Photo Detective: More Than Just Names

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

In some cases the photographs in our collections are identified, but we still yearn to know more about the picture. There are so many unanswered questions about the content. For instance, you may know who the people are, but not where or when it was taken. This week’s submission is one of those images. A family member has identified the individuals in the image, but the rest of the story remains untold.

This photograph of the three Gullickson sisters, Thora, Amelia and Anna, was probably taken somewhere in their home state of Wisconsin. There is no photographer’s imprint to help identify where they were photographed. The owner of this image knows the birth, marriage and death dates of each of the women, but given their appearance this picture could have a twenty-year time span.

On the back side of the image are the words “Post Card.” When individuals visited a photographer’s studio they could select the style of image from samples on display. An inexpensive format was the picture postcard. These cards could be stamped and sent through the mail. The postmark in those cases would provide a date for the image. This portrait was never mailed so that information is not available.

Since the picture does not relate to a specific genealogical event (such as a marriage), it is the costume that remains the best method for assigning a date. While the owner knows that all three women lived on farms, they appear in their Sunday best for their picture. The two oldest and married sisters on either end have the latest accessories for being fashionably dressed in the period immediately prior to World War I. The middle sister’s hat is of an older style and the lack of gloves and the ill-fitting coat may illustrate her disinterest in fashion. The large wide-brim hats decorated with broad ribbons are typical of couture fashion in the period 1910-1914. The presence of the fur muff and wraps are also from the same time frame.

When that time frame is compared to life dates, it can be estimated that in 1910 the oldest sister was 40 years old and the youngest 27. Two of the sisters lived into the late 1960’s. Unfortunately, family members never asked one of the subjects why they posed for this beautiful portrait. By interviewing older relatives, the owner of this image may be able to piece together the story behind the picture. While assigning a date was relatively easy, finding the real reason for the portrait may be difficult.

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