Mother and Daughters

Mother and Daughters

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...

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:

  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
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    11 Comments

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    1. It’s a bit of a stretch but, yes, I think the bottom woman could be 50. There is some sagging under her chin and she has a "stout" look the girls do not, even though she is still slim. Since it is a posed studio shot, I wonder if there is any makeup. Did they use that then? I know the women would not have gone out in makeup, and that they did not use it to highlight eyes and lips like today. I just mean something to smooth out blemishes, like pancake. Either that or the lighting is having the same effect. So you can not tell from the skin what each woman’s age is. They all have young skin. The lighting and size of the picture also doesn’t allow us to tell if there are wrinkles around her eyes.

    2. The time exposure for filmin those days was much longer than it is in our present digital age. I think that this "dilutes" the sharpness of these old pictures. If someone is conciously holding their breath for the exposure time I think that you still have slight movement. And this can cause faces to plane out the wrinkles. I vote for the the women in the center to be the mother like Cyndi says because of the body shape and jaw line. Or maybe a stepmother?

      Martie in CA

    3. I believe that the lady in the middle could well be 50 or 51. She and the young lady on the right are clearly related in some fashion. See the shape of the eyes and nose. It is when comparing those attributes that one realizes that the lady in the middle is quite a bit older than the one on the right–but look like mother/daughter. (The resemblance to the young lady on the left is not so marked and that child may favor her father.)

    4. My first thought on the women in the middle was at least 45 years old and probably more, so you are probably right on. Could even be 1896 or 7 as the girls look a little older than they would be in 1895. I can see a resemblance between the women in the center and the girl on the right.

      Neal

    5. The photo seems quite "soft" in general. The center woman has deeper lines beside her mouth, more defined eyelid lines, and a lack of fullness or plasticity of her facial skin over all. Her lips are no long plump like the girls’ are, and for a thin face, she has more than average fullness beneath her chin. Her posture appears stiff, not just still, resigned. She could easily be ~50. I once "aged" a woman’s studio photo by taking it to a state meeting of genealogists. I asked 100 of them over two days to assess her age after seeing her dress, bonnet, name of the studio, location etc. and when I calculated the mean, median and mode they agreed on the same age! They asked dozens of questions of me and I answered everything I could without sharing my thoughts and they did an amazing job of finding the right questions to frame their guesses. It proved to be a good way to make an assessment.

      Could the woman on the left be of Native or African American descent? Her skin tone and facial shape are different from the other two who seem quite similar.

    6. Based on the years of birth of the sisters, I think the woman in the middle is more likely to be that of the eldest sister, Emma, born 1862 (17 years before the sister on the right, and 18 years before the sister on the left). In 1895, Emma would have been 33 years old, and this picture, to me, looks consistent with that age. Surely a woman of 50+ years would have had more sagging around the eyes and some graying to the hair, neither of which is present in the subject at question.

    7. I’m wondering if it is mother in the center, daughter on our right and daughter in law on the left. I agree the resemblance of the woman in the middle and on the right is there. To me, both seem to be looking our way, while the girl on our left is looking out of frame – perhaps to mark that she is not in their bloodline? I do think that the woman at the bottom looks to be around 50 for all the reasons that others have stated.

    8. I feel the photo is closer to 1897-98. The fullness of the mutton sleeve began to recede up the arm & above the elbow by mid to late 1896, with the very large puff essentially gone by 1897. I think the puff was smaller in 1897, sometimes emphasized by a small ruffle over the puff. The girl on the left looks to possibly be wearing an outfit popular for riding bikes during this time period. The other two ladies’ dresses seem to match fashion plates of this time also. I think the hairstyles shown were also still popular during this time.

      It’s quite possible the lady in front is Susan, age 53-54. I have a lovely photo of my mother at age 55 with no wrinkles and no retouching of the photo! Some are fortunate to have the beautiful skin, she being one of them.

    9. The center lady is probably 50 +/- years of age. She has a much more mature look than the other two ladies. The photo on the left is definitely an insert. Observe the cut-off area of the upper sleeve on the right-hand lady. This insert may be even covering up or replacing a third person present in the original photo. The inserted photo could be a granddaughter and the "fixed" photo thus is representing three-generations. Note that a tight forehead curl is evident on all three women. Is this a dated fashion whim indicative of an era? If so, the insert and the photo of the other two women could have been taken near the same time. Perhaps the younger lady in the insert was away at school, etc. when the other part was made. Della