New England House History Mystery

By Maureen A. Taylor

There are photos that get stuck in my mind. Those are persistent mysteries that defy strategies to solve them. Bergetta Monroe’s photo of a large farm is one of those images.

I first wrote about it in 2009 in an article called Raising the Roof: Architectural Images. On a cold winter day about 1870, a photographer climbed the roof of a building and took this picture. It’s a detailed look at a family’s rich agricultural landholdings. Wood smoke comes out of the chimney in the foreground and the possible owner of the property stands at the gate.

monroe house 2.jpg

That was five years ago, and web searching has changed a bit since then. When I first wrote about this image, I discussed the following identification details. Here they are with some updates.

This is key information. Knowing who owned this image before Bergetta’s father can help solve the mystery. Her father told her that her grandfather Sidney Hinman Monroe was born in Jericho, Vt., in 1843, and then moved to Wisconsin.

Who’s Who
There may only be three generations between the people who posed for this picture and its current owner—Bergetta’s grandfather, her father and her. There appears to be an older generation sitting on a bench on the side of the house.

monroe house 3.jpg

Bergetta’s ancestors lived in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Wisconsin. I suggested making a list of all the specific towns in which they lived.

  • Search census records for the people. It’s possible that the man at the gate is the owner or manager and the older couple lives there. The older couple would’ve been born in the early years of the 19th century. There might be an extended family living there.
  • The owner of this property would stand out due to his wealth. It’s a very large farm with many outbuildings. Tax records and deeds would also supply details on her ancestors’ holdings.
  • Show the image to realtors in the towns in which her ancestors lived. This farm and its next-door building (the photographer stood on the roof to capture this picture) would be significant. I spent time today looking online at historical houses in Jericho with no matches.
  • Check with historical societies and historic preservation groups as well. It’s possible the house is now gone.
  • I tried using Google Images for matches using Bergetta’s photo for comparison by uploading it into the search engine. Nothing turned up.

Tax Stamp

Back in 2009, I spoke with revenue stamp expert Michael E. Aldrich. He stated that this stamp on the back of the photo is significant due to its light blue color. A darker blue stamp was issued in 1864, but this one wasn’t available until 1870, providing a date for the image. Because this stamp doesn’t fall within the traditional revenue stamp period of August 1864 to August 1866, Aldrich thought it was placed there later. If you’d like to see what other revenue stamps look like click here. To learn more about a particular stamp, click the image.

I encourage you to go to the original article to see more pictures of the property. The house has gorgeous Doric columns and the barn is of Italianate design. This was owned by someone who would’ve been very well known in his community.

I’d follow the land evidence first to narrow down possible locations. Look for relatives that combine wealth and property. The 1870 Agricultural Census could offer clues once you have a list of towns. This non-population census exists for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. You can learn more about them from the National Archives. It took awhile to build a farm like this.

Next step is to check in with realtors, historical societies and preservationists.

Bergetta has already tried social media using her FaceBook page, but she should also look for pages for the towns in which her ancestor’s lived.

I remain convinced that this is a picture mystery that can be solved! It’s all about connecting with the right pieces of information and following the bread crumbs.

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