Photo Detective: Answer Revealed

Photo Detective: Answer Revealed

As you probably know from your last Family Tree Magazine E-mail Update newsletter, I've been having problems with my email. For the last several weeks, I've been struggling to deal with an email virus that's clogging up my inbox—I get about 180 of the same message a day! Several...

As you probably know from your last Family Tree Magazine E-mail Update newsletter, I’ve been having problems with my email. For the last several weeks, I’ve been struggling to deal with an email virus that’s clogging up my inbox—I get about 180 of the same message a day! Several readers have reported that their e-mails have bounced, probably due to my full in-box. I’m not blocking e-mail, but my ISP is installing new Spam filters. If you have trouble submitting a photograph, please try again. I’m investigating email options to make it easier for Family Tree Magazine submissions to reach me.

In the next couple of weeks everyone who’s submitted a photograph during the last year will receive an email from me verifying that I’ve gotten your submission. This will also tell me if the email address I have for you is still current and make it easier to contact you with follow-up questions. I often look through past submissions for material to use in this column and in Family Tree Magazine Photo Detective column. If you haven’t received a message from me by February 1, please re-submit your photograph.

This week, I’ve pulled a few photographs from that archive of images (click each image to see an enlarged version).

Where’s the original?
Q. The picture I have is, supposedly, of my great-great-grandfather, who died at age 26 in 1855. The clothing and facial hair seem right for the time, but the print is obviously a copy of some other kind of photo process. Can you give me any clues as to what kind of camera might have been used? He was living in Michigan at the time it would have been taken.
—Ann Martin

A. Depending on when the original was taken, this photograph is probably a copy of a daguerreotype, ambrotype a tintype or a paper print (such as a carte des visite). The latter three photographic methods were in use in the mid-1850s. Only the daguerreotype, a photograph on shiny metal plate, was around before that. The style of the man’s clothing (wide-collar jacket, high-neck shirt) and hairstyle suggests an early-1850s time frame. Therefore, the image shown here quite possibly is a photograph of your great-great grandfather copied from a daguerreotype. The original photograph might be in a relative’s collection.

One of the best books on early daguerreotypes is Floyd Rinhart’s The American Daguerreotype (University of Georgia Press, out of print). Although it’s no longer in print, you can get copies from many public libraries through interlibrary loan. It’s an interesting history of the process, from cameras to the cases the images were placed in.

Glimpses of the Turn of the Century
Q. Can you help me identify the approximate age of this photo?
—Sue Hannes

A. This lovely picture of a couple was taken around 1900. The clothing details that provide the date are the close-fitting design of the woman’s lace bodice, contrasting sleeves, her glasses and her hair style. The gentleman’s shirt with the stand-up collar and lapels also place the picture at the start of the 20th century.

Q. I think this is my grandmother, but it could just as easily have been her mother or her sister. Amy Royer Thompson was born 1890.
—Amy McWhirter Hutton

A. In John Peacock’s book, 20th Century Fashion (Thames & Hudson, $29.95) page 21 contains a drawing of a young woman wearing a very similar outfit to the one in the portrait you’ve sent. Both women have large brimmed hats trimmed with ostrich feathers, a short coat with fur collars and a muff. Based on this evidence, your picture could be a photograph of your grandmother Amy Royer Thompson taken when she was approximately nineteen. Comparing this portrait to another picture of her could lead to a positive identification.

Please follow the submission guidelines for submitting photographs for identification by sending them to

Related Products

No Comments

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>