Photo Detective: Farm Photo

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

Janet Reese doesn’t know who the older couple in front of this house is, but she’s hoping someone will recognize them. She found the picture in her grandmother’s possessions, but knows it didn’t belong to her grandmother’s family for a simple reason—they took care of their images. This portrait has experienced a great deal of wear and tear, and it’s miraculous that it survived at all. She thinks it might depict someone on the Owens side of the family, but without further evidence, it’s impossible to determine a tentative identification.

Unfortunately, the image has few identification clues. There is no photographer’s imprint to help date it. And the couple’s outfits look like typical farmers’ work clothes. The man wears a work shirt and overalls. The woman’s appearance lacks distinctive qualities to narrow the time frame; her dress and apron could date from anytime in the late 19th century.

There are other details present in the image that might help later. On the left side of the picture, you can see a split rail fence, which slopes up a small incline. This detail could help Reese place the picture in a particular location based on her family research.

Other features add to the charm of this picture. If you look carefully, you can see two chickens and what appears to be a cat near the outbuilding to the left of the house. Even the weather is visible. It appears the day was clear with a light breeze, suggested by the blurriness in the trees.

If a photograph doesn’t offer identification clues, you’ll need to consult other sources of information. This might require locating historical documents, asking family or approaching appropriate organizations to see if you can narrow down the possibilities. Here are a few steps that can assist in the identification of this picture:

  • Make a list of all possible Owens family members who would have been the right age in the mid- to late 19th century. As Reese compiles the list, she’ll eliminate anyone who died before the age of 50. This couple appears to be in their late 50s or early 60s, but they could be older. It all depends on how individuals in the Owens family aged.

  • Beside each name, note where the person lived. The location will give Reese a place to start to search land records (deeds and tax documents). She’s looking for a couple that purchased land and built a house. They’re obviously proud of their dwelling.

  • Contact the local historical societies in the towns where her ancestors settled. Ask them to look at the picture, in case they recognize the couple or the house.

  • Post the image online and hope that someone in the family recognizes the couple. Janet has already done this, but so far no one can identify them.

Once Reese completes these steps, she should have some more clues to identify this couple. And even if the picture remains unidentified, she will have learned more about her family. She might even uncover new information and a few more pictures of the Owens family during her research.