Yesterday morning, I called Richard Levine to discuss his photograph of a family group possibly posed at Painted Woods, ND.
Levine has known about this photo for only a few months. His cousin Sally showed it to him and told him that her mother said it was taken at Painted Woods. There are a few inconsistencies in this identification, though.
Richard’s ancestors, Joseph and Anna Confeld, immigrated from Kishinev, Bessarabia in 1885, and settled in Painted Woods.
Another set of Richard’s ancestors, Barouk and Hannah Dorfman, also lived in Painted Woods. The Dorfmans were among the first settlers to the area in 1882.
Both families lived there only for a few years and then moved to Minnesota.
Richard and Sally thought that since family said the picture was taken in Painted Woods, it must date from the 1880s. Last week, I looked at the clothing details and determined the original image dates to circa 1900. This generates some questions.
The photo might not be of the Painted Woods community. In fact, by 1900, most of the Jewish settlers had moved elsewhere. The 1900 federal census for the community enumerates a number of Scandinavian families living in the area.
If this picture was taken in Painted Woods, Richard needs to determine why the family would return to the area. Could it be a family reunion, a wedding, or a funeral?
One of the big problems is a lack of comparison photographs. I suggested comparing the faces in the group portrait with other photographs in the family. Unfortunately, Richard lacks images of family members. He’s hoping that someone will read this column and either have photographs of Painted Woods or of the Confelds or Dorfmans.
Richard’s research turned up a first-person account of life in the community. Joseph Steinman (related to the Dorfmans) wrote about the hardships of life on the North Dakota frontier. It’s at the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest.
Another resource worth investigating is William Sherman’s Jewish Settlement in North Dakota Collection at the Institute for Regional Studies & University Archives at the North Dakota State University Libraries. (Click here to download a PDF finding aid for the collection.)
If anyone is interested in reading about daily life on the northern frontier, I suggest Rachel Calof’s Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains (Indiana State University, 1995). It’s an amazing true story.
Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor: