Hilda Barton sent me this lovely photo of a young girl with the subject line: “No Idea Who This is…” It’s a picture without provenance.
I’ve written about provenance before. It’s the history of ownership of a photograph or other object. It’s easy to underestimate the value of knowing the previous owner of a picture, but this is actually one of the keys to figuring out who’s in an unidentified picture.
Start by asking the following questions:
- Who owned the picture before me?
- Did the photograph hang on the wall in relative’s house?
- Was it loose in an album or on a page with other relatives?
These questions can determine which branch of the family owned the image and bring you one step closer to putting a name with face. But remember, the photo could show a friend’s child—not a relative at all. Facial similarities to people in identified photos may help.
Then answer the next set of questions:
- Where was it taken? Look for a photographer’s name and address on the image. Then consult your family history to see who lived in the area.
- How old is the person? In this case, it’s a young girl, probably less than 5 years old.
- When was it taken? In 1916, The Ladies Home Journal published a short photo essay on “Arranging Your Little Girl’s Hair.” Younger children wore narrow bows, like this youngster. Her short bobbed hair was popular around 1919.
If Hilda can answer these questions, she can consult her family tree and make a short list of who’s the right age to be in this picture.
On a side note, a fascinating new book by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo is called Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Penquin Press, $26.95). It’s amazing how one man could dupe the art world with falsified documentation. I couldn’t put it down.