Stories in the Family Album

By Maureen A. Taylor

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Way back in grade school, I learned that the building blocks of a good story are who, what, where, when and how. Those elements plus a little family history lore add up to tell a tale.

In the case of this photo, here’s how it breaks down:

Who: There are lot of “might”s in Jane Bonny’s email but here’s who she thinks might be in the photo. The woman on the far left might be her grandmother Grace Wickline (born 1891).

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According to Jane, the woman on the far right bears a bit of a resemblance to Grace’s sister Bella, but Bella never lived near her sister.

The woman in the center could be Grace’s mother-in-law, Henrietta Gardner, but it all depends on the date of the photo. Grace married in 1923.

Where: From 1910 to about 1923, Grace lived in Hidalgo County, Texas. She met her future husband, Francis Cooper Anderson, there.

Hidalgo County was a base for the US Army beginning in 1916, when American soldiers invaded Mexico in search of Pancho Villa. You can read more about it here.

What: Exactly what’s happening here is a bit of a mystery. It looks like a group on an outing. Who’s behind the camera is unknown. It’s important to think about who took a snapshot, because there’s a relationship of some sort between that individual and the folks in a candid image.

When: Now we are at the key piece of evidence. A date or time frame can help to confirm or refute an identification.

On the woman who might be Grace, the deep crowned hat with a small brim is interesting. There were hats like this in the late 1910s and in the early 1920s, but hats in the late teens had brims that tilted down, not up like in the 1920s.

Bangs start to become fashionable again circa 1920 and if women didn’t crop their hair they found ways to pin it up to look shorter. That’s what this woman has done.

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These clues plus the dress styles suggest this photo was taken circa 1920. So Grace would be 29 in this photo.

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Jane doesn’t recognize the young man on the far left. He doesn’t resemble Grace’s husband, Francis.

There is a great family history nugget relating to Grace. She told her family that she had a boyfriend in the Army, but that she didn’t continue seeing him because she judged him to be without character.

This man is not wearing a military uniform, but Jane wonders if this could be the boyfriend. Could they be holding hands? It’s unclear.

The how in this photo involves trying to figure out his identity. First I’d compare his photo to other images of Francis. Perhaps he’s related to the woman on the far right.

If he’s not Francis, then who are the other two women? Perhaps other relatives came to visit Grace in Texas. Posting this image online and in social media might help.

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