Don’t Forget the Women and Children in Old Photos

By Maureen A. Taylor


Last week, I examined the cataloging record and photo format clues for this stereograph picture, taken between 1860 and 1864, from the Library of Congress online photo collection. This week, let’s talk about the individuals shown.

Who’s in the Photo?

The Library of Congress caption states they’re members of the Wallack family of New York’s acting community. James William Wallack (1795-1864) is seated, while his son Lester Wallack (1820-1888) stands to the side with hand in coat pocket.

There are so many unanswered questions that aren’t addressed in the caption.

  • Who are the woman and children?
  • Where was the picture taken?
  • Why was it taken?
  • Is the date correct?

James Wallack

A quick Google search for James Wallack turned up a Wikipedia page and more images of him as a younger man. James acted on the New York stage; his parents were comedians in London. In 1861, James opened the popular Wallack’s Theatre in New York.

Since the stereo photo was taken circa 1860, let’s look at the census for information on his family.

At that time, James Wallack lived with 6-year-old Charles Wallack (whom we know from other records is his grandson; the 1860 census doesn’t state relationships), a druggist of a different surname, two servants and a waiter.

Each clue generates another query. For example, why is Charles listed with his grandfather?

The Wikipedia page for James has a photo of him with a grandson. A caption, apparently added later by the child, states “I am the boy Charles E. Wallack.”

Here’s a close-up of the boys in the 1860-64 stereoview for comparision:


We still don’t know for sure which boy is Charles, who the other boy is, or who the woman is.

Lester Wallack

Before jumping to any conclusions, let’s do more looking for the Wallacks. James’ son Lester, born in New York, acted in London before returning home to the States and managing Wallack’s Theater.

The 1870 census shows “John” (Lester was his stage name) and wife Emily with children Florence, Charles and Harry. The family lived with several servants at 30th Street between 6th and Madison Ave in New York.

Find A Grave has memorials for Lester, Emily Mary Millais Wallack, and Florence. Other memorials may belong to Charles E. and Harold, but aren’t identified as such.

Another photo mystery?

If the two boys in the stereograph are Charles and Harry and the woman is Emily, then where is Florence?

In 1860 Harry was 5; Charles, 6; and Florence, 11. She’s missing from this image.

The house in the stereo picture doesn’t look like Manhattan to me. It’s possible that the family had a country house or were posed someplace else.

An 1860/61 date for the stereograph works. The boys appear to be about the right age. In 1861, the Wallacks were well-known for their theater businesses and acting talents. This stereo of a famous family would be a collectible image for your ancestors interested in celebrities.

Tips to solve your old family photo mysteries:

  • Start by identifying the photo format.
  • Generate a list of questions to be answered.
  • Research the people.
  • Estimate their ages at the time the image was taken.
  • Put it all together and tell the story of the people and the picture.


Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:


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