Dating Old Family Photographs with Civil War Revenue Stamps

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows how to determine the date of undated, Civil War-era family photographs using revenue stamps affixed to the back of the picture.

Do you have Civil War-era photographs of your ancestors that are undated? As this genealogy article explains, tax stamp legislation passed by the Union in 1864 might provide a valuable clue to help you finally assign a date to those old family photos, allowing for deeper Civil War family history research.

Stamp Duties, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article 13 April 1865

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 13 April 1865, page 6

In order to fund the rising costs of the Civil War, the federal government passed an act on 30 June 1864 requiring that tax stamps be affixed to various goods, including:

  • Proprietary Medicines and Preparations
  • Perfumery and Cosmetics
  • Friction Matches
  • Cigar Lights and Wax Tapers
  • Photographs, Ambrotypes and Daguerreotypes
  • Playing Cards

Although this legislation achieved the intended goal of raising revenue, it was an extremely unpopular tax—especially for those desiring photographs of family members soon to be separated by war.

explanation of stamp fees for photographs, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article, 13 April 1865

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 13 April 1865, page 6

Fees were assessed upon the selling price of photographs, ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, with different-colored stamps for the various fees.

  • 2¢ stamps were blue or orange and assessed on images 25 cents or less
  • 3¢ stamps were green and assessed on images between 26 and 50 cents
  • 5¢ stamps were red and assessed on images 51 cents to one dollar
  • For images exceeding one dollar, in addition to the 5¢ stamp an extra 5 cents was assessed “for every additional dollar or fractional part thereof”

As with most laws, there were exceptions and specifications that had to be followed.

exceptions to the stamp tax on photographs, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article 13 April 1865

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 13 April 1865, page 6

“Photographs and other sun pictures, which are copies of engravings or works of art, or which are used for the illustration of books, or which are so small that stamps cannot be affixed, are exempt from stamp duty. In lieu thereof, they are subject to duty of 5 per cent ad valorem.

“The price of a photograph by which the stamp duty is determined is held to be the price which is received for such photograph, including the case or frame, as well as any labor which may have been expended upon the picture.

“Imported articles, when sold in the original and unbroken package in which they were imported, are not subject to stamp duty, but they become so as soon as the packages are opened.”

The process was for a photographer to affix a stamp to the back of an image, and cancel it by adding initials and a date.

Civil War-era photograph with a revenue stamp affixed to the back

Civil War-era photograph with a revenue stamp affixed to the back

In the old photograph example above of a Carte de Visite (CDV), which shows the back and front of the image side-by-side, the picture was taken at Delong’s Gallery on Locust street in Fairbury, Illinois. The 5 cent stamp indicates that the photographer charged from 51 cents to $1 for his services.

Photographers often designed their own system of stamp cancellation. The hand-written date appears to be 11/11, but more likely was 11/4 (Nov. 1864), with the information under the numbers indicating either his initials or an internal reference. It was not 1861, as revenue stamps are only found on images 1864-1866, with the final repeal of the Stamp Act on Aug. 1, 1866.

For more information on Tax Stamps, see eBay’s Guide to Tax Stamps on Antique Photography.

How to Search Probate Records in GenealogyBank’s Newspaper Archives

State laws required that a legal notice of a probate action be posted in local newspapers. This was the state’s method to get the word out to all interested parties that an estate was going to be disbursed to the heirs and creditors.

These legal requirements varied across the country, but we can reasonably expect that the newspapers where our ancestors lived carried these probate notices.

Probate records alert you to the names of the deceased, the executor of the will and—importantly—the court where the estate was probated. With this information, you can then contact that court to obtain a copy of the complete probate file for further genealogy research. Remember that an estate might not be probated for months or even a year after a person died, so you will want to search for probate and estate records using a wide span of years.

Search for newspaper probate notices by using GenealogyBank’s new “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search tool.

To get to this probate records search tool, begin by clicking on the “Search Newspaper Archives” link on GenealogyBank’s homepage.

GenealogyBank homepage with "Search Newspaper Archives" link

GenealogyBank homepage with “Search Newspaper Archives” link

Then look at the index on the left-hand side of the next page and click on the “Legal, Probate & Court” link.

GenealogyBank page with "Legal, Probate & Court" link

GenealogyBank page with “Legal, Probate & Court” link

This action brings you to the “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search box.

GenealogyBank's "Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News" search form

GenealogyBank’s “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search form

Simply search the newspapers for the state in question for your ancestor’s probate records. I would suggest limiting the initial probate notice search to only a surname and a year. Depending on the number of search result hits that are returned, you could add additional information to narrow down your search for your deceased relative’s probate and estate records.

GenealogyBank search results page showing sample "Legal/Probate/Court" records

GenealogyBank search results page showing sample “Legal/Probate/Court” records

Use this special “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search tool to save time and target your searches.

Deadwood Dick: Chasing a Cornish-American Legend

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott digs into old newspapers to see if the Wild West’s legendary character “Deadwood Dick” was a real person or just a myth.

Early in my family history and genealogy work I made, what was for me, a remarkable discovery. I found that I had a significant branch of second cousins in Cornwall in the United Kingdom.

I had not known about my Cornish relatives and they were equally unaware of me. It wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to meet this grand branch of my family and it was an extraordinary occasion! We spent several wonderful days together and those treasured family memories will now be with me forever. Given all the family photographs, stories, catching up on lifetimes, pub visits, heirlooms, and tromping around parish churches and graveyards, my head was filled with family history. I guess it should come as no surprise that I placed one item in a remote drawer of my “mental filing cabinet,” to be explored at a later date.

Not long ago this tidbit came roaring back into my consciousness and I decided I needed to investigate. The name I had filed away was “Deadwood Dick”; when I was in Cornwall many people had asked me if I was familiar with this famous Cornish-American immigrant. To begin my investigation, I opened up GenealogyBank.com and started searching for historical records containing his name. As usual, I was not disappointed!

I logged in and searched on “Deadwood Dick.” To my surprise I was greeted with more than 3,800 articles in the Newspaper Archive section of my results. I then clicked on the subcategory Obituaries. Quickly I noted that Deadwood had been reported as dead a number of times, including 1906, 1911 and 1920, along with a couple of other dates! As a genealogist I smiled when I read these different death accounts, and also found varying family histories attributed to good old Deadwood.  They ranged from Deadwood being: the nephew of the governor of Illinois; a shop owner in Belle Fourche; and a postmaster in Deadwood, the latter two places both in the Dakota Territory.

So I read on. What I discovered about this Cornish-American immigrant was quite a story! You see Deadwood was the inspiration for dime novels, or what were also known as the yellow-backed series of action books, featuring the exploits and adventures of Deadwood Dick.

But was the legendary Deadwood Dick a real person?

An old article from the Daily People newspaper proclaimed: “Deadwood Dick a Myth.” As they say in the game shows: “Buzz…wrong answer!” This newspaper article was certainly not going to establish that Deadwood was a real person.

Deadwood Dick a Myth, Daily People newspaper article 26 April 1903

Daily People (New York, New York), 26 April 1903, page 6

Soon I found a delightful old news article published by the Jackson Citizen Patriot lamenting “Dime Novels of Our Youthful Days.” Seems no matter what the time in history, we always miss things from our youth—and in this case it was the exciting stories of Deadwood Dick.

Diime Novels of Our Youthful Days, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 16 August 1922

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 16 August 1922, page 2

Then I discovered, from an old newspaper article published by the Sun, that Deadwood Dick was the subject of a successful stage play. But still the question remained: was he a real person? I kept on with my investigation.

"Deadwood Dick" at Blaney's, Sun newspaper article 26 November 1907

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 26 November 1907, page 9

I was really enjoying taking a trip into America’s past, through newspapers, trying to discern who and/or what Deadwood Dick really was. Then I found a newspaper article that answered my question: Deadwood was indeed a real person!

I found his story in an article published by the Kansas City Star, entitled: “‘Deadwood Dick’ Cashes in His Chips in Life’s Game.”

"Deadwood Dick" Cashes in His Chips in Life's Game, Kansas City Star newspaper article 16 February 1920

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 16 February 1920, page 20

This account confirmed that a man named Richard Bullock was the original and very real Deadwood Dick. He spent time as a guard on the gold bullion stagecoaches that carried gold ore from the mines of South Dakota to Omaha, Nebraska. The article said that Richard emigrated from “England,” the common misnomer in those times for any portion of the United Kingdom.

My additional research has confirmed that Richard Bullock, a.k.a. Deadwood Dick, was born about 20 August 1847 near Saint Columb Major in Cornwall. He was a member of the Methodist Choir before he emigrated from Cornwall in his early 20s to find his future in America.

From choirboy to a man of mythological proportions and the stuff of early action novels!

All I can say is I am sure happy I pulled that memory out of the old filing cabinet and looked for Deadwood Dick stories in GenealogyBank’s newspapers. You just never know what you will find!

Use the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) to Document Your Relatives

Keep your research simple. Knowing the first step to take when doing your family history searches can save you time and effort.

Here’s one good genealogy search tip to keep in mind: target your relatives using GenealogyBank’s online Social Security Death Index.

What if you know that your family has lived in a certain county for a long time, but you don’t know all of their names?

A good first step to take: use the Social Security Death Index as a quick way to survey death records about your family from that county.

In the following example, this easy search finds all of the deaths in Fairfield County, Connecticut, for everyone surnamed “Carlucci.”

GenealogyBank's SSDI search form for Carlucci family in Fairfield County, Connecticut

GenealogyBank’s SSDI search form for Carlucci family in Fairfield County, Connecticut

This is a simple way to pull back records for many of your relatives with one easy search.

search results in GenealogyBank's SSDI for the Carlucci family in Fairfield County, Connecticut

Search results in GenealogyBank’s SSDI for the Carlucci family in Fairfield County, Connecticut

Use this direct survey approach to gather the records for multiple relatives with one search. This approach will save you time and get you the documentation you need.

Then go on to the next simple step: search in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives and find the obituaries and other newspaper articles about these people.

GenealogyBank newspaper articles about the Carlucci family in Fairfield County, Connecticut

GenealogyBank newspaper articles about the Carlucci family in Fairfield County, Connecticut

By approaching the SSDI with clear, brief searches you can find your relatives, save time and get the best results.

GenealogyBank Search Tip: Search U.S. Newspapers by City or State

Want to search the local newspapers from only one state, city or town? It is easy to do that in GenealogyBank.

GenealogyBank's list of U.S. states for selecting newspapers to be searched

GenealogyBank’s list of U.S. states for selecting newspapers to be searched

In the middle of GenealogyBank’s homepage is a list of all 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia. Simply pick the state you want to focus your genealogy research on.

In this example I will use Ohio. Once I click on the Ohio link, it brings me to a page listing all 131 Ohio newspapers currently in our online archives. The newspapers are divided into two main collections: Newspaper Archives and Recent Obituaries.

GenealogyBank landing page to access its 131 Ohio newspapers

GenealogyBank landing page to access its 131 Ohio newspapers

Click on the top link, Search Ohio Newspaper Archives (1801 – 1991), to search all of the back issues of our Ohio digital newspaper archives.

search form for GenealogyBank's Ohio newspaper archives

Search form for GenealogyBank’s Ohio newspaper archives

Use these search forms from the U.S. state newspaper archives to search newspapers from only the specific state you are researching your family history in.

Want to search newspapers at the city or town level?

That type of local newspaper search is also easy to do in GenealogyBank. Each state search page lists all the cities and towns in that state for which we have newspapers.

Simply click on the name of the city or town. In this example I will pick Cincinnati, OH.

search form for GenealogyBank's Cincinnati newspaper archives

Search form for GenealogyBank’s Cincinnati newspaper archives

Now you may search all of Cincinnati’s local newspapers as a group, or check the boxes to search only the newspapers that you select.

Use this approach to narrow down your search geographically when there is a specific state, city or town where you want to concentrate your genealogy research.

 

The 1876 Centennial Exhibition Celebrated 100 Years of American Freedom

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition that celebrated 100 years of American independence.

Do you remember the American Bicentennial? In 1976 Americans celebrated our shared history and our fight for freedom. Visual reminders of the early history of America were everywhere. My school picture that year had a background of an American flag, and as I stood against that background my arm rested on a faux chair that had a small eagle painted in gold. For those who were around in 1976, it is easy to date that image.

Did you have ancestors living in the United States in 1876? Just as you may have participated in bicentennial celebrations, they participated in centennial activities to celebrate 100 years of American independence. Maybe they even attended the biggest celebration of America’s freedom: the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, the first time an official World’s Fair was held in the U.S. From May to November 1876 in Fairmount Park, the city of Philadelphia provided Americans the opportunity to see history, experience the newest technologies and innovations, and show patriotism just 11 years after the Civil War ended.

Philadelphia International Exhibition souvenir ribbon, 1876, from the Cornell University Collection of Political Americana, Cornell University Library

Philadelphia International Exhibition Souvenir Ribbon, 1876, from the Cornell University Collection of Political Americana, Cornell University Library

Approximately 10 million visitors strolled the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition’s 285 acres and saw exhibits in more than 200 buildings. The Exhibition of 1876 offered everything from historical and technological exhibits to food. Most states participated as well as over 30 nations. Patriotism was a big part of the great Centennial Exhibition but so too were the machines and exhibits that touted America’s innovation.

Many of the top American inventors of the day presented their newest creations at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. This was the international event where attendees from around the world were introduced to Alexander Graham Bell’s invention he called the telephone, and Thomas Edison was there showcasing some of his new ideas. Many everyday household items that we now take for granted were either exhibited or introduced at the Exhibition including typewriters, sewing machines and even Heinz 57 Tomato Ketchup. The largest steam engine ever built, weighing a staggering 56 tons, was at the Exhibition and powered the Machinery Hall.

Even Lady Liberty was there—well, part of her arm and torch to be precise. This section of the Statue of Liberty was displayed at the Centennial Exhibition as part of a fundraising effort to raise the money needed to build a base for the permanent statue.

colossal hand and torch “Liberty,” from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Colossal hand and torch “Liberty,” from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

All good things must come to an end and so did the Centennial Exhibition. On November 10th President U.S. Grant, with a wave of his hand and the words “I declare the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 closed,” marked the official end of the Exhibition. For ten days after that official declaration the Exhibition continued to stay open and allowed people to visit the exhibits until they were removed.

The International Exposition of 1876 Formally Closed, Critic-Record newspaper article, 11 November 1876

Critic-Record (Washington, D.C.), 11 November 1876, page 3

Today, all that is left of that 1876 event is Memorial Hall, the Ohio House (which now houses a café), and two smaller buildings.*

The Free Library of Philadelphia has an online exhibit, The Centennial Exhibition, where you can learn more about the fate of the buildings and machinery at the legendary Exhibition and about the event itself. Fairmount Park, the park that hosted the Exhibition, has an archival collection available to researchers by appointment.

Want to learn more about the 1876 Centennial Exhibition? The original guides to the Exhibition are available on Google Books. For a look at the history and images from the Exhibition see the “Images of America” book Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition by Linda P. Gross and Theresa R. Snyder (Arcadia Publishing, 2005).

If your ancestors were alive in 1876, perhaps they went to see the Centennial Exhibition themselves—about 20% of the American public did. Even if your ancestors did not actually visit the Exhibition, it was a big event during their lifetime that they most likely talked about in their homes and communities. You can peruse GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives to read thousands of news articles containing the original coverage on the Centennial Exhibition. GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives are a great place to learn about your ancestors’ lives and the times they lived in—from 1690 to the present.

________________________________

*Whatever Happened to: Buildings. Centennial Exhibition Digital Collection. Free Library of Philadelphia. http://libwww.library.phila.gov/CenCol/what-bldgs.htm. Accessed 21 October 2012.

 

You Want to Be Prepared as Thanksgiving Approaches

Now that it is November, the holidays will be here before you know it.

You want to prepare now.

That’s what Rose Briggs did. Her hard work set the tone for how Thanksgiving has been celebrated since 1921.

Rose’s Thanksgiving preparation is just one of the many great stories in GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives.

collage of a newspaper photograph of Rose Briggs and an article about a 1776 Thanksgiving proclamation

Collage of a newspaper photograph of Rose Briggs and an article about a 1776 Thanksgiving proclamation

Rose Thornton Briggs (1893-1981) was always prepared for every Thanksgiving. She made the costumes and saw to the details of the annual “Pilgrim March” which was held on “every Friday in August” starting in 1921. In 1941 she added the tradition of also marching on Thanksgiving Day. Up through 1971 she participated in every one of those marches.

The Pilgrim March consists of 52 marchers, all in costume—each one representing a different Mayflower passenger that survived that first winter. All of the costumes were designed by Miss Briggs. She researched and prepared the costumes, working to make them as historically accurate as possible.

GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives let you read about the accomplishments of this energetic woman, who made a lasting contribution and changed the way Thanksgiving is celebrated annually in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The following newspaper article was published in the Boston Herald a decade before Rose Briggs passed away.

Rose Briggs, 78, Keeps Settlers' Heritage Alive, Boston Herald newspaper article 25 November 1971

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 November 1971, page 60

This Thanksgiving, let’s remember to also give thanks for Rose Thornton Briggs’ vision, creativity and hard work.

You can find other great Thanksgiving stories in GenealogyBank’s online newspapers.

For example, a “Thanksgiving proclamation” was published in the New-England Chronicle just months after the Declaration of Independence was issued and while the country was at war with England.

Proclamation for a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer, New-England Chronicle newspaper article 28 November 1776

New-England Chronicle (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 November 1776, page 2

The proclamation ended with the stirring words:

God Save the United States of America! New-England Chronicle newspaper article 28 November 1776

New-England Chronicle (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 November 1776, page 2

GenealogyBank Updates Obituaries All Day Every Day

Every day GenealogyBank updates the obituaries from over 2,900 newspapers across the United States. Here are just some of the newspapers we are adding in the next two weeks.

With well over 1.3 billion genealogy records, GenealogyBank is your best source for obituaries and death records online

GenealogyBank home page showing obituaries link

GenealogyBank home page showing obituaries link

Dig in and start searching your genealogy now!

Birmingham News: Web Edition Articles (Birmingham, AL)

  • Obituaries:  08/25/2012 – Current

Huntsville Times: Web Edition Articles (Huntsville, AL)

  • Obituaries:  09/30/2012 – Current

Press-Register: Web Edition Articles (Mobile, AL)

  • Obituaries:  10/01/2012 – Current

Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, ID)

  • Obituaries:  01/09/1998 – Current

New Hampton Tribune (New Hampton, IA)

  • Obituaries: 3/31/2008 – 10/5/2009

Times-Picayune: Web Edition Articles (New Orleans, LA)

  • Obituaries:  08/11/2012 – Current

Sun Chronicle (Attleboro, MA)

  • Obituaries: 12/7/2006 – 10/11/2009

mlive.com: Blogs (MI)

  • Obituaries:  08/05/2007 – Current

Wyoming County Press Examiner (Wyoming County, PA)

  • Obituaries: 4/3/2002 – 1/19/2011