I just love this picture! It’s got a lot of family history layers.
Terry Sargent sent in this photo asking if it was a Civil War-era picture. On the back is written, “Mrs. and Mrs. E.H. Sargent Strawberry.” The “Strawberry” refers to Strawberry Point, Iowa, where the family had a farm.
Terry is hoping the photo depicts Emery Holden Sargent, his wife Louisa (Turner) Sargent, and their two children: Harriet (born 1857) and Emery Harford (born 1860). Emery was Terry’s grandfather. Let’s look at a few things first.
This refers to the history of ownership of the photo. In this case, this photo was originally owned by Terry’s aunt Lavera Fink, and then by one of Fink’s nieces. That niece gave Terry a copy of the photo.
I examined the photo and enlarged it to view the details of what the folks were wearing. One detail stood out: the woman’s hat. I know it’s blurry, but you can see the small brim and the high crown of the hat. In the 1860s, women wore bonnets or very small hats, nothing with a crown of this height. This style hat was worn in the 1880s. Would the other details in the photo and family history support this theory?
C. H. Hunt of Strawberry Point, Iowa, has his imprint on this cabinet card. According to Biographies of Western Photographers by Carl Mautz (Carl Mautz Publishing, 1997), Hunt was active in 1885. That puts the photo well outside the Civil War period. The decorative elements of the imprint reinforce the 1880s period.
There were two E.H. Sargents, father and son. So who is depicted in this photo? In the 1880 census, Emery Holden, his wife Louisa, son Emery as well as son Ora and his wife are living on the farm (US Census, Clayton County, Iowa, Caso Township, p. 289).
There are no children listed with the family. Since there is no 1890 census for Iowa, I checked the family again in the 1900 census. This time, the farm is occupied by the younger Emery, his wife and all of their children, several of whom were born in the 1880s ( US Census, Clayton County, Iowa, Caso Township, sheet 18).
There is another bit of family history: Terry told me that according to Emery Holden Sargent’s obituary in the Strawberry Point Press Journal (1905), Emery left the farm in 1886.
It’s likely that this picture was taken around the time when the younger Emery took ownership of the family farm.
There is one odd thing about this picture: its appearance. It is a cabinet card, but the image of the farm is either a copy of another picture (notice the wide black border around it) or the photographer took a different-size negative to shoot the scene. The image itself is blurry when enlarged, while the photographer’s imprint is clear. This could mean it’s a copy. It’s a square image, while most cabinet card-size photos are rectangular. I’d love to see other outdoor shots by this photographer. In either case, the final date for the picture doesn’t change. It’s from the 1880s.
Have you inherited mystery photos from relatives? Demystify them them with help from Maureen A. Taylor’s book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs.