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All you have to do is register on the Red Star Line blog and solve a mystery. Anyone know the identity of this girl?
Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Canada
The online photo caption is “Young Galician immigrant holding envelope labelled ‘Red Star Line.’ Saint John, NB. May, 1905.”
Journalist Gretchen Kelly recently interviewed me for the Red Star Line blog, which focuses on this picture. Each week she investigates another angle to the story. By reading her blog, you’ll learn about Galician immigration to Canada, the history of the Red Star Line and how Gretchen is trying to solve this picture puzzle.
She asked how I’d go about determining this girl’s identity. As you might expect, I have a few ideas. I’ll write a follow-up account once I’ve tracked down the leads. However, the rules of photo identification are clear whether they’re applied to this photo or to your unidentified family image:
- Never assume: I haven’t seen the original photo, so I can’t determine the truthfulness of the caption. The first rule of photo identification combines “never assume” and “don’t jump to conclusions.”
- Who wrote the caption? So who wrote this caption and when? Was it the original photographer or an archivist years later? Believe it or not, handwriting will help you place a caption in a time frame. Handwriting can vary from generation to generation. What type of pencil or pen was used to write the caption? If it’s in ballpoint, then this caption was probably written after this style of pen became widely available in 1945.
- Is the date correct? The clues in the caption will help determine if the date could be correct. Read handwriting carefully; it’s easy to misinterpret numbers. In this case, there were no Red Star Line ships leaving for New Brunswick in May, 1905, so something is wrong. Is the month wrong or the year incorrect? Or perhaps the whole scene is a promotional setup—the girl came in on a different ship and the photographer gave her a Red Star Line ticket to hold. That’s a provocative theory (gasp!).
- Why was the photograph taken? Photographs were taken of recent immigrants to New Brunswick to promote immigration to western Canada. There’s another story behind this picture—the reason for the portrait.
- Who is she? In addition to this photograph documenting one girl’s journey to America, she’s someone’s relative. Until the picture proof adds up, I wonder about the truthfulness of the whole caption. Could she be an immigrant from a different part of Europe?
- Where was the picture taken? There isn’t much information in the background to place this photo, however there’s another photo online of a group arriving in New Brunswick:
Notice the wall behind them in this photo from the National Archives of Canada. It’s the same as in the first photo. Both images are identified as having been taken in New Brunswick.
OK, so now you know that I’m the type of person who has to see the proof. However, there are clear clues in the image. The background helps verify where it was taken.
The little girl is probably around 6 to 10 years old. Her face still has a very young appearance. She wears her hair back in a neat braid. On the seat beside her is a packet of clothes.
She has a tidy appearance. Her dress and coat are appropriate for the early 20th century. She has a pinafore over the top of her dress, stockings and well-polished boots. It’s an interesting appearance for a young immigrant.
Other questions come to mind. Did she immigrate alone? It wasn’t that unusual an occurrence. Or did she come with family and the photographer singled her out from the group?
Genealogists all over the world are hunting for her identity trying to find her in passenger lists. The contest is open to all.
I’ll let you know what happens and if I discover any new clues.
Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor: