I can tell that a lot of folks looked at their family photographs last week by the number of emails I received. Scannning, identifying and organizing your photos is a great way to start the new year. Remember to scan at no less than 600 dpi and select Tiff as the format. You can always re-size for various uses.
Let’s ease into the year by discussing a photo with religious overtones.
Beth Hartley submitted this tintype photo with a question: “Is this my great-grandmother or her mother?” Beth’s grandmother told her that she thought it depicted one of these two women with a younger brother, but she wasn’t sure about the generation.
When you think you know who’s in the photo, start with family history. In this case, Beth’s great-grandmother Ellen McHugh was born in 1885, while Ellen’s mother, Bridget Murphy McHugh, was born in 1855.
Photographic formats often help narrow down the time frame. A tintype is a photograph on a thin sheet of iron; they were popular by the late 1850s. The rounded corners on this image strongly suggest that it once occupied a frame.
Costume provides clues about the occasion. The girl’s white dress and veil clearly indicate it’s her First Communion. She’s even holding a tiny prayer book. It’s traditional in Catholic churches to dress girls in white dresses and veils for this event. First Communion dress styles mimic bridal fashions. The details in the white dress are unclear, but the veil suggests a date circa 1890. In this period, bridal veils hung from a small gathering of fabric or flowers on the top of the head. This information definitely rules out Bridget McHugh.
The average age for a First Communion is around 7. So if this photo depicts Ellen, then it was taken in the early 1890s. Ellen had an older brother born in 1883 and a younger brother born in 1887. The youngster standing next to her would be 5-year-old William.
There are always unanswered questions about photos. In this case, I’d love to know why Ellen’s older brother John isn’t included in this studio shot.
For more help analyzing old family photos, use Taylor’s guide Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs (now on sale at Family Tree Shop).