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Yesterday at the reunion, my cousin Doug Burris hauled out his box of old photographs to see if I could help him ID any of them. (I was pretty useless on his unknown photos.)

In that box were some real gems, not the least of which was an old tintype photo of Uncle Jeff (Jefferson William Burris, 1860-1941).
 photo Jefferson William Burris.jpg

When I got home and started trying to date it, it reminded me of the one of GW Burris Sr., Uncle Jeff's older brother.
 photo GeoWBurrisSr enhanced_1.jpg

I think they sat for their photos at or around the same time. I always thought great granddad looked awful young in his tintype photo, so I hauled out my book, "Dressed for the Photographer," by Joan Severa) and had a look at men's clothing styles in the 1870s.

Based on coat length (a shortened version of what was known during the 1860s as a "sack coat"), type of tie, GW Sr.'s hat, and the pose the photographer had them both using, I'm going to date both photos from 1874-1877 (when GW Sr. got married).

Tintype photographs had their heyday during the Civil War, but were produced for up to 40 years after that. These photos were the type and size that would have been purchased during a carnival or fair. Perhaps the Pope County Fair?

Cousins, right click and save as you wish.
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Being unwilling to continue to tear my hair out to at least date these unlabeled photos, I was very intrigued by this post in Katherine's blog, Atlantic Roots.

So I ordered my very own copy of Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900, by Joan Severa.

It arrived yesterday.

So you know how I spent my Friday night.

I think I have much closer dates for two photos, after studying the photos in the book, as well as the excellent narrative Severa gives about other fashion clues, such as hairstyles.


This is my great-grandmother, Maxie Leah (Meek) Williams. I'm going to date this photo about 1886 (she married on 11 Feb 1886) due to the rounded bodice of the dress, as well as the collar, and the hint of the bustle on the back of the dress.

Many bodices of this period had tight sleeves cut short on the forearm and featuring cuffs or half-cuffs. (Source: Dressed for the Photographer, at page 378.)

Severa goes on to say, In eighties photographs all bodices appear corset-fitted, many with very high standing collars. Similarly, sleeves are set very high, with the armscye cut somewhat in from the point of the shoulder in back, and are extremely tight... (Id., at page 379.)

There are also dating clues in the way she wore her hair. ...In the matter of coifure, the hair will be worn a good deal lower on the neck than it has been for some two seasons past...The style of dressing the front hair remains unchanged [in curled bangs]. (Id., at page 385.)

The puff sleeves on the dress and much shorter and tightly curled bangs make me think this photo was taken in the very late 1890's, and that theory is supported by the listing of the photographer, Jno H Ganner of Russellville, in the 1900 Arkansas Business Directory.

I believe this is still Maxie Leah, but do not have a clue as to the identity of her younger companion.


This book is making a formerly dreaded chore much more fun.

This is a Sepia Saturday post.


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Dee Burris Blakley

October 2016


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