Dating and Identifying Two Very Old Photos

I’ve written about my cousin, Charles Adams Chadwick, in a previous post. He passed on to me a number of old family photographs dating back to the 1850’s. Here are two of them:

Annie and Walter Grover, as inscribed on backs

The reverse side doesn’t have the photographer’s name, but there is a decorative imprint, which is the same on both photos.


19th Century Card Photos Kwik Guide by Gary W. Clark is a great resource for dating old photos. These photos are cartes de visite (commonly known as CDV photos), introduced in the United States about 1860 and very popular from the Civil War era to around 1880.

There is a third photograph that was placed in his mother’s album that is not inscribed. It is of a lady holding a child who is maybe about three years old. This photo does have the photographer’s name on the back – Fred A. Stoddard, Calais, Maine. There is also a one cent tax stamp on the back.

Grover1             Back of Photo

Annie’s and Walter’s photos are measure 2 3/8 inches by 4 inches, likely matching the dimensions of this third photo which had been trimmed slightly on the right front side. The height of the third photo is also 4 inches.

Gary Clark suggests eight clues to research in order to determine the age and date of CDV photos, which I followed:

1. Determine card thickness and size.

There are examples of card thicknesses in the book. All three of these photos match cards of the thinnest example, which were in use from 1858-1863. All cards appear to measure 2 3/8 inches by 4 inches, which were used from 1862-1869.

2. Examine the card borders and art work.

Annie’s and Walter’s photos have a two-line border with the lines of the same width. Those borders were in use from 1863-1864. The woman and child photo also has a two-line border, but the outer line is thicker than the inner line. That border was in use from 1864-1869.

3. Examine card edges, corners and color.

The card corners are all a bit worn, but appear to be square, used between 1861-1869. The card edges are all straight and plain, used 1861-1890. Paper color is natural, used between 1858-1890.

4. Inspect the photographer’s imprint.

Annie’s and Walter’s photos don’t include the photographer’s name, but have simple artwork, dating them from 1863-1869. The mother and child photo was taken by Fred A. Stoddard, Calais, Maine.

A check of the 1860 and 1870 censuses of Calais, Maine found Frederick A. Stoddard, ambrotypist, born about 1822 in Maine in 1860; in 1870, F.A. Stoddard, photographist was still living there.

5. Analyze the image size in the print. (Head and bust, seated and standing)

Standing and seated poses have been popular for a long time, so that doesn’t help any with these three photos.

6. Look for tax stamps.

The mother and child photo has the one cent tax stamp, used from March 1865 through August 1866.

7. Inspect clothes and styles for dating.

Annie’s dress was a popular style for young girls in the early 1860’s. Walter is also dressed in clothing typical of that time period. The lady holding the young child has a distinctive hair style, parted in the middle with long defined curls. That style exactly matches an 1866 example in Clark’s book. Her dress is partly hidden, but looks like mid 1860’s ladies’ styles.

8. Examine studio backgrounds and props.

Early prompts most often were just a dark background and perhaps a chair, a balustrade or a curtain. Annie’s photo has a chair, Walter’s has just the dark background and the woman with child is seated with a dark background and curtain. All three photos are reminiscent of the 1860’s time period.


Annie’s and Walter’s photos date from about 1863-1864, while the woman and child photo is clearly from March 1865-August 1866, based on the tax stamp. The photos were originally placed in the same section of Pearl Adams Chadwick’s photo album. Annie and Walter may be siblings, based on the very round shapes of their faces and the settings of their eyes. The child in the woman and child photo has the same round face as Annie and Walter and similarly set eyes. It is hard to tell from the woman’s face, but her eyes seem to be similar to those of the children. This may be a mother and her children.

With all these clues, who are these people? I don’t know!!!

Charles Chadwick’s maternal grandmother, Margaret Jane Grover, was born about 1846 in St. George, then Lincoln now Knox County, Maine. She had two siblings in the 1850 census – George H. born about 1839 and Charles, born about 1843. The family moved to Calais between 1850 and 1860 and were the only Grover family living there in the 1860 census. Margaret’s brothers are both too young to be the father of Annie or Walter. Margaret’s parents, John Grover and Eunice Barter, were born about 1812 and 1818, respectively. Young ladies in New England generally didn’t marry much before the age of 20. Even if Eunice had married when she was 16 and started having children by the age of 17, her oldest child would have been about 25 in 1860 and not old enough to be Annie’s father.

Another problem is that no Annie and Walter Grover can be found in Maine in 1860 or 1870.

A census check for Grovers in St. George in 1810 and 1820 shows one family, that of John Grover, who could be the father of John who married Eunice Barter. he had several brothers. A tentative hypothesis is that these children are cousins of Margaret Jane Grover.

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