Category Archives: Photographers-Early

Delving Further into Early Photographer Sources

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.

Sourcing Info on 19th & Early 20th Century Photographers

Do you have any early photographs – cartes de visite, cabinet cards, etc. – with identifying photographer information on them? Have you ever tried to find further information about the photographer, such as dates they were in business? If so, you likely had some of the same experiences I’ve had. Sometimes a little information can be gleaned, but most of the time, little or nothing can be found online.

This is the first of a two-part post to give some tips, websites and general information that might bring you some success. A warning before we go any further – no,  “everything” is not online and, in this case, a lot more is available online telling one where to look next than there is of actual data. However, there are some good starting points.

First, early photographers often weren’t called “photographers” at all. They often were called artists and sometimes even described in terms of the types of photos they took. For example, someone who used the daguerrotype method of photography might be called a daguerrotypist. It makes sense, but if you were looking say, in a city directory with items in ABC order, you might not look in the D section for daguerrotypists. An ambrotypist took – yep – ambrotype photos.

Let’s begin with an example. I have an old photo in my collection with this marking on the back:

Back of Photo

The stamp on the back actually dates this photo to a very specific time period, but, for now, let’s pretend that it isn’t there and all we have is this back image. However, the photo is small and it is a carte-de-visite (CDV), most popular around the 1860’s onwards.

Photographers back then often had other occupations and didn’t work full time at this. They also often traveled from one place to another taking pictures, which increases the difficulty in finding more information about them.

What would I do first? Since I have a name and place and I know that this is a CDV, I would start with the 1860, 1870 & 1880 censuses of Calais, Maine, looking for more information.

In the 1860 census:

Nathaniel Wells Household, Calais, ME

There he is – Frederick A. Stoddard, 32 years old, born in Maine, ambrotypist. He wasn’t in Calais in 1870 or 1880, but he appears to be the man who was a blacksmith and a baker, living in Massachusetts towns. So much for any further information about him as a photographer.

Next, I tried a Google search for “Fred A. Stoddard photographer.” One hit came up for This is a very large database of early photographers and locations and of images taken by some of them. There are two issues, here, though. First, in order to see any information about the photographer and/or his work (other than his name is in the database), a fee is charged. Second, while there is a database of free domain photos, there are 2416 images that are currently unindexed and unsearchable. One needs to scroll through the entire list to find anything of interest.

The best thing about the free search for a name or photography business is that it might include alternate names, e.g. Fred A. Stoddard and F.A. Stoddard, both of Calais, ME are listed. It also might show other places where someone of the same name was taking photos. In my case, I found no more information about Fred.

At this point, I’ve confirmed that Fred A. Stoddard, 32, born Maine,  was living in Calais, working as an ambrotypist in 1860. That fits with the Civil War era CDV that I own. The ClassyArts database includes his name, both as Fred A. and F.A., but I don’t want to pay for any images as I don’t know what useful information I would gain.

If I was interested in finding out the years he was in business, I would next check city directories. The Library of Congress has some Calais directories, but only for 1896-1902 so that doesn’t help me. A Maine state site has one for 1935, but that won’t help either and neither of these sources is digitized anyway.

That might be all I will be able to find about ambrotypist Fred A. Stoddard’s work.

What if I had only a name, but no place noted or I had only a photographer’s mark? That would greatly complicate the search. Details will be coming tomorrow.