Tag Archives: Maureen A Taylor

Solving Photo Mysteries

∞ Vicki’s Note – Maureen has given us some efficient steps on how to effectively search for solutions to our unknown ancestors in mystery photographs.  We can find the answer to the “I know they are my ancestors, but I don’t know who they are” quandary.

I have found her books and her BLOG invaluable to find photograph identification answers.  Maureen is one of my genealogy heroes.

 Solving Photo Mysteries

 Maureen A Taylor – photodetective.  FamilyTreeMagazine.com

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Read her full article here –  There’s a Good Chance This Photo Mystery Is Solved!


There’s a Good Chance This Photo Mystery Is Solved!
Posted by Maureen…four steps to tackle a mystery photo:1.    Establish a time frame.

2.    Focus on place.

3.    Search for records.

4.    Watch for matches.

… Based on the clothing clues, I dated the image to circa 1897.

… go through her genealogical material and add a bit more detail to her original query:

  • ….  A more specific location will hopefully make finding a match easier.
  • The last name …. Spelling differences aren’t uncommon….do a broad search of censuses. … don’t filter results to exact spellings.

…estimate the ages of the children in this photo …  In the 1880 census,… 1900 …

Finding a Match

I found …in FamilySearch censuses. In 1880, Joseph F. had children …

Adding 17 years to their ages for an estimated 1897 photo date gives us…  This identification seems to fit the mysterious photo.

Next, I’d encourage Barbara to do “reverse genealogy,” and research forward in time to find descendants of all these children. She then could reach out to find out photographs of them and verify that the faces match.

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




3 Tips to Locate Photos of Ancestors’ School Days

Vicki’s Note – article from Family Tree Magazine 9-1-2016.  There is a 6 volume set of One Room Rock County Rural Schoolhouse pictures and histories at the Beloit Public Library  – both in our Local History/ Genealogy collection and copies to check out and borrow to use at home.

Book Cover

A history of the rural schools of Rock County, Wisconsin. Vol. 1 : townships of Avon, Beloit, Bradford

Kidder, Clark.
[Place of publication not identified] : [publisher not identified], c2014-2015. 2015

Location Call No. Status
 Beloit Genealogy & Local History  GEN 378.7758 Kidder 2015 Oct v.1  REFERENCE
 Beloit Adult Non-Fiction  378.7758 Kidder 2015 Oct v.1  ON SHELF


3 Tips to Locate Photos of Ancestors’ School Days

Photo Detective with Maureen A. Taylor

Sunday, September 04, 2016
3 Tips to Locate Photos of Ancestors’ School Days
Posted by Maureen A Taylor

For the first three years of grade school, I went to class in a 19th-century building. A big wide staircase and a classroom cloak room stick in my mind. That building is long gone, replaced by a modern school. I’ve search for a picture of the original structure to see if my memories of it compare to how it actually looked.

Finding images of the schools my family attended is a good beginning to understanding their classroom experience, and it helps flesh out my family story.

Depending on when and where they lived, the school could be a one-room schoolhouse or a massive brick-and-mortar city school.

Nebraska State Historical Society, [Digital ID, e.g., nbhips 12036]

If your ancestor attended school in Nebraska, count yourself lucky. The Nebraska State Historical Society added images to the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress. This one is a sod school, District 62, 2 miles west of Merna, Custer County, Neb., in 1889.

In this picture, you can see the backwards writing on the bottom edge of the original glass plate.

According to the cataloging record, in 1974, someone identified the teacher in the middle as Elsie Thomas who married a Bidgood. One of the girls in the back row, second to the left of the teacher, is Nettie Hannawald. There is another picture of Nettie online as well.

Tip 1: Look online. Search the Library of Congress for pictures of schools in places your ancestors lived. Choose “Photos, Prints, Drawings” from the dropdown menu at the top, and type search terms such as Merna Nebraska school.

Then expand your search to Google images. A quick search for history of public school architecture Grand Rapids resulted in a lot of hits including an online article and photo essays for Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Tip 2: Check newspapers.
In a town where I once lived, an old schoolhouse is now a bank, but I learned a lot about the building form old newspapers. In the 1930s, some members of the town balked at installing indoor plumbing. The old outhouse was good enough, they said.

Search newspapers looking for school information:

  • You might locate information about the school building.
  • Merit student lists in the paper could mention your relative
  • There might be an engraving or a photograph published

Tip 3: Ask the locals. Public libraries and historical societies often have pictures of old school buildings. Check the library or society website for a collection of digital images. Include school yearbooks in your search.

Dating Old Family Photos: Clues Under the Christmas Tree

Vicki’s note – article from Family Tree Magazine “Photo Detective” Maureen A Taylor.  Maureen always has very good insights into dating our ancestor photographs.  Several of her books, listed, are in our Beloit Public Library’s collection and have come in handy.  I rely on  her expertise to help me narrow down the time periods in any photos that I am asked to evaluate.  My goal is to get 1/4th as good as she is.  It is a very complex process which involves learning about clothing styles, history, cultural history, the history of photography,  history of toys, and the history of interior decorating; as well as knowing as much as you can about that family’s genealogical history. 

Have you ever had the fun of recognizing a small article of decor, or wallpaper, in a room which helps you realize which relative’s house you see pictured?  Get out the magnifying glass, or enlarge the photograph on your computer or scanner, so that you can see all of the clues to help you identify the photograph and people. 

Then write down when, who, what, where on the back of photo with special photograph pens.  I found archival Zig Memory System pens online that work well, and do not bleed through or crease the photographs.  I need to actually do more work on my own photo collection.  I am also digitizing my Mom’s old photographs to “rescue them” from irreverent care, and getting them labeled while she remembers.  (The same labeling can be done as the “name” of the photograph/scan on your computer.  I try to put those from the same family or decade into folders labeled as such.  I.E. “Bennett Family, 1920s”.   The photographs that were already labeled are a lot of fun, and full of information.  zig


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dating Old Family Photos: Clues Under the Christmas Tree
Posted by Maureen

There are heaps of clues in this charming old picture of two children admiring their Christmas tree. It’s an image from the Library of Congress, whose cataloging record dates it to between 1910 and 1935. That’s a pretty big 25-year time frame.

Can you spot the clues in this picture? They include:

  • tree ornaments and trimmings
  • children’s clothing
  • vintage train set
  • household decorations

Keep reading for a little more about each clue.

Tree Trimmings

The glass tree topper in this picture looks a lot like the one my mother always put on our tree. F.W. Woolworth‘s led the American market by first selling glass ornaments made in Germany and later, ones made in the United States. There is a good chance your ancestors bought their tree trimmings at Woolworth’s.

Tinsel has a long history that dates back to Germany in 1610. By the 20th century, artificial, aluminum-based tree trimmings had replaced natural garland made from cranberries and popcorn. Some were lead-based. The FDA didn’t restrict the sales of lead-based tree materials until 1971.


Bobbed hairstyles for girls became popular about 1915 and remained in style throughout the estimated time frame for this picture. Dropped-waist dresses for little girls debuted at about the same time, but this outfit has a scalloped hemline. Those were common in the early 1920s.

Vintage Train Set

A whole village with “snow”-frosted foliage rests under this tree. It’s an electric train set with real street lights. It could belong to the children’s father or be a gift for the Christmas shown.

If you have a toy train collector in your family, show him or her this photo and let’s see if they can date the era of this set. The National Toy Train Museum is another resource. Weigh in on this train set on our Facebook page.

Household Decor

Similar household decorations could be found in the Sears Catalog, which is digitized on Ancestry.com. (I’ll look there for the train, too.) Dating photos based household items is difficult, because families would keep themse items for years. The rug in this house is well-worn with a big spot near the train track, so the curtains and carpet also could be several years old.

Dating this picture relies on all the clues. The train could be key.

Count The Clues in Your Own Images

This image is a good example of how to break a picture down into clues. Establishing the dates for specific clues will not only help you verify the time frame for a picture, it’ll also help you tell a holiday tale.

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

children | Christmas





Tintype photograph

Tintype photograph

by Vicki Ruthe Hahn



 If anyone asks – I have this antique tintype photograph  that someone left about June 2016 in a returned BPL Library book.

I have not dated the formal clothing/hair style of the young man in the photo yet,

and will be using it for my November 11, 2016 ”Contemporary Fashion Through the Ages” Stateline Genealogy Club @ Beloit Public Library program.

But I sure would love to get this sentimental keepsake to the owning (Beloit WI) family, and only will give it up to them.

This is the first time that I have seen or felt an actual tintype.  It feels like a thin sheet of metal. And less fragile than the daguerreotype.  It was not even in any protective case.

The man’s hair style is very distinctive.  I will get back to you on what year (range of years) that I think he was photographed.  Looking at it through a magnifying glass may help.

These are the kind of clues to look for in dating your own ancestors photographs:

Notice the man has one glove on, and the other is on top of the pillar.  I wonder if he was in the Civil War, and had his left arm/hand wounded or amputated, then or elsewhere?

His hat is on the “ground” in front of him.

The “stone railing”, “grass”,  and “landscape” are not real, but are studio props.  Though I will have to find out if the grass, used inside studios, was actual grass that had to be replenished.  I don’t think that manufacturing at that time would be able to duplicate that realistic look.

The formal clothes (tuxedo?) with cuff buttons, and piping, fitted vest, stud shirt buttons, make it hard to pin down the time, as formal wear now still looks similar to that suit.  The suit may have a subtle faint striping effect.

From observing, I would say that the young man is fairly well-to-do. His hand looks clean, well manicured, and artistic.  His glove fits well, and looks like expensive fine leather. The clothes fit well, so they are probably not borrowed from the photography studio (like poor folks would do.)   His hair is recently styled, and fashionable.  Maybe this is a portrait for a sweetheart, or just to celebrate a particular stage in his life.  (Survived and home safe from the War?  Gaining success in his settled profession?  Looking for a wife?)


(per Wikipedia):

“Tintype photographs  were made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel and used as the support for the photographic emulsion. Tintypes enjoyed their widest use during the 1860s and 1870s, but lesser use of the medium persisted into the early 20th century.

 It began losing artistic and commercial ground to higher quality albumen prints on paper in the mid-1860s, yet survived for well over another 40 years, living mostly as a carnival novelty.

 The tintype’s immediate predecessor, the ambrotype, was done by the same process of using a sheet of glass as the support.

Tintypes were sturdy and did not require mounting in a protective hard case like ambrotypes and daguerreotypes.”


One can also look on DeadFred.com to get more connections to old Photographs (before 1965, and of people who have deceased.)  (“Search, Preserve, Record, Remember”).  You can search for, or post, photographs.

5 Ways To Search:
Quick Search                                                                                                                                     Surname Search
Detailed Search
Keyword Search

Trace your roots for FREE with the searchable database containing thousands of identified and mystery photos for genealogy enthusiasts looking for long-lost family. Anyone who finds a photo of a direct ancestor that is owned by the archive will receive the photo for free.

Submit Your Photos:
Adding keywords to the comments field when posting photos to the archive makes them more easily found by other researchers.   Submit Your Photos into the Archive and they will post them. Make sure that your photos are in some way identified (a name or country, or date, or state, etc.) and that they meet Dead Fred’s criteria. Currently, Dead Fred’s Photos were taken prior to 1965 and all subjects are now deceased.


Maureen A Taylor would be able to identify the time period instantly.  For more of her expertise and suggestions on photograph history identification see: https://maureentaylor.com/

(Per Maureen:)

“The third type of cased photograph resembles a daguerreotype only because it is an image on metal. Unlike the daguerreotype and ambrotype more than one tintype could be made at a sitting. It was inexpensive to produce, and it took less than a minute to walk out of a photographer’s studio with one in hand. Some photographers used special multi-lens cameras to produce additional individual exposures. Tintypes, like daguerreotypes and ambrotypes were not made used a negative.

Tintypes or ferreotypes have a fascinating history. It was the first photographic process invented in the United States and its longevity is only surpassed by the paper print. A chemistry professor in Ohio patented the process in 1856…”



Blue eyes and White Wedding Dresses did Not show in Old Photographs

(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

Ownership is a clue to who’s in a mystery photo. The problem is while most people know who gave them a picture—such as an aunt, parent or grandparent—but before that, ownership information may be unknown.

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.

(And in her book –

Family Photo Detective

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.

Foolin’ with the Past in Old Photos

Monday, August 31, 2015
by Photo Detective
Maureen A Taylor
Foolin’ with the Past in Old Photos
Posted by Diane

At historical sites around the country, it’s not unusual to see men and women dressed in fashions of the past. The same is true for parades and town anniversary celebrations.

If you have a photo of a relative in historical garb, it can make you do a pictorial double-take.

Donna Bowman has one in her box of old family photos:

Take a close look at this image. The woman wears 1870s attire, but her hair is out of the 20th century. And it’s hard to tell from this digital version, but this is a snapshot, not a typical 1870s card photograph.

At the woman’s side is a man dressed for a different era:

This one is a bit confusing. The tie looks like the 1850s and the tall hat also would fit that period, but that cutaway coat is much later. Historical fashion details can get mixed up when dressing up for a one-time event. Serious re-enactors and museums often will research each detail in an outfit to make it period-appropriate.

So how can we date this snapshot? By this girl in the background and the rest of the crowd watching the action:

Don’t you love her bobby socks from the 1950 era? Here’s the full image.  It’s very likely that the baby in the stroller is still alive today:

If Donna knows who’s in this picture, I’d look in the local papers for a special event to link to this image. Too bad the sign on the front of the stroller isn’t facing the camera.

Do you have any pictorial double-takes in your family collection?

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

1850s photos | 1870s photos | 1950s photos

Monday, August 31, 2015 3:37:14 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #