Solving Old Photo Mysteries: Clues in Curls

By Maureen A. Taylor

Eunice Amelia Paulk[4].jpg
Eunice Amelia Paulk (1842-1913)

Jana Last knows a lot about her ancestor Eunice. She was born in Ohio, lived in Washington, Iowa, and eventually moved to California. At 19, she was a teacher in common school, a job she likely held until she married in 1876. You can read more about Eunice on Jana’s Genealogy and Family History Blog.

What drew my attention to this photo of Eunice is her curls. There are a lot of photo-identification clues in a simple cluster of curls.

The light-eyed Eunice knew the current hair fashions. Using, I created a collage of the whole photo and then pulled out some details to take a closer look.

eunice collage.jpg

Top right: Eunice has very fine hair. She’s curled it into wisps that frame her face. A narrow ribbon accessorizes her hair.

Middle: The long curl is fascinating. Is it a hairpiece or her actual hair? Hair pieces (braids, bangs and long curls) were available to women of all economic situations. They were available in various lengths and colors. If a woman couldn’t afford a human hair piece, she could get substitutes such as horse hair and yak hair.

In the late 1860s to the early 1870s, a single long curl draped over the shoulder was very fashionable for young women. Eunice knows the hair fashions of her day.

Bottom: While her hair is up-to-date, her clothing is conservative and fitting for a schoolteacher. Narrow, round collars accessorized with a pin first became popular during the Civil War. She posed for this photograph in either the late 1860s or early 1870s. By 1870, a new style of collar was paired with those long curls: It was a stand-up collar with an open neck and a ruffle.

Kracaw’s Fine Art Gallery took this portrait. According to Carl Mautz, Biographies of Western Photographers (Carl Mautz Publishing, 1997) Kracaw’s Fine Art Gallery was in business in Washington, Iowa, from 1868-1875.


You can learn more about old photo clues in all sorts of curls, as well as bangs, beards and buns, in my newly revised and expanded, all color-edition of Hairstyles, 1840-1900. It’s currently on sale.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books 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
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album