Family photographs are endlessly fascinating. There is the life story of the individuals in a picture and then there is the story of the person who took the image. I’ve looked a thousands of photographs over the years so I can spot a talented studio photographer just by looking at their pictures.
The unidentified studio photographer that took this picture knew what he/she was doing. It’s beautiful. Each person in the image is posed so that she stands out. The girl on the left looks off to the side with a tilted head. The girl on the right looks slightly off to the right while the woman in the center looks directly into the lens. This type of pose, an older woman flanked by two younger women, generally suggests that the woman in the center is older and the mother (or an older sibling). This whole identification mystery hinges on who’s in the middle.
Tom Keith knows that his great-grandmother Josetta (b. 1879) is the woman on the right, but he’s not sure of the identity of the other women. Josetta had two sisters, Emma (b. 1862) and Carrie (b. 1880). Their mother Susan was born in 1844. So who’s in the picture?
Emma died in childbirth in 1893. If she’s in the picture then the image is from the early 1890s, but if that’s the case, then Josetta is only 13 here and Carrie, 12.
Two clues in this picture pinpoint the time frame. Notice the topknot on Josetta’s head? This particular style of hair was commonplace in the mid to late 1890s. Josetta and the woman in the center wear wide-collared dresses with large sleeves. This style first becomes stylish circa 1893. The sister on the left dresses like a schoolgirl with a big bow in her hair and a tailored jacket and shirt.
I don’t believe this portrait was taken prior to Emma’s death, because both young women look older than their early teens, plus the fashion clues don’t add up.
If this picture was taken circa 1895, then Josetta would be 16, Carrie, 15, and their mother Susan would be 51. Do you think the woman in the center is old enough to be about 50 years of age?
I’m looking for more evidence. Do you want to add your opinion? Please add your comment below.
Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor: