Photo Detective: Antique Shop Photo
9/28/2009

Have you ever bought a photo at an antiques shop because the caption led you to believe the subject might be a relative? Susie Vodopich did. She purchased this portrait of a woman identified as "Mrs. Stowe" in an Iowa shop. Vodopich hopes someone will recognize the woman and help her discover a family connection. There are several ways to identity the woman; we'll start by determining when the picture was taken.

Look for clothing clues.
Between 1897 and 1900, women decorated their hair with large combs, just like this woman's. This single accessory establishes a time frame for the image.

Search for facts.
Using the date assigned to her accessories as a starting point, the next step is to find documents mentioning Mrs. Stowe. The photographer's imprint names the photographer, Cutler, and the town where the picture was taken: Morrisville, Vt., which is in Lamoille County. I'd try to locate Mrs. Stowe in the 1900 Vermont census. HeritageQuest Online has indexed the census, which you can access for free through any library that subscribes to that Web site. Unfortunately, my search for a Stowe living in Lamoille County in 1900 came up empty.

Since Morrisville had several churches, a newspaper and a few industries in the 1890s, church records and newspaper obituaries also might have information on Stowe. To survey what records are available, Vodopich should consult research guides, such as the Family History Library's Vermont Research Outline at www.familysearch.org (click on Search, Research Helps, the letter V for Vermont and finally Vermont Research Outline). She also might consult the Vermont Historical Society.

Before investing more time and money into researching this photograph, Vodopich has to decide how important the image is to her genealogy. This type of research is always easier for someone with an unusual surname; for people with common last names, the likelihood of making a family connection is slim.

Ask for help.
Another option is to seek the help of the Web community by posting the picture online sites that seek to reconnect people with their family photos. Here are my favorites:

     

  • AncientFaces: This site lets you share identified family photos, search unidentified images and help solve others' photo mysteries.

     

  • Dead Fred: Search this extensive database to see if your lost pictures pop up. If you find a relative, the Dead Fred staff will give you the photo for free. Join the more than 200 people who have found their photos using this site.

     

  • Scan the Photographs & Memories category at Cyndi's List, and you'll discover other sites featuring "lost" photos. Searching these sites is worth the time because photographs tend to reappear in the oddest places, due to wandering relatives.

At this point, Mrs. Stowe's family remains unknown. I'd personally like to know how a Vermont image ended up in Iowa. There are several possibilities: Mrs. Stowe could have sent her portrait to a family member, or it could have accompanied a relative settling in Iowa. Establishing her identify would bring Vodopich closer to solving that mystery.

If anyone recognizes Mrs. Stowe, please let me know. Send me an e-mail to mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com with Vodopich in the subject line.

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