Religious Clues in Old Photos

By Maureen A. Taylor

A single photo tells a story of a person, place or event, but an album often tells the tale of an entire family. Katy Krause inherited a photo album. It all started with single question.

Katy asked her father-in-law about his family history and said, “I wish I had a picture.” That statement triggered his memory, and he brought her an album full of pictures. They appear to be of his grandmother Stella’s family. He was able to identify his own father, his uncles and his aunt Irene. Katy thinks that Irene put the album together.

The album includes several photos of Stella. Here are two:

Stella, her mother and an unidentified woman, 1916.

Stella and her children, 1922.

Then there’s this mystery image:

Is this Stella in front? It’s a First Communion photo. The little girl’s dress and the white arm bows worn by the boys identify the occasion. The oldest boy holds a small bible and rosary beads. The cross hangs down.

The back is a postcard format. The stamp box identifies the symbol for Cyko (a producer of photo paper).

According to Playle, this particular design dates from 1907 into the 1920s. You can use this site to match up the stamp boxes on your photo postcard images, too.

So who’s in the mystery photo? Is it Stella or Irene with two brothers? The children in that family were born as follows: Stella (1900), Jane (1902), Theodore (1906), Irene (1908) and Henry (1919).

Those knicker-style pants for boys were in style from the WWI era through the 1920s. The WWI-era styles featured a belted coat. These suits don’t have that feature.

If Stella made her First Communion at age 7, then this isn’t her. The dress style is wrong for the first decade of the 20th century. But if that’s Irene making her First Communion in our mystery photo, then the ages of the boys are wrong to be her brothers.

Those children also could be other relatives—or Stella’s offspring. In the photo shown above, she had a girl and two boys of the same age range as the children in the mystery picture. The mystery children bear a resemblance to the tots in the picture with their mother. I think they’re Stella’s children.

A photo like this is a genealogical document. It’s picture proof of a family event. I wonder if there is a church record that supports the evidence in the picture? A record of the children’s First Communion could support the tentative identification.

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