More and more Americans obsessively trace their family history, as evidenced by the surge in genealogy websites. Each day, millions visit sites devoted to discovering their ancestors. Increasing amounts of records, such as ship registries and marriage and death certificates, are digitally scanned and made available to the sleuths, too. And now there's a new option: photo detectives.
Armed with fashion magazines and an eye for detail, photo detectives hunt for clues contained in old photos. Hair styles, the cut of clothes, and the objects in the pictures all allow these detectives to pinpoint dates, places, and even professions. It also requires an expert's knowledge in social history. For example, a photo of a woman with unusually short hair in the 19th century likely indicates that she had scarlet fever, as a sufferer's head was often shaved. Or a photo of a baby carriage in the mid-1800s could serve as an announcement that the infant had died, as opposed to recording his birth. The period had a very high infant mortality rate, and custom dictated that death cards be sent to family and close friends. These are just some of the facts that photo detectives must readily have at their fingertips.
The earliest photos, which come from the 1830s, usually necessitated a studio visit by the whole family--a lengthy and formal process. But when Kodak invented the snapshot in the 1880s, family collections ballooned with shots of birthdays, holidays, and everyday life. Unfortunately, most people didn't bother with labels, which now thwarts the efforts of descendents unable to correctly identify the old pictures.
Enter the photo detectives. But customers may not always like the results, for what gets discovered may disagree with family lore.
Preview some of the lesson material:
Warm Up: Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- I'm interested in history.
- I'm interested in my family's history.
- It's important to know the history of your family.
- Pictures are an important record of a family's history.
- I want my children's children's children to know about me.
Fragments: Remember how the fragments were used, and complete the sentence from today's article.
- More and more Americans obsessively trace their family history...
- Or a photo of a baby carriage in the mid-1800s could serve as...
- The period had a very high infant mortality rate, and...
- But when Kodak invented the snapshot in the 1880s...
- But customers may not always like the results...
post-Comprehension: Talk about the following questions in pairs/groups. Remember to support your answers!
- Do you think it's important to trace your family's history? Why/not?
- What do you know about your grandparents? How about your great-grandparents?
- Do you have old photos at home? If yes, are there people in the photos you can't recognize?
- Would you ever consider hiring a photo detective to tell you more about your family? Why/not?
- How would you feel if you discovered one of your ancestors was a terrible person? Please explain.
Google Search: Type "genealogy" into Google. Look at the websites, and/or read additional articles on this topic. Discuss or write an essay about your findings.