Yesterday, I gave an example of locating some information for photographer Fred A. Stoddard of Calais, Maine. I wasn’t able to find much, but I could confirm by an 1860 census record that he was 32, born in Maine and working as an ambrotypist at that time. I was also able to confirm on ClassyArts – a paid site, but with a free searchable index – that he worked both as Fred A. Stoddard and F.A. Stoddard in Calais, but if he worked as a photographer elsewhere, I found no evidence of that.
I thought, wrongly, that some photography buff would have at least developed the beginning of an online searchable database of names of 19th century photographers and photography businesses.
What I instead found is that it takes quite a bit of searching just to pick up clues about these photographers.
Here are some websites that might help you find information on a photographer who may have taken a picture of your ancestors.
1. As I did yesterday, check for city directories, but be sure to search for terms like artist, daguerrotypist and ambrotypist along with photographer, photography and the man’s name or name of the business. FamilySearch – U.S. Directories, U.S. City Directories, Online Historical Directories can help you here.
2. Next, there is a bibliography of books and websites for finding information on photographers worldwide at Finding Photographers. Note that many of the links on this site are to photo collections that identify the photographer, so it isn’t strictly a photographer database.
3. William C. Darrah was a prolific collector of early photos. They are currently housed at Pennsylvania State University. From a collection of 62,608 cartes-de-visite, only 27 can be found online on flickr. Perhaps more will be coming soon.
4. Langdon’s List of 19th and Early 20th Century Photographers is a free, searchable list of photographers, alternate names if found, and a location. It doesn’t include dates in business and it isn’t comprehensive by any means. (Fred A. Stoddard isn’t in it.)
5. The Photographic Historical Society of New England‘s website contains a number of links to reference information and image collections.
6. If you happen to have a photo taken in London in the 19th century, you are in luck. The World of Victorian Photography has a long list of alphabetized English photographers.
7. There are several books for which I have seen only snippets that look like excellent reference books on early photographers. The first is by Richard Rudisill: Photographers: A Sourcebook for Historical Research, Carl Mautz Publishing, 1991. It is out of print, but is available in libraries found on WorldCat and there seems to be an e-book version available through local public libraries. There was a 2000 edition, but without having physical copies to examine, I am not sure if Rudisill’s Directory of Photographers is included in the later version. One description on line said it included a completely revised directory. Another review said the directory was not available in the 2000 edition.
A second reference book is Robert O. Brown’s Collector’s Guide to Nineteenth Century U.S. Traveling Photographers, also found in WorldCat in an e-version.
A third possibility is William Welling’s Collector’s Guide to Nineteenth Century Photographs, published in 1976, out of print, but again found in WorldCat.
Besides these three general topic books, you can do an internet search for photographers specific to your location of interest.
As you can see, it will take some digging and possibly some purchases to ferret out details about pioneer photographers.