Photo Detective: Building a Family Network

Photo Detective: Building a Family Network

What does it take to identify a photo? If you read this column regularly, you're probably shouting out answers such as these: a photographer's imprint, family information and clothing clues. All those answers are correct, but don't forget one of the most important resources: a group of interested family members...

What does it take to identify a photo? If you read this column regularly, you’re probably shouting out answers such as these: a photographer’s imprint, family information and clothing clues. All those answers are correct, but don’t forget one of the most important resources: a group of interested family members.

Jim Pearce has been working with two other Pace-Farris researchers to locate family photos through living relatives. They’ve found several images, including this unidentified one. You can track their progress on Pearce’s Web site, where he’s posted pictures, genealogical research and a pedigree chart.

The photo has two written clues: the caption “Pace Photo” and an X underneath the girl on the far right. Pearce has written to the owner for more information, but hasn’t heard back yet. He hopes his relatives Elizabeth Farris Pace and her daughter Mary Pace Davison appear in the picture.

Initially, Pearce thought the photo was taken around 1875 because Mary had twins in 1872 and another daughter in 1874. There are three young children in this photo. But one of Pearce’s fellow researchers disagreed with the date. “No way is that photo from 1875!” he wrote. “It has to be 1890 or later.” I agree. This image definitely does not date from 1875. The women wear dresses with loose sleeves and pouched bodices, typical of the early 1900s. Women’s dresses in the 1870s were close fitting, and accessories included false hair pieces and heavy-looking jewelry. The women in this image wear their hair in buns on the tops of their heads.

So who are these people? The caption “Pace Photo” might refer to a different Pace family, not that of Charles Pace Sr. and his wife, Elizabeth, as Pearce had suspected. Perhaps this image depicts one of Charles’s siblings and his family. The oldest man in this picture bears a strong resemblance to a man in a 1906 group portrait posted online. That leads me to believe that they’re closely related. Charles Sr. had six brothers; comparing photographs of those men to this picture could result in an identification.

Instead of the white sheet usually used as a backdrop in outdoor photos, this photographer used a pair of rugs tacked to the side of the dwelling. I wonder if anyone in the family still owns those floor coverings or if the house appears in other family pictures.

The occasion for this portrait must have been special. It took time to set up the backdrop and arrange everyone. Perhaps one of Charles Sr.’s children visited an uncle and the family commemorated the day with a photograph. Letters or diaries could confirm this visit.

The babies also could date the picture. Once Pearce and his relatives identify the infants, they’ll be able to name a few of the people in the picture. They could start by creating a list of all infants born about 1900.

Pearce and the other two researchers are on the right track. They’ve discovered new sources of family data and posted their findings online for easy access by other relatives. While they wait to hear about the X on the picture from the person who gave it to them, they’ll continue their search. By working together, I’m sure they’ll learn the names of the people in this picture.

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