A Look Back at Photo Detecting in 2013

By Maureen A. Taylor

It’s time for the end of the year round-up just in case you missed one of these columns. Here are some of my favorites from 2013.


The Inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. On March 4, 1865, Lincoln began his second term in office. Photographers were there to capture the crowds standing in the rain. Perhaps your ancestor was there?

I’m a huge fan of Downton Abbey so it was a natural choice to write about the fashions worn on the show in Downton Abbey and Your Family Photos. The new season starts this January and I can’t wait!


If you’ve ever walked into an antique shop, spotted an identified photo and thought I’d like to help reunite it with family then you’re not alone. Here are some tips on how to do just that in Reuniting Orphan Photos With Family.


I came back from Who Do You Think You Are Live! in London with a tip for smart phone users. You can use your phone to look at negatives. It’s an amazing use for the device we all have. Here’s how you can do it too.

How can a husband and wife from unrelated families end up with the same photo of a supposed relative? Same photo with different identifications. It’s a mind-bending mystery in two parts. Part One and Part Two.

Two part mysteries are so much fun to work on that I featured another one. This time it was two Italian family photos found in a box with a note. You’ll have to read parts one and two to see who’s who.

The nation honored the 150th anniversary of the Battle at Gettysburg. Burns was 69 at the time he fought as a civilian. You can read about his remarkable story in John L. Burns, Civil War Sharpshooter.

A lovely handcolored carte de visite from Charleston, South Carolina is the subject of A Southern Photo Mystery. Is it Cornelius Webb? Follow the genealogical bread crumbs to see how it adds up.

Don’t you love when a ancestor puts a name over the head of someone on the front of a photo? The problem in the Marsteller family is that only one person in the group portrait is identified. The rest of the folks are unidentified. Is this a photo of Pennsylvania relatives? Are they the relatives of the man’s father who died suddenly as a young man? It’s another two part mystery. Looking for a Pennsylvania Connection and The Marsteller Old Photo Mystery.

Photo albums tell a story of friends and family. Here are some tips on how to read your family album. Adding up all the clues in this man’s family album led to a photo identification home run–ID’s for all three images.

Spotting a copy in your family collection can be a challenge. In part one I showed how I identified a picture as a copy of an earlier photo and in part two there are tips on what to look for in your own photos.

A lot of former switchboard operators wrote to me after a picture of women switchboard operators appeared in this space. Ask the women in your family if they worked and interview them about their jobs. You might be surprised by the stories they tell.

Here’s a classic Irish tale of love and loss in two parts with a few letters and photos too. When a man’s wife dies leaving him with several small children. He returns home to Ireland. The oldest son decides he’d rather live in America and moves back. His younger brother writes persuasive letters trying to convince his big brother to let him follow him to Massachusetts. I won’t tell you how it ends. It’s a heartbreaking Christmas story.

Happy Holidays! Watch this space for new family photo stories in 2014. It’s easy to submit your own photo mystery. Just click the link on the left, How To Submit Your Photo.

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