Clues in a 1900s Mystery Photo of the Old Family Farm

By Maureen A. Taylor

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Planning a menu for that important family meal makes me think about how all that food ended up on my grandmother’s table. There are no farmers in my family history, so I love to see reader’s photos of rural life.

Darlene Sampley has this lovely picture of an unidentified farm family. Dad sits on horse-drawn sickle mower, pointing at something.[Thank you to reader Jim TeVogt for identifying the mower.] He’s in the front yard with a team of horses. The barns—it looks like there are two—are in front of him. Anyone recognize the farm equipment?

A Google Image search for farming equipment 1900 (about when the photo was taken—see below) turned up plows with similar wide metal wheels.

The house has three chimneys. The attached building on the left could be the kitchen.

What else do you see?

This is a poor-quality image. I’ve enhanced this copy by playing with contrast and sharpening features in Adobe PhotoShop Elements. It looks better with these variations of color than a pure grayscale version did.

Did you spot the boy and his dog in the foreground?

How many children are on the porch?

(Left to right) Mom stands holding an older baby/toddler, an older sister stands to the right and next to her a little girl.

We know several things about this family: There are four children (at least one boy) ranging in age from about 1 year to preteen. They live on a farm. I’ve estimated that this picture was taken about 1900. It’s hard to see the details, but from the scant clothing clues this could fit the time frame.

A next step would be examining the 1900 census for any matches in Darlene’s family tree. There’s a statistical table for agriculture with the 1900 census but it lacks the specific details, including farm owners’ names, present in earlier agricultural censuses.

I’m hoping Darlene can put names with these fuzzy faces. Can you add anything to this story?

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
  • Save