Part 2 of 3 "Forensic Techniques for Dating a Photo"
A Case Study Response to
"Research Q & A: Calumet Baking Powder Co."
Blog article requesting help published on 04 May 2014
By Marsha Peterson-Maass
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.
Using Forensic Techniques to Date the Photo
Using Forensic Techniques to Date the Photo
Part 1 published on 28 June 2014] What Forensic Techniques could I use instead to date the photo? I'll start by plotting the "date-able" elements of the photograph on a spreadsheet timeline by year to narrow in on the date (or date range) that would apply to ALL of the elements. Here's a list of the "date-able" elements I'll be gathering to plot on the spreadsheet:
- "Known Information" - What the CGS member photo submitters, Karen and Luann, knew about their two relatives who worked at CalumetBPC for a short time.
- Identities of Their Two Relatives Who Worked at CalumetBPC
- Dates They Know Their Relatives Worked There
- Two Relatives' Ages by Year
- Two Relatives' Life Events by Year
- Two Relatives' Chicago Residences by Year
- Map - To confirm the photo's location and to compare the buildings and other observable landmarks about six months prior to the map's publication date.
- American Men's and Women's Clothing Styles - Comparing the clothing seen in the photo to American fashion styles of the 1900's, 1910's and 1920's.
Working With The Two CGS Members
I couldn't have asked for two more helpful clients than Karen and Luann! They told me they had the happy fortune to have inherited much genealogical information since their relatives "kept everything" and it was just a matter of going thru the materials to find answers. I asked them many questions in order to gather the "Known Information" elements listed above and here is what they supplied:
Their two relatives who worked at CalumetBPC were sisters, Anna Josephina Barrath (b.11 March 1892 in Chicago; m.16 June 1923 to Joseph Dudley Goggin in Chicago) and Emma Olivia Barrath (b.09 April 1900 in Chicago; m.09 May 1925 to Francis "Frank" Asay in Chicago). Below is a 1920 photo with Emma on the far left and Anna on the far right.
After finding the CalumetBPC photo, Karen and Luann first became aware that Anna had worked there when they came across a WWI love letter that Anna received from an admirer asking, "Are you still working at the Calumet Baking Powder yet?"
In trying to identify life events that would either help confirm the dates when the sisters worked at CalumetBPC or to exclude them, Karen and Luann found the sisters' 1920 U.S. Federal Census enumeration in Chicago confirming that the sisters both worked there on January 1, 1920.
|Emma nurse image|
Image graciously supplied by CGS Members, Karen and Luann.
Karen and Luann also found a photo confirming that Emma was a volunteer WWI nurse about 1917.
And Karen and Luann also spent a great deal of time going thru correspondence and other documents to put together a residential timeline by year of where in Chicago the sisters and their mother lived . . . the several addresses before 1929 were all within six miles of the CalumetBPC (at 4100 Fillmore Street, Chicago), confirming that it was feasible for the sisters to travel a relatively short distance to work there.
What A Simple Map Can Confirm
"Maps enhance the background reading of historical places and eras."1 Accurate as of approximately six months prior to the publication date we see this 1921 Chicago Map detailing the CalumetBPC at 4100 Fillmore Street (its only Chicago location).
1921 Chicago Map image. Source: Map of Chicago and Suburbs, 1921
If you look below at a close-up of the photo's background (right edge) you will see freight train boxcars on a railroad track about 1/2 block away. You can also see an electric power generator next to the building's east side and a single-use utility pole paralleling the train tracks. According to the 1921 Chicago Map, it appears that the train tracks run thru the CalumetBPC property about 1/2 block north of the factory building so the photographer was standing south of the group and took the photo looking north.
|Photo graciously supplied by CGS Members, Karen and Luann|
Using American Fashion To Help Give A Date Range To A Photo
"It is a common misconception that the style of dress can lead to the date a picture was taken," says Colleen Fitzpatrick, PhD in her book Forensic Genealogy.2 Colleen, by the way, has worked at NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Defense. She also says that certain fashion styles can indicate a date when the fashion was first introduced so the photo could not have been taken BEFORE that date plus fashion may give a researcher a possible date range. Newspaper ads from the place and time along with many online sources can help with this type of research.
Before we try to date and place the clothing styles on a timeline by year, take a look at the close-up CalumetBPC employee photo just above, particularly at the men's neckwear, how far the men's vests extend below their necks, the women's hemlines and where the waistlines are sewn on the women's dresses.
The illustrations and photos below show three decades of men's fashion in America. Bowties and neckties were worn in all three decades. Now look at the progression of where the suit jackets/vests extended down from the neck . . . in the 1900's they were close to the neck . . . in the 1910's they extended down a bit . . . in the 1920's they extended down even further. The vests in the CalumetBPC photo appear to be from the 1920's fashions.
Mens Slide 38 image. Source: University of Vermont, Landscape Change Program - Dating Historic
The illustrations and photos below show three decades of women's fashion in America. Dresses were worn in all three decades. Now look at the progression of where the hemlines end and the waistlines are placed . . . in the 1900's hemlines extend to the ground and sewn waistlines are very tight around the waist . . . in the 1910's hemlines still extend to the ground and sewn waistlines are still very tight around the waist . . . in the Post-World War I fashion on the 1920's, hemlines are above the ankle (called "ankle skirts") and sewn waistlines are baggy and fall well below the waist (called "boy-shape dresses"). Women's fashions in the CalumetBPC photo appear to be from the 1920's fashions as well.
Plotting All Of The Elements On A Timeline Spreadsheet By Year
And now the culmination of all of the date-specific elements are shown on the spreadsheet below. We see the date ranges of when both sisters were old enough to work at CalumetBPC (light yellow), confirmed dates when traditional research shows that they worked there (in red) along with possible dates (light yellow), probable fashion dates (bright yellow) and possible fashion dates (light yellow), life events that had influence and residential addresses that confirm the sisters lived within 6 miles of CalumetBPC. From plotting all possible and probable dates on a timeline spreadsheet by year, we see the dates where ALL of the elements give a positive result, and we can come to the conclusion that the date the photograph was taken is within the date range of the beginning of 1921 to the end of 1925, with the strongest possibility being around 1925.
Additional Support For The Previous Probable Answer
The timeline date range of the photo using forensic techniques of 1921-1925 (with the strongest possibility being about 1925) supports the previous probable answer that it was probably taken in 1926 or shortly before [see Part 1 published on 28 June 2014]. Unfortunately, it can't support the previously determined probable reason that the photograph was taken - to be used in the 1926 CalumetBPC Founders Book.
Dating A Photograph . . . On Steroids!
If you're interested in several other techniques for dating photographs, the book Forensic Genealogy shows how to date objects in the background, date the photo paper/style itself and how to measure outdoor shadows to indicate two possible days of the year that the photo could have been taken based on the Spring and Fall Equinox. Really!
More About This Case Study
- Case Study Response - Part 1 of 3 "Traditional Research Methods" published 28 June 2014
- Upcoming Case Study Response - Part 3 of 3 "Forensic Techniques for Individualization"
1 Melinda Kashuba, Walking With Your Ancestors (Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.: Family Tree Books, 2005), 5.
2 Colleen Fitzpatrick, PhD, Forensic Genealogy (Fountain Valley, California, U.S.A.: Rice Book Press, 2005), 20.