Old Family Photo Rediscovered After Three Decades

By Maureen A. Taylor

This year Jackie Corrigan’s sister-in-law opened a suitcase that once belonged to her father. It hadn’t been opened in 33 years! Bertram Corrigan lived from 1884 to 1979. The suitcase was in his belongings that family split up after his death.

In the suitcase was a letter from 1892 and lots of pictures—a photographic treasure trove. It included pictures of his parents and other relatives, but also unidentified cartes-des-visite and tintypes. The most mysterious image is this one:


It’s incredibly faded. The picture is on cardstock and measures 4×6-1/2 inches, and according to family, looks like it was cut along one edge. On the original writing is visible, but in this scan it doesn’t appear.

There are enough details to date the picture. The woman wears a short cape and her dress has a small round collar. This type of head-and-shoulders image, combined with the clothing clues, suggests the original image dates from the 1860s.

Jackie and her sister-in-law think this might depict Elisabeth Davidson (1837-1905). It can be difficult to determine a person’s age in a perfect print, and the condition of this picture makes it especially unclear. She could be in her 20s, making it possible this is Elisabeth.

The provenance—or history of ownership—of the pictures could help verify this woman is a family member.

Of course the most obvious proof would be to find another image of the woman later in life. In that suitcases of pictures might be a second one of her. Elisabeth’s life overlapped with Bertram’s, so it’s quick possible there’s other pictorial evidence.

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

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