using photographs in family history, tintype, civil war

Using Photographs in Your Family History Research

Editor’s Note: The following is a lightly edited and updated post originally authored by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. All of the family photos are from her personal collection, and should be accredited to her unless otherwise noted.

Technology in today’s world provides us with multiple ways to capture a moment in our family’s story – from grabbing our iPhone or iPad to capturing the moment of video or a digital SLR camera. Although photography has enjoyed a long history, photographs have been available to the average individual for a relatively short period of time. The following discusses the evolution of photography and how using photographs in your family history has evolved along with it.

Camera Obscura

The basic principles of optics and the camera were known as early as the fifth century B.C.E. More specific interest, however, began in the 1660s when, using a prism, Isaac Newton discovered that white light was composed of different colors. Throughout the 1700s, the camera obscura fascinated scientists interested in creating an image of their surroundings. From the linked Wikipedia article, “The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside, where it is reproduced, upside-down, but with color and perspective preserved. The image can be projected onto paper, and can then be traced to produce a highly accurate representation.” Mirrors then create a right-side up image. (Side note: Edinburgh, Scotland, features a camera obscura as one of its tourist attractions.)

Daguerreotype, Ambrotype, Tintype

Additional discoveries ensued. In 1837 Louis Daguerre began creating images on silver-plated copper coated with silver iodide. The image was then developed (taking thirty minutes!) with warmed mercury. This medium fell out of favor by 1860, in part because only one image could be developed from each exposure, and also because the final product tarnished and scratched easily. The daguerreotype was followed briefly (1854-1865) by the ambrotype, an image produced on glass. The date of either of these formats can often be determined in part by the case or mat surrounding the image. For example, a daguerreotype with a plain silk interior dates from between 1840 and 1845, while an ornate foil-stamped mat dates from between 1853 and 1855. The National Media Museum Blog has a very helpful post on how to spot a collodion positive or ambrotype photograph.

A format which became financially more accessible to the average family, however, was the tintype, produced between about 1854 and 1900. Some of us may have examples of tintype images in our family archives as many soldiers had them taken during the Civil War. This video is part of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum special exhibit – Remember Me: Civil War Portraits, which shows the process of creating a Tintype photo. Tintypes later became widely available at carnivals from the late 1880s and through the 1890s. Again, the elements of the tintype can help date an image, with a paper mat indicating an image taken between 1863 and the 1880s, while paper sleeves were used between 1880 and 1900. For example, based on its paper sleeve and my knowledge of the couple in the photograph, I believe that the tintype image shown below was taken ca. 1889, the time of my great-grandparents’ (Grace Lillian Dodd and Edward Albert Smith) wedding.

Carte de Visite

Edward and Grace

Two other formats dating from the mid- to late-1800s also brought photographs within the means of many families. These images often included family members, either individually or in groups, to commemorate an important event such as a wedding, engagement, a new baby, death, etc. The first of the two formats was the carte de visite. First developed in France in 1854 by photographer André Adolphe Eugene Disdéri, this type of photograph, usually sepia in color, was printed on thin paper which was then mounted to a thicker paper card. One of Disdéri’s greatest innovations was the ability to place multiple negatives on a single plate, thus allowing the subject of a photograph to purchase multiple copies at a reasonable price. These photos imitated the size of a “calling card” (2.5”x4”). The carte de visite image below is believed to be a photograph of my granduncle, Eugene Henry Smith (born 1866). While I was unsure of his age at the time the photograph was taken, the photography studio’s advertisement on the reverse side indicates 1880, when Eugene would have been fourteen. Continue reading…

Revolutionary War Pensions, Battle of Trenton

Revolutionary War Pensions – Locating Missing Records

Editor’s Note: The following is the second part of a two-part piece adapted from a post by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. Please see Part I for historical background on Revolutionary War Pensions, what information can be found in these genealogical treasure-laden applications, and select resources on Federal Pensions. Part II, below, will discuss the potential complications of locating Federal Revolutionary War Pension records, how you can work around these issues, and additional resources to help you on your search for your Revolutionary War ancestor. 

Revolutionary War Pensions, Part II – Locating Missing Records

Revolutionary War research is a huge topic within American genealogy; however, you will discover a helpful, concise overview of in Craig Robert Scott’s Genealogy at a Glance: Revolutionary War Genealogy Research.  Pension records, as we discussed in Part I of our discussion, are gold mines of genealogical information. While much information can be found through online databases and published indexes, do not stop with such sources. Close reading of original documents (even if they are on microfilm) will prove well worth your time, effort and eye strain.  Continue reading…

revolutionary war pensions

Revolutionary War Pensions – History and Resources, Part I

Editor’s Note: The following post is an adapted, edited and updated article originally written by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. In its adaptation it has been divided into two-parts on Revolutionary War Pensions and useful resources. In part I, published below, the background information on Revolutionary War Pensions is provided including the types of information you may find in them, or why you may want to find them. Part II, which will be posted in the coming days, will address where and how you can find the pension records, challenges you may face in locating them, and ways to improve your search. 

How well do you know your Revolutionary ancestor? If he had a federal pension (or his wife received a widow’s pension), the information included in the application for that pension may provide you with a great deal of information that will help you know him better. Please note that state level pensions were also awarded. The best source for state pension information can be found in Lloyd de Witt Bockstruck’s Revolutionary War Pensions Awarded by State Governments 1775-1874, the General and Federal Governments Prior to 1814, and by Private Acts of Congress to 1905.

Pensions as incentives/rewards for military service were not a new concept to colonists at the time of the Revolutionary War. Previously during a conflict, Great Britain had used the promise of a pension to encourage enlistment and to reduce rates of desertion and resignation. After a peace treaty was signed, pensions were provided as rewards for service already rendered.

Three basic types of pensions were granted by the new federal government as a result of the Revolutionary War: Continue reading…

East Germany Border, German Genealogy

German Genealogy – Unification and Continuing Migration

Editor’s Note: The following article is condensed from the chapter, “The Germans and Germany” in the brand new 5th Edition of Mr. Angus Baxter’s classic how-to book, In Search of Your German Roots. Readers should note that, in the interest of brevity, a number of tables in the book which describe the migration and distribution of the German population and the contemporary archival holdings of other nations that have a bearing on German genealogy have been omitted from this except. Part one of the article, which can be viewed here, summarized Germanic migration and settlement patterns prior to the unification of the country in 1871. Part Two picks up the story from that point. 

The Process of German Unification

Germany only existed as an undivided country from 1871 until 1945 – in contrast with England and France, which had been unified for more than five centuries. Systems of government in the various German states ranged from absolute monarchies to the near-democracy of some of the electorates and free cities. Various forms of confederation or economic grouping took hold, flowered for a few years, and died. Each state had its own laws, archives, and system of recording events. You cannot say, for example, that “censuses were first held in Germany in 1871.” That is true for the unified Germany, but censuses were taken in Wurttemberg in 1821, in Baden in 1852, and so on. The only unified force in the Germanic area was the church–first the Catholic and later the Lutheran. Continue reading…

Scottish genealogy

Scottish Genealogy Research and Resources

Editor’s Note: The following is an edited and updated post originally by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. In this piece, Ms. Barkley provides guidance on getting started with Scottish genealogy in particular, and lists websites, publications and other resources that may be of interest to those digging into their past in Scotland and the British Isles. 

Americans have always displayed interest in British Isles genealogy. The fact that the Family History Library in Salt Lake devotes an entire floor to British Isles resources illustrates the depth of that interest. With the 1995 success of the movies Rob Roy and Braveheart, the interest in all things Scottish, and the desire to discover Scottish ancestors, has grown exponentially in United States.

In 1999, under the leadership of Sen. Trent Lott, the United States Senate passed Resolution No. 155 establishing Tartan Day as a day of special significance for all Americans, particularly those of Scottish descent. The date was not chosen randomly, as it was on 6 April 1320 that the Scottish declaration of independence, the Declaration of Arbroath, was signed. Some 450 years later, this seminal document would provide inspiration for the American Declaration of Independence. The Senate, by establishing Tartan Day, created an official date on which Americans of Scottish descent come together to celebrate their shared heritage, as well as the richness of the contributions that Scottish Americans have made in the history of our nation, and indeed of the world. (For example, forty-eight recipients of the Nobel Prize were born in Scotland or are of documented Scottish descent.)

The basics of Scottish genealogical research revolve around the “three C’s” of church, census, and civil registration records. Later research can then involve testaments, sasines, military, immigration, and many other types of records. A very (very!) brief summary includes:

The Old Parish Registers (OPR) are the records of births/baptisms and banns/marriages kept by individual parishes of the Established Church (Church of Scotland) before the introduction of civil registration in 1855. Deaths and burials were recorded infrequently and, if found, usually record the rental of the mort cloth – the pall draped over the coffin. The OPRs provide the opportunity to research these events beginning as early as 1553, depending on the parish. These registers are easily accessible at LDS Family History Centers through the Scottish Church Records database and through extracted data online at FamilySearch. In addition, they may be accessed online (fee-based) at Scotlandspeople, the official government source for genealogical data for Scotland. Please note that there may be more information available through the Scotlandspeople site as the general record offices are constantly updating their indices as errors or misinterpretations in the original documents are identified. Before using these records, researchers should read about the history of the official church in Scotland to understand which church was official and which records were created during a specific time period, as well as the records that may be available for nonconformists.

Several sources and websites can provide a great deal of assistance as you research your Scottish roots. Some of my favorites, in addition to those I will discuss in more detail, include the following:

The Scottish census is available online from 1841 to 1901 (check the Ancestry website for subscription pricing or check the subscription to AncestryPlus at your local public library) and from Scotlandspeople [fee based] from 1841 to 1911. The index to the 1881 census is a free index on Ancestry and on FamilySearch. Again, read about how the census data was collected. Unlike the United States, the British census is a snapshot of the people in a household on a given night and can therefore include people who were visiting overnight and who might normally belong to a household elsewhere. If Aunt Phebe was visiting an old childhood friend (a name probably unknown to you) in another town or area of the country, it will be difficult to locate her in that specific census.

The Statutory Registers (civil registration) are the official records of births, marriages, and deaths in Scotland from 1 January 1855. These records were compulsory, were unrelated to religious denomination, and followed a standard entry format. Indices to many of these records are available on the fee-based website Scotlandspeople. One caveat (as with any research) is that indices do not include all of the data in the actual register entry (for example, birth indices do not include parents’ names, and marriage and death indices include only the year of the event – the full date is in the actual register entry). In addition, restrictions apply to which full records may be viewed online. Due to privacy restrictions, images of birth entries are available from 1855 to 1910, marriages from 1855 to 1932, and deaths from 1855 to 1960. For records in years that cannot be viewed online, you can still use the indices to help you decide which record abstracts you may wish to order.

Image Credit: Robert Modern‘s map of England, Scotland, and Ireland (the “British Isles“), c. 1680. By Robert Morden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.