Tag Archives: Photo historian

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


There’s a Good Chance This Photo Mystery Is Solved!
Posted by Maureen

Last week’s Photo Detective post about this family introduced four steps to tackle a mystery photo:

1.    Establish a time frame.

2.    Focus on place.

3.    Search for records.

4.    Watch for matches.

Barbara Rivers’ photo depicts a set of parents and their five children.  Based on the clothing clues, I dated the image to circa 1897.

As I suggested, Barbara went back through her genealogical material and add a bit more detail to her original query:

  • Barbara thinks the family lived in Blackhawk, Grundy County, Iowa.  A more specific location will hopefully make finding a match easier.
  • The last name of Findlay, which may belong to this family, has variant spellings including Findley or Finley. Spelling differences aren’t uncommon. Our ancestors used different versions of their own names, and census enumerators didn’t ask for the correct spelling.

Since the surname is variable, Barbara should do a broad search of censuses. Most genealogy websites automatically look for variant spellings as long as you don’t filter results to exact spellings.

I estimate the ages of the children in this photo between 20 and early 30s.  In the 1880 census, they’d all be living in their parents’ household. By 1900, several of the children may have moved away.

Barbara found a Joseph F. Findlay in the 1880 census and a Joseph T. Findlay in the 1900 census, whom she believes to be the same man. Both were born in Pennsylvania, and married in Illinois to a woman with the same name.

Finding a Match

I found Joseph F. and Joseph T. Findley in FamilySearch censuses. In 1880, Joseph F. had children Alpheus (20), Thomas (17), Fatima (12), Abbie (10) and Emery (6).

Adding 17 years to their ages for an estimated 1897 photo date gives us Alpheus (37), Thomas (34), Fatima (27), Abbie (27) and Emery (23). 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



Special photography workshop in Beloit – Sept. 11 2-4 pm – Photo historian Sharon Welton at Lincoln Center

(Note from Vicki – reserve seats $45 for this event at the Beloit Historical Center for the afternoon 2 – 4 p.m., after you attend the FREE Stateline Genealogy Club at Beloit Public Library Program “Contemporary Fashions through the Decades, How to Identify Your Ancestors’ Timeline by What They Wore”, by Vicki Ruthe Hahn from 10 a.m. – noon.

History events planned: Heritage Days in September

By Sophie Harris sharris@beloitdailynews.com | Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2015 4:00 pm

The Beloit Historical Society is preparing for a busy weekend during the Heritage Days celebration on Sept. 11, 12 and 13.

DIrector Paul Kerr said a special photography workshop will kick off the celebration on Sept. 11. Photo historian Sharon Welton is coming to the Lincoln Center to head the seminar, and Kerr said she will help people figure out details about old photos.

“She is a historian of photos,” said Kerr. “How far back in history do your photos go? She will talk about preserving them and caring for the collection.”

Welton finds clues about photographs by observing fashion and props in the picture. Kerr said many people experience fading and crumpling of old photos. Welton will offer solutions. The seminar will take place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on September 11 at the Lincoln Center, and there’s a $30 charge for members and a $45 charge for non-members.

Kerr said he hopes to have 20-30 people attend the workshop.

A new exhibit at the Lincoln Center will open on September 12, and the collection features toys from the past. The exhibit will open at 11 a.m. and runs until 4 p.m., with a professional toy appraiser present until noon. Toys from the 1920s to the 1980s will be featured.

Kerr said there will be popcorn and games at the exhibit. One of the featured items is one of Beloit’s first television sets. On September 13, there will be an open house and a petting zoo at the Hanchett-Bartlett house.

The Heritage Days celebration is a long-standing tradition in Beloit.

“Back in the 70s and 80s, we started up Heritage Days,” Kerr said. “Now we’re on our own to do it, and we’re sticking with it.”

Kerr said Beckman Mill is very involved with the Heritage Days celebration.

To sign up for the photography seminar or to learn more about Heritage Days, call the Beloit Historical Society at 608-365-7835.