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More Mystery Photos in an Old Family Album

By Maureen A. Taylor

The trouble with women in light colored dresses is identifying the occasion. Not all dresses that appear white in a picture are that color. Many pale shades such as light blue look white in nineteenth century photographs. A woman wearing a “white” dress could be dressed for a wedding, a graduation, a first communion or for a hot summer’s day. It can be confusing.

This is another picture in Jim Te Vogt’s family album. He wonders if this could be Catherine M. Darcy when she married in 1884.

While this girl is dressed like a typical bride, this is actually a First Communion photo.

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  • The length of her dress is appropriate for a young girl but not a grown woman.
  • The veil while usually associated with weddings is also worn for First Communions.
  • This image dates to the 1870s based on the rows of ruffles on the skirt, and the style of the jewelry worn. Heavy looking jewelry was commonplace in that decade.
  • Take note of the brace behind her feet. This is a photographer’s posing device to hold her still.
  • Chairs of this style were commonly seen in photographs in the 1870s.

Jim researched the New York Gallery of San Francisco that took this image and found it was in business from 1869 to 1887.

Catherine M. Darcy could be this girl. She was born in 1863. Typical age for First Communion was between ten and fourteen years of age. A explanation of the history of this church rite can be found on the Catholic News Agency website.

There is another possible photo of Catherine in the album.


O.V. Lange of San Francisco took this photo between 1885 to 1886. The Darcy’s were the only relatives known to live in that area. The brown card stock and the dress design support a date of the mid 1880s.

Catherine married on November 25, 1884. The brocade dress fabric suggests a winter wedding, rather than a spring event. I wonder if it’s possible that Lange’s studio was in business as early as November 1884.

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Queen Victoria popularized white wedding dresses, but for most of the nineteenth century ordinary women married in very nice non-white dresses. If this isn’t her wedding portrait then it was taken within a year of the event.

This lovely pair of images documents two major occasions in the Darcy family.


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
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