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Mason County Memories

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Identifying photographs in the family album.

The week before last we started to discuss being able to identify the type of photograph, the years it was being produced and when possible the location of the studio where it was taken are important steps in identifying the photographs in your family album.

The main photograph types we explored were Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, Cyanotypes, Tintypes, Carte De Vistes and Cabinet Cards and that article can be found at http://ludingtonmichigan.net/LDN.htm in case you would like to print it out when you are ready to get out the family album.

Larger photographs were often secured on stiff cardboard, at times these were quite ornate, and often also had the photographers name and town stamped on them. The photographs that you find that are a pale yellow in color are called Albumen prints, the process was first used in 1843 but were produced most often in the 1860's' to 1900.

The image is often quite faded but if you have some of these don't despair, scan the photograph and open it in Adobe Photoshop, simply change the mode to Grayscale, scan it at 300dpi [dots per inch] and adjust the auto contrast before you print a copy out. Sometimes the clarity is amazing and you can more easily identify those crafty ancestors hiding in the faded portions of the photograph.

Now we come to the photography of the 1900's, a time when personal cameras were plentiful and people loved them and had a lot of fun setting up silly poses and candid portraits that were much different then the stiff lipped, often stern portraits that were produced as the result of the slow exposure required of the other processes.

Many of these photographs are small two and a half by four and a half or three and a half by 5 and a half [postcard size] and placed in albums with those little black corner holders or pasted in. White ink was often used to write in these albums that would hold upwards of 300 or more pictures.

The prints after 1900 are most often going to be Silver Gelatin [black and white]. While the process was invented in the 1880's it became popular about 1900. Real photo postcards became popular about 1907.

First things first, if you have older relatives that you have not shown your pictures to, then make arrangements to have them over for an afternoon and dinner and sit down with a tape recorder, pen in hand and spend the day going through the pictures. You will be glad you did. In the event that is not possible then we'll start by looking at the types of pictures you do have.

Now why is this important? If you have a shoebox and albums full of photographs that are not identified there are some things that you can do to help change that. Even the worst family record keepers managed to write on a few pictures. Set up a large table, get your pictures out and start by laying them out by age and type of photograph.

Get your family tree notes out so that you have names and hopefully locations that they lived handy. Lay out your oldest types of photographs first, [Do not take cased images out of the case] Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, Cyanotypes, Tintypes, Albumen Prints, Carte De Vistes, Cabinet Cards, Black and White prints, Real photo postcards, take a step back and start looking them over.

Within a short time you should start seeing similarities and older or younger versions of people in your photographs. Like a jig saw puzzle start grouping them together and refer to your family tree notes. Use a pencil if you are going to make notations on the back of photographs. Looking though your photographs one at a time doesn't work as well as looking at the big pictures. I'll place more examples of photographs on the website to assist those brave souls who plan on spending a winter day on memory lane.

If you would like to share your families history and photographs with our readers please feel free to contact Dave Petersen c/o the Ludington Daily News.

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