Counting the Clues to Solve an Old Photo Mystery

By Maureen A. Taylor

The three parts to this German photo mystery are the caption, the date of the image and the family history information.

The first blog post dated the image to the 1880s, and the second post discussed caption translation confusion. Please read the comments to the Caption Confusion post. A woman from Germany weighed in on the writing.

Here are the highlights of the comment discussion.

  • Alex wrote that the caption is written in Suetterlin style and reads “An die Nette der Mutter ihre Schwester” which he says doesn’t make sense in modern German, but it could be a local dialect. He thought the ballpoint caption could identify Nettie’s aunt as the sender of the picture.
  • Susanna from Germany agreed with Alex’s translation of the ballpoint as an indication that “to” suggests the sister sent it. “The person who wrote down the German sentence wrote it as she or he would speak it. It is not a dialect. The person who wrote it is the child of the mother in the picture.” She thought it meant the photo was to be given to Nette. Nette is the aunt of the writer.
  • Leslie added that Grossie is likely a shortened form of Grossmuetter, aka Grandmother. Debra Allison, owner of the picture, emailed that the family used that nickname for their grandmother. She found it interesting that Susanna suggested Grosse in German also means a tall woman. In fact, her grandmother was almost six feet tall.

So who’s in the picture?

Debra’s great-grandmother Antoinette (born 1856) immigrated to America in 1881. She was the youngest of nine siblings. She brought with her two of her nephews, sons of her only sister who didn’t immigrate. All of Antoinette’s brothers remained in Germany.

The answer to who’s in the photo relies on the ages of the people in the picture as compared to what Debra knows about the siblings. She’s dug into records to use the process of elimination.

Antoinette’s eldest sister Katherine and her husband Philipp Letzelter had eight children. The second and the third traveled with their aunt, who was only seven and eight years older than her nephews.

The remainder of the family stayed in Germany. Debra thinks the picture depicts Antoinette’s mother, Elisabeth Wiegand Fichter (1814-1888), as well as her sister Katherine (born 1838) and her husband Philipp (born 1837). The children could be their four youngest ones: Ferdinand (born 1871), Victor (born 1874), Antoinette (born 1877) and Karl (born 1881). Two of the older siblings are not in this image.

If the picture dates to approximately 1886, then their ages are as follows: Elisabeth (72), Katherine (48), Philipp (49), Ferdinand (15), Victor (12), Antoinette (9) and Karl (5).

I know that relatives who didn’t immigrate often sent photos to family in America. It’s likely that Katherine sent this image to her sons and her sister. She may have sent it to her sister Barbara, who also lived in Cincinnati.

This agrees with the comments in the previous post and the assessment by a Miami University professor who told Debra that the image was to be given to another.

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