Photos of Our Ancestors Goofing Around

By Maureen A. Taylor

Amateur cameras made it possible for our ancestors to relax in front of the lens. Goofy pictures abound in photo albums after 1900. Take this one, for instance:

Laura Kettner sent in this picture of two women with their backs to the camera. They’ve put their coats on backward for this image. Why? We have no idea but this isn’t the first photographic costume joke I’ve seen. There seemed to be a trend of goofing around in snapshots in the early years of the 20th century.

At a recent conference someone showed me two pictures. The first was a group picture of family members. In the second, the men were in the women’s clothing and the women were wearing the men’s clothing.

At another event, a picture showed men and women wearing each others hats.

Laura’s aunt identifies the woman on the right as her great-grandmother Mabel Rheaume (born 1891). She has the same hair as Mabel in other images. On the left could be her future sister-in-law Audrey Kettner. Unfortunately, no one has an image of them facing front taken at the same time.

The clothing dates the image to early in the second decade of the 20th century, between 1910 and 1917. You can find short and long coats of this style in Sears Catalogs (searchable on

In that time frame, Mabel was engaged to a man who died in 1917. She later married Joseph Earl Kettner (born 1899). If the woman on the left is Kettner’s sister, then Mabel knew her long before she married him.

Do you have a humorous photo in your family collection? Email it to me. I’ll feature it here.

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
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album