Tag Archives: 1860s

Economical Fashions and the Civil War

Scanned Image 25

Unidentified photograph of a young woman, Mount Pleasant, Iowa, ca. 1863-1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

This lovely carte de visite offers several indications as to its date, from both the name of the photographer, and the unique style of dress. Unfortunately, although the photograph comes from an album linked to the family of Jesse M. Smith of Mount Pleasant, Henry County, Iowa, it remains unidentified.1

If your ancestors lived in Henry County, Iowa, in the early 1860s, take note – could this young woman, born circa 1850, be in your family tree?

The slim young woman in the photograph, perhaps fifteen years of age, wears her dark hair with a center part, likely pulled back into a snood. With one hand on the back of an ornate chair, the other holds a straw hat. She is outfitted in a style distinctive to the Civil War era. Her full-sleeved Garibaldi shirtwaist is of plain muslin, accented by a wide Swiss belt. It is tucked into a skirt fashioned from an old dress, something seen often at this time when there was a need to be economical.2

Scanned Image 25 back

Stamped on the back of the photograph is the identification, “Leisenring Bros., Photographers, Mount Pleasant, Iowa.” Although the Leisenring family operated a studio in Mount Pleasant for many years, the Leisenring brothers managed it together for only a short period of time, from 1863-1867. The name was changed to reflect this joint ownership.3

After putting these clues together, this carte de visite can be dated to a narrow time frame of approximately 1863-1865. Perhaps a local soldier carried a copy with him throughout the war, or maybe the young woman simply wished to have her photograph taken in a new outfit that she had likely sewn herself. Regardless, it provides a unique study of the ways in which the economy may have impacted the fashion choices of southeastern Iowans during the Civil War.

For more unidentified photographs from this album, click here and here.

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Military Monday: A Civil War Compiled Service Record

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I thought I would share the Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) of my one and only direct ancestor who served in the Civil War, namely John Fenton of Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry.1

John Fenton, of Bole, Nottinghamshire, England,2 came to America with his wife and children before 1850.3 They settled first in Summit County, Ohio,4 and later lived in Montgomery County, Illinois. By the time the Civil War rolled around, John was a widower with four children between the ages of nine and eighteen: Sarah Alice, Harriet, John, and George W. Fenton.5

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On 14 September 1861, John enlisted as a Private in Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry in Pana, Christian, Illinois, for a term of three years. He was now forty-six years old – no longer a young man, he would have been nearly fifty before his term of service was complete. John stood at 5 feet 9 inches tall, and had a dark complexion, black hair, and hazel eyes.6

As of 1860, John had made his living as a farm laborer, boarding with three of his children in the household of another family.7 One of his daughters boarded with a family in the next county.8 Perhaps, being that John was apparently a horseman, a three-year stint in the cavalry seemed to be as good of an option as any in terms of bringing in steady pay. John’s daughters were old enough to look after their younger brothers, and perhaps – hopefully – there were friends or relatives willing to take them in while he served. The pension file submitted by his minor son, decades later, may answer some of these lingering questions.9

John’s service was relatively short lived. Soon after his enlistment, the Regiment made its way to Missouri; John spent time on prisoners’ guard in Rolla, and may have seen action at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas. In late April of 1862, John left the site of Pea Ridge with the train of wounded, arriving in the hospital in Lebanon, Laclede, Missouri. After a lingering illness, it was there that he died of typhoid fever on 7 July 1862 at the age of forty-seven.10 Although John was initially buried at Lebanon, his grave was likely unmarked and his body may since have been exhumed and reburied the National Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri.11

How can you obtain your ancestor’s Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR)? I acquired John Fenton’s CMSR in person at the National Archives in 2011, when I still lived near Washington, D.C. It was a definitely an experience to be able to view and photograph the original document at my leisure; although the National Archives can seem intimidating, I was able to place my request without any problems and there were plenty of staff members and volunteers willing to point me in the right direction as needed. If you don’t find yourself there anytime soon, and if the CMSR that you seek isn’t available online or on microfilm at a local branch of the National Archives, you can still request a copy for a fee, using information located in indexes online. The online ordering system is easy to use – just be prepared to wait for your record to arrive in the mail!



SOURCES
1 Compiled service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Illinois Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
2 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
3 1850 U.S. census, Summit County, Ohio, population schedule, Stow, p. 931 (penned), dwelling 33, family 52, John Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M432, roll 732.
4 1850 U.S. census, Summit Co., Oh., pop. sch., Stow, p. 931 (penned), dwell. 33, fam. 52, John Fenton.
5 1860 U.S. census, Montgomery County, Illinois, population schedule, Audubon Post Office, p. 319 (penned), dwelling 2284, family 2287, John Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M653, roll 214.
6 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
7 1860 U.S. census, Montgomery Co., Ill., pop. sch., Audubon P.O., p. 319 (penned), dwell. 2284, fam. 2287, John Fenton.
8 1860 U.S. census, Christian County, Illinois, population schedule, Pana, p. 319 (penned), dwelling 574, family 5114, Harriet Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M653, roll 161.
9 “U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 November 2013); John Fenton (Co. M, 3rd Ill. Inf.) index card; imaged from General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, T288 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives [n.d.]), roll 150.
10 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
11 “Union Soldiers Buried at Lebanon, Missouri 1862-1865,” Judy’s Stuff (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~judysstuff/burials/Lebanon.htm : accessed 11 November 2013).

A Dashing Young Man

Scanned Image 27

Unidentified photograph of a young man, ca. 1860-1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

“Compliments of C.F.P.” is inscribed in pencil on the back of this unidentified photograph of a young man. He has a high forehead and wavy hair; there is a firm set to his jaw and his dark eyes hold a steady gaze. His jacket is buttoned to the top, revealing a high collar and a snippet of a checked necktie underneath.

This photograph is an example of what was known as a carte de visite, or CDV, most popular between 1860 and 1866.
Cartes de visite were paper photographs mounted on cardboard, affordable and easy to transport. They fell out of favor when larger cabinet card photographs became available.1

The young man’s hairstyle, longish and brushed back from his forehead, reflects this era.2 His knotted necktie may be fastened with a stickpin and reveals a bit of checked fabric just above the collar of his coat. His coat does not seem particularly fine; it is loose-fitting and looks to be made of wool.

Scanned Image 27 backAlthough unidentified, this carte de visite comes from an album that traces to the family of Jesse M. Smith of Henry County, Iowa, although other families may be included. This particular photograph offers no clues as to where it was taken, although many of the photographs in the album are from Iowa with a few from Kansas and Missouri.3 It’s anyone’s guess as to who C.F.P. might have been.

My estimate for the age of the young man is perhaps between twenty-five and thirty; his high hairline suggests to me that he is probably not much younger. His apparent age suggests a date of birth between approximately 1830 and 1840, depending on the year that the photograph was taken. Perhaps he was unmarried when he inscribed this photograph and presented it to a young lady he admired; of course, it could also have been given to a family member or friend. Did C.F.P. serve in the Civil War? Although he is not in uniform in this photograph, that doesn’t mean that it might not have been taken as a memento for his loved ones before he left home.

What are your thoughts about the elusive C.F.P.?



SOURCES
1 Georgen Gilliam Charnes, “Cartes-de-Visite: The First Pocket Photographs,” Nantucket Historical Association, 2004 (http://www.nha.org/history/keepinghistory/KHcdv.htm : accessed 1 November 2013).
2 Maureen Taylor, Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900 (United States: Picture Perfect Press, 2009), 53.
3 Jesse M. and Elizabeth Jane (Baker) Smith Album, ca. 1860-1920; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Identifying Photographs of the Civil War Era

Antique photographs can come with unique distinctions that suggest that they were made during the Civil War era. Neither of these photographs has been identified, but both come from a photograph album, purchased at an antique shop, with ties to the family of Jesse M. and Elizabeth Jane (Baker) Smith of Mount Pleasant, Henry County, Iowa.1 Both provide excellent examples of the ways in which Civil War era photographs might be marked or otherwise adorned.

Unidentified tintype of woman and child, ca. 1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Unidentified tintype of woman and child, ca. 1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

The first image in the album, which features a woman and, presumably, her young daughter, is set inside an embossed white paper mat with a patriotic pattern of stars. An embossed notation on the side of this mat states that it was patented 7 March 1865, suggesting that the tintype was made shortly thereafter.2 The woman has crimped her hair at the temples in a manner that was popular in the latter half of the decade,3 and the young girl, perhaps six years old, wears her hair long and loosely curled. While the mother is corseted and in a fine gown supported by a hoop skirt, the daughter is dressed in a much looser – and more comfortable – style, though she also wears jewelry as well as what appears to be flowers or decorative combs in her hair.

The name “Laura” is handwritten in pencil near the top of the mat. Unfortunately, the only Laura that I could find directly related to the couple associated with this album was not born until 1867.4 Perhaps there was another Laura in the extended family, or perhaps it was labeled as such simply because it came from “Laura’s side of the family,” as opposed to, for example, the family of her spouse. Regardless, the relationship between the mother and daughter pictured here, dressed in their best during a tumultuous period in American history, can still be appreciated today.

Tax revenue stamp of unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Tax revenue stamp of unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Another photograph with a distinct Civil War flavor comes with a helpful clue.  The couple in the photograph above appears impeccably dressed. The bearded man wears a typically roomy sack-cut coat,5 accented with a dark plaid vest, and the woman, whose hair is held back with combs in a style that was common at the time,6 wears a solid-colored gown with elegant puffed sleeves and buttons adorning the bodice. Affixed to the back of this carte de visite is an orange two-cent stamp. This stamp, which features George Washington, was a tax revenue stamp. It is canceled with the photographer’s initials, along with the date: 1866. As it turns out, this photograph was taxed near the tail end of the period during which photographs were subject to a tax; the period of taxation lasted only from 1 September 1864 to 1 August 1866.7

This photograph has tack holes in each of its four corners, suggesting that it was put on display at one time, tacked up perhaps on the wall of a home or on a writing desk. Evidently, in the years before it made its way into an album and was subsequently forgotten, this photograph was important enough to someone that he or she wished to look upon it every day. Today, we are left to wonder what became of the couple pictured within, and why they chose to have their photograph taken on this day in 1866, not long after the conclusion of the Civil War.

What signs of the Civil War era have you spotted in a photograph?



SOURCES
1 Jesse M. and Elizabeth Jane (Baker) Smith Album, ca. 1860-1920; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.
2 “What Do You Know About Tintypes?,” Ohio Historical Society Collections Blog, 5 August 2011 (http://ohiohistory.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/what-do-you-know-about-tintypes/ : accessed 13 September 2013).
3 Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press), 206.
4 1870 U.S. census, Henry County, Iowa, population schedule, Center, p. 14, dwelling 109, family 109, Laura B. Smith; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 395.
5 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 209.
6 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 206.
7 Maureen A. Taylor, Family Photo Detective (Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2013), 54-55.

When Did He Die? Clues From a Probate File

This year was the first that I attended the NGS Family History Conference, and I never could have imagined how much I would learn from each and every lecture that I attended there. I was always left with the urge to rush back to my hotel room to open up my laptop and try out a new research trick, or to look at a record in a different way. One of the many inspiring lectures that gave me some food for thought was the Helen F. M. Leary Distinguished Lecture, “Trousers, Beds, Black Domestic, Tacks, and Housekeeping Bills: ‘Trivial Details’ Can Solve Research Problems,” by Elizabeth Shown Mills.1

This lecture stressed attention to detail, in particular the information and significant dates that could be gleaned from probate records and household bills. For example, a doctor clearly wouldn’t continue to attend and bill a patient after they had died, and the purchase of items needed for a burial, including a coffin or, less obviously, a new suit of clothes, could also suggest a date of death.2 When contemplating this, I immediately thought of my ancestor Elithan Hall of Washington County, Illinois; details of his life are few and far between, but I did possess a copy of his probate file.

Within the probate file for Elithan Hall was a petition that stated that he had died on an unspecified date in March of 1859. This petition was not created until 1866, but seemed to be the most reliable document referencing the date of his death.3 After attending Elizabeth Shown Mills’ lecture, however, I recalled that the probate file had included quite a few miscellaneous bills. I wondered if one might suggest a more specific date of death, and I could hardly wait to reexamine the contents of the file to see whether I had overlooked any details before.

Washington County, Illinois, Ellerton Hall probate file, Box 34, County Court; Illinois State Archives, Springfield.

Washington County, Illinois, Ellerton Hall probate file, Box 34, County Court; Illinois State Archives, Springfield.

As it turns out, I most certainly had. To be honest, the facts became almost embarrassingly obvious! Within the probate file was a doctor bill, which stated, “1860: From April 26th to May 5th for Medical Attendance during his last sickness.”4 There was another bill as well, signed by a different man: “From January 27th 1860, To May 9th 1860, To Sundries including burial expenses.”5

Last sickness? Burial expenses? From these seemingly minor details, I realized that Elithan Hall had likely lived more than a year longer than the date on the petition, which I had blindly accepted although it was created more than five years after the fact. In reality, Elithan Hall likely died in Washington County, Illinois, on 5-6 May 1860, and was buried no later than 9 May 1860.

What surprising clues have you found in a probate file?



SOURCES
1 Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Trousers, Beds, Black Domestic, Tacks, and Housekeeping Bills: ‘Trivial Details’ Can Solve Research Problems,” National Genealogical Society Family History Conference: Las Vegas, 2013.
2 Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Trousers, Beds, Black Domestic, Tacks, and Housekeeping Bills.”
3 Washington County, Illinois, Ellerton Hall probate file, Box 34, County Court; Illinois State Archives, Springfield. Ellerton was a variation of the name Elithan.
4 Washington Co., Ill., Ellerton Hall probate file.
5 Washington Co., Ill., Ellerton Hall probate file.

 

A Tintype Wedding Portrait

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.

Timothy Adam and Odile Millette photograph, 1867, Springfield, Massachusetts; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Timothy Adam and Odile Millette photograph, 1867, Springfield, Massachusetts; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

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?



SOURCES
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.