This week’s mystery photo comes all the way from New Zealand. Don’t you just love the way the Internet brings us all closer together!
Janet Drinnan wrote of the picture below “We think it may be our great-great-grandmother, who was born in Buchanan, Stirlingshire, Scotland, in 1810. Her daughter Elizabeth, who emigrated to New Zealand in 1862, had it. It is not Elizabeth, as we have several photos of her in New Zealand—she was born in 1840 when her mother was 30 years old. Elizabeth’s mother, who was born in 1810, died of cancer in 1865 at 55 years old.”
Unfortunately, I have bad news for Janet: This woman isn’t her great-great- grandmother (born 1810).
The woman in this photo lived long after 1865. The design of her dress dates the picture to circa 1900 to 1905. Notice her scalloped collar with jet beaded trim, and the pleated inset in the bodice. She has three-quarter-length sleeves. Lower sleeves extend to the wrist, with pleats and a beaded wristband. It’s a gorgeous dress, probably made from black silk. The woman wears a chiffon rose pinned to her bodice and a similar hair bow. (Hair bows were worn by younger women in this period, while older women usually chose plain hairstyles.) The bow, dress and setting provide elegance to this portrait.
Clothing styles were different in the 1860s. Women then wore wide skirts and full sleeves with small collars. Jet beaded trim was also commonly used in the 1880s, but the other clothing details point to the 1900 to 1905 time frame.
Now that I’ve destroyed a family oral tradition of who’s depicted, let’s see if I can help determine who this really is:
- Where was the photo taken? Janet didn’t mention a photographer’s name and address, but that would make a difference. Is this woman a relative who stayed in Scotland, or a friend in New Zealand?
- Who was important enough in Elizabeth’s life that she’d keep the picture? Elizabeth had it, but it didn’t come with her on the long trip from Scotland in 1862. The image was taken too late for that. This woman could be a friend, sister (if she had any) or aunt.
- Who’s old enough? While musing over these questions, Janet has to keep in mind that this woman is in her middle years. She should examine her research for a woman born likely after 1840 but definitely before 1860. Signs of aging vary with genetics and illness so this woman with white hair could be a bit younger or older than this time frame allows.
- What else does the photo show? This woman doesn’t wear a wedding ring, but tshe still may have been married. Not everyone in the 19th century wore a wedding band. Or, this woman could’ve been widowed or removed the ring due to weight gain.
Once Janet considers these questions she should be able to list a few suspects.