North of the Border Old-Photo Mystery

North of the Border Old-Photo Mystery

Jane Smith owns this lovely photo of a young girl and an older man. She hopes it depicts her great-grandfather Patrick Hughes, born in 1836 in County Down, Ireland. He died in 1899 in Toronto, Canada, after a successful career as a merchant. The picture was found in a...

Jane Smith owns this lovely photo of a young girl and an older man. She hopes it depicts her great-grandfather Patrick Hughes, born in 1836 in County Down, Ireland. He died in 1899 in Toronto, Canada, after a successful career as a merchant.

The picture was found in a box of other photographs of the same family. The box also includes an earlier image of Patrick and a photograph of his house. Location and provenance (history of ownership) are just two of the clues that help identify photos.

In this case, the girl’s clothing is significant. Here’s how the head-to-toe clues add up.

Broad-brimmed hats and spread collars appear in the World War I period, but not at the turn of the century, during Patrick Hughes’ lifetime. Around 1910, hat brims drooped down over the forehead. They remained fashionable until the early 1920s.

Another big detail in the girl’s dress is the dropped waist. That particular detail didn’t become fashionable until circa 1912, and it lasted until the early 1920s—a likely time frame for this photo. Waistlines dropped to the hips in the 1920s. I’m leaning toward a more-specific date of the late 1910s for this picture.

A possible identity for the girl will help narrow the time frame even further.

Knee socks were common in warmer weather, usually paired with short boots or even flat shoes. In this photo, the tops of the girl’s boots would be visible if she were wearing them.

Unfortunately, this date means the man isn’t Jane’s great-grandfather. Now she has two mysteries to solve instead of one.


Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Related Products

    No Comments

    Leave a Reply