Questions from readers of this Identifying Family Photographs column range from "which wife is it?" to the more-general "who is it?" In the case of this photo, a date would go a long way to helping Kellee Eubanks-Stevenson determine the woman's name.
In a follow up to the April 12, Identifying Family Photographs, we look at the beautiful quilt in the background of this photograph. I've seen ancestors posed in front of all sorts of painted backdrops and even a few wrinkled sheets, but this gorgeous bedcovering adds texture to a simple portrait.
Kathy Culbert owns this photo of two children, but she's having trouble dating it. Someone captioned this picture "Dora and Frank." Children's clothing can be confusing—let's help Culburt sort out the clues.
If you need a reason to check out the new FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum, here's one: Debra MacLaughlan-Dumes asked about her unidentified photos in the Photo Detective Forum, and now her pictures are featured in this Identifying Family Photographs column. You can weigh in on this analysis, too, by responding to Debra's post
Gregg Inkpen found this photo, taken by the photographic studio of Powls and May in Birmingham, England, in a cousin's collection. It shows a young couple Inkpen thinks is his great-great-uncle James Tiernan Jr. and Tiernan's bride, Flora Mary Ridgway Tiernan, on their wedding day. Is his hunch correct? The date of this photo is key.
Saving the Past
Shirley Holdahl owns this deteriorating tintype, and she wants to know if there's a way to save it. Anyone with a photo in poor condition has probably wondered the same thing. The answer is yes! Let's look at the options.
On the back of genealogist Rene Larson's photo, someone (she doesn't know who) wrote, "The Edwards Family. This picture taken at Gore, Okla. sometime before statehood." Larson wonders if the information is right.
Build a Family Photo Archive
Dave Woolgar's father left him a legacy of family photos. His dad helped him note family relationships on a few, including this one, captioned "great-great-grandmother born about 1820 in England." That would make her Woolgar's fourth-great-grandmother—if the caption is correct. I believe it's wrong.
Build a Family Photo Archive
I'm not a New Year's resolution type of person, but this Jan. 1, I decided to change that. It's been a long 12 months filled with family events, some happy, some not. So instead of trying to add another generation to my pedigree chart this year, I'm going to focus on finding pictures of all my relatives to create a family photo archive.
Tracie Rose is determined to find out more about her unusual family name. She owns a photo she suspects is of her great-grandfather Jamel Elvin Bankz, his brother, and their parents. An out-of-the-ordinary clue could prove helpful.
Make it a Photo-Safe Holiday
Sharing your pictures is a great gift for everyone on your list, whether it's in the form of a decorated tie, multi-page scrapbook or simple framed photo. If you're considering giving relatives such a gift, follow these tips to make it a photo-safe holiday:
Petal Pushers: Take Two
For my last column, I borrowed techniques from "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?": I asked the audience and phoned a friend. Several of you responded to my request for ideas about the blossoms on the ladies in this group portrait.
Every photo question is a little different. Take this one, for instance: Sonya Tootle's relatives told her the boy in the front is her great-grandfather Herbert Seymour Scholes (born in 1909). This is a likely identification, but what's curious about this picture is the flowers. All but one of the women pinned a blossom to her blouse near her heart.
I've spent a lot of time this month cleaning out every nook and cranny in my house. All this tossing of goods made me think about the clothes people hang onto as they age. Dating a photograph of an older person presents a unique dilemma: Is the subject wearing contemporary fashion or an older style? This column addresses that question.
A Picture Is With 1,000 Words ... Sometimes
Every photograph has an anecdote, but the details of the image don't always tell the tale. Sheree T. Edington submitted this photograph of Andrew Jackson Boruff and Orphia Ann Collinsworth. The picture is only part of their story.
The owner of this photo knows the woman is Susan Morton Sexton (1808-1892) but wants to know when it was taken. This would seem a simple question—right? Not so fast: Dating a photo of an elderly person isn't always as easy as it appears. You need to consider several factors:
Until recently, Mike Duckwall was an addicted genealogist who didn't own many photos or family papers—until he found another relative's research and a big box of pictures in his uncle's closet. "This box was like a treasure chest full of gold," Mike says. It's easy to identify with that feeling.
The stories behind this photo attracted me to Beth Maxwell's email. Is this her great-uncle William Taylor (born in 1861) or her grandmother's neighbor Jim Hibble (born in 1870)? According to Taylor's 90-year-old niece, Willie had a water wagon hauling bottles of water from Bloomfield to Jersey City, NJ. Maxwell's grandmother used to say "Willie spent money like he had it."
On the Move
Emery Veres, born in 1882, smiled at the camera from the back of a wagon for this undated photo. His great-granddaughter, Cindy Nichols would like some help figuring out where this photo was taken.
A Photo Riddle
What's old, made of glass and found in a photographic case? If you answered "an ambrotype," congratulate yourself on your knowledge of photo history. Ambrotypes are misunderstood and often confused with other cased photographs. It's time to give them their due.
This week my inbox contained several photographs with quick questions, so I've selected three beautiful examples of late-19th century photography.
Carla North's great-grandfather Anton Ginsbach owned a billard saloon in Asotin, Wash., in the 1890s. She'd like to know if this photo fits this time period, and if any of the men could be him. For comparison, North also sent me a 1903 photo she knows is Ginsbach.
Hunting for Clues
"I'm full of hope you can help me figure out anything about this mystery man," writes Marjorie Osterhout. No one knows his identity, and his clothing is just part of the enigma. She wonders if this is a picture of a Civil War ancestor—or is he some unknown family frontiersman?
Kris Valentine's relatives remember her now-deceased grandfather, owned a camera taking pictures. Valentine thinks he took this mystery snapshot in the 1930s.
Eighteen-year-old Peter Gordon of Middlesbrough, England, submitted this photo he found a box of his great-aunt's things. Gordon has a fair amount of information on his family members, but he needs a date for this picture to identify the sitter.
Proving the Point
Is this Winslow Farr, Sr. (who lived from 1794 to 1865) with his sixth wife and their child, or is it someone else? Dean R. Anderson, who sent me this photo, believes this is Winslow, but other family members say "not so fast." Anderson wants the evidence to make his case.
Taking a Step Back
I love a challenge, so I was happy to see Christean Jenkins' photo in my e-mail inbox. All she knows about this charming portrait is what her great-uncle wrote on the envelope when he sent it to her father more than 25 years ago: "Our relation in the old country." That's it. The back of the photo helps more than the front in this case.
Remains of the Day
Two people recently wrote asking how to locate more images by the same photographers whose imprints are on their ancestral pictures. The bad news is that unless the photographer or a relative donated the prints and negatives, it's likely that material was discarded. But if the photographer's collection survived, I have some suggestions to find it.
Shadow of a Doubt
Judi Fuller's curiosity led her to submit this image with a single question: "What is it?" A caption identifies this woman as Anna Upson (1809 to 1863), Fuller's fourth-great-grandmother, so it's not the person but the image we're investigating in this case.
The Plane Truth
It's no mystery who posed for this portrait. The couple on the left are Jacqui Marcella's grandparents Arthur and Theresa Henschel. What she can't figure out is when it was taken, where they were at the time and why they're posed in front of an airplane. This picture proves genealogy and history are closely related, and delving into one can lead to learning about the other.
Why the Long Face?
Someone, somewhere, sometime wrote the caption on this photo, Sam Long's Family. It should be simple to identify the people pictured—but not for Marianne West. She has several relatives named Sam Long. Let's find out which Sam is right for this picture.
By the Seashore
Judy Miller sent a long note explaining who she thought was in the portrait. She was really hoping this picture shows her great-great-grandmother, Mary Jane Adams Waters, born about 1810, her great-grandmother Eleanor Waters Williamson, born 1847, and two of Eleanor's sisters. As soon as I clicked on the picture I knew this wasn't the case.
Family memory and photographic evidence don't always agree. At least that's true in my experience. While many people e-mail me photographs of completely unknown people, some send in images supposedly identified by a relative. Sometimes the information is correct, but often it's a case of mistaken identity.
Looking Back (and Moving Forward)
It's hard to believe the first Identifying Family Photographs appeared online Feb. 8, 2000—almost six years ago! Even after all this time I still love receiving your photos so much I open emails like they're wrapped Christmas presents. Thanks to you, I've been living my dream of studying family photographs. It's been an interesting journey.
Bagging an ID
The idea of trying to identify the 10 adults and 10 children in this 14x17-inch picture overwhelmed Ginger Rogers. She found it in a trunk belonging to her grandmother Lorena Bagwell. According to relatives, Bagwell once referred to this picture as "The Real Bagwells," but she didn't name the people pictured or say what she meant. Rogers wants to find out when this photo was taken to help her figure out who's who.
Gift Ideas for Family Photo Fanatics
The holidays bring opportunities to connect with relatives—and to show around those unknown family photographs and gather identification leads. Naturally, you're also hoping to give and get some great gifts. Show this wish list of photo-related presents to gift-givers in your family, or indulge yourself. I've also suggested some photo freebies.
Wearing Your Ancestor on Your Sleeve
Sheryl Finn submitted this portrait of a woman she thinks is her great-grandmother Grace, who was born in 1869, wearing a piece of photo jewelry. Finn wants to know when and where this portrait was taken, and if the pin contains a family photo or a decoration.
Rosemary U'Ren submitted this photograph, which was left behind in her uncle Frank's boxes of unorganized photographs and genealogical notes. In preparation for writing a family history, Frank had begun labeling the pictures, but he never finished. Now U'Ren wants to complete the job of identifying the pictures and researching the family tree.
Behind Picture No. 1...
Maxine Leonard's aunt and uncle gave her this illustration when she was 5 after she became upset they were moving away. Leonard has treasured it. After seeing a TV program on “pictures behind pictures” Leonard took apart the frame to see if anything was hidden behind it. To her amazement, a charcoal portrait of a woman was underneath.
Keeping the Peace
Photographs entertain us with glimpses of the past and trigger long-lost memories, but in this case, one caused a minor family feud. Two of Lisa Wooldridge's aunts disagree with her about the man in a group portrait—is he the children's father or their grandfather?
When the Worst Happens
The first urge of anyone cleaning up after any watery disaster—whether a hurricane like Katrina, a flood, fire or burst pipe—is usually to throw everything away because it looks ruined and unsalvageable. But that's not always the case. There are steps you can take to save those sodden boxes of pictures and negatives.
Analyzing some of the pictures submitted for this column is a bit like making coffee—the percolated kind. I loved these pictures the first time I saw them, but the answers took time (and some extra information from their owners) to "perc."
Boy or Girl?
Cathy Quiles knows one of the people in this tintype is her great-aunt because her grandmother told her so, but which one? Is she one of the kids or one of the women? Quiles tried to figure out who's who, but can't tell the boys from the girls.
Checks and Balances
What do you really need to solve a photo mystery? A few known facts and a little research can add up to an identification. Here's a list of clues to consider—the more you can tick off on this checklist, the more likely it is you'll be able to put a name with a face.
The Sign Says...
Barbara Dyer knows this man, who posed wearing fraternal insignia, is her great-grandfather. She also knows he was a Mason and a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) from 1872 to 1883 in Wisconsin, and from 1883 to 1921 in Iowa.
Tell a Story
This charming photograph of a young girl shows how even a simple picture can tell a story when you simply research its content. You can turn any of the portraits in your collection into a tale worth telling by starting with the basics-photographer, type of image, props, clothing and the subject of the picture.
Help Identify This Photos
Here's a chance for all you budding photo detectives to help out a fellow genealogist. Paul Murphy sent me this photograph of a girl holding a copy of a 19th-century children's magazine, The Nickell. Here's what we know and what we'd like to find out.
Helen Kesinger owns a special family treasure. It's a photograph album with an inscription: "Atchison, KS, Sept. 30, 1877. Dear Louise! Accept this album as a token of kind remembrance of your true and affectionate grandmother, Wilhelmine Scherer." The album contains photographs of Wilhelmine and her adult children with their spouses, including Louise's mother and father. Although most of the images are identified, a lovely portrait of an elderly woman is a mystery.
Get a Free Photo Analysis
Do you have a photograph you've always wondered about—when it was taken and who's in it? Help is just a mouse click away. In this FamilyTreeMagazine.com Identifying Family Photographs column, I take on photo mysteries that readers like you send in. And here's the best part: It's free! If I select your picture for identification and analysis in this column or in the print-edition Family Tree Magazine Photo Detective column, you'll get a chance to find out more about your mystery image. It's easy to enter your picture. Follow these instructions to increase the chances your photograph will be picked.
Finding Family Faces Online
Recently, I've received several emails from folks who purchased photos from online vendors hoping the individuals pictured are kin. Is it possible to actually locate a long-lost photograph of a relative? Sure. Stranger things have happened in the world of genealogy.
Two for One
Jonathan Nelson sent me this question: “Did photo studios in the United States have the insight and technical ability (around 1900) to make copies of old photos brought to America by immigrants from the old country?”
The Modern Squad
Recently I've received several submissions of unidentified pictures taken after 1930—some as recent as the 1960s. This isn't the first time I've written about 20th-century images in Identifying Family ,Photographs, but nothing this contemporary. It's too bad no one took a few minutes to jot down a name and date on the back of any of these snapshots.
All Dressed Up
Bill Horten sent me two photographs taken in Baltimore, possibly at the same time. The man in the first photo is his grandfather. What he'd like to find out is when and exactly where the pictures were taken.
A Matter of Interpretation
Most submitters to this column ask for help identifying or dating a picture, but occasionally a reader has different questions. Barb Groth knows this image depicts her grandmother's family. She even can date it. But she wants to learn more about the photograph—the setting, the clothes and the picture-taker—so she can write about it in her scrapbook.
Same Name, Different Faces
Vicky Hess' mother-in-law gave her several photographs tentatively identified as Catherine Johnston. But that name belonged to two women in Hess' family. Is the child in this tintype Catherine Clark Johnston (born in 1819) or her daughter, Catherine Johnston (born in 1857), who married Thomas Parker?
Readers of this column always have something in common. Although each of your photos is unique (I haven't seen any duplicates yet), you pose similar sets of questions about them. The most frequent one? That's easy: "Which relative is it?"
Portraits From Overseas
Here's proof that your immigrant ancestors sent photographs of themselves to family back home. Angelika Tanterl of Munich, Germany, submitted this picture of her great-aunt Pauline with a series of questions.
And the Answer Is...
This week, I've pulled a few photographs from my archive of images sent in by readers. Questions cover how to find information about an original image when all you have is a copy, and identifying people in turn-of-the-century photographs.
Genealogists are among the most technologically savvy segments of the population: If there's a new gadget or tool that will simplify our research, we'll snatch it up right away. After all, we were some of the first folks to use digital cameras, scanners, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and the Internet. Here are a few ways to put those gizmos to good genealogical use.
Building a Family Network
What does it take to identify a photo? If you read this column regularly, you're probably shouting out answers such as these: a photographer's imprint, family information and clothing clues. All those answers are correct, but don't forget one of the most important resources: a group of interested family members.
Questions and Answers
Mystery photos generate a lot of questions, but sometimes they can provide a few answers, too. Maurla White sent me scans of this photograph, along with four questions. She says the image was handed down through her family, but no one can identify the woman. White thinks it's Maria Schwenk, an immigrant ancestor who was born in Wurttemberg, Germany, in 1808, and migrated to the United States around 1870 when she was in her early 60s. White knows that Schwenk had relatives in Chicago and Missouri, and probably other areas of the United States, as well. Here are her questions.
A Long-Distance Call for Help
Joanne Wallace owns copies of these undated portraits of her great-grandparents, Patrick Wallace and Sarah (Foley, or Folan) Wallace. She knows almost nothing about their lives in America and would like to learn more. Unfortunately, she lives in Hong Kong, which makes genealogical research possible only from a distance. All's not lost, though: Here's how she can tackle these photo mysteries.
Trends of Tomorrow
Last week, I stepped out of the genealogical world and attended a photo show in New York City. Since the show was geared toward professional photographers, I wasn't sure anything there would appeal to the average consumer. But a colleague encouraged me to attend—and I'm really glad he did! Here are a few photography lessons I learned.
Gena Graddy is looking for a photograph of her Civil War ancestor William Joseph Taylor (1836 to 1895). She has a box of about a hundred unidentified tintypes and thinks one of them might be a picture of Taylor taken before the war, but wants confirmation.
Planning for Disaster
Natural disasters take many forms—from the recent hurricanes in Florida to the wildfires in California. Although I live far enough away from the coast, unexpected weather conditions have caused problems in my community outside Boston. I'll never forget the torrential rains that made water well up in the cracks of my basement floor—we had a foot of water in minutes. Such events can wreak havoc on your photo collection. But there are measures you can take to protect it. Follow this four-step process to preserve your precious pictures.
Let's Go for a Ride!
If your family owned an automobile in the late 19th to early 20th century, then you might have a picture of relatives sitting in it. Americans' obsession with cars grew rapidly. In 1900, there were only 10,000 automobiles in the United States; that number grew to half a million by 1910. In 1908, approximately 240 car manufacturers in this country offered our ancestors a wide variety of makes and models. I learned all these interesting facts from the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Web site while I tried to interpret this photo submitted by Charles Monroe.
Every other year for several decades, my husband's family has held a reunion at the Basin Harbor Club in Vermont. Although the family's lost count of the number of reunions, photographs of those gatherings date back 50 years and span several generations. The reunions are still going strong. This year's event, like all others, was a mix of exercise, parties and reminiscences. On our last night there, one of Aunt Bette's sons surprised the group with a special slide show. His father, Fritz, who died a few years ago, had taken pictures of every reunion he attended between 1952 and 1991. Those slides became a family history centerpiece that evening.
A single family photograph can serve as a valuable social history document. Take for example this group portrait, which provides a link to a violent chapter in American history: the settlement of the West. Phyllis King found this picture among her great-grandparents Arthur D. Barrows and Francis A. (Smith) Barrows' belongings.
The Little Prince
A colleague recently gave me this cute picture found in a Maine antiques shop and labeled "Earl Russell Prince, 3 years." Photos can show up in antiques stores after their original owners have died.
I strongly believe that identified photographs need to be reunited with family. Although not everyone values old photos, plenty of people would be delighted to find "lost" pictures of their ancestors. There's a vast network of people aiming to reunite photos with the families of their original owners.
An Afternoon Outing
Jo Ratliff hopes this photograph depicts her grandmother and her grandmother's three sisters: Minnie (born 1876), Mert (born 1880), Lela (born 1882) and Mary (born 1884). But the confusing visual details make it difficult to say for sure. Sorting out the clues in this picture required searching for data in several different books and then adding up the results.
In his book The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw describes the Americans who came of age during World War II. Each profile illustrates the shared set of values and patriotism that held that generation together. Another generation affected by similarly life-changing events experienced the transformation of the 13 original Colonies into the United States. Those individuals, too, united for a common cause, and became our country's first great generation.
Through photographs and documents, my colleague David Lambert (of the New England Historic Genealogical Society) and I are trying to bring to life those great Americans who lived during the Revolutionary War and into the age of photography. Locating their portraits entails searching photo collections for pictures of elderly men and women and verifying the subjects' connections to the war.
I'd planned to write about photo identification this week, but then I went to get my eyes examined. At the receptionist's counter, I saw a sign that read, "Do you recognize any of the members of this class of 1949?" Someone had used tape to attach pictures of the students to the counter. The tape covered more than the edgesit coated the images' surfaces. Whoever posted those pictures had created a preservation problem unknowingly. When the person decides to remove the pictures from the table, he or she won't be able to separate the images from the tape without harming them. Shaken by the sight of those pictures, I thought I'd review the dos and don'ts of photo preservation.
Unraveling the Past
This week, while I continue to work on some challenging submissions from readers, I thought I'd tell you about a picture puzzle of my own. I'm always on the lookout for unusual photographs or those that fall into the specific categories I collect. But sometimes a photo that doesn't fit those criteria has such appeal that I can't leave it behind. That was the case with this image of an elderly man in his home. Both the man's age and the information on the back of the image intrigued me. I had a feeling that I could identify this picture.
If you're attending a family reunion this summer, think of it as an opportunity to learn more about your photographsand create new onesthrough creative activities. Invite the whole family to participate.
A Missing Link?
Have you ever bought a photo at an antiques shop because the caption led you to believe the subject might be a relative? Susie Vodopich did. She purchased this portrait of a woman identified as "Mrs. Stowe" in an Iowa shop. Vodopich hopes someone will recognize the woman and help her discover a family connection. There are several ways to identity the woman; we'll start by determining when the picture was taken.
More From My Mailbag
Here's another installment of striking images from readers. If you'd like to submit one of your photos for analysis in either this column or Family Tree Magazine's Photo Detective column, consult the submission guidelines at www.familytreemagazine.com/photos/photohelp.htm. I look forward to seeing your pictures!
In most Identifying Family Photographs columns, I feature a single image. But at the rate I'm receiving your photos, I'll never get caught up! For the next couple of columns, instead of focusing on one in-depth topic, I'm going to answer a series of reader questions.
Men in Uniform
Deciphering the clues in a military photograph can be challengingespecially if the image was taken overseas. David Dew's mother found this portrait, which had belonged to his great-aunt Helen, while cleaning out a closet. The photo bears the caption "Dad in the war of Tripoli." Dew thinks the man is his great-grandfather Joseph Arena, Helen's father. Joseph migrated from Cupa, Italy, to New York sometime before 1904, when Helen was born in the United States. Dew would like to know more about the image, but doesn't know where to begin.
An Updated Look
William Poe owns a number of identified pictures of his ancestors. He's even posted an illustrated family tree online. Yet, this double portrait remains a mystery. Poe believes the photo depicts John Poe (1785 to 1859) and Sarah Threet (1794 to 1861), but he'd like to confirm that identification.
I love digital imaging. The technology certainly makes it easy to share pictures and improve the quality of damaged photos. As a former photographic curator, though, I can't ignore original pictures.
If you have a family photo that's faded, rusted or broken, you can use photo-editing software to create a digital image that looks like new. But unless you hire a professional conservator, the original photo will continue to deteriorate. (If your pictures have water damage, call a conservator immediately!) Conservators can stabilize your precious pictures and ultimately save your collection. Here's what you need to know before hiring one.
A Piece of Louisiana History
Cherryl Montgomery found this tintype in her grandmother's trunk, and thinks it's a picture of one of her great-grandmotherseither Clara Henry Jean Louis or Marie Virginie Broussard. In the absence of a photographer's imprintwhich could supply a specific date for the imageit's necessary to analyze each of the image's details, one at a time.
Vintage to Vogue
For years, my mother has said that if you wait long enough, an older style will come back in vogue. Now that my daughter chooses to wear 1960s styles, I believe her. This is one challenge of trying to interpret clothing in photographs. Styles not only resurface, but they also evolve in both subtle and dramatic ways from year to year. Two particularly troublesome decades are the 1870s and 1880s, which actually encompassed five distinctive fashion periods. You can still date late 19th-century photographs, though, by following these steps.
I'm fascinated by the jewelry in family photographs: A single accessory can verify a relationship, confirm a date for the image and even lead to a positive identification. In addition, the style and significance of jewelry can open new avenues of genealogical research. For instance, a ring worn on the fourth finger of the left hand usually indicates marriage. If you didn't know the subject of a portrait was married, this cluecombined with a photographer's imprint (name and place of business)could lead you to a missing marriage record.
I'll admit it: I don't make the typical New Year's resolutions. Instead, I make a flexible list of goals for the new year. Posting that list where I can see it keeps me on track and reminds me of what's important. You can do the same with general goals or a few specific projects. Here are a few photo-related ones to keep in mind for 2004.
This week, I received my first Christmas e-card, complete with a digital photo attacheda 21st-century spin on an old tradition. Photographic holiday cards have been around since the medium's early beginnings, in the 1840s. If your family has been sending and receiving cards for a number of yearsor even generationsthen you've probably accumulated quite a collection. But what do you do with those cards after the holidays? Here are a few ideas.
What's the most common type of photograph submitted to this column? Tintypes! These misunderstood genealogical gems appear in most family photo collections for three reasons: They were cheap, quick to produce and durable. The sturdy images are iron plates coated with light-sensitive chemicals and lacquered to resist rust. Also called ferrotypes, they came in several different styles and sizes. Tintypes were patented in 1856 and remained popular until the 1930s. With almost a hundred years of tintypes in family collections, dating them can be tough. Here are six clues to look for when identifying your mystery tintypes.
Tackling a Collection
So you've inherited boxes of family photographsnow what? It's easy to become overwhelmed by a large collection of images. Yet, each collection tells a family's storyif you know how to unravel it. Here are a few steps used by curators to approach those shoeboxes of images with excitement rather than with trepidation.
Picking Apart the Past
Patti Sanda inherited about 100 photographs. Good news for any genealogist, except the majority are unidentified cabinet cards, cartes de visite and tintypes. Now, she must attempt to name the images' subjects by matching them up with the individuals in her family tree. She can succeed if she tackles one picture at a time, accumulating clues as she goes.
Not in the Family
Some of those unidentified photographs in your collection may not depict your family. Long before People magazine, our ancestors were fascinated by the famous and infamous of their generation, and they collected photographs of them. Sold by bookstores, stationery shops and individual photographers, these images often ended up in family albums.
Rescuing the Past
Steven Barcomb often drove by the house his wife's family had owned for about 50 years. One day, he noticed that someone was cleaning out the house and had discarded a large box of unlabeled 19th-century photographs. Thinking they were probably abandoned family pictures, he rescued them from the trash. Now, he has to figure out whom these photos depict.
Down on the Farm
Janet Reese doesn't know who the older couple in front of this house is, but she's hoping someone will recognize them. She found the picture in her grandmother's possessions, but knows it didn't belong to her grandmother's family for a simple reasonthey took care of their images. This portrait has experienced a great deal of wear and tear, and it's miraculous that it survived at all. She thinks it might depict someone on the Owens side of the family, but without further evidence, it's impossible to determine a tentative identification.
Finding a family photograph taken abroad can be just as important as locating a passenger list. One image can link you to your family's homeland, lead you to new genealogical information and establish a time frame for your ancestors' immigration. To make these discoveries, follow basic photo-identification steps: Determine when the photographer was in business, research costume clues and compare your photograph to other images. Here are a few print and online resources to guide your quest for family knowledge.
It's amazing how many readers submit similar photo mysteries. And each time I write a new column, I find it challenging to bring a fresh perspective to a common problem. That's why, with more than three years' worth of columns posted online, it's time for a little organization, so you can find past columns that pertain to you.
Links to La Famiglia
Do you have old photographs of ancestors in foreign lands? If so, identifying those images could help you uncover your family's immigrant originsjust as these two photographs connect the Raiola family in the United States to their Italian kin.
All that's written on the back of this photograph, owned by Glenn Andes, is "Ray Gorman, Yumma [sic] Colo." There's no photographer's imprint or other identifying information. One of Andes' relatives thinks the subjects are members of either the Gorman or Farren family, but no one knows for sure. After examining the picture for several hours and enlarging specific areas to see details, I decided that this isn't a family portrait. Here's how I came to that conclusion.
Prescription for Preservation
After seeing what last week's muggy weather did to my printer cartridge, I knew it was time to write a column on preserving family photographs. The same conditions that caused my printer to spit out discolored copies can damage your photographs, as well. Mold loves warm, moist conditions. And have you ever seen what happens to a stack of color photographs left out in damp weather? They stick together. Avoid these photo woes, and save your valuable pix for posterity by following these five steps to picture preservation.
Classifying Cartes de Visite
In the 19th century, small photographs called cartes de visite served a variety of purposes from business advertisements to family portraits. They were even sold in sets that both children and adults collected by subject. In addition to pictures of ordinary people, cartes de visite featured royalty, Civil War generals, medical anomalies and even the risque.
It Takes Two to Solve a Picture Puzzle
Identifying family photographs for this column has been a wonderful experience. Almost every day, someone invites me to look at a photograph in his or her collection, and we work together to solve the photo mystery. This partnership usually starts with an e-mail request similar to Nancy Mitchell's: "Can you tell me about when this photo was taken and what type it is?" She attached this lovely photograph of a young woman (Figure1) to her message.
Dating this photograph didn't require examining clothing details or finding out when the photographer was in business. The evidence was so obvious that it was easy to overlook. Sometimes the smallest details immediately date a photographin this case, the details are the flags. By simply counting the number of stars, I discovered the picture was taken within a four-year time frameJuly 4, 1908, to January 6, 1912.
A Rosy Glow
As early as 1841, photographers experimented with adding color to their images. As much as the popular press praised the first photographs, people criticized the absence of color. So photographers sought ways to increase the realism of their images, and they used colored powders, watercolors, oil paints, crayons and charcoal to add color. They even hand-colored cased images such as daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.
More Than Meets the Eye
In each column, I try to focus on one aspect of identification to help you understand the process of unpuzzling your pictures. Sometimes it's possible to put a name with a face, and sometimes it's notthere might be missing genealogical information or insufficient photographic evidence to compare to known family facts.
This week's submission is a complex photograph. While the image contains identification clues, it also has interesting details that don't help to identify the picture but are still worth noting. This one photograph reviews some of the lessons covered in past columns. Here's a chance to test your powers of observation.
Free Photo Analysis
Since this column's premiere three years ago, hundreds of readers have submitted photographs for analysis. Some seek clues to identify the people in their pictures, while others want additional information to flesh out the stories of their photo collections. Would you like to see one of your photographs analyzed and featured online?
The Future of Photography
The family-photo realm has seen a lot of change in the last several years. An amazing number of people use the Web to display their family photographs, and take advantage of new software with applications for genealogists. Incredible as it may sound, Americans will have an estimated 95 billion images on their computers by the end of 2005.
This week, instead of focusing on identification, I want to share some new products, Web sites and trends that will influence not only your photographic habits, but also what you do with your heritage images.
To correct photographic defects and damage, Lorie Zirbes used to hand-touch images. Now, thanks to photo-editing software, she can use her computer. But Zirbes still needs to identify some of her retouched photos. Here are before-and-after pictures of one of her unidentified family photographs. Zirbes would like to know when the photo was taken, so she can identify the couple.
An Unsolved Mystery
If dating a photograph is about adding up the clues, what happens when the evidence doesn't add up to a logical conclusion? That's the case with this unnamed, undated photograph owned by Valda Fernald.
Vicki Gibbs' family photo collection contains multiple copies of one photographbut no original. Sometimes the history of a photograph is like a game of telephone. The person who owns the original makes a copy for a relative and identifies the picture. That person then makes a duplicate for another cousin and relays the identification. This can go on and on. The basic facts stay the same, but along the way the identification information can be confusedjust as the sentence passed from person to person in the game of telephone becomes muddled. Of course, it's possible that the owner of the original image never knew who the photograph's subject was in the first place.
Dressed to Impress
You never know what you'll find in a family photo collection. Imagine Carole Gefvert's surprise when she found these unidentified images in a box after her mother's death. All Gefvert knows for certain about her mother is that she died in 1971. Could these photographs have belonged to her mother? And what do they depict?
What a Doll!
This photograph of two girls belonged to LaVonne Murray's great-grandparents Maitland Willits House and Louise Anna Gonion. The younger girl bears a resemblance to another relative, Lydia Lymburner (1867-1947); Murray wonders if the girl could be Penelope Lymburner (1897-1980), Lydia's niece. Assigning a date to this photograph would allow Murray to narrow down the possibilities in her family tree.
Mistaken for Jake
Barbara Jean McNamara's grandmother always referred to the man in this portrait as "Jake." But there are two Jakes in the Baptiste family tree, and McNamara doesn't know which one is pictured hereJacob Pierre Baptiste (1795-1877) or his son Jacob Pierre Baptiste Jr. (1822-1899). She thinks the image depicts the elder Jake.
I keep track of new publications on a variety of subjects, including photo history, costume history and the latest scrapbooking techniques for creating heritage albums. My book collection is growing at such a rapid rate that we had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves built in our family room. But there is a core library of volumes that remains within reach every time I help a reader solve a photo mystery. Here is a list of my five most-consulted books. You might consider adding them to your library.
My Own Picture Puzzle
Even photo sleuths get stumped sometimes. This week, it's your turn to help me. I'm hoping that someone will recognize the people in these pictures, the only two images of my father's family that I own. The photos don't provide many clues, so I haven't been able to identify the majority of the people in the images. But here's what I do know about one of the group portraits.
Detective's Wish List
Instead of solving a photo mystery, this week I put together a list of items that no photo sleuth can do without. Make the family historian in your house happy with these tools to identify, organize and preserve family photographs. If you are the photo detective in your household, print this column and leave it for Santa and his helpers. You might end up with the supplies you need to start your New Year's project.
Identify with a Little Help from Your Friends
One of the best ways to identify an image is by making it available to others. This week, rather than telling you how I solved a picture puzzle, I'd like to show you how Family Tree Magazine reader Janet Meleney is solving her own photo mysterywith a little help from her friends. Several months ago, one of Meleney's unidentified family photographs appeared in this column (see "Bridging the Gap"). A few weeks ago, she submitted another photograph with the hope that readers like you could identify it.
Paint a Family Picture
Cousins Catherine Keele Woodard and Millie Zey are trying to date this cased image, which, according to family lore, is a painting completed on the day an ancestor graduated from an English university. The image was given to Zey by her father, who received it from his grandfather William John Warren (1874-1953). Woodard and Zey believe the man is William John's grandfather, but they don't know his name.
It's a Boy (or a Girl)
Judy Craven owns an adorable photograph of a toddler, but there are two problems. She can't date the picture and has no idea if the child is a boy or a girl. When her mother-in-law died, Craven and her husband inherited a bag of family photographs. Her mother-in-law took time to pencil names on some of the images, but not this one.
A Marital Mystery
Rikki Martin has a confusing family photograph. She can identify the posed group as her great-great-grandfather Orton Yaddow, his children and one of his wives. But is the woman with the child on her lap Yaddow's first or second wife?
A Family Resemblance
How do you identify a family photograph if you don't even know what side of the family the image belongs to? The answer is to look for physical features that distinguish one side from the other. In Rita Werner's case, the striking resemblance between two women in her photograph collection leaves no doubt to a family relationship. At age 76, Grandmother Bernice would look just like her unidentified ancestor if she were wearing a daycap. With the family line identified, Rita wants to know who is in the first photograph and when it was taken.
A Springtime Event
No childhood in New England is complete without a sampling of maple sugar candy sold in the shape of maple leaves. While it resembles the syrup poured on pancakes and waffles, the candy is even sweeter and a New England tradition. This week, Joanne Gonsalves submitted a picture of what I suspect is a man returning from the forest with two buckets of maple sap.
Which One Is Real?
Pat Strasser owns two identical images of the same man but taken by different photographers. She has two questions: Which one is the copy and who is in the picture?
Dressed for the Occasion
Why is it that some of the most stunning family photographs end up unidentified? These images are obviously important to the family they once belonged to. In fact, their unidentified status may mean that everyone knew who was in the photograph and didn't take the time to write on the back. Wendy McCullough received this photograph after her grandmother's death along with other identified pictures. It's a portrait of a beautiful young woman and Wendy is hoping there are clues in the picture that help identify it. She knows it is not a portrait of her grandmother Phyllis Hall (born in 1904) because she has other pictures of her. Wendy thinks it must be a picture of someone from the Hall, Finnie or Moncrief families from Peterborough County, Ontario, Canada.
Two Photos, Same Man?
Several weeks ago, I wondered aloud in this column why the majority of submissions were photographs of women. Gregg Reno answered my request by sending in two photographs that he believes to be his great-grandfather, Maurice Hickey. Hickey left behind few records of his life. The family knows he was from Ireland and that he had a son Daniel born in 1868. They believe he died July 17, 1889, while he was a patient at the National Soldier's Home in Virginia (he served as a private in the 13th Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War), but this needs further confirmation. It is from an online source, Interment.com. When using data found on the Web, it is always a good idea to double-check the original source of the record.
Searching for a Mother
A while ago, Kelly Foster wrote with a very personal request. Her 96-year-old grandfather wanted to know if a particular photograph was of his mother. He never knew her; she died when he was a baby. Now Kelly says her family is "consumed" with trying to find a picture of her great-grandmother before her grandfather dies.
Two of a Kind
Robert Niles owns two identical tintypes mounted in paper folders. He thinks he knows the identity of all the individuals but isn't sure. He also wants to know how a copy was made of the original tintype.
From Girl to Woman
Janie Martin Whitty submitted two photographs she thinks are her great-grandmother and her grandmother, but she isn't certain. Since neither image has identifying information on the back, she can't decide who they are. She asked for assistance dating their clothing so she can determine if they were taken in the late 19th or early 20th century.
Tall Tales and True Stories
No doubt about it, Michael R. Boyce has spent a lot of time working on his family history. He's discovered that some of the stories his father told him appear to be truesuch as being related to a Dutch sea captain. He's also uncovered photographs of many of the people in his family who were alive since the advent of photography in 1839. As with every family tree, there are those unexpected momentsyou know what I meanthose uncanny connections you make via the Internet that help you unravel mysteries.
Searching for Family Photos on the Web
I have a friend who tantalizes me with her genealogical success stories. One of my favorites is about how she used a standard Web search engine to locate an ancestral photo on the family Web site of a distant and unknown cousin. Suddenly she had additional information on that line of her family and new photographs for her family tree. She managed to accomplish this a couple of years ago without the benefit of the image filters in the search engines available today. I finally decided to duplicate her efforts and try to find my pictures of my own Taylor ancestors.
The Great Outdoors
Nancie Dalton knows that these two people are her great-grandparents, Mary Amanda (born in 1861) and Joseph Lucia (born in 1846) who emigrated from Quebec to New York State circa 1880. She wrote, "What we are curious about are the clothes. They appear to be heavy and not the typical 'French' look."
Mimi Malcolm's children call these two women "bony hands" based on the enlarged joints of the woman in Figure 2. Mimi would like to know if these two women are the same person: Mary C. (Wilder) Homes (1799-1875).
A Scottish Brood
As with all boxes of family photographs, some are identified while others are unknown. Of course, there are also those images that seem to match family information, such as this portrait of a grandfather and three children. Judy believes the man is her great-grandfather Lachlan Bowie who was born in Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland, in 1819 and died in Workington, Cumberland, England, about 1890. The problem is, she is unsure who the children are.
Bridging the Gap
Janet Meleney found a tintype in her picture collection and doesn't know which side of the family is depicted. She knows that half of the family is from the Boston/Salem, Mass., area and the other side is from Newark and Paterson, NJ, and New York City. The location of the bridge in this photograph could provide a vital identification clue.
Beyond Names and Dates
Which is worse? Having an unidentified photograph, or owning an identified image and not knowing anything about the person in the picture? For Michelle Hawkins-Woodard, it is the latter. Her family owns two pictures. Figure 1 is a family photograph of Ella Emma Gust, Jack Robert Miller and their son. Figure 2 is a photograph of the couple in the Gust family store in Windom or Jeffers, Minn. These two images are just the beginning of a family quest for a connection.
Get Your Photo Mystery Solved
Last month, more than a thousand people read this column. It's amazing, yet only a small percentage of you actually submit photographs for identification, and I wonder why. Is it because you don't have a scanner? One isn't necessary. Or do you feel your images aren't exciting enough? Well, I haven't seen a boring family photograph yet, and I've been working with images for more than 20 years. If you haven't sent in a photograph for identification, here are a few reasons you should consider it.
A Lucky Find
Is there a photograph that led you to new information about your family? Have you successfully identified photographs in your family album? One reader is especially lucky. Not only does Marilyn Day have family photographs, they are identified! She wanted to share her story with readers of this column.
Clues to Connections
Rosemary U'Ren inherited a velvet album of photographs that her grandmother rescued from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. While her grandmother obviously thought these images important enough to save, no one took time to identify the people in the album. Rosemary is now trying to re-create identifications to make her grandmother's efforts worthwhile. She is determined to finish this project even though she knows it might take years. She submitted two of her mystery images for identification. Figure 1 appears to be a mother and child while Figure 2 is a man in uniform. She is as yet unable to make a connection between the photographs, although she knows one exists.
If you were to ask a group of women about their hat-wearing habits, few if any would report wearing one except in inclement weather. While you probably don't wear a hat and may not even own one, for generations of American women, a hat completed an outfit. Several of my columns feature hats as a key element for establishing a date for a photograph, but there is a type of headgear I haven't talked aboutdaycaps.
Reunite with Family Photographs
I think one of the best ways to find those missing images and artifacts is by using online resources. There are plenty of Web sites that attempt to reunite individuals with family items and pictures. Genealogists created some of these sites, while others focus on the collectors market for photographic antiques. Try your surnames in the search engines and see what turns up. A few sites even allow users to post a wish list of lost images. You have nothing to lose by trying these sites. In fact, you might find a few "missing" photographs to take to next year's family gathering.
Nancy Ratay knows that this image is a tintype from a family collection because it belonged to her maternal grandmother, Daisy Hindle (Spear) Moffit. It is from her grandmother's family, either the Hindles or the Spears. According to Nancy, that branch of the family was "very interested in family history and her grandmother had photographs of her parents and grandparents." She suspects that this tintype is a portrait of either Elizabeth Hindle (1800-1882), her maternal grandmother's great-grandmother born in England whose husband died in 1845, or Hannah (Winters) Post (1804-1895), her paternal great-grandmother whose husband died in 1850.
Between the Covers
David Starr found a family album with about 80 photographs in it and could identify only 15. He randomly selected several images and submitted them to this column. His ancestors didn't take the time to write names on the backs of the images or underneath them in the album, but there are still some ways to identify those images.
On the Job
In your own collection there are probably images of individuals wearing clothing that puzzles you. Some may be recognizable as work outfits while others remain mysterious. You might have an occupational portrait and not know it because you don't associate the clothing worn in the picture with a particular job. According to relatives, the woman in this week's photograph wears a nurse's uniform.
Needle in a Haystack?
As a genealogist you spend time trying to fit together the pieces of a person's life by locating vital records, evidence of activities and whatever else you can find. You hope to create a biography of that ancestor"part of the larger history of your family. Printed and written documents are important to tell that story, but there is nothing like a photograph to bring the information to life. Patricia Greber accumulated material on Peter Jordan, her great-grandfather, including a few photographs. One is a large group portrait and she wants to know how to pick him out of the crowd.
A Weighty Accessory
When you first look at these two pictures, you are struck by the size of the necklaces worn by both young women. It's hard to imagine that the weight of their accessories is comfortable or practical. The large links combined with the length of the necklace suggests a discomfort not apparent on their faces. In fact, these necklaces were not heavy and probably no more uncomfortable than most of women's clothing in the 19th century.
Digital Photo Preservation
This week, instead of identifying one of the many photographs submitted to this column, I thought I'd write about learning how to prevent losing your valuable digital images. Backing up my files with traditional floppy disks was fine until I started receiving JPG files and creating my own digital images. It simply took too much time and an amazing number of disks to keep following my old habits. A CD burner seemed to be the answer, but the sheer number of images received for this column wouldn't fit on a single CD. Yikes! While I was busy solving that problem, my computer started making a funny noise and the rest is history. There are several precautions you can take to avoid my mistakes.
Posing with the Old Homestead
How many times have you posed with your house as a backdrop to a family portrait? Probably not as often as individuals did in the 19th century. After all, flash photography wasn't available until 1884. Candles and lamplight didn't provide sufficient illumination to take a photograph of a large group indoors, so families chose outdoor locations just like in these images. Tracey Crow's family found one of these pictures in the attic of a family house being torn down. She submitted them to determine when they were taken, thus possibly identifying the individuals in the pictures.
Tracing Adopted Roots
Don't you love happy endings? Little did Pat Daniello know what family history awaited her when she decided to learn more about her grandfather's past. In order to add to her story, she recently submitted this simple cameo portrait. "My grandfather was orphaned at age 3," she wrote. "We have been told that this is a photo of his mother and I would love to confirm the time period."
Piecing Together Postcards
When our relatives had a paper photograph taken, they usually had their choice of formats. In Paula Wolek's case, her family chose to use a postcard for their portrait. This was less expensive than mounting the image on heavier card stock and it enabled the picture to be sent by mail. In this case, Mrs. Henry Falberg of 9258 Anthony Ave., Chicago, IL, received this picture of a man and young girl. A large piece of the postcard is missing, but the message fills in the lost part of the image.
Dead Men Tell No Tales
After Joe Sanchez's father died, he found these two post-mortem photographs in his belongings. These photographs are a mystery; all Joe knows is that his father was born in Durango, Mexico, in 1913. At first, it seems unlikely that either of these images will yield any details. Yet by breaking each image down into small researchable pieces, it is possible to tell Joe a little more about his family.
School's out for summer, but the memories live on in the class pictures of your ancestors. This week, Eileen McFall asks for help in identifying students in this class portrait of the Holy Rosary School, Pittsburgh, Pa. Her goal is to place names with all the faces. Do you have a group portrait of school children that you'd like to identify? To find out who they are, the basic strategy is to learn more about the ownership of the picture, the history of the school and finally publicize your interest.
Every other week, I select a photograph from the piles of unique and special pictures people send for identification. You probably don't know that several thousand readers check out this column each month and that submissions come from around the worldsome from as far away as New Zealand, and an amazing number of photographs from readers in England. I'm not sure which is more challenging: selecting a picture or helping you solve a photo mystery. This week let's follow up on some of this column's successes.
Early 1860s Costume Changes
This week let's look at two portraits of unidentified women taken between 1850 and 1865. In some periods, clothing styles changed quite dramatically from one decade to another. (Think of the period from 1965 to 1980, for instance.) In the 15 years depicted in these two images, the changes are subtle. Most women made their own clothing and could adapt existing dresses to maintain their fashionable presence. As I've mentioned in other columns, there are certain features in women's clothing that help place the image within a time frame. In particular, pay attention to hairstyles, collars, accessories and the shape of sleeves.
They've Got PersonalityBut Who Are They?
"It's possible that this picture is of my grandmother's mother who was orphaned in Indiana and raised by family members in Illinois," wrote Rita Werner about this charming candid photograph of two women and a young girl. The fact that it is out of focus does not detract from the sentimental value of the image. Rita found it in a photograph album that belonged to her grandparents, both born in 1910. It is unknown whether this picture is from her grandmother's or grandfather's family. Relatives think the little girl resembles the grandmother's family but no one knows for certain.
A "Royal" Look for Boys
The story of Little Lord Fauntleroy describes a young American boy who becomes a British aristocrat through inheritance. In Frances Hodgson Burnett's first installment of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" and later in the book of the same name, she started a fashion trend that tormented young boys for more than a decade. American mothers seeking status in their community latched onto this craze as a visual representation of the family's economic and social standing. Boys subjected to the style began wearing the look as toddlers until they were pre-teens, but in some families boys wore them until they were in their early teens. This particular style lasted from 1886 until early in the 20th century.
Same Person, Different Ages
Sitting in your unidentified pile may be another picture with a younger or older version of the person in your identified pile. Facial clues in those images can help you date those picture puzzles if you know what to look for. Age, illness, weight gain or loss, injury and, in men's cases, facial hair or baldness can change a person's appearance. Lee Eddy submitted several photographs in which she saw a resemblance between the woman in a single portrait and the older young woman in a group portrait but wanted another opinion.
Don't Wait Till It's Too Late
What's going to happen to your photographs? When there is a death in the family, relatives may divide up the pictures. If no one wants them, photographsespecially unidentified onescan end up being discarded or sold by whoever receives the leftover belongings. That's what happened to Leonard Clark Sr.
Just in Case
This is not the first time I've featured a daguerreotype in this column, but in this example both the picture and case are shown. Details in both can establish a time frame. (In most photo identifications, it is the accumulated evidencenot an individual cluethat establishes a date.)
Putting the Pieces Together
This portrait is a wonderful example of how family history is about putting all the pieces together. Elaine Clark submitted this picture because "it has been giving her fits." Almost forgotten, it once had a beautiful frame and, according to Elaine's elderly mother, hung in Elaine's grandparents' house. However, no one could remember why the picture had a prominent place in their house or to which side of the family it belonged.
Changes in the Roaring 1920s
Linda Prybysz submitted two photographs of the same couple to find out more about them. I usually see photographs of couples taken several decades apart, but in this case both pictures date from the 1920s. Can you tell which photographImage A or Bwas taken first? There are subtle differences in the pictures. Let's see how many you can spot.
Dressed for the Occasion
Several months ago, Judy Hazle submitted this photograph for identification, one of three unidentified photographs in her collection. She found it in her father's papers after he died, and believes the last name of the couple is Dyrland, though has no way of verifying that information. All Judy knows is the couple has Norwegian heritage and hopes that by discovering a date for the image, she will be able to find out the couple's identity.
A Year-Long Mystery
As you know from your own photo identification work, some images are less of a mystery than others. This week's image was one of the first sent for identification. Sandy Fine submitted this tintype a year ago, but assigning a date to the image was not straightforward.
First or Second Marriage?
Anne Sadrakula submitted this photograph of her great-grandmother Bridget White (born circa 1865) posed with one of her two husbands. Is the gentleman Maurice Keane who married Bridget in 1883 or from her second marriage in 1901? This carefully arranged photograph of the young couple contains a series of costume clues that answer the question.
Kathleen Gannon found this tintype in her grandmother's papers when she died. She has been unable to identify the five family members in this image and is looking for assistance. Inexpensive and easy to produce, tintypes became extremely popular. Portable studios appeared in resort areas and itinerant photographers followed troops during the Civil War enabling soldiers to send home portraits of themselves with their letters. They had the added advantage of being durable and the right size for mailing.
A Western Mystery
In this case study, three different people wrote captions on the back of a photograph. The earliest identifies the image as "My dady (sic) + half brother." Other individuals named the men as "Great Grandfather Pugh, Grandma Youngs father + her brother" and "Lydia's Mother's father and his half brother." Confused by the information on the back, Jennifer Walls submitted the image for further clarification.
Only a small percentage of the photographs submitted to this column for identification purposes are of men. Is it possible that more of our male ancestral photographs are identified or did fewer men have their picture taken?
Whatever the reason, assigning a date to a male portrait presents particular challenges. Dating a portrait relying on men's clothing requires an observant eye and consultation with a costume encyclopedia. Let's compare two images as an example.
Sibling Portrait Rivalry
Irene Uffrecht-Peters knows the names of the boys, but not the girls, in this captivating photograph of the Schiff children taken in Germany. Family lore identifies the little boy left front as her great-grandfather Ludwig Schiff (born 1864). His other brothers Felix (1854) and Paul (1862) are most likely the other two male members of the family. One child is missing from the image. The names of the female members of the family are unknown. Uffrecht-Peters would like to narrow down the time frame to place names with the faces.
A New Zealand Mystery
There are compelling photographs in every family collection that contain a mystery. In New Zealander Dafanie Goldsmith's family, there is this portrait of a woman in mourning with a haunting expression on her face. She looks so lost that you want to know more about her. In 1904 her great-great-grandfather wrote a letter in which he identified the portrait as his daughter Emily's maternal grandmother. But is the information in the photograph consistent with the family data?
Dating Women's Clothing
Sometimes photographs submitted to this column come with extensive explanations of the images while others are accompanied by a plaintive question for clues to identify the person and time frame. In this case, the owner, James Burroughs, would like to know when it was taken to help him assign a name to this image.
In this touching portrait of two brothers, a toddler is gently holding his brother's hand and looking tentatively at the camera. The owner of the photograph, Sherri Hulse, tried to identify the image by showing it to older relatives but they are unable to recall the circumstances relating to the picture. However, everyone she shows it to asks the same question: "Why is the older boy wearing a white armband?"
The Story Behind the Picture
"Was a formal wedding unusual for the 19th century?" Cora McDonnell asks about this wedding photograph of her grandfather's brother and his wife. In this case, the story surrounding the photograph is as fascinating as the image itself.
This week's photograph came from Joan Lawler of England. In her family collection is this picture of an elderly woman that she knows is one of her grandmothers"Mary Ann Spellman or Mary Ann Grime. She hopes that by dating the woman's clothing and through comparison to other family images, she can correctly identify which grandmother she is looking at.
Geri Diehl asks, "Could this be the wedding picture of Elizabeth Goza and William Harrington who married in 1846?" It is an image passed from her grandmother, to her mother and ultimately came to be in her collection. Like the photograph examined in Which Husband Is It?, this picture is a crayon portrait. In this image, the photographer or an artist colored the couple's eyes and parts of the background blue.
Alice and the Looking Glass
In an earlier column, "How Are They Related: 5/29/00" a teenager posed for a photographer with a large bow in her hair. This week, Mary Wisniewski submitted an image of a younger girl with a bow in her hair. An elderly uncle gave her the image, but no one in the family can identify the girl reflected in the mirror.
A Woman in Mourning
In an earlier column (see Unknown Subject) I discussed cartes de visite, or CDV portraits, popular during the Civil War era. This week's submission by Pat Morrison is a similar CDV portrait of a young woman.
Dianne Beetler is trying to determine if these two baby pictures were taken of the same child at different times or of two different children. Identifying photographs of individuals taken at various points in their lives is one of the challenges of photo identification. These two baby photos present a unique challenge because they were taken within the first 18 months of life and lack unusual characteristics.
Family photograph collections contain a wonderful variety of pictures documenting all aspects of life and, in many cases, death. In the Elliott family for instance, this funeral photograph memorializes the death of an unidentified young girl.
How Are They Related?
In her grandmother's box of photographs, Patricia Matthews found three similar portraits of young girls wearing large bows. They intrigued her because all three young women also wore the same locket and bracelet to have their pictures taken. She submitted one of the images for identification to find out more about these similarities.
Which Husband Is It?
Doris Jordan is trying to identify a pair of portraits in her possession. She believes this picture to be her great-great-grandmother Mary Jane Colburn who was born in Alabama in 1846. The companion portrait is likely to be either her first or second husband. In 1873 Mrs. Colburn's first husband died. She remarried in 1874. The timing of this photograph is crucial. Which husband is depicted in the other portrait?
When Vernonica Camarillo's grandfather died she inherited his Bible, a letter that identified the town of origin of the family as Velky Lomec, Bohemia, and this photograph. She asked older relatives for assistance in identifying this picture. When that failed she published it in the local paper and on a website for Czech Family Research. Someone who saw the image suggested that it depicted a fundraiser for the Slovanic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas in Gonzales, Texas. After further study, an elderly relative identified herself in the photograph. Based on the relative's birth date of 1913 and her age in the image, Veronica assigned a tentative date of 1919 to the picture.
This week's submission is a photograph of an unknown woman. The owner of the image does not know who the person is or when it was taken. The first step in identifying this picture is to establish what type of image it is so that a tentative date can be assigned.
More Than Just Names
In some cases the photographs in our collections are identified, but we still yearn to know more about the picture. There are so many unanswered questions about the content. For instance, you may know who the people are, but not where or when it was taken. This week's submission is one of those images. A family member has identified the individuals in the image, but the rest of the story remains untold.
Frame of Reference
The owner of this photograph is trying to determine a time frame for the image so that she can assign a possible identification. There are several ways to establish a date. In this case the size of the image, the photographer's imprint and the clothing worn by the couple are all clues.
Find out how to submit your own picture for possible analysis by Maureen Taylor. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.