Family History Month: Focus on One Old Photo Collection

Family History Month: Focus on One Old Photo Collection

Thank you Darlene Sampley! I met Darlene last month in San Diego at an all-day seminar for the San Diego Genealogical Society. We started talking about her family photo collection and I started thinking about Family History Month, which genealogists traditionally observe in October. Hmm. Wouldn't it be...

Thank you Darlene Sampley!

I met Darlene last month in San Diego at an all-day seminar for the San Diego Genealogical Society. We started talking about her family photo collection and I started thinking about Family History Month, which genealogists traditionally observe in October. Hmm. Wouldn’t it be great to show examples each week from one woman’s photo collection?

Darlene agreed and here we are. Let’s take a peek at her mystery photos and see what happens:

Last week’s Photo Detective Blog column focused on painted tintypes. Darlene has one, too. I enhanced this image to help you see the details. The hand coloring is much clearer in this enhanced version that it was in the original. Photographers often varnished tintypes, and over time, that coating darkens and makes the image difficult to see. A simple tweak to accept automatic color restoration when scanning made this image pop into view.


The original customer asked the studio to hand-color certain details in this image—her blonde hair, white collar and gold pin. This girl has light-colored eyes, but unlike last week’s picture, the studio in this case didn’t dramatically color the eyes. It looks like there might be a subtle tint.

The problem with this image is the dark area of her dress. Other than the collar, very little is visible. The collar could be from the 1870s or 1880s. Which is it?

The bar pin holds the clue. In the late 1870s, women often wore small pins like this at the base of the throat. It’s lovely! It could be real gold or costume jewelry.

This lady doesn’t look that old, perhaps only a young teenager.

Let’s see what happens when Darlene compares these details to her family tree. I’m hoping for a tentative identification.

If you want to learn more about painted tintypes, read an online article about the Dr. Stanley Burns collection, called Forgotten Marriage.


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
  • Related Products

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