Boyish Charm in an Old, Unidentified Family Photo

By Maureen A. Taylor

Can a photograph help connect two families? Erin Garcia received this picture from a distant cousin. She thinks they’re related through her great-great-grandmother Martha Ann (Robertson) Potterfield Murphy (born about 1835).

Garcia hopes that these three boys are the children from Martha’s second marriage to Nicholas J. Murphy. Unfortunately for Erin, the answer is no.

Their combed hair and clean overalls indicate that these three urchins have been cleaned up for this portrait.

Only the oldest child has shoes; the younger ones go barefoot. It’s not unusual to see shoeless children in photographs taken in rural areas. Likely their parents didn’t have the financial means to purchase shoes for all three. They hold identical hats, though.

These tykes were likely born in the 1890s. The gray cardstock mat suggests an early 1900s time frame for the image. Erin should look for brothers born within a couple of years of each other, but not in the 1860s or early 1870s, as the Murphy boys would’ve been.

The lack of a photographer’s name makes it difficult to narrow down a location. That’s a detail that could help her identify them.

One thing is certain. These three adorable boys are nervous in front of the camera. You can tell from their serious expression.

I’d ask her distant cousin to look through his photographs of 20th-century relatives to see if he has other images of these three at an older age. The little boy on the right has a downturned mouth that might help pinpoint him in other images.

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