A Photographic Link to the Underground Railroad?

By Maureen A. Taylor

YvonneMystery Family.jpg

The condition of this photo isn’t unusual. The heavy acidic cardboard mount is very fragile. It’s rare to find a photo of this type in perfect condition. Store a photo like this in an acid- and lignin-free folder made of heavyweight cardstock, so it’s supported.

If you’ve ever found a box of photographs in a relative’s home, then you understand Yvette LaGonterie’s excitement when she located several photo albums in the back of a closet at her grandparents’ house. The albums contained images dating as early as 1918.

The big mystery is this photo. It was loose in the box, not mounted in an album. She showed it to her mother, who said, “it looks like my maternal grandmother’s family.”


Unfortunately, the facts don’t line up exactly.

LaGonterie’s great-grandmother Ella Estelle Powers was born in Philadelphia circa 1878. Ella’s parents were Anna Elizabeth White Foreman (circa 1852 – 1925) and Edward Francis Powers (circa 1857-1911). Anna’s family was prominent in Philadelphia. She was the niece of Jacob Clement White, Sr., secretary of the Philadelphia Vigilance Association, a group active in the Underground Railroad.

Anna and Edward had three daughters, so this family doesn’t match their family. Did Anna or Edward have any siblings? This could depict their family. These are some photo facts to consider:

  • The little boy’s play suit is a item available from the mid-1890s into the 20th century.
  • Mom’s hairstyle with the topknot on the crown of her head was common around 1900. That date also fits with her dress style.
  • Dad’s suit is very interesting. While upturned collars were commonly available, it’s the style of the jacket that’s fascinating. It features cloth-covered buttons and doesn’t have a traditional jacket opening. This jacket extends to the neckline.

It’s an intriguing photo due to the connection to prominent Philadelphia residents involved in the Underground Railroad, and because of that suit. Yvette is looking for a family with a son and a daughter that had a connection to her relatives.

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