I hate it when I’m confronted with it, which is all too often. I am a textile historian, with a focus in women’s clothing in the 19th and early 20th century. As such, I often help people with dating textiles, and old family photos. I’m pretty good at this, I know the nuances of the fashions, how fast they are prone to spreading to “everyday” fashion, when certain types of photographs are prone to be used, what types of backing boards, and stamps are used in certain periods, what type of poses were fashionable and what types of props were used in certain time frames.
But it never ceases to make my heart jump a bit when someone asks me to put a date on this photo of “Grandma” because I know it can lead into an argument.
Person: “Can you tell me about when this photo was made? It’s my Great-Great-Great-Grandma.”
Me: (Carefully studying the photo I see the backing card is dark, the lady in the photo is seated in a large ornate wicker chair, and the hairstyle and sleeves on the dress tell me the fashions are mid-1890’s) That is probably taken about 1893-1897.
Person: “OH NO, that can’t be, see the full skirt it has to be Civil War! Great-Great-Great-Grandma wasn’t even alive in the 1890’s! My family always told me this was her!”
Me: (knowing family myth-tery has struck once again) ”I’m sorry, but everything about this photo tells me it is NOT Civil War era. I’m afraid this is not who you thought it might be.”
Giles R. Wright’s critique of “Hidden in Plain View” http://www.antiquequiltdating.com/Hidden_in_Plain_View_-_The_Secret_Story_of_Quilts_and_the_Underground_Railroad.html
The Underground Railroad and the Use of Quilts as Messengers for Fleeing Slaves by Kimberly Wulfert, PhD
A great resource for the debunking of the myth is at http://ugrrquilt.hartcottagequilts.com/
As you can see the story quickly took on a life of its own, becoming accepted as the truth instead of just told as a good story and seen for what it was, a tall tale of Pecos Bill proportions.
Thankfully dedicated historians will continue to try to ferret out the truth, piecing together the stories of history bit by bit like a puzzle. They will verify and fact check, and spend hours scanning dusty newspaper files, fading images and family trees.
Now- back to my research…