Photo Detective: Mixed Bag

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

Analyzing some of the pictures submitted for this column is a bit like making coffee—the percolated kind. I loved these pictures the first time I saw them, but the answers took time (and some extra information from their owners) to “perc.”

Playing the Game
Lucia Perry’s family is trying to figure out who this woman resembles. No one knows who she is, but Perry wonders if her clothing might be a clue. Her relatives emigrated from Poland and Ireland.

This woman is in 1850s attire, not a folk costume, but that doesn’t mean the photo was taken in the United States. Her dress is identifiable by the wide collar and flounced skirt (you can see the flounces in the lower left hand corner of the picture). The bonnet, worn back on the head, decorated with trim and tied with a plaid ribbon, is a beautiful example of mid-century headwear. In the 1850s, printed shawls manufactured in England, France, India or Scotland were in fashion. Middle aged women often wore plain white shawls alone or with another shawl.

The lack of clues regarding the woman’s identity and the origin of the image makes it difficult to determine her name. Perry’s next step should be finding photographs of all the women in her family who lived in the 1850s and try to match the facial features—particularly the eyes, nose and mouth, which tend to change the least with age.

Marital Bliss
When no one writes down the story behind an image, the details can get a little mixed up. Rosie Byard’s relatives identified this portrait as a Ziegler family wedding picture, but they disagree when it was taken: One relative thinks it dates from 1833; Byard believes it’s from 1870.

Too bad neither date is correct. This photo definitely wasn’t taken in the 1830s for the simple reason that photography wasn’t invented until 1839. Is it a wedding from 1870? Probably not. Women’s dresses in that decade featured lots of trim, and this woman’s outfit is rather simple. Her small-collared dress, accessorized with a black shawl and fingerless lace gloves called mitts, dates from the 1860s. Ladies wore a variety of hat styles in that decade, but this woman’s headwear— wide at the sides and trimmed only along the inside lower edge— is unusual. It could be a local style. Her husband’s attire supports the 1860 time frame with a high collared shirt, wrapped tie and vest with small lapels.

So who’s in this picture? Ziegler genealogical information doesn’t mention a marriage in the 1860s, but oral tradition still connects this picture to a wedding. Here’s another possibility: This might be an anniversary picture. Based on family information, it’s likely these two people are Daniel Ziegler and Eve Eyster, who married in 1833. So Rosie’s relative was partially right.

Relatively Unclear
Debbie Steiniger wrote asking for a specific date for this picture. She wants to figure out whether it depicts the mother and daughter Alice Marie Gould (born in 1853, died between 1910 and 1920) and Rose (who lived from 1886 to 1926); or Alice and her half sister, Anna (who lived from 1831 to around 1908). The answer’s in the date . . . or is it?

The women’s large, wide, decorated hats, jackets with epaulets and floor-length skirts confirm this picture was taken in the first decade of the 20th century. However, knowing a photo’s date is different from identifying who’s in it.

The 1900 to 1910 time frame rules out two of the three women. Since these ladies are in their early 20s, the photo doesn’t show Alice Marie Gould and Anna because they’d be too old. Alice would’ve been in her 50s and Anna in her 70s. But Alice’s daughter Rose is approximately the right age for this photo. Now Steiniger has to determine the identity of the other woman.

Look closely at the lower edge of the picture. You can see grass at their feet and the edges of the white cloth the itinerant photographer used as a backdrop. Perhaps this was a spur-of-the-moment photograph of two friends.

Keep ’em Coming

Keep sending me your photographs! I look at them all. Be sure to read over the submission guidelines to increase the chances your picture will be selected, and remember to include your contact information with a phone number. Sometimes I surprise readers with a phone call to chat about their family photos.