Big Hats in Family Photos

By Maureen A. Taylor

Ronnie O’Rourke’s great aunt Mary (Mamie) Smith (b. 1892) wears an enormous hat in this family portrait. Her grandson identified her in the image, but now the family wants to know who’s standing with her.

Her hat and dress are quite stylish for this outdoor event. The presence of the mandolin suggests that this group was likely singing and maybe dancing along with the tunes played by the family musician.

Ronnie specifically wants to know if the man standing next to Mamie is her father, John Smith (b. 1865). The family knows he died somewhere between 1905 and 1920, but they can’t find the death record. It’s the curse of the common name. She’s been trying to narrow down just which John Smith is her relative.

She wonders if Mamie’s cousins, the Nevins siblings Frank (b. 1887), Catherine (b. 1888), Thomas (b. 1892) and Louise (b. 1897) are in the photo.

Each photo generates a series of questions. In this case, I’d love to know:

  • Why Mamie is visiting her cousins?
  • Are they all cousins, or did she have siblings?
  • Where was it taken?
  • Who took the picture? It’s a snapshot and someone owned an amateur camera, but who? There could be other candid shots taken on the same day.
  • Could the man be the father of the other people in the picture?

Ronnie wonders about that gorgeous hat. Turns out that Louise was a milliner and it’s possible she made it.

The hat offers a few clues as to when the image was taken.

In the circa 1910 period large turban style hats became fashionable. French fashion magazines like the Journal Des Demoiselles. Click here to see a fashion plate from 1909. You’ll see some similarities between these hats and the one worn by Mamie.

Fashion savvy Americans knew what the current styles were overseas. Here’s the 1909 Spring Sears Catalog showing similar turban shaped hats.

By 1913, smaller hats were in vogue. The hat is one clue that suggests a time frame.

Is it Mamie’s father? Perhaps. If so, then he was still living after 1905.

Love looking at hats, check out the styles worn in the nineteenth century in Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides 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
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now
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