Caption Mystery for an Old Photo

By Maureen A. Taylor

Identifying captions written with good intentions years ago often confuse descendants rather than clarify who’s who.

On the back of this photo found among the things of Roxanne Turpin’s mother-in-law is a cryptic note: “Relative of Grandpa (Grande), I think.” The person wrote in ball point ink, which means it was written after 1941, when those types of pens became widely available. It’s possible Roxanne’s mother-in-law wrote it.

There is another problem with this image. It’s a copy! This is a 20th-century black-and-white print mounted on cardstock. The scratches visible on the image suggest the original was a tintype.

Dating the photo relies on the sleeve style. The peaked fabric at the shoulder seam suggests a date circa 1890. The bodice style agrees with this date. The fabric is likely a patterned cotton. It could be a deep color accented by flowers.

So who are these folks? It could be a father and two daughters or a daughter (on the left) and her parents. The man in the middle is definitely older. I think the women are his daughters.

Roxanne thinks the man is either Gottfried Grande (born 1894) or his father Gottlieb Grande (born 1860), both Germans who lived in an area alternately owned by Poland and Russia. She’d like to know where it was taken. Figuring out who’s who could reveal that fact.

Given the clothing date, the man in the middle could be Gottlieb, who’d be in his 30s when the image was taken, although this man does look older than that.

Next Steps

  • Roxanne should check her tree for the birth date for Gottfried. The photographed man looks older than someone in his 30s.
  • Who’s Gottlieb’s mother? Maybe this isn’t the Grande family at all, but his mother’s side of the family. Did his mother have a sister?
  • Examining the family information should reveal where the family lived in the circa 1890 period. That information could solve the question of where the picture was taken.

I can’t wait to hear an update from Roxanne!

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