Thursday, March 05, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: An Interview with

**Gena's Note: Today's resource is Let's face it, most genealogists LOVE vintage photos. The more info we can have about those photos, the better. So I asked my friend Gary W. Clark at to provide us with some information about dating vintage photos of women.

1889 Photo courtesy of Used with permission

Question: What should researchers consider when trying to date their vintage photos of female ancestors?

Answer: One approach is to determine when the 'type' of photograph was commonly used. Type can be described as the technology, such as a tintype or the cabinet card. Different types were used in different eras. Narrowing the type of photograph to a time frame will give you a general time-frame of when the picture was taken.

Being aware of fashion eras can help date a photograph. For example, the "Gibson Girl" look defined nearly a generation of style and fashion beginning in the late 1890s. Women's styles mimicked the illustrations by Charles Gibson in Harper's Weekly, Collier's, and Life magazine well into the 20th century. Comparing women's styles to period newspaper advertisements and magazine illustrations helps identify when a certain look was popular. Also, there are many websites that cover fashion by years, I frequently use these.

One caveat to using fashion and style is economics or location of the photo. Was the family poor, comfortable, or well off?  Did they live in a big city or a rural area? Their ability to afford the 'latest' style, and the lack of peer group pressure to adopt the styles, resulted in the photographic subjects often wearing clothes and exhibiting styles that could be many years out of fashion. One trick that helps overcome this influence is if the photo is a family picture. Try dating the youngest person’s clothes; a teenage girl is most likely to wear the latest style, even if it was homemade.

Question: For those of us not lucky enough to have 19th century photos, how do we learn more about our early 20th century photos? Especially those that are seemingly random snapshots of everyday life.

Answer: Snapshots from the 20th century can be difficult to date, but there are some guidelines. Until about 1910, most photographs needed to be mounted on stiff mounting boards, so if an early snapshot is NOT mounted, it is usually after 1910. From 1920 onward, many snapshots look the same. Pay special attention to the clothes, and especially to background objects; Cars can be a great clue as to when the photograph was taken if you can tell the model year. That doesn’t mean the picture was taken in the car’s year, but it was taken at least after the car was made.

In the 1940s and 50s many snapshots were trimmed with scalloped or wavy edges. The 1930s and 40s saw the white space around some prints printed with framing artwork.

Question: Women often show up in photos wearing jewelry. Sometimes that jewelry is just decorative but other times it's representative of an organization. Any tips on using this to date photos?

Answer: This is fun and interesting area of study which can yield some great information. Sorority, fraternal auxiliaries, and service organizations such as Women’s Relief Corp that provided assistance to Civil War veterans, all produced emblems, jewelry, ribbons, that were proudly worn. Many times, the design of the piece changed over the years. Searching the internet for examples of the item may help you narrow the dates it was available.

The key to identifying one of these is to scan the photograph at a very high resolution. Depending on the size of the photo and how big the subject is, the scan may need to be 1200 DPI or even higher. This is akin to using a powerful magnifying glass. There is not always enough detail in the photo to read the object, but, the design can tell you a lot. If you have a family heirloom piece of jewelry, it is always exciting to find it in a very old photograph.

Question: What tools do you have on your website to help learn more about dating photographs?

Answer: The free website is a great place to start dating your photos. No other site offers the History and Identification tips that are easy to apply to your pictures. A big bonus is what we call the Gallery of 1,000 Images, which is now over 1,200 vintage photos. The Gallery is a collection of dated photographs presented in categories that you can simply pick and see all the photos for that era or subject. It is a database with categories that show you pictures by decades, back to the 1850s, photo types such as tintypes, clothing styles, hair styles, card characteristics, and many more. This tool lets you compare you photo to similar dated ones to help you arrive at a date.
Other tools include a library of case studies and informative articles on vintage photographs. All completely free.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: City Directories

One of my favorite sources are city directories. They are important additions to your research in confirming where your ancestor lived as well as other information like occupations and marital status. Just like the census, they should be used in all of your research projects, when available.

 New York City directory, for 1854-1855 via New York Digital Collections. p. 33

So where do you find city directories? Here's a small list of places but don't forget to also look at microfilmed collections at libraries. Additionally, some public libraries are digitizing their local directories and making them available online.

University of Leicester-Special Collections Online -Historical Directories of England & Wales

Online Historical Directories - City and Area Directories - DIRECTORIES -- Almanacs, Businesses, Registers, Street Guides

Internet Archive - Texts (look in various collections)

Google Books

City Directories of the United States of America Directories

Library of Congress- Local History & Genealogy Reference Services-Telephone and City Directories in the Library of Congress: Current Directories

National Archives - Circa 1930 City Directories Available at NARA

San Francisco Genealogy - City, Social & Phone Directories

The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: American Antiquarian Society Bibliography

I'm always on the lookout for great books on women's history that will help me as I research my female ancestors. A better understanding your ancestor's time and place is crucial to success.

The American Antiquarian Society Bibliography, By Women, About Women:
A Selective List of Women's Studies Books Researched at AAS is an excellent list of books to help you with the historical knowledge you need. Some of my favorites on the list?

Basch, Norma. Framing American Divorce: From the Revolutionary Generation to the Victorians. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Kerber, Linda K. No Constitutional Right to be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship. New York: Hill and Wang, 1998.

And of course I'd love to see this:

Cohen, Patricia Cline. "Doing Women's History at the American Antiquarian Society," Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 102, pt. 2 (1993): 295-305.

In addition to this bibliography, you will be interested in reading the American Antiquarian web page, Women's Studies Resources.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: Finding Social History at Accessible Archives

As family historians there's certain websites we are very familiar with. I'm sure in a matter of seconds you could name your top five favorite websites to research your family history.

But what else is out there? There are other subscription websites targeting genealogists and historians. In some cases you can only access these through an institutional subscription. In others you can purchase an individual subscription.

Here's one to become more familiar with, Accessible Archives.

What does Accessible Archives offer? "Primary source materials from 18th and 19th century publications." African American newspapers, women's suffrage newspapers, women's magazines, and county histories make up this unique collection of documents.

So how will this help your research? Unlike the resources we are most accustomed to, you may not find your ancestor's name within the holdings of Accessible Archives. Sure they may be listed in a county history or newspaper but even if they aren't, that's ok. What you will find is materials to help you better understand their lives and time periods. That can help you tell a story or find additional records.

Lucky for us, for Women's History Month they are offering a discount. For this month save  $55, so your subscription is only $34.95/year. To learn more see their website

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Studying Your Female Ancestors: Women History Month Resources 2015

From the collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega

March marks Women's History Month 2015 and once again I'll be spending the month blogging resources to help you better understand where to research and learn about your female ancestors.

But I do have confession. These are not going to be your typical genealogical resources for the most part. I see research as part of a bigger picture that involves traditional genealogy resources (government documents like the  census and vital records for example) and historical resources. I firmly believe that you need to understand the time period your ancestor lived in order to do really good research.

So with that confession (though not surprising for those who know me). Let's spend some time this month studying our female ancestors and getting to know them and the world they lived in.

Enjoy your discoveries!

Friday, January 30, 2015

When Genealogy Meets Geology Or Why I Won't Be At RootsTech This Year

RootsTech, there's no doubt it's a huge event for the genealogist. And this year combine it with the annual FGS conference and you have a raging genealogy party. Education, networking, friends, and time at the Family History Library. It's a genealogist dream come true.

But I won't be there.

Gena Philibert-Ortega and research poster at the GSA 2014 conference. Photograph used with permission.

For the last few years I've had the privilege of researching a rare book archived at the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library at the Gemological Institute of America. This privilege has given me the opportunity to trace the life of a 19th century British woman and her commonplace book that not only is unique but has traveled from England to Australia to the United States.

I'm not related to the subject of my research, Martha Proby  but I probably know more about her than many of my own ancestors. Her life has been a focus for these last years and in making it a focus I have networked with her present-day family, archivists, librarians, writers, research friends on Twitter and participants at the 2014 Geological Society of America conference. Like all research, the more I find, the more questions arise. This research is far from over.

My latest adventure in this research will be presenting to the Geo-Literary Society at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society Show, the same weekend as RootsTech. At this presentation, I will not only talk about Martha and her book but also the book it's based on, written by James Sowerby. I'll also discuss her connection to well-known science figures like Charles Darwin.

This is where genealogy meets historical research meets social history meets geology. A very exciting mix.

So if by some slim chance you aren't attending RootsTech/FGS 2015 and happen to be in Tucson, Arizona that weekend, please stop by and check out my presentation, “Sowerby’s British Mineralogy and its Influence on Martha Proby.” Presentations are free and open to the public.

**I want to publicly thank the staff of the GIA Library including my co-authors,  director Dona Dirlam and librarian Cathy Jonathan who have supported this research in many ways.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Viva Las Vegas Genealogy

Gena and Jean are on the road again. This time we are on our way to the Clark County Nevada Genealogical Society Fall Seminar where we will be presenting a day of genealogy.

There's still time to join us. Learn more at the Clark County Nevada Genealogical Society website.