Sleeves Tell the Story

By Maureen A. Taylor

Family history mixups happen all the time, especially with photo captions. Vicki Beegle wrote a name on this image awhile ago, but now she’s not sure if it’s a woman on her mother’s side or her father’s.

It’s going to take a little time to sort this out. In the mean time, I can tell her that there’s one detail in this image that pinpoints the time frame when this woman lived: her sleeves.

Holleman2 Viola Dickerson or bennett.jpg

In the 1890s, women’s sleeves dramatically changed. At the turn of the decade from the 1880s to the early 1890s, sleeves stood up straight from the shoulder in a sharp peak. In the mid-decade, large, oversize sleeves were fashionable. In the late 1890s, small puffs at the upper arm were common.

This woman’s sleeve is the sharp peak of the early 1890s.

Holleman3 Viola Dickerson or bennett.jpg

It’s a clue worth watching for. This small detail places this image in the 1889-1892 period.

Another clue also confirms it’s the 1890s: White cardstock mats were a popular choice in that decade.

The big question is this woman’s identity. She could be Viola Dickerson Holleman (b.1846) or Elizabeth Bennett (b.1841). Another photo of the same woman could confirm her identity.

It’s a worn photo with lots of scratches in the surface of the picture. To protect it from further wear and tear, I’d store in a non-PVC plastic sleeve, such as those available from archival suppliers and the Container Store.

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