. A
homemade and later updated dress could
account for the style discrepancies. But it’s
unlikely a woman would be wearing this
dress as late as 1924.
Clothing quandary
Double takes
Louis Delimont, the baby named in a
cousin’s caption, was born in 1924, but
the somewhat confusing clothing clues
here don’t support a date that late. This
woman’s dress has a ruffled, yoked bodice and full sleeves. At first glance, these
details indicate a date around 1900, but
the skirt length and collar shape suggest a
later era. In the pre-WWI period, women
Ring owns several other photos she knows
show Nellie Delimont as a girl and young
woman. The woman here, who appears to
be in her late teens or early 20s, has a similarshaped face, lips and nose to known pictures of Delimont, suggesting she’s the
one depicted. Add her birth date and age
in this photo to the clothing clues, and we
can date this photo to around 1910. The
4 Women’s work. In a casual shot
such as this one, items around your
subject reveal her daily activities.
forum Got a mystery photo?
Post it on our Photo Detective
Forum at < www.familytreemagazine.
com / forum >.
70 Family Tree Magazine March 2008
70-71 MAR08FT PHOTODETECT.indd 70
9/17/08 8:37:41 AM
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mysteries keep accumulating: If Delimont
is the woman in this picture, why is she
outside Kansas, and who’s the baby?
We can’t remove Alice Gray from consideration, though, since cousins often
look alike and one of the captioned photos names her. To positively identify the
woman and baby in this picture, Ring
should learn more about Gray and track
down pictures of her for comparison to
this one. Gray lived with her parents in
Oregon, and her father died in a mining
accident there in 1891. This woman could
be Gray in Oregon (not Washington) with
her own child, rather than Nellie’s son.
posed for a formal picture in a dirty apron
surrounded by drying laundry. Traveling
photographers moved throughout the
country taking photos of families they met
along the way; one may have snapped this
casual picture. It’s chilly enough outside
for a coat, but Mom went without one and
perhaps tidied her hair for the shot.
Ring’s photo mystery could be a case of
well-intentioned relatives providing hitor-miss information in their handwritten notations—underscoring the need for
research to support what captions say. With
a little more work, this woman’s identity is
a solvable problem. 3
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Another obvious question about this intimate family scene is the identity of the
photographer. A woman wouldn’t have
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70-71 MAR08FT PHOTODETECT.indd 71
9/17/08 8:37:58 AM
photo d e t e c t i v e
This Old
Build your family story
with photos of ancestral
abodes. | By Maureen A. Taylor
t’s a slice of Americana in almost every
family photo album: A picture of the
old folks standing in front of their home.
Such portraits—whether they display
pride in achieving the American dream or
betray the photographic need for outdoor
lighting—were all the rage, particularly in
the late 19th century.
But nostalgic feelings aside, what can
you learn from a photograph that reduces
your great-aunt to the size of an ant? Plenty:
Dwell on the right clues, and a homestead
portrait forms a sturdy foundation for your
family research.
No place like it
Look for hints to the home’s location in
signs, nearby buildings and weather conditions. The deep snow and the ice dams on
the roof suggest—but don’t guarantee—
this house is in the northern United States.
If this were your photo, you’d study your
genealogical records for relatives who lived
in locales with snowy winters.
Clothing probably won’t help date
buildings in a photo, but it does give a time
frame for the image. Use a photographer’s
loupe or scan the photo at a high resolution and zoom in on the subjects’ outfits.
Here, the woman on the left sports a long
coat, scarf and feathered hat; the other
woman poses in a shawl-collared fur coat
and puffy toque hat. From 1900 to about
1905, women wore winter hats trimmed
with large feathers and even fake birds, just
like these ladies.
68 Family Tree Magazine August 2006
Exterior design
Even a novice house historian can decipher
a dwelling’s architectural style—and thus,
the time period—based on key features
such as the roof, windows, doors, porches
and trim. Compare them to illustrations in
A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester (Knopf, $24.95)
or Identifying American Architecture: A
Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 16001945 by John J.G. Blumenson (W.W. Norton & Co., $15.95). For example, the trim
along this roof edge is characteristic of
Gothic Revival design, popular from 1840
to 1880 (with most structures dating before
1870). Andrew Jackson Downing’s 1850
pattern book The Architecture of Country
Houses (Dover Publications, $16.95) contributed to Gothic Revival’s popularity in
rural areas.
Home rooms
In an interior shot, fireplace mantels, floors
and built-in furniture reveal when a house
was built. Compare them to drawings in
The Elements of Style: An Encyclopedia
of Domestic Architectural Detail edited
by Stephen Calloway (Firefly Books, $75),
which shows hundreds of exterior and
interior details—everything from kitchen
stoves to bathroom fixtures—for American
and English homes.
Home décor is like clothing: It can
help you date a photo, but not necessarily a house. You’ll find photos of wellappointed rooms in The Tasteful Interlude:
American Interiors Through the Camera’s
Eye, 1860-1917, 2nd edition, by William
Seale (AltaMira Press, $36.80). Notice an
interesting piece of furniture tucked in the
corner? Look for a similar one in Identifying American Furniture: A Pictorial Guide
to Styles and Terms Colonial to Contemporary by Milo M. Naeve (W.W. Norton
& Co., $15.95).
Sign of the times
A sign on this home’s porch railing names
someone who probably worked or lived
here. If you can spot a house number or
street sign in your ancestral home photo,
or you know who lived there, check local
Books & Publications
Home Work
1 Roof positive. Lacework trim
identifies this house as Gothic Revival.
2 Sign language. This placard could
bear a resident’s name.
3 House of fashion. Clothing dates
the photo, not the building.
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4 Snow day. Weather can indicate
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5 Land, ho. Search land and tax
records for more house details.
6 Good neighbor. Look for
architectural clues on any nextdoor buildings, too.
Canada—National Archives
and Library research. All provinces.
Prompt reply. BA (History).
David Agar, 1712A Lamoureux Drive,
Orleans, Ontario, K1E 2N2.
[email protected]
Help Wanted
city directories for the address, residents’
occupations, and neighbors’ names. Some
directories indicate whether residents
own or rent (bds means boards); the former should send you to the county clerk
in search of a deed (see page 60) and
property tax records. Learn more about
researching houses in Discovering the
History of Your House and Your Neighborhood by Betsy J. Green (Santa Monica
Press, $14.95).
If you don’t own a picture of the family homestead, contact the local historical society—its collections may include
photos of the street where your ancestors
lived. Track down the neighbors’ descendants, who may have images showing part
of your grandparents’ residence. Then use
photographic clues to take apart the house,
and you’ll be on the way to constructing
your family history. 3
Submit your photo to contributing editor Maureen
A. Taylor for expert analysis in her biweekly online
Identifying Family Photographs column. See < www. / photos / photohelp.htm >
for instructions.
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photo d e t e c t i v e
Get more genealogical
mileage from your old
family photos with this
lesson in automotive
detailing. | By Maureen A. Taylor
hey say your choice of automobile
reveals something about you: Jeep
owners are adventurous; a minivan shows
you’re practical. But if you have an old family photo featuring a car, such as this shot
of the Millar family of Minneapolis, you’ll
extrapolate even more than personality
traits. By studying the bumpers, headlamps
and chassis, you can learn details such as
when and where your ancestors purchased
their car and their economic status. And yes,
you’ll find out a little something about the
man behind the wheel (or perhaps a progressive woman; our mothers and grandmothers rarely drove in the early 1900s).
Sentimental journey
Humans invented the first “car,” a steampowered wheeled platform, in the late 18th
century. Gasoline and electric autos didn’t
appear until 100 years later; Karl Benz (who
helped found the company that became
Mercedes-Benz) patented a vehicle in 1886.
It took awhile for these new contraptions
to pick up speed—not many people could
afford them and availability was limited. In
1900, fewer than 10,000 Americans traveled the roads in “horseless carriages.” But
by 1920, 8 million people owned cars.
More than 240 US automakers existed
in 1910, offering models largely unknown
64 Family Tree Magazine July 2007
today. (See a list of manufacturers at < en. / wiki / List_of_automobile_
manufacturers#US_automakers >.) Many
went out of business or merged into the
companies we know, but your ancestor’s car
may have been produced close to home. Use
city directories to learn the names of nearby
auto manufacturers. For instance, according to business listings in a 1913 Minneapolis city directory, the Millars could have
chosen from more than 50 local automobile
manufacturers and dealers.
If you don’t know when your photo was
taken—and therefore, which year’s directory to check—use clothing to establish a
date. (It’s dicey to base dates on cars, since
families kept them for years.) For help, see
the August 2004 Family Tree Magazine and
a book such as Dressed for the Photographer by Joan L. Severa (Kent State University Press, $60).
By design
Let automotive design pave the way to a
date range for your ancestors’ set of wheels,
which will help you narrow the make and
model. The first autos resembled fancy
upholstered wagons (usually windshieldless) with a center tiller or a wheel, but
by 1910, cars had longer bodies and back
seats. Occupants wore long coats, hats and
goggles to protect themselves from dust
and bugs. By the 1930s, the boxy shape
was replaced by sleek lines such as those on
the 1933 Duesenberg (see one at < www. / ocs / pages01 / dues3301.
htm >). Vehicles of the 1950s are distinc-
tive, with long bodies and fins.
Examine key features of the car in your
picture: fenders, steering wheel or tiller,
wheels, windshield and headlights. Compare them to cars in guides such as The
Complete Encyclopedia of Motorcars edited
by G.N. Georgano (E.P. Dutton & Co., out
of print) or The Ultimate Auto Album by
Tad Burness (Krause Publications, $16.95).
Look up later-model autos in Burness’
American Car Spotter’s Bible, 1940-1980
(Krause Publications, $29.99). Also visit the
Museum of Automobile History Web site
< www.themuseumofautomobilehistory.
com > and run a Google < >
search on a make.
The Millars’ car, with a square seating
area, removable windshield and lanternlike headlamps, dates from about 1913.
It shares many features of 1912 Chalmers
and Lion touring cars, including the size
and shape of the wheels, seats and windshield, and the placement of the steering
wheel on the car’s right. The fold-down
top could be used in inclement weather.
Northeast Texas History
and Genealogy Center
The Center is a research facility dedicated to
encouraging the exploration and appreciation of the
rich historical legacy of Northeast Texas.
The Center offers access to a wide range of rare
items, records, newspapers, photographs, and
databases to ensure generations can understand and
share in their unique heritage.
Looking Under
the Hood
1 Style notes. Clothing helps date the
photo, but not necessarily the car.
courtesy of Ma ureen A. Taylor
2 Your deal. Auto-related business
listings in city directories help you
guess a make and model.
3 Lights on. Compare the car’s
features with automotive reference
books to pinpoint a model and
manufacture date.
4 License to drive. Look for a license
plate, which can give a year, place and
owner’s initials.
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Easy street
Once you’ve guessed a make and model,
read about the car’s price in one of the
aforementioned references. In 1912, most
cars cost between $2,000 to $3,000. Ford
Model Ts went for about $850. They
were sold without tires, fenders, tops,
windshields and lights—all special-order
accessories. By the 1920s, assembly line
production had helped drive the price
down around $300.
The Chalmers sold for $1,800, with the
top and windshield adding $100. According to the Inflation Calculator < www. / inflation >, a $2,000 car in
1912 is the equivalent of $41,000 in 2006.
A family had to be pretty comfortable to
afford that ride.
By 1918, all states had adopted license
and registration laws. If you can see a
license plate in your photo, it might tell
you a year, place and, early on, the owner’s initials. State government Web pages,
such as < / rmv / history >
(for Massachusetts), often have license
plate histories and photos. 3
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor solves
readers’ photo mysteries in the online Identifying Family Photographs column < www.familytreemagazine. com / photos / photohelp.htm >.
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11:00 AM
Page 78
photo d e t e c t i v e
A Group Effort
ena Graddy thinks these two portraits
depict the same branch of her family.
The photographs came from her great-aunt
Grover Taylor, the young woman with the
braid in the front row of the top portrait.
Unfortunately, Taylor didn’t caption her pictures, so it’s unclear if the subjects of these
images match up. To find out, Graddy must
rely on photographic clues and genealogical
details. You can follow the same process to
solve your own group-portrait predicaments.
Of course, the best photo identifications
come from the people in your pictures—
though you won’t always have access to them.
Identifications passed down through oral tradition, but not recorded, tend to be fuzzy; people forget or mix up facts as they tell and retell
the details. In this case, Taylor told relatives
that both photos depict her siblings, but she
didn’t attach names to their faces.
When trying to identify children in photographs, it helps to know your relatives’ life
dates, since you usually can estimate the subjects’ ages. For instance, the oldest girl in the
top photo appears to be in her early 20s,
and the youngest looks about 10. Graddy
knows that the eldest Taylor girl was Elizabeth. The oldest sibling in the top picture
is the woman in the front row next to
Grover. This could be Elizabeth—but there’s
a problem with that conclusion. Elizabeth
was born in 1862, and her youngest sibling
was born in 1885. That 23-year age difference doesn’t add up in this picture. If the
youngest girl (in the upper-left corner) is 10,
then Elizabeth would have to be 33, which
doesn’t seem likely. Perhaps the photographer captured a mix of siblings and cousins,
not just brothers and sisters. It’s also possible that the oldest girl in this photo is
another sister.
78 Family Tree Magazine April 2005
To establish a time frame for
an image, you must look for
details such as a photographer’s
imprint and clothing clues.
Neither of Graddy’s pictures
gives the photographer’s name,
so dating them depends on style
analysis. According to Children’s Fashions 1860-1912:
1,065 Costume Designs from
“La Mode Illustrée” edited by
JoAnne Olian (Dover Publications, $14.95), ruffled yokes,
such as those on the girls’ handmade dresses in the top photo,
first came into style in the early
1890s. The large wide-brimmed
hats in the bottom image suggest a date around 1905.
So who’s who? Looking for
physical similarities between the
two groups helped Graddy find Do the subjects of these group photos match up? A thorough
at least one match. The young investigation will reveal whether the children in the top picture are
man on the far left in the top pic- the adults in the bottom image.
ture has distinctive facial features
that help him stand out in the back row of the was taken. Genealogical data will provide
bottom photo (he’s second from the left). names and life dates to help with the identiAlthough Graddy can’t name the man yet, at fication process. As long as she repeats the
least she’s identified him in both pictures.
matching game using other identified phoNext, Graddy compared the faces in these tos, Graddy should be able to name the rest
images with those in identified photographs. of the individuals.
This resulted in two possible identifications in
Solving a group-photo mystery takes
each picture. To confirm her suspicions, time, but it’s worth the extra effort. Once
Graddy will contact relatives for additional you’ve identified all the subjects, you can use
images of these people.
the picture as a Rosetta stone to unpuzzle
With the photographs taken about 10 other pictures. 3
years apart, it appears that the children in
the top picture are the adults in the bottom
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor helps
photo. Graddy knows that several of the solve readers’ picture puzzles in her biweekly photoTaylor siblings died of tuberculosis starting identification column at < www.familytreemagazine.
in 1901, not long before the second photo com / photos / current.htm >.
Take time to identify family portraits, and
you’ll reap unlimited rewards. | By Maureen A. Taylor
10:54 AM
Page 78
photo d e t e c t i v e
The Paper Trail
eorge Pek already can name the woman
in this paper print, which he bought 21
years ago. According to the caption, she’s
Judith Simpson, aged 74 when she had her
picture taken in 1848. Although he’s identified
the subject, Pek wants to know what type of
photograph he owns and where it was taken.
I love a good photo mystery, and this picture was a real stumper. It offers a rare look at
an early photographic method. I haven’t been
able to answer all of Pek’s (or my own) questions about the portrait, but here’s a start.
Salt of the earth
Around the time that Louis Daguerre developed his images on metal in 1839, an English
inventor, William Fox Talbot, found a way to
produce paper prints. His creations, which he
called “photogenic drawings,” laid the foundation for modern photography.
Paper prints didn’t gain popularity in the
United States until the 1850s, when card photographs—essentially, images mounted on
heavy cardstock or cardboard—debuted. But
the English, French and Canadians purchased
“salted” paper prints well before that time.
These images were rare stateside.
Salted prints, which date from 1840 to
about 1860, consisted of a sheet of rag-based
paper (think of fine writing paper), sodium
chloride (table salt) and silver nitrate. Those
made from paper negatives were known as
calotypes. Historians refer to prints made
from glass negatives simply as salted paper
prints. To learn more about these photographs, see James M. Reilly’s The Albumen
& Salted Paper Book: The History and Practice of Photographic Printing, 1840-1895
(Light Impressions, out of print), which you
can read for free on the Web at < albumen.>.
78 Family Tree Magazine June 2005
Four years ago, Pek purchased an 1851
indenture from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada,
that had been printed by “Henry Rowsell,
Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer” of Toronto
and contained a watermark of three fleur-delis on top of a crown. To his surprise, this
watermark matched the one on the photograph of Simpson.
I checked with the staff at Library and
Archives Canada <www.collectionscanada.
ca>, who told me that Rowsell worked from
1834 to 1880. It’s probably just a coincidence
that both the indenture and the portrait bear
the same mark. The photographer must have
used the good-quality paper Rowsell sold.
This picture is likely a salted paper print,
not a calotype, for two reasons. Calotypes are
not as sharp and detailed as this portrait. And
a photo archivist at Library and Archives
Canada didn’t know of any Canadian calotypes dating from the 1840s.
What, this old thing?
While sorting out the various clues in this picture, I kept returning to Simpson’s clothing.
Her appearance reminded me of characters in
Charles Dickens novels, not the women I
usually see in early daguerreotypes. In the
1840s, women typically wore dresses with
tight sleeves and bodices, but this woman’s
dress has full sleeves and looks more like
1890s styles. The handwriting and date
seemed authentic, so dating her costume was
a dilemma.
Rather than focusing on the dress, I
attempted to date her day cap—the indoor
bonnet she’s wearing. I referred to Susan Langley’s Vintage Hats and Bonnets, 1770-1970
(Collector Books, $24.95), but couldn’t find
any 1840s styles that even remotely resembled Simpson’s day cap. When I turned to the
A rare photograph leads researchers back
to the 1840s. | By Maureen A. Taylor
What photographic method was used to create
this 1848 portrait of Judith Simpson? A study of
early paper prints revealed the likely answer.
color 1830s fashion plates, however, I saw
several dresses with full sleeves and dropped
shoulders. Simpson must have been wearing
her decade-old best dress.
Canadian connections
I’ve spent so much time staring at this photograph I feel as if Simpson’s a member of my
own family. If she truly was 74 in 1848, she
was born around 1774. I searched databases
at <> and
FamilySearch <> to
learn additional details about her life, but
couldn’t find any matches.
Pek did locate a land record mentioning a
Judith Simpson who lived in Drummond,
Quebec, Canada, in 1807, and he hopes she’s
the same person. Another researcher thought
Simpson might have come from a Loyalist
family in the United States, since many Loyalists moved to Canada during and right after
the Revolutionary War.
Judith Simpson likely sat for her portrait
in Canada, since the paper’s Canadian. But
the story of her life remains a mystery. 3
Let contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor help
you solve your own old-picture puzzles—see <www. / photos / photohelp.htm>.
8:16 AM
Page 70
photo d e t e c t i v e
Alpha Mail
Don’t overlook—or misread—the unique clues in
your old photo postcards. | By Maureen A. Taylor
The dating scene
The first photographic postcards appeared
around 1900 and remained widely available
for decades. Some photographers capitalized
on this popular new format by taking pictures
of excitement-generating events and notable
people, then selling them as stationery. Other
photo studios offered their customers the
option to purchase family photographs in
postcard form.
Photographic postcards are actual photographs produced with film or glass plate negatives and given a postcard-style back.
Sometimes they’re called “real photo” postcards—a phrase that, according to Rosamond
B. Vaule’s As We Were: American Photographic Postcards, 1905-1930 (David R.
Godine, $45), differentiated actual photographic postcards from mechanically reproduced cards. The book explores 25 years of
70 Family Tree Magazine October 2005
these images and includes a short list of postcard photographers working before 1930.
Follow these steps to take advantage of the
special clues your photo postcards hold:
■ Examine the front of the picture. Use a
magnifying glass or photographer’s loupe to
look for little dots of color, which mechanical
printers make. Those dots mean your postcard was mass-produced and isn’t an actual
photograph. You probably own an image
made for resale, not a picture of a relative.
■ Read the costume clues. This little girl’s purse, hat and drop-waist
dress date to the 1920s. For more on
using clothing to date photos, see the
August 2004 Family Tree Magazine,
or consult fashion references such as
John Peacock’s 20th Century Fashion or
Men’s Fashion (both from Thames and
Hudson, $34.95). For kids’ outfits, use
Children’s Fashions 1900-1950 as Pictured in Sears Catalogs edited by JoAnne
Olian (Dover Publications, $14.95).
■ Study the back of the card. What does it
look like—is it divided by a line? Does it have
Correspondence or Address printed above the
sections, as this one does? Early photo postcards have plain backs.
Pay particular attention to the box where
you’d place a stamp. Different boxes were
standard at various times. Compare the
design and wording of your postcard’s stamp
box with those shown in the catalog at
Playle’s Online Auctions site < www.playle.
com/realphoto>. When researching this card,
I found that 12 slightly different boxes bearing the letters AZO were in use. The one that
matched exactly appeared on cards made
from 1910 to 1930.
■ Look for a photographer’s name. This postcard doesn’t have a studio’s name and address,
ong before it was easy to share pictures
with just a few mouse clicks, my grandparents had their wedding portraits printed
as photographic postcards. That was one of
the options available to them—and to the
parents of the little girl pictured here—during the first half of the 20th century. Such
postcards weren’t unusual, either: Family Tree
Magazine readers send me a fair number of
inquiries about their own photo postcards.
These images have identification clues that
you won’t find in regular photos, such as
“place stamp here” boxes. If someone actually mailed your postcard, the date’s probably
printed in the postmark or message. Maybe
the sender even noted who’s in the picture—
what could be easier? But your ancestor may
have hung onto the postcard for awhile before
mailing it, or the writing might be illegible, so
you still need to do some digging.
but if it did, I’d
use city directories to research
when the studio was open. It’s also quite possible that a relative took the images in your
collection with a Kodak camera. When owners of cameras sent them back to the factory
for developing and reloading, they could order
photo postcards or regular prints.
■ If someone mailed your card, research the
recipient’s name and address. For instance,
based on the message and date (partially torn
off) on this postcard, I can tell it was mailed
in Maynard, Mass., during the 1920s. The
address—written in Italian—mentions the
family name. A quick look at Maynard city
directories from the era would reveal residents
who have that surname.
■ Examine the stamp and postmark. Philatelic (stamp-collecting) directories, available
online and in libraries, can help you determine
when a stamp was issued. You’ll find more
8:16 AM
Page 71
It’s in the Card
1 Look for dots. Under a magnifying
glass, real photos look solid; reproduced images show a dot pattern.
2 Compare dates. If clothing clues
don’t match the postmark, someone
probably kept the postcard awhile
before mailing it.
3 Back up your evidence. The backs
of all but the earliest postcards tell
the sender where to place the
address, message and stamp.
4 Box it up. Research the design of
the stamp box to narrow the date
your card was made.
5 Read the message. You might find
a date, name, address or other
useful information.
information and resources at the National
Postal Museum <
edu > and AJ’s Encyclopedia of Stamps and
Philatelic Links <
links.htm >. For links to Web sites about
stamps from overseas, see
<> and click on Country Resources.
Adding up the date evidence in this photo
postcard was a snap: Based on the clothing
and the date on the back, the image was photographed in the 1920s. For another postcard
analysis, see my Identifying Family Photographs column on the Family Tree Magazine Web site < www.familytreemagazine.
com/photos/july26-01.htm>. 3
Family Tree Magazine contributing editor Maureen
A. Taylor helps solve readers’ picture puzzles in her
biweekly online photo-identification column. Learn how
to submit your photos for free analysis at < www. / photos / photohelp.htm >.
www. familytreemagazine. com 71
photo d e t e c t i v e
Think your mystery photo
offers no leads? Take
another look—we’ll help
you extract its hidden
hints. | By Maureen A. Taylor
magine trying to identify this photograph of a woman we’ll assume is Mom
“posed” under a picnic blanket for a candid shot with the baby as the focus. For
one, you can’t see anyone’s face but the
infant’s—and don’t babies all look alike,
anyway? There’s no telling whether the
little one’s a boy or girl: His or her fuzzy
little head means you can’t rely on the
tried-and-true rule that girls wore center
parts and boys combed their hair to the
side. Costume clues are usually helpful,
but only one sleeve and the soles of this
woman’s shoes show. The man to her left
is no help; he’s barely visible. And baby
dresses don’t narrow dates much because
the styles rarely changed and families
handed down kids’ clothes. The only prop
here—the magazine—is placed at an angle
and is impossible to decipher.
You probably have a few images that
similarly lack important clues from faces,
clothing and props. Don’t throw up your
hands—instead, use them to wring more
information out of what’s there.
Even though it’s missing chunks of the
story, this picture does contain evidence
to help identify the subjects and establish
a date range. A magnifying glass or photo­
grapher’s loupe (available from photosupply stores) will definitely come in handy
as you study the following:
n Professional pointers: Professional
photos are much more likely than candids
to feature clue-rich details such as a photo­
grapher’s imprint, props and outfits. You
70 Family Tree Magazine April 2006
Courtesy of Maureen A. Taylor
3 Ace up your sleeve. This woman’s
puffed, full sleeve suggests a 1900-to1910 time frame.
1 Half time. The cut-off horse and
4 Baby steps. Most infants can just
man hint at an amateur photographer.
hold up their heads at 3 months.
2 Size matters. Snapshot size can
5 Who’s who. Study family charts for
reveal which camera took the shot.
people who fit your subjects’ profiles.
can tell a friend or family member likely
snapped this shot by the way the man and
horse are cut out of the frame. Other clues
to an amateur photo include an odd camera angle or slightly blurry image.
n Measurements: The picture’s dimensions, 21⁄4 inches square, may reveal the
photographer. Only two cameras produced
images this size during the early 20th century: the Kodak Brownie, introduced in
1900, and Ansco’s Buster Brown No. 1,
first available in 1906. Kodak marketed its
camera directly to children with illustrator
Palmer Cox’s sprightly Brownie character.
Kodak’s overwhelming success led Ansco
to market a competitor using Buster Brown
and his dog Tige, comic strip characters who
debuted in a 1902 New York Herald. Both
models were popular for years, so they provide a starting date but not an ending one.
Of course, we can’t say for sure whether a
child took this picture, but since the cameras
were made for youngsters, it’s quite possible
the shutterbug was an older sibling.
Use Scott’s Photographica Collection
< > to learn more
about your photos based on their formats.
Click Index/Search, then on each camera
name to see when it was introduced and
what sizes of images it produced.
n Parts of clothing: Look carefully and
you may glimpse a slice of a shirt or dress,
such as the woman’s right sleeve peeking
from beneath the blanket’s edge. (Scanning and enlarging your photo can help
you spot such minute details). According to Joan Severa in Dressed for the
Photographer: Ordinary Americans and
Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent State University Press, $60), women’s dresses featuring full upper sleeves and long skirts were
popular between 1900 and 1910—a time
frame that agrees with the camera’s manufacture date.
n Developmental milestones: This tiny
infant can barely hold up its head unsupported, so he or she is probably around 3
months old. Developmental markers, such
as sitting unassisted, holding a rattle, smiling and walking, can help you estimate
babies’ ages. You’ll find lists of age-related
feats in child-development and parenting
books such as What to Expect the First
Year, 2nd edition, by Heidi Murkoff,
Sandee Hathaway and Arlene Eisnberg
(Workman Publishing Co., $15.95).
To estimate the ages of older children,
look at their ankles: A girl’s skirt became
gradually longer as she approached adulthood; boys wore short pants until they
were teenagers.
n Genealogical data: I purchased this
intriguing picture, but if these were my relatives, the next step would be to examine
my research for babies born from 1900 to
1910 (plus a few years on each side to be
safe)—possibly with older siblings. Once
I had a short list of ancestral suspects, I’d
show this picture to other family members
and compare it to their albums for alreadyidentified photos showing the same baby
or setting.
You might feel clueless when you
encounter a mystery photo that seems to
lack any telling evidence, but there’s no
need. Research the photo’s size and closely
examine the image for small details—soon
you’ll declare “case closed.” 3
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor helps
solve readers’ picture puzzles in her biweekly online
photo-identification column. Learn how to submit
your mystery images for free analysis at < www. / photos / photohelp.htm >.
Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana,
Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska,
Oklahoma, Utah, & Wisconsin (with more states coming soon).
Arphax Publishing is releasing these in book form, county-bycounty, with 3 new books released each week, on average.
- Available in both Spiral-bound and Hardbound editions -
/PSNBO0, 71
10:57 AM
Page 74
photo d e t e c t i v e
Photo Fakes
Don’t let doctored-up
family pictures throw
your research off track.
| By Maureen A. Taylor
hink photo-editing tips and tricks were
born of the computer age? Forget that
notion—the art of altering images is as old
as photography itself. Well-known Civil War
photographer Mathew Brady took a group
portrait of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman
and his generals against a plain backdrop;
later, he added one more general and a different background. Another enterprising
photographer stuck Abraham Lincoln’s head
on the bodies of notable 19th-century personalities such as John C. Calhoun, Alexander Hamilton and Martin Van Buren, and
sold the reconstructed images as memorial
pieces after Lincoln’s assassination. Don’t
have a photograph of Aunt Edna? Perhaps
disgruntled relatives edited her out of the
family portrait.
Dino A. Brugioni, a founder of the CIA’s
National Photographic Interpretation Center
and the author of Photo Fakery: The History
and Techniques of Photographic Deception
and Manipulation (Brassey’s, $29.95), has
identified several types of photo trickery. The
most common involve adding or removing a
person or object from an image. A photographer could subtract a person by cutting the
negative or painting over part of it with a
chemical, or simply by creatively cropping the
print. People also made cosmetic enhancements to their photos, such as hand-coloring
the image or using pens to improve a subject’s
facial features.
More-intrepid photographers blended different images into photo montages. If illness
or distance prevented a relative from joining
a group portrait, that person might pose separately. A photographer would then combine
the two negatives. Another example: old-time
74 Family Tree Magazine August 2005
“spirit” photographs featuring a casket with
a ghostly inset of the deceased. Those images
didn’t result from supernatural phenomena—
a photographer simply superimposed an earlier portrait over the coffin.
You may not realize whether your family
photo collection contains pictures altered by
your ancestors. Some cases are obvious; if the
manipulator did a better job, though, you’ll
need a sharp eye to spot the clues. Find the
“fakes” among your photos by examining
each one for the following details. See my picture above for examples.
1. An out-of-place person or object. Look
carefully at the woman in the back row of
this unidentified group portrait. Notice anything different about her? She’s standing at a
different angle from the rest of the group and
looking in another direction.
2. Odd positioning. Notice how the photographer posed the men next to the woman
with a wide space between them, which would
make it easy to insert another photo. It suggests the family probably planned this alteration. Your album might feature examples of
a photograph both before and after changes.
3. Differences in proportion and color. This
woman also stands out because her head and
shoulders are larger than everyone else’s. Her
face is gray; everyone else’s is light. Examine
shadows in your photos: If the light casts a
shadow on a different side of one subject’s face,
she may have been added to a group shot.
4. Visible seams. Here’s the most obvious
evidence of a photo manipulation. Old-time
photo-editing techniques didn’t allow for
smooth blending of multiple images. Look
around the woman’s head and shoulders, and
you’ll see the rectangular outline where the two
pictures meet. Also check your pictures for
strange shadows or different-colored background areas—a telltale sign that someone
removed a person or object.
5. Details that don’t add up. Fashion and
family history clues can provide dates that
help determine the truthfulness of a picture.
Here, the puffed shoulders on the out-ofplace woman’s dress were popular around
1891. The other women’s outfits feature generous sleeves on the entire upper arm, which
date from the mid-1890s and give us a time
frame for the picture. Such disagreement of
fashion details is further testimony this image
was altered. Once you have an idea of a
photo’s date, watch for individuals who
shouldn’t be in the picture, as well as those
10:58 AM
Page 75
“In the Shadow of the Big Stack”
is a hardbound community history book that contains
413 stories about Black Eagle families. Black Eagle is
an ethnic community across the river from Great Falls,
Montana, whose population was primarily employed
at the nearby Anaconda Company Smelter.
Also included are:
Trace Evidence
1 Someone doesn’t belong. This
woman is standing at a different
angle and looking in another
direction from everyone else.
2 Subjects are spaced oddly. The
wide distance between these men
suggests a plan to insert an image
into the finished print.
3 One person is a different size
or color. Her relatively large head
and dark face show this woman was
photographed in another setting with
different lighting.
4 Seams are obvious. A line such
as this one is a dead giveaway that
two images were combined.
5 Costume clues yield inconsistent
dates. This woman’s dress dates to
about 1891; the others’ outfits are
from the mid 1890’s. She may have
sat for her portrait earlier than the
rest of the group.
who should be but aren’t. For instance, if
clothing clues suggest a date long after someone in the picture died, that person probably
was added later.
Since this example of family photo trickery is an unidentified photograph I bought at
a photo show, I can’t name the subjects or
formulate a reason behind the old-fashioned
photo editing. It’s possible the woman added
later was a beloved daughter or daughter-inlaw who died before the family sat for a formal portrait. If you find fakes among your
own pictures, genealogical information may
provide an answer. Re-examine your mysterious images—if you spot inconsistencies like
the ones in my photo, you might open the
door to a great family story. 3
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor helps
solve readers’ picture puzzles in her biweekly photoidentification column at < www.familytreemagazine.
com / photos / current.htm >.
www. familytreemagazine. com 75
E Approximately 1500 photographs which accompany the
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