Kathryn Rutherford Blog Header

Kathryn Rutherford Blog Header

Sunday, March 28, 2010

EXTRA! EXTRA! Read All About It!

“One written word is worth a thousand pieces of gold”
Japanese Proverb

    This week I made a new friend in the acquaintance of one, Bill Tracy, a recent follower of my blogs.  Bill made some wonderful comments and admiration of my writings and referred me to his blog site thinking I might show equal interest in one of his thoughts.  His insightful blog entitled "Web Log As Family History" (Seen in its entirety at this link) ponders whether the day and age of internet blogging and web logs may lead to the eventual loss of thousands of words not in other ways recorded. 
    Bill asks the question:  will thoughts and diaries written on the internet be archived for future generations to research and recall or will, with no other written and recorded accounts created, the words of today's people be lost and subsequently forgotten through future time?  

    Bill's words got me seriously thinking about the importance of traditional writing, recording names, dates, events, thoughts and family history in methods other than digital or internet postings.
    Of absolute importance to the recording of history, DO identify and label all your photographs.  So many generations never labeled or identified their photographs and the identity of the faces and places are now a mystery........and a forgotten shame.
    Absolutely NEVER, however, write on the front or back of photographs in pen!  A pencil isn't highly recommended either but, it is better than ink.
    I cannot tell you how many times I have dealt with water and flood damage in a customer's home where stacks of photographs were presented to me stuck to each other.  Photographs in this condition can be salvaged, but upon separation, when written upon, usually reveal that the ink on the back of a top photograph transferred to the surface gelatin of another causing permanent damage to the surface of the photograph underneath. 
    The archival way to identify photographs is to use a pencil to do any and all recording and second to simply number each photograph and record all details and data about the photograph in an accompanying book or filing system.  It is important to write to your heart's content about the people, places and events in each photograph but, do this on a separate location, NOT on the front or back of the photograph.
    Several methods of numbering photographs can be done.  You can store each photograph individually in an archival (acid-free) envelop with an assigned number, place the photograph in an archival transparent sleeve which can be identified with an archival attached number sticker or purchase archival albums that contain pages that have strips for writing above, beside or below the photographic sleeve. 
    When it comes to identification and retaining information writing is a must.   Just identify and log the photograph and do the recording on accompanying paper, not on the photographs themselves. 
    In terms of written record keeping, here is a piece of true history.  In times long passed, one of the most formalized of all the occasions of etiquette was the "morning call", which, despite its name, took place between three and six in the afternoon.  (Visits before midday were reserved for close acquaintances only.) 
    You would never invite another to your home, however often you may have met them elsewhere, until you had first called upon them in a formal manner at their house and they, in return, then wished to visit you.  This was a kind of safeguard against expecting any acquaintances to show up which were thought to be undesirable. 
    The person making the call would be led to the drawing room while the footman ascertains verbally whether the Master or Mistress of the house was "at home" to receive company.  In fashionable circles, it more and more became the custom to dodge the burden of unwanted visitors by being officially "not at home" whenever visits of formality were made. 
    Upon finding the homeowners at home, everything about the visit was regulated from the number of buttons expected to be on one's gloves, acceptable and non-acceptable topics of conversation to the menu for food and drink. 
    Social conduct then decreed that, following the visit, the appearance of the guest was appropriately recorded in writing by leaving a calling card. An unaccompanied married lady left one calling card of her own and two of her husband's---one of these intended for the man of the house and one for the lady.  When leaving cards on behalf of her husband, the wife left those on the silver tray or basket on the hall table, never on the drawing-room table where she left hers.
    Calling cards have long since evolved into the company business card with less restrictions of social behavior.  My point in bringing this item to mind, however, is to point out that one's presence was, at this time in history, recorded.  Although calling cards were pre-printed in masses, the names of guests were forever left at the door to be saved as a remembrance of people's presence.
    In another entry I spoke about the myriad of items my ancestors saved.  One of the many items I inherited was an album of calling cards.  These records ranged from simple cards of names in hand-written script to ornate paper and aluminum embossed cutouts that were lifted to reveal the pre-printed name of the caller.  I show a number of examples of such items from my personal collection below.

    Imagine holding the name card of your own ancestors.  Holding a very object that not only identified the family that came before you but, was actually handed out by them in hopes that others would remember and record their presence and visit. 
    If it were not for the written word on paper or card, these people and their names may have been lost forever.  I can say that these calling cards revealed many a missing ancestor in the puzzle of my family as did they reveal many middle names and initials since it was important in the past to formally use one's full name when making a call.   What treasures! 
    In the absence of discovering a collection of calling cards, imagine looking for signatures.  Assuming your ancestors could write, at the very least, search for anything they signed.  A simple thing, but as you attempt to locate a photograph of each member of your family imagine how much additional insight and information you could learn by matching their signatures with their images.  Just imagine seeing a signature of every family member who influenced, or was responsible for, your life.
    Here are some of my family members.

    Finally, let us discuss the importance of the written word in full paragraph and prose. 
    Again, I have spoken about all the letters my family wrote back and forth to each other and, all of which, my Great Great Grandfather kept.  My collection of letters date back to 1820 and I might draw your attention to one of the more poignant from Margret Ives Deeds to one of her brothers, but asks to have the letter passed on to brother, Francis Edward Ives, my Great Great Grandfather.  Margret writes about the death of her husband, David, and the letter reads as follows: 

    Mapleton, Kansas    August 24, 1877
    Dear Brother and Sister
    I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am still in the land of the living although it seems 

    to be my lot to see hardships and trouble in this world. 
    David killed himself on the fourth of August.  I watched him all summer.  I left him about one    

    hour and had the gun hid but he found it and he went about two hundred yards from the house 
    and he shot himself through the heart.   He shot himself about noon.  I did not find him till on 
    the 5th about sundown. 
    I have a farm, two spam of horses and four head of cattle, 16 sheep, 20 head of hogs.
    I would like to know if you have seen Thomas or what you can do. 
    I would like to have you send this letter on to Francis.
    I want you to write to me all about how things are. 
    I do not feel like letter writing any more at this time.
    Yours respectively.
    We have it very dry here this summer.
    Margret Deeds

    This letter tells of a tragedy, no doubt, (including that very important, and necessary, farming report about the weather) but wouldn't it be worse if this hand written piece of history were never written down, never saved and never passed down to generations to come afterward?   Without this single piece of actual writing on paper no one alive today would have known how David Deeds ended his time on this Earth. 
    I tracked down descendants of Margret and David Deeds in the mid-western United States and can attest to the fact that, until the letters found in my Great Grandfather's Ship Captain's ditty box were handed to me and transcribed, not one other family member knew anything about David except his birth date.  No one had left a record about him or his method of passing.  Only the written word handed down to me has kept this information alive. 
    Truly more tragic than this letter is another, written three years earlier, where Margret writes home to tell her family that her despondent 17 year old son also shoots himself through the heart this time.   Imagine a Mother's overwhelming sadness but, I, alone, had the information in my possession and, again, only the actual hand written but, aged papers, keeps my family alive.
    I am looking for the missing grave locations of five brothers and sisters who passed away at young ages in the mid 1800's.  No one thought to write down where the precious children were laid to rest----not even the government.  Nothing was written down, I cannot locate their graves and nothing remains of their existence.  What a shame. 
    Alas, now we have web logs, internet blogs, chat rooms, bulletin boards and email all of which produce quick and immediately viewing, but do these musings have any permanence?  I have read some of the most profound thoughts on the internet, but fear that some day these thoughts and words will vanish from view.  Will they be archived in some vast repository able to be searched by title and author in generations to come?  In answer to Bill Tracy's query, I am seriously doubting it.
    I was seventeen, in the mid 1970's when I went off to university in another country.  Long distance phone calling was reserved for a once a month major expense.  Letters written and sent throught the Post Office were the only things that kept my family and friends informed of my activities and my presence.  Little did I know at the time, my parents kept every item I wrote to them as a record of my adventures and advancement toward my future in arts and education.
    As I became faced with the out of country university departure of my own daughter, Tania, in the year 2000, the internet had become one with our lives.  Although daily contact and Instant Messaging had taken the trauma out of Mother/Daughter separation my Mother knew, I felt a loss of permanence in that so much of my child's learning and adventures would never be remembered beyond its initial reading.  I began to print out each and every computer contact and conversation between us and preserve it forever in a book.
    Many years after she graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Digital Animation I was attempting to bring Tania's attention to a particular matter and parallel her current experiences with an event in her days at University.  Her bemused look was only followed by the single comment, "I don't remember that".   I stood without speaking, retrieved the now overstuffed binder of dated pages from it's place of honour in the top shelf of my book case and handed the book to her saying, "Perhaps you'd better read this."    She was overjoyed to recall what, until that time, had been the best years of her life. 
    A mother remembers many things forgotten by others over time.  Some things about her life and the lives of her husband, children and extended family are just worth remembering and worth writing down.  This latest written addition was just an accounting of a young girl's journey into the world, a memoir of her self-discovery and growth, but names, dates and details are worth remembering by all. 
    History only becomes history (right or wrong) because it is written down, recorded and filed for safekeeping and passed on to the next generation.  History, of all kinds, is worth remembering.  
    Do I think everything talked about on the internet will be retrievable information by future generations?  Not really. 
    One written word is worth a thousand pieces of gold.  Write it on paper and pass it on for all to read.  It will become a treasure with priceless value.  

    To emphasize my point about the written word I would like to point out the bottom of a legal document from July 24, 1857.  The transaction involves my Great Great Grandfather, Francis Ives and his Brother In-Law, the above discussed David Deeds.   Notice that by the statement "David Deeds his mark" followed by the appropriately placed X, indicates that David Deeds cannot write and is incapable of placing his signature upon the legal document.  An attestation that he makes his mark (that of an X) is all that our David is capable of doing. 
    Only by the hand writings of his wife do later generations of David's family know about his fateful demise, yet the man, himself, could not place even his own name onto paper and could leave us no written words.   

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Treasure in a Box


“A box without hinges, key, or lid,
yet golden treasure inside is hid.”

 J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings

    The first photograph, a Dagguerreotype, was introduced in 1839, (Read "Living History" for a great Daguerreotype story) but, in the two decades that followed, photographic experimenters had energetically sought a less expensive and cumbersome way of capturing a photographic image.  Almost simultaneously the Ambrotype and Tintype were born.  
    The tintype process was first described by Adolphe-Alexandre Martin in France, in 1853, and patented in the United States on February 19, 1856 by Hamilton Smith, a professor at Kenyon College, in Ohio.  First called Melainotype, and then Ferrotype (by a rival manufacturer of the iron plates used) the name Tintype eventually took prominence although all three names describe both the process and the resulting photograph equally.
    Where the Ambrotype process consists of pouring a light sensitive mixture of collodion (silver nitrate) over a small plate of glass, a Tintype is made by coating an iron plate (hence ferro) with the light sensitive collodion silver mixture. The backs of the tintype were lacquered to protect the exposed metal from rust and oxidation.
    A Tintype can easily be distinguished from other metallic photographs because the iron support of the Tintype will attract a magnet.  This test is helpful if you are presented with a photograph under glass within a case. The copper in a Daguerreotype does not attract a magnet, an Ambrotype has a glass support and only the Tintype will attract the magnet.
     The Tintype's image is technically negative but, because of the black background, it appears as a positive.  Since the Tintype itself was placed inside the camera and delivered as the final print, most Tintype images appear reversed (left to right) from reality.  Some cameras were fitted with mirrors or a 45-degree prism to reverse, and thus correct, the image, while other photographers would photograph the reversed tintype to produce a properly oriented image.  Many photographers, however, simply delivered the reversed photograph to the customer to save time and expense.
    Failure to recognize this possible reversal has led to many false assumptions. Many of my customers have been heard to say, "Look, Grandmother isn't wearing a wedding ring.  This photograph must have been taken before she was married."  On the contrary, with the photograph reversed, Grandmother certainly was wed with the important ring placed clearly on the left hand, but appearing reversed in this image.
    I have often had my attention drawn to articles written about the western outlaw, Billy the Kid, whose famous photograph of him holding the barrel of a rifle, by means of reversal, has many assuming that he is left-handed.  Perhaps not.
    Unlike the singly created images of Ambrotypes, Tintypes were usually produced in multiples at a single sitting.  A multiple lens camera, with up to twelve or sixteen lenses, was used to produce multiple images on a single plate for efficiency and easy distribution to family and friends.  The metal used to support the Tintype image was actually iron and, according to one story, they came to be popularly known as Tintypes because of the tin shears used to separate the individual photographs.
    Tintypes came in full-plate, half-plate, quarter-plate, and one-sixth plate sizes. The most common size was approximately two and one-quarter by three and one-half inches.
    A photographer could prepare, expose, develop, and varnish a tintype plate of several photographs in a few minutes, quickly having them ready for delivery to a customer only a short while after taking the subject's picture.  As a result, the Tintype was inexpensive, opening photography to an even wider audience and had one of the longest periods of popularity of any early type of photograph.  They were very popular with Civil War soldiers because it was less likely to break than the fragile glass Ambrotype or delicate silver-coated copper Daguerreotype. They could also be slipped into an envelope and sent through the mail. 
    In 1863, tiny portraits seven-eights by one inch (about the size of a small postage stamp) debuted with the invention of the Wing Multiplying Camera.  They were popularized under the trade name "Little Gems" and Gem Galleries flourished until about 1890, when the introduction of the family commercial camera made it no longer necessary to visit a studio that specialized in the tiny likenesses or card photographs. The Gem image brought the price for a photograph to an all time low.
    Most photographers were required to offer a versatile range of services, products and image types in order to stay in business.  Gem portraits were stored in special albums that held one image per page.  Larger albums were made that held several of the small images per page, perhaps holding as many as a hundred portraits in one album.  Gems were cut to fit lockets, cufflinks, tiepins, rings and even garter clasps.  As with those of us today wishing to stay in business, photographers had to become creative and offer unique and varied products to support their studios.
    Several types of Tintypes were popular throughout their life.  The earliest ones are stamped "Neff's Melainotype Pat 19 Feb 56" along one edge.  The black iron support is of a heavier weight than later Tintypes which are about 0.017 of an inch.
    Tintypes of the Civil War period (1861-1865) are primarily sized one-sixth and one-fourth plate.  Often, Civil War era images are datable by the Potter's Patent paper folders in which they were placed.  These folders, introduced during that period, were adorned with patriotic stars and emblems.  After 1863, the paper holders were embossed with their designs rather than printed.
    A tax on all photographs sold in the United States from 1 September 1864 to 1 Aug 1866 required the application of a revenue stamp.  Continuous photographers canceled the stamp by writing their initials and the day's date on the face of the stamp.  The canceled tax stamps may be found adhered to the back of an image case or an uncased Tintype.  I have yet to find one of these stamps, but, boy, am I still looking!!
    Brown or chocolate Tintype images had a brief period of popularity from 1870 to 1885. In 1870, the Phenix Plate Co. began making plates with a chocolate-tinted surface. It was said in a period journal that these specialty Tintypes, "created a sensation among the photographers throughout the country, and the pictures made on the chocolate-tinted surface soon became the rage".
    In the 1870s, the "rustic" theme also made its debut in studio photography offering painted backgrounds, fake stones, wood fences and rural props.  Chairs and tables were made of whole or cut logs, floor rugs and table drapes were of animal hides and the log cabin look became popularized.  It wasn't uncommon to see entire furniture or props made of steer horn.  Lovely, eh!
    Tintypes saw limited success in Europe, but were commonplace in American homes for decades.  From 1875 to 1930 photographers continued the Tintype business in what is known as the Carnival Period in the Twentieth Century.  These itinerant Tintypists set up studio tents at public gatherings, such as fairs and carnivals.  They came equipped with painted backdrops of Niagara Falls, the beach, boats and other novelty props for comic portraits. Other Tintype galleries operated on the popular boardwalks at beach resorts.
    Early Tintypes were placed in the leather or plastic (thermomolded) cases which had been used for Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes.  Some Tintypes were delivered loose in just the gilt frames to reduce costs or, as the Tintype customer demanded lower prices, the cases were dropped altogether in favor of paper folders.  Now, instead of a glass cover, the Tintype image was given a quick coat of Japan Black Lacquer (varnish) to protect the image and any applied tints of colour and slipped into a paper folder with a mat opening to view the photograph.  These paper mats did not fare well over time and very few of them remain with their accompanied Tintype, either being discarded by their owner or disintegrating throughout the years. 
    The Tintype held on for so long because it was the only type of instant photography available or the time.  Itinerant Tintype photographers worked the back roads and county fairs and the process appealed to the street photographer who was able to set up business without much capital and very little time needed to produce the final product for the customer.
    The average price, from the inception of the Tintype process, in 1856, until its fadeout in the 1930's, was ten to twenty-five cents for an image about the size of a playing card.  Smaller Tintypes sold for a penny or less, making photography universally available to the working class as photographers spread out over the countryside.
    Tintypes frequently were carelessly trimmed when separating the individual images from the whole plate. This is partly because the case or envelope would cover the edges of the image and care was not necessary.  They usually had their corners clipped either to prevent sharp edges from tearing the paper folders, injuring the client or to indicate in which direction the plate would be loaded into the camera in the darkroom.
    Very often the tintype image was tinted, giving it a more lifelike quality than the monochrome image could offer. Tints were added to cheeks and lips and jewelry and buttons were often accented with gold leaf paint.  People were still not ready to accept a photograph for what it was and wanted it to have colour and imitate a painting.  Many miniature painters left their dying portrait trade to become photographic colorists as the photography industry grew.
    Compared with other photographic processes of the time, the Tintype tones seem, to some, flat and uninteresting.  I don't agree with this claim as I find the detail and depth of field of properly exposed Tintypes absolutely superb and captivating.
    They were, however, often made by unskilled photographers and their quality was variable from image to image.  Though it is true that Tintypes are now considered artistically painted examples of decorative arts placed in well-crafted decorative frames, Tintypes were widely considered cheap and artless by many photographers.  Hmmmmm........
    So, all these details about Tintypes and so far, no story!  I know what you are thinking, get on with the good stuff.
    Well, one of the things I most enjoy is scouring yard sales, thrift shops and antique marts for troves of treasures that are missed by others but become absolutely priceless additions to my collections.  While everyone else is pondering the price of beds, tables and dishware, I am digging through dusty books, cluttered boxes and peering through the lower shelves of glass cases for that one item stashed away from prominent sight and possible sale. 
    I mostly look for photographs and postcards that display rare locations, unusual subject matter, fantastic clothing, wonderful backgrounds and props or a single photographic process with which I can educate and teach.  Such was the mission the day I stumbled upon a the offerings of a local second hand shop. 
    The dealer obviously traded in photographic imagery but, much to my dismay, had little regard for the history and importance of the pieces to which he had laid claim.  There, before me, strewn across a dirty table were stacks of velvet photograph albums stripped bare of their contents and tagged with outrageously overpriced sales tickets.  Boxes and boxes of carelessly packed photographs were all around the shelves marked by size from twenty-five cents to one dollar each.  Clearly, the dealer put more emphasis on the empty, worn albums than he did on the individuals who images shared that enclosure. 
    An immediate look through the first of the images clearly indicated that the faces in all these photographs shared their lives in some aspect or another.  The photographer's marks, studio names, towns and cities put all these people in the same places and photographed by the same photographers.  It broke my heart to think that by stripping these albums of their contents, the dealer had separated connections and lives.  I wanted to scoop up the entire collection, hold the images close to my heart and whisper, "It's ok, I'll keep you together forever". 
    Alas, even at the modest prices posted I would be unable to afford to rescue this forgotten history in its entirety. 
    Overwhelmed by the thought of choosing one image over another, I spied the tiniest treasure.  Wedged between two wrappings of newspaper there lay a golden find.  I spotted a Tintype in an embossed paper folder.  I was rich!!!!   But, wait.....
    This was no ordinary Tintype.  Not only was it inside the collector's dream of the pale pink and gold embossed paper folder but, it was a brown Tintype.  Be still my heart!   I had never spied a brown tintype until that moment. 
    Further still, the cheeks of this subject were toned in delicate pink and I certainly hoped the photographer had first positioned a soft cushion on that rustic log chair on which my prim and proper lady could sit.  This image had all the earmarks of collectible history and she was definitely coming home with me. 
    I was still reeling from the rarity of my find when I bent down and pulled a shabby box of photographs out from under a table half hidden by a ragged tablecloth.  A few more images were drawn to my attention and I was just about to slide the box back into its hiding place when I caught my finger on something sharp at the bottom of the stack.  Withdrawing the object I couldn't believe my eyes when, there, I beheld the duplicate image of my diminutive lady.  Only the slightly bent corner on which I had caught my finger and the scarring on the right hand side of the second Tintype could tell the twin photographs apart.  

    What looked like a large pale scratch was actually caused by chemicals in the development process or a poor coating of the silver emulsion when the photographic plate was made.  The two photographs were identical right down to the divided background paper and the edge of the table leg captured at the far left.  The images had been cut and separated exactly through the middle of the repeated table detail. 
    There were no more boxes of images through which to search and I was disheartened to admit that finding any more identical images would be impossible.  The rarity of finding these two together in one place would have to be treasure enough for the day. 
    So....photographers widely considered Tintypes cheap and artless, eh.  Oh, I can't begin to believe that for one single moment.  Regardless of what photographers felt of them at the time they are priceless recordings of wonderful images.  Tintypes are truly significant in that they made photography available to working classes and not just to the more well-to-do.  Up until the time of their invention, the taking of a portrait had been more of a special event but, from the introduction of tintypes onward, we see more photographs, of more people, in more relaxed, spontaneous poses.
    Simply by nature of an image being placed on metal, these photographs survived throughout the decades better than any others often suffering little, if any, damage throughout the years.  They have survived more often and can certainly be magnificently duplicated and restored if necessary. (Go to my website to see an award-winning process I developed to restore blackened tintypes.)
    I went home from my shopping excursion sad that I was unable to rescue all the stacks of photographs I'd encountered that day and keep their lives together, but my discovery of a box without hinges or lid truly revealed a golden treasure I had found inside.  There could have been as many as ten or fourteen more identical photographs produced the day my lady sat for her picture, but from here on, thanks to my discovery of the box, these two copies of her image will forever remain together.  They are a treasure and will never be separated again.

    Since we have been discussing Tintypes, I couldn't resist the opportunity to post the one and only existing photographic Tintype of my family. 
    Behold, here are my Mother's Grandparents, Sarah Jane Sinclair and William Edward Stevenson who were married the 25th of December, 1895.  These absolutely proper (and rather wealthy as their lives progressed) family members were first generation Canadian born and lived in and around the small towns and villages of Fingal and St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada on the Northern shore of Lake Erie. 
    Notice how poorly the Tintype has been cut, an obvious indication of a photographer with less than perfection on his mind.  The exposure is somewhat weak (as photography skills go) and the wrinkles in the background paper show obvious use in setup and dismantle. 
    You probably cannot see by the resolution of this tiny internet image that William obviously could not stand still and moved.  There are actually two of his right ears and a faint showing of two images of his head on his right side.  Exposures were so slow at this time that any movement recorded as blurring or as multiple recorded images.  (I love to see horses trotting across an old photograph as they look like a stampede of ghostly animals.)
    With all its imperfections, though, I simply love this photograph.  Knowing what I do about these people and the process that created the image I can only smile and giggle.  You see, all of the later family photographs from this branch are professionally taken by the highest standards of professional photography.  In them, both Sarah Jane and William and each of their five children are dressed in their best, poses are upright and proud and each of the original photographs were framed and stored to archival standards so that they passed down undamaged through generations to my hands. 
    Not one of the later photographs dared to have a single imperfection yet this one has many.  I believe I know why. 
    Remembering that Tintypes were most often reversals, notice that William wears a flower boutonniere on his right lapel.  This, according to proper rules of etiquette, is on the wrong side of the jacket.  This photograph is reversed. 
    Sarah Jane is wearing an 1890's "Walking Suit" with waist length jacket, wide lapels and "Rag o Mutton" sleeves---large ballooned shoulders and tight arms.  Her high, ruffled neck blouse with the ruffles and button down front goes with the outfit as if it were designed from a fashion plate of the that very day. 
    William wears a plaid jacket (you probably can't see) and a wide silk tie with small shirt collar.  He is current in the 1890's fashion as well.
    The place in which this family lived is along the lake shore and, to this day, there still remains a summer resort town with quaint shops along a boardwalk, tourist attractions and.........photographers. 
    Knowing that William and Sarah were married on Christmas Day 1895, it isn't much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that this very photograph was either taken as their wedding photograph or taken, perhaps, the following summer down by the lake shore. 
    As time passed, and William's income and standing in the community grew, I can only imagine how he might insist that all future photographs of himself and his family be absolutely perfect and of the best quality.  As for a young man and woman just starting out in 1895, a quick and inexpensive Tintype by the lake is as good as it gets.  
    Don't worry Granddad William, it just doesn't get any better than this for me. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

HOWDY, Neighbor!

As man draws nearer to the stars,
why should he not also draw nearer to his neighbor?
Lyndon B. Johnson
36th President of the United States

    Although I currently reside in the United States, I was born and raised in Canada.  Explorers and homesteaders were making their mark on the history of that part of the globe as early as the arrival of Viking ships upon the eastern shores, but by world standards Canada is comparatively young having only adopted its status as a Country in 1867. 
    When I was eight years old my father presented me with two of the most glorious treasures of my Canadian past. He turned over to me a hand-written genealogy of our family tree and an old, weathered, wooden box.  
    The family tree was written down by my father as his father lay dying from lung cancer when I was only five.  Everything my Grandfather could remember about the names, dates and places of the Ives family, of Canada, was carefully recorded and now laid out before me. 
    The primitive box, it was explained, was the personal possession of my Great Grandfather, a much beloved Captain of ships on North America's Great Lakes.  The item was called a "ditty box" and acted as a nineteen century stronghold for important papers and possessions of sailing men.  The ditty box, to my father's knowledge, had not been opened for more than fifty years except to add additional items to the collection inside. 
    As Daddy called out the names and dates of previously unheard of ancestors from the family tree, I opened the ditty box and beheld a collection of perfectly preserved documents, deeds, photographs, newspaper clippings and items of seemingly ordinary importance when collected, but which had, over the years, become historical treasures.  The letters, alone, from one family member to another dated as far back as 1820.  
    It seems my Great Great Grandfather had saved every piece of paper and receipt that crossed his hands and my Great Grandfather had had the foresight to place the items, along with everything he deemed important from his time on Earth, into his seaman's chest.  Five generations of day to day history, dating back to 1795, had just been handed down to me.   
    Canada was not even a Country for another seventy-two years, yet my ancestors were living in that place.  Here was the history of their lives and the land in which they lived placed into my hands for safekeeping. 
    Thus, began my love of family history and my fascination, dedication to and electrifying excitement of historical and genealogical research.
    At future times I will tell more about the extraordinary contents of the ditty box as the items inside relate to other topics, but for now we have to turn our attention to YOUR family history. 
    With the advent of the internet, family history research has become somewhat less of a torment.  For the most part, gone are the days of driving to faraway cities and towns and sifting through dusty rooms of decaying records.  It could be that an agency or association has gotten to those documents and already photographed them for public display and, hopefully, easy internet access saving you all the hard work.  With the advent of the internet and email, genealogical research is much easier than it was not so long ago. 
    Before we proceed, I simply must interject an important caution about researching your family history online.  RECORD everything you discover, PROVE everything you find and never take the WRITTEN WORD as proof!!  Just because someone puts a family history online does not make it absolutely true.  Mistakes and errors can be made and misinformation is often plentiful. 
    When dealing with old documents and records remember that spellings and dates were often recorded incorrectly, written phonetically or given verbally to someone who didn't have the faintest idea how to spell the word or name.  
    Another person's version of the truth may not be your version and it is possible to find as many documents to prove both ways as it is to discover a third or fourth spelling of a name.   Family histories and documents are not always correct (either intentionally or by simple error).  As the saying goes, take everything with a grain of salt.
    Having descended from my soap box, let us now continue with our subject......
    With a lifetime of genealogical research into my own family behind me and more than thirty years of restoring photographs and oil paintings and creating original portraits and storytelling paintings of the families of others, I am often consulted by clients to help with the research of their family's past.  When their search dead ends the prevailing question to me is, "Where do I look now?"
    There are several possibilities, but here is a suggestion that very few would even consider.  Head on over to the neighbors! 
    If your family resided in the same house for some time chances are the neighborhood families were interconnected.  The children played together, families attended cookouts and lazy afternoons in each other's yards and the lives of your ancestors intertwined with those of people living close by.  At some point, somebody pulled out the camera and ordered everyone to, "Say Cheese". 
    Long ago, I gave up counting how many photographs have come into the studio where the current owner of the image claims their ancestor appears in the photograph on one side or the other, but as the photograph was never labeled or identified, no one knows the identity of the other person, or persons.  Someone so obviously important as to pose for a portrait intended to record their friendship for eternity is now at the mercy of my skills to airbrush them out and forever remove them from recorded history. 
    I purchased the charming photograph above from an antique dealer (something I do quite often to rescue unusual or outstanding images with which I teach or paint).  Besides the opportunity to bring to life two angelic girls as a sample of my various restoration techniques, it was the back of the photograph that created the compulsion to buy.  
    Hand written in a shaky scrawl are the words, "Eugena Wilson and her Girl friend Juley James".  BINGO!!  I had found something worth more than gold.
    It is unknown which of the girls is Eugena and which is Juley, but there is no denying that what we have is the joining of two family histories.  Not sisters, cousins or distant relations, but, perhaps, the girl next door.  
    Did the James family live beside, behind or across the street from the Wilson's or did these little girls play together at school or in the Church grounds after the Sunday picnics?  
    Somehow and somewhere the Wilson and James families knew each other and this photograph has captured the ancestry of members of both families. 
    How simply tragic it feels to me when a customer requests that I remove an unknown person from their photograph. To eliminate that person and forever fade them from view seems sacrificial when some family out there in the world would give just about anything to locate this person and, perhaps for the first time, behold their face. 
    Times have changed.  We no longer depend upon our neighbors as we once did.  Gone are the days when entire towns pulled together to raise a barn, tend the sick, plant each other's crops or see to it that the poor and old had food on the table or someone to visit.  
   Today, some people never venture beyond their own property line and choose not to know even the name of the family next door let alone any details about them.   Many neighbors don't offer a smile or even a consenting nod these days. 
    When it comes to genealogical research, however, this simply will not do.  Find out where your family lived, who lived next door and get to know the neighbors. 
    Instead of asking the neighbors if you can borrow that classic cup of sugar, ask if you can take a peek at their family photographs.   Is there anything written on, or included with, their pictures that would bring your family to life?  Is there anyone alive that might remember your family (good or bad), played with your family or have been a treasured friend that forever held on to that single faded photograph in their collection of memories?  
    Moral of the story, the next time you are looking at the photograph of the family so proudly posed in front of the house in which they lived, maybe they only had seven children and the young one at the far left was..........the pesky kid that always hung around from next door. 
Family members often lived many miles apart.  Friends and neighbors were often closer than family and interacted more in daily events.    Sooner or later somebody got out the camera and captured the moments of ordinary people doing ordinary things.  
    The neighbors photographed the people in their family.  Those photographs just might include members of your family.  Get out there and make friends with the neighbors!

As a side note to this subject:
    I have collected stacks of photographs over the years which I feel compelled to rescue from the clutches of those who wish only to profit from their sale.  
    Many of my clients have photographs which do not contain family members and, wishing to put them in the hands of someone who will cherish them, often donate them to me because they know they will remain in loving care. 
    I have often thought of posting these photographs online in hopes that the world my find I hold their ancestors in my hands.  Hmmmmm, perhaps this should become the subject of another Blog, eh! 
    For those searching for their ancestry, however, a fun place to go is www.deadfred.com
    This is an online website of unclaimed photographs in the possession of people who have no other use for the images than to see if they can be shared or returned to their rightful families.  

    I stumbled across this site a few years ago and, to my complete amazement, found original photographs of members of my own Ives family posted right there.  Many of the images were previously unknown and one is an original of my Great Great Grandparents in 1899, of which, only I own the only other existing copy.  
    The website has the capability for the viewer to contact the owner of the posted photographs and negotiate contact and/or a possible trade or purchase.   Just maybe, you'll have such luck as I.
    In the meantime, anyone descending from Eugena Wilson or her girlfriend, Juley James, PLEASE contact me immediately.  I have an original photograph I will gladly return to your family album even if my family wasn't their neighbor

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Break The Chains


"Does feminist mean a large unpleasant
person who'll shout at you or someone
who believes women are human beings"
                            Margaret Atwood
(Canada's most eminent novelist and poet)
    I am an outstanding photographic darkroom technician, copy photographer and digital printer, but I would never consider myself a professional studio photographer.  I wouldn't begin to take a photograph of a model and am definitely without the knowledge and skills practiced by the professional studio photographers of the 1930's and 40's.  There is absolutely nothing like the dramatic lighting and intense mood captured in a photograph of the great movie stars and fashion plates from that early era.  Those images are, by far, my favourite photographs and why today's discussion relates to just such work.
    It was just an ordinary day when the courier brought the on time deliveries.  Nothing unusual was expected as I opened the first package from one of my regular framing clients.  I was expecting just another broken photograph to restore, but couldn't have been more incorrect. 
    The package contained what appeared to be two folders containing tissue covered photographs.  Someone had taken great care to package and present these images indicating that they had to be special and, quite obviously, original. 
    The quality, exceptional lighting, pose and detail of the photographs took my breath away and so did the imagery itself.  I couldn't wait to tear into the accompanying letter and documentation that came with the package to learn more about what I beheld. 
    It seemed that the framer's customer had come into possession of these photographs upon the recent passing of her mother who was an in-demand New York lingerie model in the 1930's and 40's.  Behold, the images delivered to my studio for duplication were of the mother in two of her successful model shoots of the late 1930's. 
    Gartered stockings, chiffon lingerie and sensuously soft folds in curtains seemed only remotely suggestive for the time period as they were accentuated by the dark and lights of the dramatic scene, with sensitivity and capabilities of the photographer.  But, what of the imagery of the second photograph with it's chained and manacled female encased in a sun bathed doorway?  This image suggested more than I could fathom taking place in the 1930's.  I read on through the documentation until it all made perfect sense. 
    Our questionable image was a product advertisement entitled "BREAK THE CHAINS".  It was photographed specifically for.....are you ready for this?.......a TAMPAX commercial !!!
    Our lingerie lady, and quite obviously the manufacturers of Tampax, were bold and, as evidenced by this photograph, quite brazen feminists.  Tampax enjoys its fame from having sold the first tampon with an applicator in 1936, patented previously by Dr. Earle Haas. 
    The following information comes from the booklet "Small Wonder: How Tambrands Began, Prospered and Grew." There is no date on the booklet, but was probably published in the middle 1980s to celebrate Tampax's 50th anniversary.
    Dr. Haas was born in 1888, graduated from the Kansas City College of Osteopathy in 1918 and spent 10 years in Colorado as a country general practitioner before moving to Denver in 1928.
    He originally invented a flexible ring for a contraceptive diaphragm and made $50,000 from selling the patent, then sold real estate and was also the president of a company that manufactured antiseptics. 
    Haas, however, wanted to invent something better than the "rags" his wife and other women had to wear.  He claimed he got the idea for his tampon from a friend in California who used a sponge in the vagina to absorb menstrual flow and proceeded to develop a plug of cotton inserted by means of two cardboard tubes.  How considerate of the Doctor to insist that he didn't want the woman to have to touch the cotton.
    After failing to get people interested in his invention (including the Johnson & Johnson company), on October 16, 1933 he sold the patent and trademark of his invention to a Denver businesswoman, Gertrude Tenderich, for $32,000. 
    Gertrude started the Tampax Company and was its first president. She was an ambitious German immigrant who made the first Tampax tampons at her home using a sewing machine and Dr. Haas's compression machine.  The first product was sold commercially in 1936.
    After selling the rights to the tampon, Dr. Haas continued with his doctor's practice and various other business enterprises. He later regretted selling the rights, but was glad it was successful. He continued to try to improve the product right up until his death in 1981, at the age of 96.
    As a woman, I applaud Dr. Haas' efforts and am certainly grateful that his invention made my life, and the lives of most women more comfortable.  In 1969, the London Sunday Times Newspaper named Haas one of the "1000 Makers of the Twentieth Century".  It certainly was one of the greatest things made.
    What of our energetic and enterprising Gertrude Tenderich? 
    Subsequent research on her has turned up only minor comments and last minute notations that she was President of the Tampax Company.  There seems to be no honours, accolades and awards given to this outstanding and visionary woman who changed the flow of feminism and further brought comfort and specialty products to the world of women. 
    The photograph before me was a great piece of feminine history.  It has it all:  outstanding photography, innovative imagery representing a fantastically creative and necessary product, a bold statement and courage for a 1930's era to "Break The Chains".   No one else seems to have said it, so I will..........WAY TO GO GERTRUDE!!