Photo Detective: Success Stories

Every other week, I select a photograph from the piles of unique and special pictures people send for identification. You probably don't know that several thousand readers check out this column each month and that submissions come from around the world—some from as far away as New Zealand, and an amazing number of photographs from readers in England. I'm not sure which is more challenging: selecting a picture or helping you solve a photo mystery. This week let's follow up on some of this column's successes.

"Frame of Reference"

One of the very first Photo Detective columns featured a photograph from the collection of Jackie Hufschmidt. It also appeared in the August 2000 Family Tree Magazine. I was surprised by the response to the picture. At least five individuals contacted the magazine claiming that they had either seen or owned a copy of that image. Jackie and her newfound cousins are busy unraveling the mystery behind that image.

"They've Got Personality—But Who Are They?" Newly discovered photo
In other cases, the photo analysis in the column helps readers identify the previously unknown subjects of the photograph. Rita Werner sent in a lovely candid shot of three family members. As often happens after a column appears, the owners wrote to keep me posted on their progress and sent new pictures found since they submitted the picture. Rita writes:
"Since sending you the original picture, my dad's cousin sent me a lot of old pictures from the early 1900s of my grandfather's family. When I saw this picture along with the original one in question, I KNEW beyond a doubt that I had the identity! Notice the tiny waist on the woman on the right in both pictures. Also, the hairstyle of the woman on the right is the same in both pictures.

"I was so excited! The women are from my grandfather's side, not my grandmother's as I had suspected. The woman on the left in both pictures is my great-grandma, Adah (Whitaker) Brown, born in 1880. The woman on the right is her sister, Dessa Mae Whitaker, born in 1885. The child in the original pictures is my Grandpa Brown's only sister and my great-aunt, Dessa Mary Gerzella (possibly Grayzel) Brown. She never went by "Dessa Mary;" we always just called her Aunt Gerzella. Now when I look at her with fresh eyes, I can see the resemblance to my grandpa! Gerzella was born in 1904. So now I know that it's Gerzella holding onto her mother's and aunt's hands. The corsages still puzzle me, but maybe it was Easter Sunday and they were having an outing after church.

"Your analysis of the time frame was right on target! My dad's cousin said that the picture of the two women is dated circa 1900. I would estimate the original picture was taken around 1909, which would make Gerzella about 5 years old. I know it can't be in the spring/summer of 1910, because that's when Grandpa was born and as you can see, Adah is definitely not pregnant."

"Alice and the Looking Glass"

Other readers write to say thanks, as Mary Wisniewski did: "I really enjoyed Alice and the Looking Glass. Also, your comment that the family had some financial resources made me think of my great-great-aunt Carrie Border who did a lot of sewing for the Hulman family and traveled with them to Europe. They were very good to her, even put electric lights in her home. She died in 1941. Thanks for your help."

"Putting the Pieces Together"

Some photographs have a life of their own. Elaine Clark submitted the photo in "Putting the Pieces Together." Somewhere in that group portrait is her relative Jesse Sturm. Jesse was quite a storyteller when alive and soon everyone will have a chance to read his memoirs. Elaine writes, "A historical society in West Virginia is going to publish a book about Jesse Tyler Sturm. They are going to use that same photo, so it was exciting to be able to send them your information to date it. My husband and I even think we located Jesse Tyler Sturm in the photo, and the folks in West Virginia, who have more photos of him than I do, think we are correct. "

"Changes in the Roaring Twenties"

Now can anyone answer the question why the woman in "Changes in the Roaring Twenties" is holding a handkerchief? I haven't found the reason yet but I'm sure someone out there has family photograph with a similar prop. If that's you, you can e-mail me.

Thank you for sharing your family photo mysteries! If you'd like your photo mystery to become a success story, find out how to submit your own picture for possible analysis.

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