Is this Painted Woods, North Dakota?

By Maureen A. Taylor

Photographs and history go hand in hand. Take this photo for instance. It likely represents a bit of North Dakota history.

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Richard Levine’s cousin Sally sent him this photo. Her mother had given it to her. The mother always thought it depicted a group at the Painted Woods settlement in North Dakota.

Levine’s Jewish ancestors (Joseph and Anna Confeld) immigrated in 1885 from Kishinev, Bessarabia (now Moldova or Romania), which was a Russian territory. His grandmother Rose was born in North Dakota near Bismarck and lived in Painted Woods. The harsh living conditions led many settlers to move elsewhere. In fact, Richard’s family ended up in Minneapolis, Minn.

The big question in the family is about this photo. Does it depict a gathering at Painted Woods? And when was it taken?

Richard reached out to the Jewish community through the JewishGen website and posted the photo there.

The scalloped edge of this snapshot, as well as its size and format, identify this as a copy of an earlier picture. It was definitely photographed in the first half of the 20th century. In the lower left-hand corner you can see that the original photo had a tear.

Let’s look at the clothing clues.

Richard thought it might be from the 1880s, but look closely at the women’s dress sleeves.


The shape and style of the sleeve dates this photo to circa 1900. The children’s play clothes are also consistent with this date.

I’ll be back next week with another installment of this story.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album