Which Husband Is It?: 5/15/00  
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Which Husband Is It?
by Maureen Taylor

Doris Jordan is trying to identify a pair of portraits in her possession. She believes this picture to be her great-great-grandmother Mary Jane Colburn who was born in Alabama in 1846. The companion portrait is likely to be either her first or second husband. In 1873 Mrs. Colburn's first husband died. She remarried in 1874. The timing of this photograph is crucial. Which husband is depicted in the other portrait?

In this 16-by-20-inch picture submitted for analysis, the photographer or an artist employed by him used charcoal and white pencil to enhance the original photographic image. In the 19th century, retouching photographs allowed additional details to be added. This technique draws your attention to certain features of the image such as facial characteristics and costume. In Mrs. Colburn's portrait, the charcoal highlights her hair, eyes and necklace. The folds of her bodice and collar of her dress are outlined in both white and black. The resulting image is part drawing and part photograph.

These charcoal drawings were relatively inexpensive to produce. One photographer advertised this technique at $2 a picture. As you can see from this image, retouching required a certain amount of skill. Larger studios would employ professional artists to guarantee a nice, quality image. Some even offered a variety of options from a simple charcoal highlight to full colorized portraits.

The scarcity of information in this image makes it difficult to date. It lacks a photographer's imprint and contains few costume specifics. The primary features are the necklace and the woman's hairstyle. In the early 1870's women wore their hair pulled back behind the ears with a center part. Mrs. Colburn is wearing her hair in that style. By mid-decade, short, curled bangs became fashionable. The only other detail in the portrait is the jewelry. The artist enhanced her necklace for a purpose. Perhaps it was a gift. It is a very prominent part of the picture. During the 1870's women wore heavy chain necklaces with a charm or a locket attached. In this case, the necklace consists of a gold chain or jet beads, a type of black glass. Based on the scant evidence in the portrait it appears the picture was taken prior to 1875.

So which husband is in the second portrait? Since it was common for couples to have their portrait taken around the time of their wedding or engagement, it is probably the second husband. The two portraits in Doris Jordan's collection could be a pair of wedding portraits to commemorate her ancestor's second marriage.

Find out how to submit your own picture for possible analysis by Maureen Taylor. E-mail her at mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com.

Maureen A. Taylor, owner of Taylor & Strong, combines her background in history, genealogy, photography and library science to assist individuals and institutions with research and project management. She is the author of several genealogical books and articles including the upcoming Preserving Your Family Photographs and the recent Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs. She also is project manager for BostonFamilyHistory.com, a site that lets visitors plan a genealogical research trip to the Boston area.

Her current book, Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs, provides the reader with proven methods of photo analysis and interpretation. With Taylor's help, the mystery surrounding many old family pictures can at last be unraveled, enabling these photographs to assume their proper place among treasured family memorabilia.

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