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  • Genealogical Issues: Identifying Ancestors in Photographs

    Myra V. Gormley

    Published Date : February-March 1989
    Judith Allison Walters collects old photographs.  She browses about antique stores and in secondhand shops looking for family treasures such as tintypes, daguerreotypes, diaries, albums, Bibles, old letters, memorial cards, autograph albums, and school yearbooks.

    In the unlikely place of Leavenworth, Washington, an alpine-like village on the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle, Ms. Walters discovered a series of 12 small photographs of Illinois Civil War veterans, in unifom and identified by name.  She enlarged the photos to 8 by 10-inch size, and tracked down each man’s Civil War records through the National Archives.  Then she put together a 34-page booklet, titled Brief Biographies in the Civil War, Illustrated with Their Photographs.  She now has more than 10,000 photographs which she has collected since 1967.  Walters makes a negative of each photograph, then a contact which is affixed to a sheet of paper containing all pertinent data.

    “These family treasures belong back in family circles,” says Walters, “so I am preserving them and makling them available to their rightful families.”

    Walters advertises her collection in such magazines as The Genealogical Helper and attends many genealogical seminars.

    When queried about her collection, Ms. Walters send lists containing hundreds of surnames.  People scan the list and if they discover their family name, they can request additional material for a modest fee.

    Walters computerized her data, and she can provide inexpensive duplicates of photographs. She has a background in photo finishing, including experience in a New York portrait studio.

    Her collection dates from 1840 to 1920.  Additionally, she compiled a booklet of the names of 1,800 different photographers and the cities in which they had studios.  The information comes from her photo collection.  About 85 percent of the photographers are American; most of the others are British and German.

    Even if your family never migrated to the West, you may discover their pictures were carried across America by relatives and friends, only to be discarded years later by uninterested descendants. Perhaps Walters has rescued some photographs of your ancestors.

    In addition to the photographs, she collects miscellaneous documents and memorabilia.  For instance, she has a 1909 passport of Karl Gustaf Pettersson and wife, Hulda Katerina; some 1896-97 naturalization papers of Lars Erikson of Brown County, Minnesota; and a Civil War era autograph album belonging to Emma Jane Fireng of Camden, New Jersey.

    Ms. Walters retrieved a 1913 Seattle high school yearbook; a 1917-18 list of students and faculty of Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio; and 1931 North Dakota State College booklet of [29] photographs and other information on current and former students.

    She also has compiled two small books relating to Jewish genealogy.  One pertains to Families in Przasnysa and Ciechanow, Warsaw, Poland; the other is the 1846 enumeration of the Jews of Fraustadt, Prussia.  It consists of 159 households with names, birth dates, places, and maiden names of the women.

    Walters will provide inexpensive photocopies of documents and books she has collected.  Prices are included in the catalog.  She also copies tintypes, ambrotypes, and daguerreotypes.  To obtain her Catalog of Genealogical Material, send $0.80 of stamps to Judith Allison Walters, P. 0. Box 129, Bothell, WA 98041.

    Myra Vanderpool Gormley authors a column syndicated within the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and appearing in newspapers and magazines across the country.  Each column focuses on ancestors, not only those who arrived in the early decades but also those who have arrived in recent periods.  Genealogically and historically, her column explains the hows, whens, and whys of migration, and how to conduct genealogical research using the latest technology in information gathering, including computers, interlibrary loan programs, microforms, and special collectiom.  Her advice is aimed at both the amateur and professional genealogist, and is accessible by PC modem on “GEnie,” the General Electric Network for Information Exchange. (Call 1-800-638-9636 for information on GEnie).

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