Photo Detective: Unsolved Mystery

Photo Detective: Unsolved Mystery

If dating a photograph is about adding up the clues, what happens when the evidence doesn't add up to a logical conclusion? That's the case with this unnamed, undated photograph (Figure 1) owned by Valda Fernald. The photograph originally belonged to her great-grandmother Sarah Elizabeth (Wyatt) Red. The photographer's imprint...

If dating a photograph is about adding up the clues, what happens when the evidence doesn’t add up to a logical conclusion? That’s the case with this unnamed, undated photograph (Figure 1) owned by Valda Fernald.

The photograph originally belonged to her great-grandmother Sarah Elizabeth (Wyatt) Red. The photographer’s imprint of “Cobb & Locke, Phillipsburg, Kans.” clearly dates the picture to around 1895. That’s when Cobb and Locke operated their studio, according to Biographies of Western Photographers by Carl Mautz (Carl Mautz Publishing, $50).

The women’s clothing also is from the mid- to late 1890s. Notice the shoulder panels in both of the women’s dresses. These panels became fashionable around 1896. The two women bear a strong facial resemblance, so they must be related. But Fernald doesn’t know which woman is the mother and which is the daughter. The woman on the left could be the mother because she appears to have her left hand on the boy’s back.

The little boy sports the Little Lord Faunterloy look that I discussed in “A ‘Royal’ Look for Boys.” Yet, he wears the modified look with a large silk tie, dress shirt and plain skirt, instead of short black pants. Boys and girls wore skirts until about age 5. This child is probably 3 or 4 years old.

The father is dressed in typical attire for the 1890s: unbuttoned jacket, full-collared vest, narrow tie, standing collar and, of course, a pocket watch. His mustache also is typical for the time. His striking facial features and seated position make him the central figure in this family portrait. He’s probably sitting because he’s much taller than the women. His love for his son is evident: He gently holds the child still for the picture, and the boy leans toward his father.

Fernald started searching for more information about this picture because the two women resemble Fernald’s great-grandmother Sarah Elizabeth (Wyatt) Red (Figure 2). Fernald found Sarah and her husband, James, in the 1870 federal census for Phillipsburg, Kan., so she originally thought the picture dated from the 1870s. Now that she knows the picture was taken in the 1890s, she’s not sure who’s in the portrait. Her family left the Phillipsburg area in the 1880s. A family genealogy buff thinks they are James and Sarah Red’s son, John, his wife, Minnie (Stone), and their son Jewel (no identification was given for the other woman). But Fernald is not convinced. In fact, no one knows for sure.

If you recognize any of the people in this photograph, please contact me at mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com. It’s about time for my annual column on photographic success stories. If you have a photograph that has helped you with your family research, I’d like to hear about it and see the picture. Submission guidelines are online at www.familytreemagazine.com/photos/photohelp.htm.

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