(Vicki’s note – find out how early photographers solved the technical problems of Blue eyes and White Wedding Dresses Not showing in Old Photographs. See this article
Debra Allison can trace the provenance (ownership) of this picture back to her great-grandmother Antoinette “Nettie” Fichter Mader (1856-1938). Nettie gave the picture to her daughter, and then her granddaughter (who expanded the caption on the back) gave it to Debra.
This photo has a caption on the back that offers ID clues both helpful and frustrating. This week, we’ll focus on the front of the photo.
Debra knows that Nettie Fichter immigrated to the US in 1881 and that she brought her nephews August and Phillipp Letzelter with her. She was the youngest member of her family.
Should be easy to figure out who’s in this photo, right? Not so fast.
Debra sent me a page-long chart that included the names of everyone she found who had a family relationship to Nettie. It lists the person’s name, their relationship to Nettie, their date and place of birth, date of immigration, marriage and death dates and their place of death. Whew! That’s a whole lot of research.
A family would often pose for a group portrait before someone immigrated to create a memento both for the immigrant and for the family left behind. It also was common for family members to pose for a group portrait after the fact to send to the immigrant.
Let’s look at who’s in the this picture. There’s a husband (the mustached man) and wife (the woman next to him). The wife has her hand on the older woman’s shoulder. A daughter would do this. The older woman occupies the center, the most important spot in the photo. To our left are three children, two boys and a girl. To our far right is a young man with his hand on his mother’s shoulder.
Who might they be?
According to Debra’s chart, Katherine Fichter Letzelter, the mother of August and Phillip, had eight children. There are only four children in this photo, three boys and a girl. Katherine’s mother Elisabeth was born in 1814 didn’t die until 1888.
The clothing clues in this picture, such as the husband’s under-the-collar tie and the wife’s jacket-like bodice and pleated hem, suggest a date in the 1880s. The dark cardstock mat was also popular in that time frame.
Take a closer look at the picture. The photographer put a dark dot in the center of each of their eyes. Blue/light colored eyes often paled in pictures so darkening them for portraits was common. It’s quite possible that members of this family all had blue eyes.
Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
By Maureen A. Taylor
Family photos capture some of the most meaningful moments in life—wedding, babies, graduations, military service, and holidays. Your old family photos are full of important family history clues. Family Photo Detective helps you identify and research these clues that can further your genealogy research. Photo identification expert and genealogist Maureen A. Taylor, author of the Family Tree Magazine’s Photo Detective blog and magazine column, shows you how to put names to faces and recapture the lost stories of your old family photos.
Inside, you’ll learn how to:
- Determine the type of image you have—from common paper prints to stereographs to historical daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes
- Use clothing, accessories, and hairstyles to date the image in the correct decade
- Research photographer imprints to narrow down when and where the photo was taken
- Compare facial features in multiple photos to confirm identity and family resemblance
- Interview family members to gather more information about the image
- Identify props in the photo to create context for the image
Each chapter includes dozens of historical photos to illustrate key points and provide clear examples. Charts, timelines and resource lists make it easy to find the exact information you need. Dozens of case studies show you how to apply the techniques in the book to real-life photo research projects. This completely updated third edition (previously published as Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs) features more than 10 new case studies, information on digital photography, and a new chapter on photograph albums.
This is the definitive how-to book on historical photo identification. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the valuable tips you’ll find in Family Photo Detective:
- Often, a photographer’s imprint will mention a partnership or the prior owner of the studio. This will assist you in trying to locate the dates of operation. Partnerships were usually short-lived and photographers, unless they had a steady clientele and solid reputation, moved around looking for better economic opportunities.
- Wedding photographs in the nineteenth century do not resemble the wedding photographs of today. White gowns were generally not worn because they were an unnecessary expense. Even if a bride wore a formal white gown, she would not be photographed in it, because early cameras could not photograph bright colors in any detail. Wedding portraits usually show the married couple in regular clothes or in their traveling garments.
- Dating and identifying exterior scenes is not a subjective process; you will be able to date many of the visible details through library research. Use a magnifying glass to examine the image for particular items that can be dated, such as business signs and architectural and technological elements. Each one of these details can be researched further and provide irrefutable evidence of a time period. Signage can be verified by consulting city directories. This will tell you when a company was in business and where it was located.