Monday, September 26, 2011

Internal Clues

I’ve done presentations to various organizations over the years on the topic of identifying old photographs. I’ve been fortunate to have a nice collection of family photographs in various mediums used throughout the history of photography, so I’ve been able to share some good examples of most types of photos from different time periods. The one exception is the daguerreotype for which I have no personal examples of. I wonder if they were as popular down south as in the northern section of the country or was there another reason my ancestors didn’t seem to have ever sat for a daguerreotype? David Rudd Cycleback has a great website on how to date and identify old photographs at I’ve used that website several times for help in dating an old photograph and was directed back there again recently when I googled “kodak velox” for help in determining a date of an old snapshot I have of my grandfather’s cousin.  
During my presentations, I often stress not only using “external” clues to help identify an old photograph such as the type of material it was made from, but also using “internal” clues as well. My favorite story to illustrate this is from my mother’s side of the family.
My grandmother passed away in Florida in 2007. My sister and I flew down for the funeral, but I was not able to stay for long. My aunt who lived there was taking care of the estate and my sister was able to fly back down just a few weeks afterwards for a planned vacation. I told her that I wanted any photos that our aunt would share. “I don’t care if it’s a photograph of a tree, I want it,” I told her. For all I knew, that tree might hold a clue to our family history, and I didn’t want to miss anything.
Well, my sister went through some of the photos with my aunt and brought back a box of them, many of them that auntie didn’t care to keep especially ones she didn’t recognize. Going through them, I didn’t find any tree photographs but there were many interesting ones nonetheless. There was an 8x10 one of an unidentified infant. Baby pictures are notoriously hard to identify. My sister told me she had asked our aunt but she couldn’t identify it. I rummaged around some more and found a nice snapshot of my grandmother with her two sisters and a sister-in-law. Four baby pictures could be seen mounted on the wall above them. I recognized the first baby picture on the far right as that of my mother. The copy I had was probably that very one. I wasn’t sure about the other three, but the third from the right was the same baby picture we were just trying to identify. Since my mother was the oldest child, I deduced that the next one was probably her brother John who was the second-born. The other two would have been auntie and another uncle. From this I was able to deduce that the baby picture that auntie couldn’t identify was her!
Grandma (far right), sisters & sister-in-law

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