Photo Detective: Kids in Captions

Photo Detective: Kids in Captions

Kathy Culbert owns this photo of two children, but she's having trouble dating it. Someone captioned this picture "Dora and Frank." Children's clothing can be confusing. Mothers often dressed boys like girls until they were school age, but you can tell the difference by the way they wear their...

Kathy Culbert owns this photo of two children, but she’s having trouble dating it. Someone captioned this picture “Dora and Frank.”

Children’s clothing can be confusing. Mothers often dressed boys like girls until they were school age, but you can tell the difference by the way they wear their hair. Girls had center parts, while boys wore their hair with side parts.

Here, the boy (on the right) wears knickerbockers-style pants, high laced boots and an upswept hairstyle from the 1860s. The big curl in the center of his head was actually the fashion.

His sister wears a dress with a ruffled yoked bodice and bows along the hemline. She also wears high boots. Girls’ attire mimicked the fashions of adult women. If you have a photo of a young girl, compare it to dresses in books such as Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa (Kent State University Press, $65).

A good source for dating kids’ clothing is JoAnne Olian’s Children’s Fashions 1860-1912 (Dover, $12.95). It features fashion plates from the 19th-century fashion magazine, La Mode Illustree. Designs similar to the outfits in this photo appear in plates from about 1867.

The rest of the details present in this image confirm the date. Photos were taxed from Aug. 1, 1864 to Aug. 1, 1866. The lack of a tax stamp on the back confirms it was taken either earlier or later than those years. The girl’s clothing is evidence for after 1866. The double gold-line border on this carte de visite dates it to between 1861 and 1869.

The rest of the story should fall into place. Culbert can verify the identity of Dora and Frank by studying her family tree for children of these names during the late 1860s. I’d estimate their ages here as 6 and 4, based on their attire and face shapes. Frank, especially, still has a round baby face.

By the way, the kids’ stiff stances aren’t due to nerves. Look at their feet. Braces, barely visible behind these children, clasp them around their waists. Photographers often used braces to keep fidgety children still.

You can weigh in on photo identifications on the FamilyTreeMagazine.com Photo Detective Forum. Post your own mystery photo, too—it might be selected for free analysis in my next column! <!–

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Find out how to submit your own picture for possible analysis by Maureen Taylor. E-mail her at mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com.

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