Card Photo Clues

By Maureen A. Taylor

What’s a card photo? If you’ve heard the term you’re probably wondering. A card photo is an image mounted on cardstock. The earliest ones are called carte de visite and are approximately 2.5×4.5 inches (although the sizes can vary a bit). Late 19th-century cabinet cards are larger and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from round ones of the 1880s to long thin ones.

Dating a card photo relies on its size, the format of the image, the photographer’s work dates, clothing clues and family history information.

Jim TeVogt found this photo in an old album that belonged to a member of the McBride family of Minnesota, who was directly related to the McBrides of Sarpy County, Neb.

mcbride unknown.jpg

I don’t have the dimensions of this image, but the photographic format and the clothes hold plentiful clues.

Images set into an oval were common in the 1860s and beyond. In the 1860s, images in oval settings usually featured pseudo frames or patriotic symbols. By the 1870s, the photographic image included the picture of the person and decorative elements such as the marble pattern surrounding the picture.

This man’s wide lapels on his jacket and his loose tie are common in the mid-1870s. The clues add up to suggest he sat for a portrait in the mid- to late 1870s.

He definitely resembles the McBrides. This second picture is John McBride, Jr. (born May 12, 1865):

John McBride Jr  - Dec  15 1902.jpg

His father was John McBride, who married in 1861. Here’s John McBride, Sr.’s picture:

John McBride Sr - About 1861.jpg

The man in the 1861 image has a wider nose and wider jaw than the unknown man in the top image.

Photo albums are a usually a mix of close family, distant cousins and friends. While the unknown man closely resembles John McBride, Jr., there are big discrepancies in the appearance of John McBride, Sr., and the unknown man.

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