Saturday, June 28, 2014

Forensic Techniques CASE STUDY: Calumet Baking Powder Co. [PART 1]

Part 1 of 3 "Traditional Research Methods"

A Case Study Response to 
"Research Q & A: Calumet Baking Powder Co." 

By Marsha Peterson-Maass

    Blog article requesting help published on 04 May 2014

How I Used Traditional Research + Forensic Techniques to Find Answers
This three-part blog article is in response to the 04 May 2014 post where Karen and Luann, two Chicago Genealogical Society members, asked for help to identify the date, purpose and individuals in this Calumet Baking Powder Company employee photo (below).  It explores how a genealogical researcher can find answers by defining objectives that lead to formulating a research strategy, then using traditional research along with forensic techniques to narrow in on the facts.

Research Objectives And Strategy

As with any genealogical research project, I first needed to define my objective(s) so I could formulate my research strategy.  I had three objectives: 1) Determine the date of the photo; 2) Determine the reason the photo was taken, and; 3) Determine individual's identities.  So my strategy was to find a Calumet Baking Powder Company (CalumetBPC) history to try to set a maximum timeframe for when the photo could have been taken plus see if any company events may have precipitated the need for this photograph.  Then I needed to check the photo itself (beyond the pictured subject matter) for clues as to where it might have come from.  And finally, I needed to check sources that give clues to these employee's identities and use the forensic technique of listing the clues on a spreadsheet to narrow in on the individualizations; I might also need to do the same to determine the photo's date if traditional sources don't yield the answer.

What The Company History Revealed

CalumetBPC was founded in 1889 by Warren M. Wright in its only Chicago location at 4100 Fillmore Street, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, U.S.A. (GPS: Latitude 41.868231 / Longitude -87.728319 . . . you can use Steve Morse's free tool "Converting Addresses to/from Latitude/Longitude/Altitude in One Step" at  It was purchased by General Foods in 1929 and subsequently sold to Kraft Foods in the 1970's where the original recipe product is still being sold with the same brand name today.  (So from just reviewing the company's history from establishment to its sale, my maximum timeframe for when the photo could have been taken was between 1889-1929.)  CalumetBPC offered many employees benefits during that time, including employee sports teams and a baking club.  Nothing in the company history seemed compelling enough to necessitate this photo.

What The Photograph Itself Revealed

When I examined the photo itself (beyond the pictured subject matter) what obviously caught my attention were the four long tear holes plus the creases where it had been folded up to three times.  It appeared that the photo had been glued to something that was heavier than the photo (hence the holes were on the photo since the glue + portions of the photo remained on the heavier object).  It occurred to me that many large companies published Company Yearbooks.  Could this be the reason for the photo?  Could I track down whether CalumetBPC had published books of any kind that might have contained this photo which had been glued to an inside cover?

Finding The Company Archives

To determine whether there is a CalumetBPC Archives today, I emailed Kraft Foods on 03 June 2014 (from their Q&A webpage) and searched locally for an archives or published books (including The Newberry Library, Chicago Public Library and its branches).  I received a quick email response from Kraft Foods on 05 June 2014.

So no company archives or local library collection.  Welcome to genealogy!  But many thanks to Kraft Foods for answering so quickly.

Just Because You Can Use Forensic Techniques Doesn't Mean You Have To

Although using Forensic Techniques can be very effective and often quite fun, I needed to see if I could find answers more quickly with traditional research sources.  I pulled out the big guns and went to Ebay/ETSY (don't scoff just yet).  In less than a minute I discovered that CalumetBPC did indeed publish books, including a 1914 Cookbook which had a lovely color rendering of their building.

Source: Calumet Cookbook 1914 68 Pages | eBay 21 May 2014.

And then I found it, a 1926 CalumetBPC Founders Book!

Source: Advertising Calumet Baking Powder 21 May 2014.

Could the photo have been taken for the purposes of this 1926 CalumetBPC Founders Book in the year 1926 or shortly before?  A quick comparison of both men's and women's clothing styles confirms that this is probably the case.

Two Quick Probable Answers

Do I have definitive proof that the photo had been torn from an inside cover of a 1926 CalumetBPC Founders Book?  No, since I don't have the book it was taken from to compare the tears and I also didn't receive an email response from the seller when I asked whether it appeared that this photo could have been originally glued to one of the book's inside covers (oh well).  So as proof goes, I would classify these as two "Probable" answers: The photo was probably taken in 1926 or shortly before and it was probably taken to be used in the 1926 CalumetBPC Founders Book.  (See The National Genealogical Society's "Genealogical Standards: Standards For Sound Genealogical Research"

More About This Case Study

  • Upcoming Case Study Response - Part 2 of 3 "Forensic Techniques for Dating a Photo"
  • Upcoming Case Study Response - Part 3 of 3 "Forensic Techniques for Individualization"

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