Photo Detective: Class Pictures

Photo Detective: Class Pictures

School's out for summer, but the memories live on in the class pictures of your ancestors. This week, Eileen McFall asks for help in identifying students in this class portrait of the Holy Rosary School, Pittsburgh, Pa. Her goal is to place names with all the faces. Do you...

School’s out for summer, but the memories live on in the class pictures of your ancestors. This week, Eileen McFall asks for help in identifying students in this class portrait of the Holy Rosary School, Pittsburgh, Pa. Her goal is to place names with all the faces. Do you have a group portrait of school children that you’d like to identify? To find out who they are, the basic strategy is to learn more about the ownership of the picture, the history of the school and finally publicize your interest.

The first question is how this picture came to be in her possession. It probably belonged to someone in the portrait, so at least one person may be identified. If the original owner can’t remember the names of the rest of the group or is no longer living, an initial step is to look for clues in family papers and stories.

Are there any letters written to the original owner from former classmates? Did the owner keep address books, diaries or scrapbooks during those school days? Are there any yearbooks from the school?

Any of these items can contain names of classmates. The key is then finding out if anyone is still alive. If you have names, you can follow Kathy Hinckley’s advice in Locating Lost Family Members and Friends (Betterway, $18.99). If you were unable to find any clues, the next step is showing the picture to the widest possible audience to assign names to those pictured.

Unfortunately for Eileen, Holy Rosary School is no longer in operation. According to the Pennsylvania Room reference librarian at the Carnegie Library, the school opened around 1910 and closed in the late 1980s. If it were still open, Eileen could contact the school to find out if there is any historical material either in the school or in the archives of the Diocese. Some schools keep files of all their class portraits with their school records. In this case, the Pittsburgh Diocese only has two photographs from Holy Rosary, one for 1910 and one for 1946. They are located at 125 North Craig St., Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Looking at these other class portraits may help establish that this picture is actually from Holy Rosary. Eileen can also determine if any class lists still exist.

Since the owner believes it was taken in 1934, it means that some of these students could still be living. Before engaging in extensive research, contact area residential facilities for the elderly. Eileen might be able to post a copy of the photograph on their community bulletin board or publish it in their newsletter. A neighborhood newspaper might even run the image with an accompanying article about the school. Odds are, she’ll find someone who will at least recognize the picture. Placing the image in a public forum exposes the photograph to a large number of people.

There are many online opportunities for presenting questions and images to the genealogical community. You can place the photograph on a photo sharing site, post a message on a genealogical bulletin board or use a community site. If you are concerned about privacy issues, use a post office box or an e-mail address specifically for responses to your inquiries.

While identifying all the individuals in a large group portrait is difficult, it is not impossible. It is important to be methodical and keep track of where the image appears. If anyone has information relating to this class portrait, please contact me at mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com.

Find out how to submit your own picture for possible analysis by Maureen Taylor. E-mail her at mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com.

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