Seeing Double: 5 Clues in an Old Stereograph Photo

By Maureen A. Taylor

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I love the Library of Congress. I can lose myself for hours in its online historical photos collection doing random searches. Sometimes I even tackle one of their photo mysteries for fun.

If there’s one thing that gets my attention, it’s when I see a photo with a partial caption. Like this photo, for instance: It’s obviously posed for dramatic effect, but why? What’s the real story here?

When I see an interesting image, it’s important to step back and study the clues. Remember, not all the details are in the image itself. Picture evidence is only one part of the process.

Library of Congress, stereo 1s05258

Five clues stand out in this stereograph image of a well-dressed family seated on a porch:

  1. It’s unusual to see a “family photo” stereograph. This format was popular for scenes and themed collections, like the Civil War. Stereos consist of two nearly identical images mounted next to each other. When viewed using a stereopticon viewer, the image appears 3-dimensional. The blur on the right side of this card on the seated man’s face) may interfere with seeing it clearly.
  2. The Library of Congress has this dated to circa 1860 to 1864.
  3. The first stereo cards were published in 1854. Generally, yellow card stock wasn’t available until the early 1860s. There were ivory cards, and it’s possible the color of this paper has changed over the years.
  4. The catalog record suggests that the image was taken by George Stacy, who operated a studio from 1854 to 1861 in New York.
  5. The record identifies the men in the image, but not the woman and children.

Let’s push the research envelope and see what else I can discover about the people in this picture. It should be possible to identify everyone in it.

Do you have any stereo views in your family photo collection? They indicate a pastime enjoyed by an ancestor. Tell me about them in the comments below.

Stay tuned for next week.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now
  • Save