Thursday, May 26, 2016

Identifying Old Photographs

Clarissa Stone
I continue to wish for an old photograph of Isaac Werner.  I know he had his picture taken at least twice by  professional photographers-- in Pratt, KS on Nov. 1, 1890 at Logan's Gallery and once in St. John, probably at Miss Shira's studio.  In addition, his neighbor named Blake took many photographs at his farm; however, Blake did not develop his own glass plates, so those photographs would probably have the cardboard backings of the studios where they were developed, both in Pratt and St. John at Miss Shira's studio.  I mention this repeatedly because I know that families living near Isaac came to his farm to pose for photographs, often posing in the 'promenade' he created in his tree grove or near the 'big tree.'  I still hope that someone who follows this blog will recognize one of those photographs among their ancestor's pictures.

However, I promised to suggest clues for identifying old photographs in your own family collection in this week's blog, and I will use my own experience to offer some ideas.  The photographs are children of Horatio Gates Stone, the subject of "Clue to Stone Family Mystery," 5-5-2016 in the Blog Archives.

Reverse of image above
When my mother-in-law passed away we found a box of photographs from the late 1800s that she had found among her own mother's belongings.  Fortunately, most of the photographs were mounted on the photographer's studio card backings, so the first clue was the location of the studio.  We knew that the Stone family had settled in Iowa, and none of our other ancestral lines were connected with that state, so that was an important clue.

On the back of one of the images was written "Aunt Clarissa died Jan 1906," and we recognized the handwriting as belonging to my husband's maternal grandmother.  Her mother's maiden name was Stone, so one of her mother's siblings would have been her aunt.  We could be confident now that the woman pictured was probably a member of the Stone family in Iowa and was of the same generation as my husband's great grandmother.  (If you look closely under the handwritten notation, you can see that this studio card also indicated the year the photo was taken, 1874.)

Clarissa Stone at different ages
The two photo cards at right are both images of Clarissa when she was younger.  They provide a good example of paying attention to hair styles, clothing, and jewelry as a way to recognize the same individual at different ages or pictures taken at different times.  Notice particularly that while Clarissa has a different charm or locket on her necklace, the band or collar is the same.  The dress is very similar, and may have been the same dress, modified with new trim, a collar, and a different bow for the picture that appears to have been taken slightly later.  Dresses were expensive and were often modified to continue wearing without obviously appearing to be the same dress.

 Looking at a photo card from the same studio, we identified Clarissa as one of the four people in a group photograph.  On the back of the photo card was written "Aunt Clarissa, Aunt Effie, Uncle Fred, Uncle Perry," but no effort had been made to arrange the names in such a way as to identify the individuals.  However, with the clear identification of Clarissa, we could be confident that the other woman was Effie.

Stone siblings
Notice particularly Clarissa's clothing, jewelry, and hair style.  It was easy to identify which woman was Clarissa, even if her facial likeness had not been so obvious, because the clothing, jewelry and hair style were the same as in her individual picture.  This single portrait and the group picture were probably taken the same day, but often women wore the same jewelry or continued the same hair style which may help identify them in other photographs.

Perry Stone
You might assume that this group of four siblings would identify all the grown children in that family, but given that there were a total of eleven children, there were still other pictures that we could not relate to this group.  In searching among the other photographs we found a small image labeled Uncle Perry which allowed us to distinguish that Perry was the seated man in the group photo.  In addition, from those two likenesses we identified the seated man in a photograph of a young couple.  The photo card was from a different studio but was also a Davenport, IA location.

Perry parted his hair on the same side and combed it flat to his head, as well as continuing to style his moustache in the same way, which helped make him recognizable from one photograph to another. 

Perry & Kate Stone
I have used the plural pronoun "we" in reference to the search to identify the people in these photographs.  In fact, I was alone in the search, for my husband had decided that there was no longer anyone living who could identify the images and he was ready to burn the box of photographs.  Now, of course, he is delighted to know who these distant ancestors are, and we have traveled to Iowa to visit the graves of many of the people pictured in the photographs contained in that box.

The best part of the story is that when I posted the photographs on my pages for the Stone family, a descendant of Perry Stone saw them and contacted me.  A house fire had destroyed all of their Stone family photographs, and because I had not agreed to discard the box of photographs, generations of Perry Stone's descendants now have pictures of their ancestors.  

Remember:  You can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

 In summary, here are some clues for identifying photographs:  1.  Begin by looking at the back for names, and remember when you mark your own photographs to include both given and surnames, as well as nicknames that might be important; 2.  Look for clues to identify the location where the picture was taken, as I noted the bridge in the Macksville City Park in last week's blog; 3.  Pay particular attention to hairstyles, jewelry, and clothing that might help you identify a person you recognize from another marked photograph; 4.  If vehicles appear in the photograph, notice not only the make and model of the vehicle but also the license plate to identify the year and location; 5.  Sometimes a pet can help you identify a child; 6.  Look for school uniforms and mascots;   7.  Observe furniture, wallpaper, framed pictures on the wall, things that can be seen through the windows to identify the location and the era, which may help identify the person or family in the picture; 8.  In a group picture, notice the ages of people, especially a family group, in order to identify those you don't recognize by comparing their ages with others that you do recognize; 9.  While studios today do not mount photographs on cardboard backing with the information I used to identify these old photographs, they do often stamp the back of the photograph with their studio name; 10. Local libraries and museums often have old yearbooks that you might consult to identify a class picture.  11.  Occasionally you know that a relative visited a specific destination and a picture posed there can identify the person, as I can identify my great grandparents posed on donkeys in front of the Balanced Rock at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, and sometimes souvenir photographs state the date and location in the photographer's background setting.

To the woman who commented on an earlier blog, "More please," I hope this helps you and others who have old photographs they cannot identify.  Don't give up!  Perhaps it will also inspire some of you to sit down with those photographs you have been meaning to label and begin.  If you dig out that box of old photographs you inherited, you might even discover one of those photographs from Isaac Werner's neighborhood that I have been hoping to find!

(During Sept. and Oct. of 1890 neighbors came to Isaac's farm nearly every Sunday to pose for photographs. Specifically, on Sept. 28 Isaac and Blake went to Bonsels and photographed a group of "some twenty relatives" before returning to Isaac's farm to photograph Graff, Penrose, Carr's team and wagon, and Henns.  On October 5 they photographed the McHenry team and several "young people" including Miss Anna Carr and Miss Balser.)

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

People with elderly parents need to be reminded to get them to identify the people in the boxes of old photos. The elderly are our memory source and when they are gone, so is the information they carry. How many families have thrown out boxes of pictures that would be invaluable if they only knew who the people were?