Clues in a Curious Old Family Photo: The First Mannequin Challenge?

By Maureen A. Taylor

It’s not the first time a family photo begs the question “What were they thinking?” That’s the case with this image of family sitting as though they’re doing a mannequin challenge.

The story behind this clowning for the camera has been lost, and the picture lacks identification. It was found in the collection of Sherry Yates’ great-grandmother. Sherry and her mother wonder if the older woman in the middle could be Mary S. Veal Parker (1834-1908).

Approximating Ages

Mary was Sherry’s great-great-grandmother, who lived in Glassboro, Gloucester County, NJ, and died in 1908. Whether this is Mary depends on the date of the image. The clothing clues suggest a date from just before 1908, so it’s quite possible this is Mary.

If it is her, then identifying the rest of the folks may fall into place. A family group sheet of who’s living and their ages in about 1905 should help with that task. The little boy in the front, for example, is around 5 years of age.

Interior Views
When you find an indoor photo in your collection, take a good look around. It’s a glimpse into the everyday life of your ancestors.

In the days before HGTV, decorating ideas came from magazines, which included instructions on how to make table scarves and wall hangings. Sometimes you can spot photos of other family members hanging on the wall.

Have you spotted the frame on the left side?

Unfortunately we can’t enlarge it to see the picture itself. It looks like a group portrait—there are multiple heads.

My favorite part of this picture is this duo (father and son?) staring into each others eyes in the foreground. So cute!

Family group portraits are a challenge worth trying to solve.

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
  • SaveSaveSave