Photo and Family History

While reviewing old family photos, I was struck by one collection not only because of the age of the photos but also the representative examples of the types of photographs commonly available during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


On the left in this daugerreotype is my great-great-great-grandfather James William Howe, born in 1831. (I don’t know who the gentleman on the right is.) This image was probably made sometime in the early-to-mid 1850s, which was also the time of peak popularity of daugerreotypes in the US. The image is under glass and beautifully detailed even under magnification. As with all photos using this method, the image reflects a negative view when observed at an angle and has a striking depth to it.


The tintype or ferrotype was made on a thin sheet of steel lacquered and coated with a photosensitive material. The photos were inexpensive and fast to make so were popular at carnivals and other events. This undated photo includes two distant relatives while on vacation in Germany. The tintypes were made in a variety of standard sizes; this one is a 1/6th plate, measuring about 2.5″ X 3.5″.

Carte de Visite

The carte de visite (or CdV) was a very popular type of photo starting around 1859 in the US. It was an albumen print on paper backed with sturdier card stock. This 1877 photo of Robert Henry Julia was made just before his tragic death one year later at the age of 22. The reverse sides of the CdVs often had ornate advertising of the maker’s business and artistry.

Cabinet Card

The cabinet card introduced in the 1870s replaced CdVs and were popular through the beginning of the 20th century. They were a standard 4″ X 6″ size and, like the CdV, were albumen prints on paper mounted to a thicker cardboard. These two images are my great-great-grandmother Esther Amelia Ferris Hyatt and my great-great-grandfather Eugene Hyatt.

The photographer, Evan D. Evans, opened his business in Ithaca, NY after an 1881 fire destroyed his Corning NY business. He was highly skilled and successful, becoming Cornell University’s official photographer. We can conclude these portraits were made in Ithaca sometime between 1881 and 1894, the year of Eugene Hyatt’s death.

My New Photo Book

I recently had a photo book made by Blurb. It’s really more of a photo album dressed up as a book. There were a few motivations: put some of my favorite images in a form easily shared with friends and family; consolidate my embarrassingly-large collection of slides, transparencies, and digital images; and take a step forward with döstädning (death cleaning).

Some of the many thousands of slides from years of film photography

That last point means I want to eliminate my horde of images that were in a form nobody is likely to contend with after I permanently depart. It’s just one of many tidying projects in the queue to relieve the burden of pointless possessions and ease any future living transitions.

I’ve had a little experience making books before. A test effort using Google’s print service yielded a nice little soft-cover vacation booklet. There are few format and layout options but that means it’s very easy to use. I also made a soft-cover black and white photo book of my father’s old family images. I had a very unpleasant experience with a company whose name I won’t mention (it has the word “shutter” and a type of insect pest in the name). Trying the same book with Blurb did the trick nicely and convinced me to use their service for my new project. I’m pleased with the result.

Three printed photo books

With many options in size, layout, cover types, and papers, I designed for a hard-cover book with dust jacket, 10 X 8 inches in size. Once you’ve learned the basics of Blurb’s (sometimes primitive) BookWright program, you have a lot of flexibility for making layouts and design elements that suit your project. Order a proof copy, make final corrections and adjustments, then order as many as you need, taking care to place the order during one of their frequent promotional discount windows. You can also have them create a quality PDF version. These books are expensive, and not generally viable for bigger print distribution runs but are perfect for these one-off custom masterpieces.

I’m impressed with the print quality–almost all images, some of which pushed color boundaries, reproduced well. Blurb makes a color profile available for those who understand and can use soft-proofing in a color-managed workflow, but it’s not necessary for generally very good results.

Inside the book

The end result for me is a nice-looking book with about 200 images as an attractive photo album. All those old raw materials, prints and slides, are off to the landfill. Next up, I have a family album in the works as I digitize almost a century of family photos and slides. Copies of that book will be sent off to siblings and nieces so all have easy and organized access to visual family history.

Making your own books with modern printing technology is a worthwhile and interesting way to consolidate your art or experiences in a form that’s appealing, accessible, and likely to endure long past aging film and disorganized digital records. And it’s fun.

Christmas 2021

These Christmas ornaments gave their lives (or at least their cheap metal plating) while hanging out on a spruce tree waiting for their photo op–it took a few weeks of waiting last winter to get the right snow decorating. We honor their sacrifice and wish you Happy Holidays of all varieties. Health and happiness to you all in the coming year.

Late October in the Adirondacks


Lori and I spent a week in the northern Adirondacks, accompanied for a few days by our friend Stella. It was past peak fall colors except for the golden tamaracks which looked like they could glow in the dark. We had many trails practically to ourselves and were among the very few paddlers out on the waters. The main street through Lake Placid was torn up due to major infrastructure work, most of our favored restaurants were closed, and the loons had departed for the winter. Regardless, it was a very relaxing and rejuvenating stay: sharing good food, good camaraderie, and that brisk mountain air does the soul good.

Fall Walks

We’ve been walking local trails during our customary scramble before browns and grays lead to Winter. We’ve enjoyed some old favorites and some new.

Six Mile Creek

Six Mile Creek southeast of Ithaca includes the reservoir supplying Ithaca’s water. A warren of trails, only some of which are official, meanders through beautiful woods along the creek and high on cliff edges above it. Notorious for partying and skinny-dipping college students, the area was blissfully quiet during our mid-week early-morning jaunt.

Logan Hill Nature Preserve

A steep and very rough dirt road heads up from the town of Candor to the beautiful Logan Hill Nature Preserve. The necessity of hiking up the steep road from town automatically filters out a lot of people who might otherwise visit. The preserve has varied terrain and combinations of woods, fields, ponds, and gullies. We mostly had the place to ourselves and it definitely warrants return visits.

Steege Hill Nature Preserve

Located on some terrain high above the Chemung River near Corning NY, the Steege Hill Nature Preserve urges visitors to be alert for, and not provoke, resident timber rattlesnakes. We encountered none but were eventually driven to shorten our hike due to relentless clouds of amazingly obnoxious mosquitoes. It was sufficient to induce us to resolve not to return.

Fischer Old Growth Forest

We’ve walked the Fischer Old Growth Forest many times over the past 8 years and it’s always a treat. Mere minutes from our house, it’s a beautiful and sparsely-visited gem.

Salt Springs State Park

We joined friends Diane and Chong for a hike along the bed of Fall Brook at Salt Springs State Park in Pennsylvania just south of Binghamton NY. A series of beautiful waterfalls made the treacherous (and unofficial) hike upstream a real treat.

Taughannock Falls

Of course the spectacular 215′ Taughnnock Falls attracts most of the attention, but the rest of the state park has other beautiful features well worth exploring. We hiked the rim trail and then walked southeast on the Black Diamond Rail Trail for a ways before mosquitoes got the best of us.

Four Bucks

As happens most days, a group of deer passed through our yard while doing their evening browsing. This time, though, the group included four bucks (2 of them quite young). This was a first for us.

The Competition

Ali vs. Frazier, Yankees vs. Red Sox, Hatfields vs. McCoys: all are great and enduring contests between strong-willed and unrelenting opponents. So it is with our toothpaste tube contests. Two people locked in matrimony and fevered competition determine who is first to fail squeezing a useful amount of dentifrice from the depleted tube. It is a stark zero-sum struggle with a decisive outcome worthy of Gore Vidal’s alleged assertion that “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

One combatant is by nature a fiercely competitive woman, equating these contests to no less than a great moral struggle. The other combatant is a man with Scottish blood of a stubborn and frugal characteristic. The shared use of the household’s toothpaste doesn’t always lead to the final days of fierce struggle as paste is depleted, but the circumstance for a struggle is often manifested in unstated but mutually understood escalation. The final days require thorough understanding of tube mechanics and the ability to apply great grip strength to move increasingly scarce molecules from the tube.

So who squeezed out the latest great combat victory, giving the opponent a decisive pasting? Scottish reticence prohibits the victor from unseemly gloating (or enumerating previous victories). Maybe not the new tube of toothpaste, or the next, but it’s inevitable that some tube will eventually provoke another contest, like a great thunderhead preparing to unleash a tremendous fury. Meanwhile we rest. And brush.