One of my favorite aspects of genealogical research is photograph analysis. I can never take just one glance at an old photograph, as I love to detect clues about the eras, lifestyles, and relationships depicted within. I hope to share a photograph and analysis on a weekly or monthly basis, including both photographs from my family’s collection, as well as photographs, unidentified or not, that I’ve come across in antique stores.
This is a scan of a tintype of my third great grandparents, Timothy Adam and Odile Millette of Springfield, Hampden, Massachusetts, who were married on 22 September 1867.1 At the time of their marriage, Timothy and Odile, both of French Canadian heritage, were twenty years old. Timothy worked as a dresser at a cotton mill; prior to their marriage, it seems likely that Odile would have worked at a mill as well.
This tintype has several features worth noting. Smaller than my hand, the original has hand painted pink accents on the cheeks of the couple. The corner of the tintype has been bent, but the overall quality of the image is good.
Was this tintype made at the time of the couple’s marriage? First of all, we know that tintypes were in use from 1856-1930. They gained popularity in the 1860s as they were inexpensive to produce – Timothy and Odile may have paid only a few cents for this image at a local studio.2
In the image, Odile stands at Timothy’s side while he sits in a chair. His feet are planted firmly on the ground, and Odile rests her hand on his shoulder. Timothy’s gaze focuses directly on the camera, while Odile gazes slightly above. Their expressions are serious, but not unpleasant.
Timothy wears a three-piece suit for the occasion. He appears to be a slight young man, and his dark suit is somewhat loose fitting – perhaps it was not brand new, as closer fitted, ready-made styles became popular in this decade.3 There is trim at the borders and cuffs of his suit, which he wears with a white collar, a cravat, appropriate for a formal occasion, and what may be a pocket watch at the lapel.4 Timothy’s hair is parted on the side, and he sports a faint mustache.
Odile wears a skirt and waist style of dress, the simple waist accented by jet buttons. Over this, she wears a Spanish jacket in a contrasting color with a bold trim.5 Her otherwise plain skirt features a belt or sash and a wide hoop, which is compressed slightly by her position against her husband’s chair. Her dark hair has a center part and is pulled back into a plain snood, or hair net, in an everyday style. She wears earrings, and a brooch adorns her high collar.
Odile’s style of dress reflects a fashion seen in the 1860s. In May 1863, Peterson’s printed the following:
“[…] All the thin summer goods are very much risen in price, so that the present fashion of wearing old skirts, with Spanish and Zouave jackets, is a most convenient one […] pretty jackets in velvet, silk, and cloth […] very useful for wearing with old skirts, the bodices of which are worn out.”6
Furthermore, in June 1866, Godey’s noted “a charming assortment of fancy jackets” worn by women.7 Though the high prices of fabric reported in 1863 were most likely a result of the Civil War, which concluded two years prior to Odile’s wedding day, as she was a young millworker of limited means, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that she might have remade an old dress in an economical fashion for the occasion. With her dark complexion, a Spanish jacket proved an attractive choice.
The clothing and hairstyles worn by the couple indicates that the image was made in the 1860s, and the apparent age of the couple suggests that it was made in the latter half of the decade. It therefore seems likely that this was indeed a wedding portrait of Timothy Adam and Odile Millette, who would have had their picture made on or around 22 September 1867 in Springfield, Hampden, Massachusetts. It provides a unique glimpse into an important day in the lives of two young people of French Canadian heritage, who sought opportunity in the textile mills of New England in the years following the Civil War.
Do you have any tintypes in your family collection?
1 “Massachusetts, Marriages, 1841-1915,” digital image, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 30 Aug 2013), Timothy Adams and Julia Mellett, 22 September 1867, Springfield. Odile Millette used the name Julia early in her life.
2 Maureen A. Taylor, Family Photo Detective (Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2013), 37.
3 Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1995), 259.
4 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 209.
5 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 277.
6 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 241.
7 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 277.