Foreign Photo Mystery

By Maureen A. Taylor

This damaged image depicts one family line of Julie Townsend Gontarek’s husband. Julie knows the image shows relatives in Poland, but not their identities. There are three possibilities: The Gontareks, Klamsky and Otrasek families all lived there.

Before she can delve deeper, Julie wants to know when the picture was taken.

It’s a really interesting image. When I view pictures, my eyes dart over all the clues from sleeves to doorways.

Look at the detail in this exterior doorway. It’s lovely:

This young woman’s sleeves suggest a date of the late 1890s, when there was fullness on the upper arm. The addition of plackets of contrasting fabric on the bodice and the cuffs shows off the skill of the person who made the dress. I think she’s pregnant: The longer bodice shows off what appears to be a baby bump.

Mom wears a head scarf commonly seen on women in rural regions of Poland and other European countries. Her dress has detailing on the upper arm as well. Her long bodice is a little out of date for the late 1890s.

Her little girl’s clothing is typical for children: hair bows and short sleeves, which suggests warmer weather. I’ve seen a variety of clothes worn in rural regions both in the United States and overseas. Sometimes women would make clothes using older patterns, reusing older clothes and updating their fashions by adding sleeves or collars. All the clothing worn here looks to be in excellent condition.

Both the mother and the girl shown above photo wear necklaces bearing crosses, which indicates their faith.

The clothing clues in this image were confusing until I took a closer look at the men. Their collars date this image: Those starched, high-necked collars were popular about 1905. In particular, the man on the left wears a rounded-edge collar, common from about 1905 to at least 1915.

Men wore a wide variety of ties in the early 20th century, from long, thin knit ties to wide silk ties, as well as bow ties.

This photo is full of family history clues:

  • The young girl leaning toward her mother appears to be around five years of age. If the picture dates between 1905 and 1915, then she was born between 1900 and 1910. I’m leaning toward the earlier end of this time frame.
  • The young pregnant bride looks like she’ll be having a baby within a few months.
  • All of the individuals depicted could be relatives, but they also could be a collection of friends and family.
  • Who’s not depicted? Did someone in the family own a camera or did a professional take this image?

I’d love to know the occasion for this photo. Everyone is dressed up for a special event. I’m hoping that these details help Julie figure out who’s who and a reason this image was taken.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books 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
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album