Tag Archives: CDV

Searching for Marguerite

There is both good and bad news about this photograph:


Unidentified photograph, ca. 1860-1866; digital image 2015, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015. Image courtesy of D.B.

Twenty-seven years ago, my parents traveled to Massachusetts and made a stop in the community of Indian Orchard, where, my father knew, his ancestors had lived for a time in the latter half of the nineteenth century. As it turned out, these French Canadian immigrants had descendants who still lived in the area, and thanks to the staff at Saint Aloysius Parish, he was able to connect with one such descendant. Later, he began corresponding with two more cousins, both of whom were kind enough to share their research about our shared French Canadian and Acadian ancestors. Family lore and even a few photographs were also exchanged – including this photocopied image thought to be a photograph of Marguerite (Chicoine) Adam (1816-1878).1

Marguerite Chicoine is one of the first ancestral names I learned as a child and amateur family historian. I loved hearing that she was said to be Native American – a bit of family lore since (mostly) disproven, but it did work quite effectively to capture my attention at the time. I had always hoped to see the original of this photograph that was sent to us by our late cousin, but learned two years ago that an original may no longer exist. Apparently, when she was moved to a nursing home, her family history materials were thrown out.2 This serves as an important reminder to make an estate plan for the preservation of your own family history materials.

While I can’t rule out that somewhere out there, a cousin might hold another copy of this same photograph – that fortunate scenario has happened before – it’s also possible that this is the only version of this photograph that I will ever see. In any case, let’s take a look. Could this realistically be a photograph of Marguerite Chicoine?

Marguerite died in Massachusetts in 1878 at the age of 62.3 Thus, this photograph would have to predate 1878. As the photocopy indicates that this was a carte de visite – most popular between approximately 1860 and 1866 – that is entirely possible.4 All of Marguerite’s fifteen known children were born before 1862, with the exception of her youngest, who was born five years later. As Marguerite relocated with her family from Quebec to Massachusetts circa 1864-65, it seems plausible that she may have had her picture taken during this time period as a memento to share with relatives at home.5

Marguerite was fifty years old when her youngest child was born at the tail end of the most likely timeframe for this photograph; in order to have had a healthy pregnancy so late, perhaps she had a more youthful appearance than one might otherwise imagine for a mother of fifteen. The woman appears to have dark hair without noticeable graying, and her dark complexion and strong nose make it easy to see how rumors of significant Native American ancestry could have gotten started. However, I find it difficult to get a sense for her age, due in part to the poor quality of the image. Could she be over forty-five, or is this woman in fact decades younger?

Marguerite did have three daughters who would have reached adulthood by the 1860s: Marguerite Adam, Marie Adam, and Julienne Adam.6 While I do have a photograph of Marguerite, who does not appear to be a match, could this photograph show instead either Marie or Julienne as a young woman in her early to mid-twenties?

The woman wears a buttoned shirtwaist with a windowpane pattern, the sleeves neither significantly fitted nor puffed, and a high linen band collar is visible.7 Her belted skirt is of a straightforward design. Notably, it is not worn with a fashionable hoop as one would typically expect in the 1860s; this more unassuming skirt would perhaps have been in line with what a woman in rural Quebec or an immigrant in a New England mill town might wear.8 The backdrop is similarly domestic in style with a practical wooden chair and what looks to be a fireplace.

The good news? This could be a photograph of Marguerite Chicoine. It depicts a dark-complected woman of evidently simple means who was photographed in the 1860s, a physical description, socioeconomic background, and timeline that fit with what is known about Marguerite.

The bad news? We may never know for sure. It seems equally plausible that could be a photograph of one of Marguerite’s daughters or a close relative. Lacking an original for closer examination, it can still be hoped that another copy of this photograph might exist in different branch of the family, and that it may hold additional clues regarding the true identification of the mysterious dark-haired Québécois.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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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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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.?

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.