About Kay Strickland

I am a keeper of my family's lore, chasing after my ancestors' tales in south central New York, southwestern Pennsylvania and Southside Virginia. The stories and photographs that I share on this blog are my intellectual property. While I do my very best to provide well researched posts, I do not pretend to have reached genealogical proof standards. Therefore, much of this work is to generate conversation among interested parties. If you would like to share my work or my records, please contact me: dkaysdays (at) gmail (dot) com.

Standing There: The Equipment Used to Capture Ancestors’ Smiles

In my last post I shared the final images found within the covers of the Minor Family Album. All of the photographs are portraits of children, taken by professional photographers between the years of 1888 and 1894.  I am not an advanced student of photography’s history, and therefore, cannot pull all of the evidence present in these cabinet cards, but I can infer from the presence of a certain piece of equipment what type of camera was used for a few of the shots.

CLUES

Early photographs were made on wet plates using light sensitive chemicals.  The amount of time that a photographer had to leave the camera shutter open to activate the chemicals and expose an image on the plate varied between five and ten minutes.  Such long exposures required the use of cast iron adjustable stands equipped with medieval-looking clamps that held squirmy subjects still.  By the early 1880s new technologies–dry plates using new chemicals–were being introduced which markedly decreased this sitting time. Shorter exposures were a boon to capturing more realistic portraits, of everyone, but most particularly of children. Photography was a competitive business, and as professionals could afford it, they replaced their cameras and threw their “Brady” stands on the rubbish pile.

While examining the photographs I noticed posing stands peeking out from behind several subjects, a clue that the photographer was using the older, wet plate, long exposure technology.  Why else would a professional use those contraptions?

I invite you to examine these photographs and see if you can’t spot the photographer’s equipment.  And for those history buffs, what other evidence exists in these cabinet cards to support the use of wet or dry plates?

WHAT DID YOU SEE?

I found that the stands appeared in photographs that Thomas W. Rogers, Carmichaels (Pennsylvania), took in the late 1880s-early 1890s.  Did you discover evidence of posing aids in any other photographs?

 

The Final Pages

The final pages of the Minor Family Album hold photographs of children, none are identified, one looks familiar.  Together they present a plate of youthful Victorian fashion from the closing decades of the 19th century.  Separately they tell stories, even as the personalities remain cloaked in anonymity.  I hope you will return to this space as I reveal the hidden meaning of a photographer’s imprint and point out clothing clues that help family historians “age” the subject.  Play a game of “I Spy” as you examine the portrait for the photographer’s equipment or count the ribbons on a toddler’s velvet dress.

I look forward to hearing your reactions in the coming weeks.

Photograph as Fashion Plate: The Case of ANOTHER Unknown Woman

I have long given up on my original photographic quest.  I will measure my Minor Family Album success not on how many faces I  identify and claim as family, but by how much  I have learned about dating old photographs and–perhaps more importantly–about converting a family heirloom into a historical artifact.

So I was not dismayed when I turned my attention to page nineteen in the Minor Family Album and discovered yet another face with ab.so.lute.ly no clues to her identity.  I just shifted gears, wasting little time in moving from family historian to social historian.

This is not a photograph.

No, ma’am.  This cabinet card is a fashion plate, with just enough detail to provide a glimpse into women’s fashion in the late 1890s.

In the period between 1888 and 1897, women’s sleeves went from being skin tight to puffed at the shoulders with yards of fabric gathered into full sleeves.  By 1897 the cumbersome style was being replaced with a more tailored sleeve and shoulder caps or flounces.  The capelets  shown here are just one example of this style which had the effect of greatly exaggerating the width of a woman’s shoulders.  The sleeve underneath these lace-trimmed caps appears to have some fullness, which would indicate that this dress was made just as the fashion shifted.

This is more than a fashion plate.

The unknown woman wears a high, stiff collar, with a bit of lace for decoration.  Conventional day dress.  But it also is a clear indication of how social mores of modesty affected women’s fashion.  “To permit one’s neck to show in daytime is bad form,” stated the Ladies Home Journal in August 1890.  Keeping one’s skin hidden, even in the heat of summer, was more important than being comfortable, a subject that could lead me into the research of how politics, women’s suffrage, and fashion played out during the nineteenth century.

One last thing…

I do believe that this portrait is of the same person featured in the family shot on  page 18 of the MInor Family Album.

What do you think?

Unidentified Woman, cabinet card, J.W. Ward, photographer, Connellsville, Pennsylvania, 1897-1900. The Minor Family Album, p. 19, Author’s Collection, 2014.

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Trio Incognito: The Minor Family Album

Sometime between 1883-1888, F. P. Morgan ushered these three people into his Uniontown (Pennsylvania) studio on Morgantown Street, and shot this cabinet card photo.  Their identity is concealed by the passage of time; their relationship to the Minor family of Green County lost in a historical fog.

Their relationship to each other, however, is clearly described in the photographer’s clever posing.

The silver-haired gentleman sits relaxed in an upholstered chair, while the woman and boy stand to his right with their arms resting on his shoulder and arm.  Their hands line up, smack dab in the middle of the frame, a visual statement–We are family.  The tableau is vintage Victorian; the husband is seated in the only chair signifying his role as patriarch and the woman is beside him as helpmeet.  Together they shelter and nurture their six(ish) year old son.

Three faces, one family.  Incognito.

Unidentified Family, cabinet card, F. P. Morgan, photographer, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 1883-1888.  The Minor Family Album, p. 18, Author's Collection, 2014.

Unidentified Family, cabinet card, F. P. Morgan, photographer, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 1883-1888. The Minor Family Album, p. 18, Author’s Collection, 2014.

In Defense of Family History: Must Read of the Week

“Family history is a natural trespasser, barging through the hedges that mark the fields of academic study.”

Alison Light.  “In Defense of Family History,” The Guardian (London), online edition, 10 October 2014.

A bolstering read for those of  us who indulge.  An illuminating read, perhaps, for those who put up with us. ;)