Frame of Reference: 2/8/2000  
About This Feature  
Current Edition  
More Expert Photo Analysis  
Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs  

Identify Photos
Speakers' Schedule
Soundex Code Generator
Now What? Online


Frame of Reference
by Maureen Taylor

The owner of this photograph is trying to determine a time frame for the image so that she can assign a possible identification. There are several ways to establish a date. In this case the size of the image, the photographer's imprint and the clothing worn by the couple are all clues.

The photograph is mounted on a card 4 1/2 inches by 6 1/2 inches. This is a standard size for a type of photograph known as a Cabinet Card. These were first introduced in 1866 and were quite popular into the beginning of the twentieth century. Photographers could order the cards preprinted with their name and address on either the front or the back.

Bonell chose to advertise on the front of the card. By consulting Carl Mautz's Biographies of Western Photographers (Carl Mautz Publishing, 1997) it can be determined that Bonell (Bonnell) was active in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin in the period 1875-1890. Other ways to discover the dates of operation of the photography studio is by searching city directories of the area and contacting the local historical societies. Historical societies often maintain lists of photographers that worked in their area.

The third clue helps narrow down the fifteen-year period that the photographer was in business. The details in a woman's dress or her accessories can help pinpoint a small span of dates. The tight sleeves and high puffed shoulder seam are examples of a sleeve style that was in fashion very briefly circa 1890. By 1893, sleeves are fuller on the upper arm. Her skirt is draped at the waist to expose the very bottom of an underskirt beneath a scalloped edge in the style of the late 1880's. Her hair has a center part with short frizzed bangs and a bun at the nape of her neck. A few stray hairs are visible at the neckline.

Her husband's clothing also dates from the same period. He is wearing a basic black sack suit with a buttoned vest, white shirt, and a silk tie. All of his clothing would have been purchased ready-made.

It appears from the intimacy of the pose that this young couple is posing for either an engagement photograph or more likely a wedding portrait. If the owner has anyone in her family tree who got married circa 1890, she has a possible identification.

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

Maureen A. Taylor, owner of Taylor & Strong, combines her background in history, genealogy, photography and library science to assist individuals and institutions with research and project management. She is the author of several genealogical books and articles including the upcoming Preserving Your Family Photographs and the recent Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs. She also is project manager for, a site that lets visitors plan a genealogical research trip to the Boston area.

Her current book, Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs, provides the reader with proven methods of photo analysis and interpretation. With Taylor's help, the mystery surrounding many old family pictures can at last be unraveled, enabling these photographs to assume their proper place among treasured family memorabilia.

Search | Articles | Toolkit | Bookstore | About Us | Contact

© 2000 Family Tree Magazine, All Rights Reserved.