Inherited Mystery Photo

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

When Vernonica Camarillo’s grandfather died, she inherited his Bible, a letter that identified the town of origin of the family as Velky Lomec, Bohemia, and this photograph. She asked older relatives for assistance in identifying this picture. When that failed she published it in the local paper and on a website for Czech Family Research ( Someone who saw the image suggested that it depicted a fundraiser for the Slovanic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas in Gonzales, Texas. After further study, an elderly relative identified herself in the photograph. Based on the relative’s birth date of 1913 and her age in the image, Veronica assigned a tentative date of 1919 to the picture.

The initial step in the identification process for this photograph is to verify the location. A website on Gonzales ( provides a historical overview and photographs of the town. This information documents that the building on the right is the Gonzales County Court House built between 1894 to 1896. To the rear of the statue is the Fire Station built in 1908. Pat Berger of the Gonzalves County Records Center and Archives identifies the statue in the photograph as the Texas Hero Monument designed by Pompeo Coppini and dedicated October 20, 1910. Since the trees in the photograph surrounding the statue are small, but are not new saplings, it is unlikely that this picture commemorates the dedication of that statue.

Photographers who took large group portraits often printed multiple copies and sold them to the participants. A good next step is for this type of image is to check for additional prints in public archives in case one with identifying information exists. Unfortunately in this case, neither the Gonzales Public Library nor the Records Center has a similar picture in their collection.

Costume may supply additional clues for dating the image. By carefully examining the crowd from left to right several clothing features are apparent. First, many of the women are wearing pioneer bonnets. Second there are individuals that appear to be wearing native costume from another country. In addition, two individuals, one woman and one man, are fashionably dressed for the occasion. The woman’s dress held with a single button at the waist is from 1915-1920. The man holding a hat is seated on the right hand side of the picture. He is wearing a nicely tailored three-piece suit from approximately 1919. The presence of the bonnets suggests the individuals are commemorating a historical event. Since the town was founded in 1825, it is possible that this was a centennial celebration. However, by 1925, there are several significant changes in women’s fashion such shorter skirts and dropped waistlines. The costume clues eliminate the possibility of a centennial celebration and agree with the tentative date of 1919.

Oral tradition states that the photograph was taken during a celebration for the Slovanic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas (SPJST,, a Czech American Organization. The presence of a few individuals dressed in clothing from another country supports this theory. The Gonzales chapter of the organization was established on the 25th of June 1905. The archivist at the SPJST was unfamiliar with the image. One way to identify the photograph is to show it to older members of the local chapter if they can be located. The SPJST might be able to assist Veronica in contacting interested members. There is one more option. The Czech Heritage Society of Texas ( might want to show the photograph to their members. They may be aware of other celebrations that could account for the picture. The costume clues and oral history of the image suggest a date of 1919-1920. Without further evidence it is difficult to ascertain the reason for this picture.

A special thanks to the staff of the Gonzales Public Library, Dorothy Pechal of the Slovanic Benevolent Order of the State of Texas, and Pat Berger of the Gonzales County Records Center and Archives.

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