Saturday, February 19, 2011

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop - Research, Dating Photos, and Photographer's Stamps

 A photographer's stamp is usually the best clue to help us date a photograph. While this gentleman's style of dress and hairstyle are quite distinctive to a particular period, the lucky addition of our photographer's name helps us get a pretty precise idea of when this image was taken.

We are fortunate that the Library Services Committee of the Western Michigan Genealogy Society compiled this list of Grand Rapids area portrait photographers from the local city directories. (Oh how I love genealogists!) Mr. John Goossen practiced for nearly 40 years, but was located at 121 Monroe Street, the date stamped on our photograph, for only about five of these years.

The Internet is a wonderful resource for dating images, sending us in the right direction for our research. If I were researching this information for a book, I would call the library and ask them to double check the original resource for me. City directories are a boon for people dating photographs, researching ancestors, performing house histories, completing biographies and tracking changes in neighborhoods. My most memorable request from a patron that involved the use of city directories and reverse directories for research was to determine the original use of a building. (City directories list residents by name while reverse directories list by address.) The owner of the building came to me to prove that his edifice was once a two family structure. According to the patron, he wished to re-purpose his home to once again make it fit for two families and the City was not allowing him to do so. They claimed that it was always meant for just one family and he set out to prove them wrong. (He did!)

Researching the history of this photograph and trying to identify the subject would take me to Grand Rapids to look for the photographer's collection. Some photographer's collections are donated to repositories and serve as valuable documentation of local citizens and are remarkable for the way they reveal local history and character.

So when trying to date or understand more about photographs, remember that sometimes it is not the image itself that is key. Look at the reverse side of a photo for a photographer's stamp and seek resources beyond the image itself.

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