Backyard Snapshots

By Maureen A. Taylor

Studio portraits are lovely and very formal, but to find signs of everyday life, there’s nothing like a snapshot. Ever since George Eastman introduced the amateur camera in the late 1880s, our ancestors have taken informal pictures.

Dennis Rodgers sent in this picture of a known relative—his great-uncle Francis Q. Donnelly who lived in Washington, D.C.


When I see photographs like this, I ask, “Where’s the rest of the pictures from the roll of film?” This is just one of the pictures that the unknown photographer would have taken. Perhaps they were given to other family members or even tossed.

This backyard snapshot shows us details of Donnelly’s life (providing this is where he lived).

  • It’s a brick row house with high wooden fences separating the yards.
  • There are well-worn paving stones instead of a grass yard.
  • Wooden steps provide an entry through the back door.
  • Laundry or blankets being aired outside hang out the second-story window.
  • The family dog is off to the right.


  • To the left is a shelf with large cans. A shovel placed near a basement door looks like a small coal shovel.


These items provide details about Connelly’s life in the first half of the 20th century.

I’ll be back next week to discuss his clothes. In the meantime, what’s the oddest thing you’ve ever seen in a family snapshot?

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album