This week I had a chance to read a new book by Maureen Taylor. Actually, Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs is an update of a great book. Maureen wrote the original book in the year 2000, and it quickly became a standard reference. She has now written a second edition with a lot of new material.
As I first opened the covers of the new edition, I expected to immediately find "how-to" hints of determining the dates of photographs by hairstyles, clothing fashions, and similar hints. Wrong! That info is included further into the book, but Maureen starts with the basics. Okay, so I am not a photography expert. With Maureen Taylor's new book, I think I can learn a lot.
Maureen starts first with a quick discussion of why visual histories are important to genealogists. She also lists tools of the trade: items you need if you will be handling old photographs. She recommends a magnifying glass, cotton gloves, a measuring tape, protective sleeves, pens, pencils, a computer scanner, and more.
The second chapter of this book starts to give practical advice. For instance, before spending a lot of time examining the photograph, first talk to relatives! Chances are that one of your older family members already knows everything about the people in the pictures. Talking with that person first can quickly solve a lot of riddles.
Chapter three is called "Cased Images - Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes and Tintypes." This is where the discussion starts to get technical. In fact, it is a mix of chemistry, physics, and history, all rolled into one. Maureen's writing style makes this a pleasant read, however.
The remaining chapters flow in a logical manner: Paper Prints and Negatives, Color Photographs, Identifying the Photographer, Images from Birth to Death, Looking for Clues, Reading the Clues in the Photographs, Building a Family Collection, and Adding Up the Clues. I found each chapter presents its information in conversational English.
Maureen A. Taylor is highly qualified to write this book. She is a professional genealogist as well as a photography expert. She's written for national magazines, academic periodicals, and the Internet, and is the author of several books. She is a Contributing Editor for Family Tree Magazine, is on the Editorial Board of Legacy Magazine, and is a columnist for Ancestry Daily News as well as for Reunions magazine. She is the Photo Detective columnist for Family Tree Magazine, and her columns on identifying family photographs appear on their website. She has been interviewed by numerous television, radio, and print media, including: The View, MSNBC, DIY: Scrapbooking, PBS Ancestors, Dear Myrtle, Life Magazine, and The Boston Globe. She is also a Board Member of the Association of Professional Genealogists.
Best of all, Maureen obviously loves old photographs.
Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs is an excellent "how to" book for anyone who has a collection of old family photographs or for the newcomer who just unearthed the first such photo. It will be very helpful for genealogists, scrapbookers, and history buffs alike. The book is lavishly illustrated with examples of everything discussed in the book. It is easy to read and packed with great information. I'd call that a winner.
I would recommend this book primarily to those in the United States. While the technology of photography progressed around the world at more or less the same time, the examples used in the book and the discussions of identifying clothing styles and uniforms are mostly U.S.-centric. Anyone looking at old photographs from another country might want to find a similar book that is specific to that country.
Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs is published by Family Tree Books and sells for a list price of $24.99. It appears to be heavily discounted at most bookstores. I found it available on Amazon for $16.49, and I suspect most other stores will sell if for more or less the same price. Search for ISBN 1558707247.
For more information, look at Maureen Taylor's web site at http://www.ancestralconnections.com and at Family Tree Books at http://www.familytreemagazine.com/store/display.asp?id=70677