Foolin’ with the Past in Old Photos

By Maureen A. Taylor

At historical sites around the country, it’s not unusual to see men and women dressed in fashions of the past. The same is true for parades and town anniversary celebrations.

If you have a photo of a relative in historical garb, it can make you do a pictorial double-take.

Donna Bowman has one in her box of old family photos:

Take a close look at this image. The woman wears 1870s attire, but her hair is out of the 20th century. And it’s hard to tell from this digital version, but this is a snapshot, not a typical 1870s card photograph.

At the woman’s side is a man dressed for a different era:

This one is a bit confusing. The tie looks like the 1850s and the tall hat also would fit that period, but that cutaway coat is much later. Historical fashion details can get mixed up when dressing up for a one-time event. Serious re-enactors and museums often will research each detail in an outfit to make it period-appropriate.

So how can we date this snapshot? By this girl in the background and the rest of the crowd watching the action:

Don’t you love her bobby socks from the 1950 era? Here’s the full image. It’s very likely that the baby in the stroller is still alive today:

If Donna knows who’s in this picture, I’d look in the local papers for a special event to link to this image. Too bad the sign on the front of the stroller isn’t facing the camera.

Do you have any pictorial double-takes in your family collection?

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