How to Date Old Ancestor Photographs with Early Photo Types

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows how you can date old, undated family photos by first figuring out what type of photograph they are, and uses old newspapers and other sources to illustrate different types of photos.

Do you have a box of old, undated family photos somewhere up in the attic—or maybe buried in the back of some closet? Have you wondered how you were ever going to figure out who these family members might be, since the old photographs lack inscriptions or dates?

Genealogy is a lot like detective work, gathering clues to make the pieces of your family puzzle fit together. Old, undated family photographs are pieces of evidence, clues that—if you examine closely enough—might yield some answers.

By knowing a little of the history of photography, you might be able to solve the mystery of those old photos by first recognizing what type of photograph they are—which in turn will help you narrow down the date range for when the photo was created. This blog article will help you do that.

The First Affordable Camera

We’ll start with a brief primer on the history of photography. Many think that the photography revolution began with George Eastman and Frank Brownell (of Kodak) in February of 1900, when they introduced the “Brownie,” the first affordable camera. (See http://www.brownie-camera.com/ for everything you ever wanted to know about this early camera for the mass market.)

Here is an advertisement for the Brownie camera from a 1921 Washington, D.C., newspaper.

What the 2A Brownies [Cameras] Do, Evening Star newspaper advertisement 14 August 1921

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 14 August 1921, page 67

Heliography

However, in my opinion, the true photography revolution started at least 50 years prior, with the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833). His 1826 heliograph “View from the Window at Le Gras” became the first permanent photograph. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicéphore_Niépce.) It was created with a camera obscura, a device used by artists to project images on a wall or screen. Niépce captured his view by projecting onto a pewter plate coated with a type of asphalt called bitumen of Judea. After a long eight-hour exposure time, the image became affixed.

First Permanent Photograph, 1826, Mobile Register newspaper cartoon 24 September 1983

Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 24 September 1983, page 31

It’s doubtful that you’ll find a heliograph in your personal ancestor photo collection, but with any luck, you’ll find a variety of other types of photos. Perhaps your family pictures are identified—but in all likelihood many are not, so narrowing time periods for the creation of each photo is important in trying to date them.

Some of my earlier GenealogyBank Blog posts provided other tips for dating undated photographs, including one showing how historical newspapers can assist greatly with photo dating by comparing the clothing of people in your undated photos to clothing styles shown in old newspaper advertisements. (See a list with links to these photography-related blog posts at the end of this article.)

You can also use historical newspapers to learn how to recognize photographic types, and also to research photography studios, as shown by the newspaper articles used in this blog post.

Photographic Timelines

To start, familiarize yourself with photographic timelines, such as the timelines available in the list of websites below. Although there are numerous types of photographic processes, most of your old photos are probably ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, tintypes, cabinet cards or carte de visites (CDVs), along with some lesser-known types such as cyanotypes.

Representative Samples of Different Photographic Types

To see examples of different types of photos, use your favorite search engine such as Google. After searching for a specific type, such as a daguerreotype, click the image option.

screenshot of Google search page showing photographic images

Credit: Google & Wikipedia

Ambrotypes

A distinctive characteristic of an ambrotype is that the image is a positive image created on a transparent sheet of glass, by what is known as wet plate collodion printing. James Ambrose Cutting is credited with the process, which dates to the early 1850s.

The Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambrotype has several examples, and mentions that many were hand tinted. If you think you have an ambrotype take note of the casing, as the style can also be a clue to the time period.

Carte de Visites and Cabinet Cards

Although these two types of photos are different, I’ve chosen to group them together because they are commonly confused. Both types were printed on paper or card stock, and originally created through a type of albumen printing which was used to bind images to paper.

Carte de Visites (CDVs or Cartes)

The Carte de Visite was made in 1850 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard (1802-1872), and is known as the first pocket-sized photograph. It is also referred to as a calling or visiting card.

He created a negative and made varying sizes, but typically his photos were small and in the range of 2 3/8” x 4” to 2 ½” x 4.” The smaller size of CDVs offered the advantage of portability and affordability. If you are lucky, you’ll find the photographer’s name imprinted on the back.

This example, rescued from an antique shop near Austin Texas, is tentatively labeled “George W. Bohun.” I believe it was shot by Rudolph Uhlman who, according to a University of Missouri-Kansas City article “A Preliminary Survey of Photographers and Artists in St. Joseph Missouri 1859 to 1889” by David Boutros, worked at 225 Edmond Street between 1876 and 1885. (See http://www.umkc.edu/whmckc/Scrapbook/Articles/StJoePhotographers.pdf.)

photo of a Carte de Visite showing George Bohun

Example of a Carte de Visite from the author’s photo collection

Cabinet Cards

Cabinet cards were introduced in 1864 by a British studio called Windsor & Bridge. As they were larger (typically 4” x 6” or 4 ½” x 6 ½”) and printed on card stock, they were more durable than other paper types.

The photographer’s name can be printed on the front or the rear, and the presentation (font, coloring, etc.) can also be a clue to the time frame of the photo. (See Marshall University’s article at http://www.marshall.edu/library/speccoll/virtual_museum/photographers/cabinet-cards.asp.)

This cabinet card from my photo collection identifies the photographer as James S. Cummins. Research shows he lived from 1841-1895, and if my guess is correct, this sepia-toned image was probably taken between 1875-1885.

photo of a Cabinet Card

Example of a Cabinet Card from the author’s photo collection

Cyanotypes

The discovery of the cyanotype process is credited to scientist/astronomer Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), but botanist Anna Atkins (1799-1871) gets the credit for applying the technique to photography. She used it to record images of plants for her research, as described in this 1982 article from a South Dakota newspaper.

Lockwood at Dakota Midland [Hospital Art Gallery], Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 29 June 1982

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 29 June 1982, page 13

Most cyanotypes are small. Popular in the 1880s, you can still find them today, and the photographic process is published on the Web.

This cyanotype from my collection is of an ancestor born in 1875, and I estimate it was taken between 1893-1900.

example of a Cyanotype photograph

Example of a Cyanotype photograph from the author’s collection

Daguerreotypes

To learn more about Niépce’s colleague Louis Daguerre (1787-1851), see these resources:

Daguerre is credited with inventing a new photographic process known as daguerreotype.

His technique also incorporated the camera obscura, but by introducing copper plating with a thin layer of silver exposed to the fumes of iodine crystals, he was able to capture the images. Daguerreotypes were very popular from the 1840s into the 1860s or early 1870s.

After his death, Daguerre was described in this 1851 Massachusetts newspaper as “a scene painter and dioramist in Paris, an ingenious mechanic, and tolerable chemist.”

obituary for Louis Daguerre, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 16 July 1851

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 16 July 1851, page 2

Daguerreotypes (or dags) changed the world of photography, offering our ancestors their first opportunity to sit for portraits. Many appear to be serious or grimacing in their portrait—which, some people today speculate, was from having to sit still for a long time while their picture was being taken.

However, this may be somewhat of a myth. Exposure time ranged from 60-90 seconds, and after 1845 the sitting time was reportedly just a few seconds. If one wanted multiple pictures, there was no way to make copies of the original—so multiple sittings would have to occur. (See http://mentalfloss.com/article/16677/daguerreotype-qa.)

This 1841 ad from a New York newspaper promoted a daguerreotype exhibition to benefit local charities.

The Daguerreotype Exhibition, Evening Post newspaper article 4 February 1840

Evening Post (New York, New York), 4 February 1840, page 3

This obituary from an 1851 New Hampshire newspaper called Daguerre “the celebrated discoverer of the daguerreotype,” claiming that with this invention “he succeeded in immortalizing his name.”

Death of M. Daguerre, New Hampshire Sentinel newspaper obituary 14 August 1851

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 14 August 1851, page 2

Dags of many famous people can be found online, including some of Abraham Lincoln at www.lincolnportrait.com.

Tintypes

Tintypes are another commonly-found type of photograph—although they were not created on tin.

The tintype production method is similar to that of ambrotypes. (Other common names of similar photographic processes are melanotype and ferrotype.) Tintype sizes ranged from 2 3/8” x 3 ½” to 4” x 5 ¾.”

Sometimes they were created with a wet plate and at other times with a dry plate. The image was underexposed and darkened by lacquering or other methods, and then coated. Interestingly, the metal used was not tin, but a very thin iron that resembled tin. (A magnet can determine if there is metal in your picture.)

Since tintypes were often taken at carnivals, many have a fun quality about them. Notice in this tintype (a Library of Congress image), a man was seated before two mirrors placed at right angles, in order to provide five images.

Library of Congress image of a tintype photograph

Credit: Library of Congress

Tintypes were often sold in a paper sleeve for protection. However, if your tintype still has the original paper sleeve, don’t be fooled by the location printed on it—it may not be correct. According to this 1901 article from a Kansas newspaper, tintype sellers had a variety of preprinted sleeves from distant locations that came “in handy for people who like to put up a bluff that they have been further away from home than they really have.”

The newspaper article imagined a conversation between a tintype seller and his customer:

“What place did you say? Coney Island or—”

The maid looked at the man sheepishly. “Let’s put it New Haven,” she said. “That will sound better than Coney Island.”

Tintypes May Prevaricate, American Citizen newspaper article 8 November 1901

American Citizen (Kansas City, Kansas), 8 November 1901, page 3

To learn more about tintypes and the other commonly-used photographic processes, revisit the timeline at Phototree.com (http://www.phototree.com/identify.htm). The site also has tips to help you identify the characteristics of pictures.

Although this is just a sampling of photographic types, hopefully this article gives you a few ideas on how to identify and date your family treasures.

Go get that box of old family photos and look at them closely. Can you identify what type they are, and thereby limit the date range for the people in the picture? Good luck with your detective work!

Related GenealogyBank Blog articles:

How to Date Old Photos of Our Ancestors with Early Fashion Trends

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers and historical books to show how illustrations of fashion trends in hats can help you date an undated family photograph in your collection.

One of my earlier GenealogyBank blog posts, “How to Date Family Photos with Vintage Fashion Ads in Newspapers,” showed how to date an old photograph by comparing the clothes worn by the people in the photo with clothing illustrations from vintage advertisements in historical newspapers.

One of the points I made in that article was that if you can find a newspaper advertisement that matches a hat found in an old photograph, use the newspaper to establish the time period that photo might have been taken. This is an important determination, as it can eliminate relatives not from that time period as possible candidates for the people in the photo.

In today’s blog article, I’m following up on this topic of how earlier fashion trends found in old newspapers can help you date an old, undated photograph by focusing on hats.

First Newspaper Photograph Published in 1880

Photographs published in newspapers can be used to study early fashion trends—but only after 1879.

That’s because it took until 1880 for the first photograph to be published in a newspaper. Prior to that time, you’ll have to rely on newspaper illustrations and other aids to date those troublesome shoeboxes of unidentified, undated family photos.

The Library of Congress’s illustrated Guide on Pictorial Journalism, which I recommend reading, explains:

“The first photograph published in an American newspaper—actually a photomechanical reproduction of a photograph—appeared in the Daily Graphic on March 4, 1880. Before that time it was common practice for American editors to enlist artists to sketch and report on news events, from steamboat explosions to the battles of the Civil War.”

In this 1875 illustration from the Daily Graphic, note that New York Senator Francis Kernan’s image was derived from a photograph by Gardner, of Utica, New York.

illustration of New York Senator Francis Kernan, Daily Graphic newspaper article 23 February 1875

Daily Graphic (New York, New York), 23 February 1875, page 4

Prior to 1880, we must be creative to find clothing illustrative of specific time periods.

I’d also like to stress that old photographs may not have depicted ancestors in everyday dress, as photographers were notorious for utilizing props, lighting, and fashion accessories to make black and white results more appealing. They soon learned that dark colors needed to contrast with light, or the results were one dark mess.

Advice for getting a good photographic result was common, as demonstrated in this 1882 article from the Kalamazoo Gazette that is full of recommendations on how to dress for a photographic session.

Dressing for a Photograph, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 26 May 1882

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 26 May 1882, page 2

The article advised: “The best materials for ladies to wear when about to sit for a photograph are such as will fold or drape nicely, like reps, winceys [plain or twill-woven cloth], poplins, satins and silks. Lavender, lilac, sky blue, purple and French blue take very light and are worse for a picture than pure white. Corn color and salmon are better.”

Later on, the article noted that ladies “with dark or brown hair should avoid contrasts in their costumes, as light substances photograph more quickly than dark, and ladies with light hair should dress in something lighter than those whose hair is dark or brown.”

Don’t necessarily believe that your early photographs are extremely old. Of course, it’s possible that a rare ambrotype from the 1850s or daguerreotype from the 1860s lies in your collection, but more likely you’re looking at later photographs.

Examples of Early Hat Fashion

So, given these considerations, is there much value in examining earlier newspapers for American fashion trends to help with your family photos identification?

Yes, but you might find it easier to target specific attire—such as hats.

These 1834 advertisements from the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics include simple illustrations: one of a buffalo, and the other of top hats. From these old newspaper ads, one gets the impression that our ancestors paraded around in attire made from animal products such as skins from buffalo, lynx, muskrat, seals and even swans.

Notice that gentlemen were purchasing beaver and satin hats, and that the youth of earlier days wore caps of sea otter, fur seal, leather and cloth. Boas, fur capes, and fur trimmings were available for the ladies.

ads for hats, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics newspaper advertisements 22 November 1834

Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 22 November 1834, page 4

If you are interested in researching early hat fashions, search for articles in connection with religious and ethnic groups. Some describe their costumes in great detail.

This 1850 article from the Washington Reporter remarked on the collarless coats and broad-brimmed hats worn by the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Why the Quakers Wear Their Hats, Washington Reporter newspaper article 4 September 1850

Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania), 4 September 1850, page 1

This 1860 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer discussed Panama hats, made by South American Native Americans from the bombonaxa plant.

Panama Hats, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 16 October 1860

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 16 October 1860, page 2

Examples of Old Advertising Cards

Before I finish this article about dating family photos using period fashion clues, I’d like to mention that there is a most exciting option within GenealogyBank to examine clothing illustrations: advertising cards.

By exploring the Historical Book Collection you’ll find examples of advertising cards dating back to the 1700s. Many are works of art, and if you search by keywords such as “Hats,” “Hat Maker,” or “Hat Manufacturer,” you’ll learn that this industry was of greater importance than most realize.

Advertising card from 1790 for Sam Sturgis, hat maker

Advertising card from 1790

Although C. C. Porter’s Hat Manufacturing Company probably didn’t market to Native American Indians, this advertising card from around 1830 has a fine example of an Indian costume and headdress.

Advertising card from 1830 for C. C. Porter Hat Manufacturing Company

Advertising card from 1830

This next old advertising card shows a dog swimming in the water fetching a top hat—suggesting it must have blown from the head of the man behind him. Luckily, H. D. Tregear was known to manufacture waterproof hats!

Advertising card from 1830 for H. D. Tregear  hat maker

Advertising card from 1830

You might think waterproofing apparel items was a new invention, but out of curiosity I searched the historical newspaper archives and found reports of waterproof hats as early as 1765. Apparently there was a European waterproof hat called a Nivernois that became popular. (I’ll leave it to you to research how this feature was achieved.)

notice about waterproof hats, Georgia Gazette newspaper article 21 February 1765

Georgia Gazette (Savannah, Georgia), 21 February 1765, page 2

Notice in the following advertising card, from Mann Swift & Company (North American Straw Works) in 1837, a sampling of lady’s bonnets and the clothing of those wandering on the lawn in the illustration. If those bonnets were made of straw, it’s not likely many have survived—making these illustrations of great historical importance.

Advertising card from 1837 for Mann Swift & Company (North American Straw Works)

Advertising card from 1837

Here is an advertising card from John W. D. Hall of Taunton, which shows greater detail of top hats than found in the first example above.

Advertising card from 1840 for John W. D. Hall hat maker

Advertising card from 1840

This fashion trend remained popular with men for decades, as seen in this 16 May 1861 photograph of President Abraham Lincoln seated next to a table, upon which he’s placed his prominent top hat.

photo of American President Abraham Lincoln seated at a small table

Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-15178. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3a17427/

Hats off to any of you who can find an ancestor’s photo with a top hat!

As these illustrations, photograph and advertising cards have shown, pictures from old newspapers can show you what clothing people from a certain time period were wearing—and just might provide the clue you’ve long been looking for to date certain undocumented family photographs in your collection.

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 4: BillionGraves Smartphone App for Finding Graves

I recently wrote the article Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records, which included a discussion of BillionGraves.com. This handy website provides an app that can be used to find the burial site of a relative.

Let’s look into this a little more.

BillionGraves is a free Internet site that encourages genealogists, Boy Scouts and local cemetery buffs to take photographs of the tombstones in their local cemetery and upload the pictures online using the free BillionGraves app.

This is really easy to do.

Remember—you’ll need a Smartphone to take these cemetery photos or find a gravesite already photographed.

Why? Because BillionGraves not only adds the photo of each tombstone, it includes the GPS coordinates to the spot where that person is buried. It has harnessed technology to make it easy to permanently record the photograph—linked to the GPS data used by Smartphones—so that anyone can quickly find the tombstone. This nifty app makes it so much easier to find what cemetery—or where in that cemetery—someone is buried.

How does this work?

Watch this short video clip of Tom Hester showing how easy it is to do this.

How do you find a grave using BillionGraves?

What if you’re looking for a particular grave and there is no cemetery office? No sexton available? No map to cemetery burials?

We’ve all walked cemeteries for hours searching for our deceased relatives’ graves.

BillionGraves is changing that.

With BillionGraves you can quickly find out if someone has uploaded a photo of your ancestor’s grave. With its GPS feature, your Smartphone can lead you right to it.

Watch how “Casey and Jake” found the grave of their 8th-great-grandmother using the Smartphone app.

Harness the information in both BillionGraves and GenealogyBank and you can fill in the details of your family tree.

collage of records about Lionel Starbird from GenealogyBank and BillionGraves

Credit: GenealogyBank and BillionGraves

For example, let’s say you are researching your ancestor Lionel Starbird.

On GenealogyBank you can quickly find the core genealogical information about Lionel Starbird—his name, date of birth and date/place of death—and by searching for him on BillionGraves you can see a photo of his grave. Notice that BillionGraves links all of the photos in a family plot to his record.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Read these other articles about top genealogy websites:

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 1: Google

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records

Old Photos of the City of Cleveland in Historical Photo Archive

It was a happy day in 1914 when Clevelanders learned that a cache of old city photos had been found.

A photograph, after all, is worth a thousand words—and these old Cleveland, Ohio, photographs told quite a story about the city’s development.

Photographing Cleveland for 50 Years, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 December 1914

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 December 1914, page 27

This massive collection of more than 5,000 negatives had been taken over a lifetime by Jerry Greene, long-time Cleveland photographer. The cache of these old city photos of Cleveland was found and rescued by Stanley McMichael in 1914.

You too can find and rescue your family’s old photographs by searching for those that were published in the nation’s newspapers over the past century and more. Uncover your ancestors’ old pictures from events such as birthdays, graduations, marriages, family reunions and more. See historical pictures of the cities and towns they lived in and watch them grow. These old photos can provide a true sense of what life was like during their times.

Be sure to use GenealogyBank’s handy photographs and images search page designed to help you focus in on these historical photos.

GenealogyBank's Newspaper Photos & Illustrations search page

GenealogyBank’s Newspaper Photos & Illustrations search page

Search the historical photo archive using only a surname to find photos and illustrations of your relatives, or search on the name of their home town to find images of the ancestral towns where your family was from.

Find, preserve and pass down these old family photographs!

Genealogy Records You Can Find In Newspaper Archives Infographic

Genealogy Records in Newspaper Archives

Is the Infographic image above too small? See the larger version.

Newspapers offer a variety of genealogy records that you can use to trace back your family tree. Learn about the types of genealogy records that can be found in newspapers and discover the family history information that each record type contains below.

Obituaries

Obituaries are an excellent source of genealogical information. Obits contain your deceased ancestor’s date of death and burial place, and often provide details about their spouse, children, parents as well as other extended family.

Passenger Lists

From passenger ships arriving at naturalization ports to stage coaches traveling across the frontier, several types of passenger lists are printed in newspapers. These lists contain the names of our traveling ancestors.

Birth Records

Birth records in newspapers include birth announcements and birth notices. These records contain the name of the newborn, time, date and place of birth as well as information about the infant’s parents, siblings and grandparents.

Legal Records

Many types of legal records are made public in newspapers. Probate records, court case records and name change records contain valuable genealogical information such as ancestors’ names, relatives, places of residence and more.

Photographs

Newspapers record many of life’s special moments. As such, you can find pictures of your ancestors in wedding photos, family reunion photos, birthday photos and old photo illustrations and sketches often printed in newspapers.

Marriage Records

Engagement announcements and marriage records are commonly printed in newspapers. These records give the name of the bride and groom, and provide details about the wedding including family members and friends in attendance.

New & Improved Newspaper Search!

With GenealogyBank’s new newspaper search functionality you can easily search each of the genealogy record types covered here to discover more about your family history.

Search now at: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/

Click the options in the left navigation to search by record types.

How to Use Old Newspapers to Research Family Stories & Photos

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches online newspapers to figure out who the companions are that appear with his grandmother in an old family photograph.

Recently my awesome Mom (God bless her as she is 92, still going strong, and loves to help me with our family history) gave me a couple of old family photographs. One was a photo of my paternal grandmother, Ina Cottle Phillips, with the notation on the back “On the Boardwalk with the Wades.” As you can guess, as a genealogist I was off and running trying to discover the “Wade” portion of that note. Who were these companions of my grandmother?

Photo of Ina Cottle Phillips on the Boardwalk with the Wades

Ina Cottle Phillips, seated in the rear, “On the Boardwalk with the Wades.” Photo from the author’s collection.

First, I did what every genealogist should do: ask the elders! I asked my mom, who had a recollection that when my grandmother first arrived as an immigrant in Cleveland, Ohio, she got a job with a Wade family. Ah ha! Next, I reviewed my family tree notes and found that I had a reference, long forgotten, that said my grandmother was the “traveling companion” of one Mrs. Wade of Cleveland. Now this story was getting interesting! I wondered who might, in the early 1900s, have had a “traveling companion.”

Next stop was searching the old newspapers at GenealogyBank.com. It wasn’t long before a fun story began to unveil itself. First I happened across a vast number of references to Wade families in Cleveland, but one in particular stood out. An old newspaper article published in the Cleveland Leader explained that one Wade family gave substantial donations around Cleveland, including a large piece of land for what, still to this day, is known as Wade Park.

The Gifts of the Wades, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 10 May 1902

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 May 1902, page 6

I dug deeper into the historical newspaper archives and soon found a beautiful drawing from the Plain Dealer showing the Wade Memorial Chapel in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery.

illustration of the Wade Memorial Chapel, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 December 1898

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 December 1898, page 1

Sensing that I might be on to something I started looking for obituaries, and sure enough found an exceptionally informative one in the Chicago Herald that gave quite a biography of Jeptha Wade. The old obituary’s lead was that Mr. Wade was the man who saw the true value in a newfangled device called the telegraph, and started a company known to this day: Western Union. This obituary also tied in Cleveland and Wade Park.

Demise of Jeptha E. Wade, Chicago Herald newspaper article 10 August 1890

Chicago Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 10 August 1890, page 11

Next I sharpened the focus of my genealogy research to include both the Wade and Cottle names and got a hit, but when I opened the newspaper article I was surprised to find that the Cottle was not my grandmother: it was an obituary for her brother George. I learned that he, too, had a connection to the Wade family. The obituary stated that my great uncle George worked for the Wade family in their Wade Realty Company for 35 years. A fun aside was discovering that he was also a gardener for John D. Rockefeller, but that will have to be a different story for a later time!

George B. Cottle, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 January 1966

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 January 1966, page 61

Now the pieces were beginning to fit. Brother George immigrated first and got a job with the Wade family. Could he possibly then have vouched for my grandmother and helped her get a job as traveling companion for Mrs. Wade? Perhaps on one of their trips someone took the old photos of her that I now hold in my hands.

It has been tremendous fun learning about this aspect of my Cottle ancestors and beginning to understand the possible history of those photographs my Mom gave me. Now to finish the task! Thanks to some more genealogy detective work I have located the living descendants of the Wade family and have reached out and asked them if they might review the old photographs. Hopefully, they can identify my grandmother’s companions in the photos—and if I am really, really lucky, they just might.

Now…I wonder if anyone out there needs a “traveling companion” today. I’d sure be happy to apply for the job!

Genealogy Search Tip: Are Your Queries Returning Too Many Records?

GenealogyBank has grown from 160 million records since its inception to over 1.3 billion records today. That is a lot of articles to search through to find information about your family history. Genealogists often approach GenealogyBank with a direct search—using a surname—searching across the entire database to make sure we don’t miss any genealogy records about the family.

Sometimes, though, the simplest search query returns too many records for you to reasonably examine them all. When that happens, GenealogyBank has created over a dozen targeted search pages to help you narrow down the number of results you get back. Here’s a quick list of these helpful targeted search pages to get you started:

You can also perform targeted ethnic family searches with our African American, Hispanic and Irish American search pages.

Use these special search pages to narrow down your search to a particular type of newspaper article, as the following example shows.

Let’s say you’re searching for all the arrivals and departures of the ship Hector. If you search GenealogyBank just using the word “Hector,” you’ll get 400,000 hits. But, if you search the word “Hector” using the handy Passenger Lists link on our home page or in the left navigation pane of the Newspaper Archives category, you can narrow those search results to 14,000 passenger and ship records that specifically mention the ship Hector.

GenealogyBank Passenger List search for "Hector"

GenealogyBank Passenger List search for “Hector”

Even 14,000 records are a lot to examine. Limit the search again by a range of years when your relatives likely arrived on the ship Hector and you’ll have a manageable number of articles to sift through. Let’s say you are reasonably sure your ancestors arrived in America on the ship Hector sometime between 1820 and 1825—go ahead and use that date range in your search query.

GenealogyBank search results page for Passenger List search on "Hector" from 1820-1825

GenealogyBank search results page for Passenger List search on “Hector” from 1820-1825

Save time and zero in on the articles you need. GenealogyBank has more than a dozen targeted search pages: use them to focus your searches for the type of newspaper article you are looking for.

GenealogyBank targeted search pages

GenealogyBank targeted search pages

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.

Find Old Photos & Illustrations in GenealogyBank

Finding an old photograph or illustration of your ancestors, their house, or something else associated with their lives and times can be a highlight of your genealogy research. It is exciting to see the faces and places that are a part of your family’s history.

Have you noticed that many historical newspaper articles are illustrated with photographs, etchings and other graphics?

collage of newspapers showing various illustrations

Collage of newspapers showing various illustrations

There is a handy way to search for these old photographs and illustrations in GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives: click on this link to Search Newspaper Photos and Illustrations in GenealogyBank to search by family surname, first name, date and more.

Notice that these newspaper photos and illustrations can include images of the family homestead, either with photographs or etchings.

GenealogyBank search form for photos & illustrations

GenealogyBank search form for photos & illustrations

By using the Photos and Illustrations search, you can find newspaper articles about your ancestor that include a photo or sketch so that you can see what they looked like.

Give it a try now: Search Newspaper Photos and Illustrations

New Site for Searching Lexington, KY Historical Newspapers

GenealogyBank has created a special site for searching
Lexington, Kentucky’s historical newspapers.

Photo: Tobacco crop, Lexington, KY 1910. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Search Lexington, KY Historical Newspapers – Click Here

This site includes 7 newspapers from 1794 to 1922 including:

Kentucky Gazette
Lexington Herald
Lexington Herald-Leader
Morning Herald
Reporter
Stewart Kentucky Herald

Western Monitor