Sharon Pike wrote to me with a question about the clothing on the children in this photo, “Do you think the photographer brought clothing as props for the children?”
It’s a really common query. In her e-mail, along with her question, was the story of this family. Since I believe every photo tells a story. I couldn’t resist sharing this lovely bit of family history.
Thomas “Tom” Schuler and his wife Matilda “Tilly” Mueller (Miller) sit on the stoop of their Louisville, Ky., house with their first four children. The two children flanking the parents are Leo Thomas Schuler on the left and his twin sister Verena Marie Schuler on the far right. The little boy on Dad’s lap is Edward Joseph Schuler, and the baby is Louise Matilda Schuler. The presence of Louise dates the picture to the summer of 1899; she was born May 19 of that year.
To answer Sharon’s question, I don’t think the photographer brought their clothes with him. Photographers often carried props and some accessories, but not a wagon full of clothes.
The kids and their parents are dressed in typical fashion for the turn of the century. Leo’s wide-collared shirt and tie were worn by boys across the United States. None of the children is dressed for play; they’re all wearing clothes for a special occasion—the family photo. Dad’s the informal one: In this time frame, men wore coats in all types of weather, so it’s a bit unusual that he’s not wearing a jacket for this formal portrait. It was probably taken on a really hot summer day.
Each photo also tells the “backstory” of the folks depicted. A picture becomes a symbol to remember these family members. According to Sharon, Tom Schuler was born in Switzerland and immigrated with his family in 1870. As a young man, Tom and all the men in the family went back to Switzerland for a visit. It was a timely event. On the return trip to the United States, a young woman named Tilly Mueller was also en route to America with a work contract for a job as a maid.
This shipboard romance has a happy ending. Sharon told me that Tom went to the house where Tilly worked and helped her climb out the window so they could elope. They eventually had seven children.
Telling the story of a picture and a family requires digging for names and dates, but family history and oral tradition fit together with the visual elements of a picture to tell the tale. Next week I’ll be back with some tips on how to write your own photo story.
Thank you, Sharon, for sharing!