Spotting a Copy

By Maureen A. Taylor

Here’s a pretty typical family scenario: Mom and Dad have their picture taken in the early 1850s. Years later each of their five children wants a copy, so someone takes the original picture to the photo studio to have paper prints made. Each of those children pass that paper copy down to their children and so on until today. What happened to the original? Generally the answer is, “Who knows?”

Shirley Dunkle showed me this photo at a recent meeting of the Falmouth (Mass.) Genealogical Society. Shirley is a descendant of the woman in this photo.

Dunkle2- Moores family - About 1860.jpg

I knew immediately that this paper print is a copy of an earlier image. The woman is wearing a dress and hairstyle that was very fashionable for 1856-58:

  • Pagoda sleeves that bell out at the elbow with white undersleeves.
  • Straight trim on the sleeves and bodice.
  • Wide fringed bretelles that meet in a point at the waist.
  • Ribbons in her hair that show behind her collar.
  • She wears her hair behind her ears with small drop earrings.

Dunkle 3- Moores family - About 1860.jpg

I personally love the hand-crocheted lace collar at her neck, accessorized with a brooch. A necklace of shell or glass beads also accents her neck.

Shirley’s unknown ancestor is a young woman, likely less than 20 years of age. Estimating an age can narrow down the possibilities on her family tree.

While the clothing definitely points to the 1850s, it was the context of the photo that identified it as a copy of an earlier photo.

Dunkle - Moores family - About 1860.jpg

Heavy gray cardstock wasn’t available in photo studios of the 1850s. It’s a copy likely made around 1900.

I’ll tackle this triple mystery next week:

  • Who made the copy?
  • Who’s the young woman?
  • What type of photo was the original?

Unfortunately, Shirley doesn’t know who owns the original picture.

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