Photo Detective: Mystery Trio

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

Rosemary U’Ren submitted this photograph, which was left behind in her uncle Frank’s boxes of unorganized photographs and genealogical notes. In preparation for writing a family history, Frank had begun labeling the pictures, but he never finished. Now U’Ren wants to complete the job of identifying the pictures and researching the family tree. <!–


U’Ren doesn’t know who these three adorable children are or when the picture was taken, but she has a few ideas. She thinks the children are Mary Gertrude Tierney, who married Frank in 1924, and two of her siblings. The family’s 1900, 1910 and 1920 census records reveal Mary’s mother had eight children, but only four lived to adulthood. The four living children were Joseph (born in 1898), Raymond (born in 1899), Thomas (born in 1901) and Mary (born in 1904). The sex of the children may assist with the identification.

  • The child in the back wearing a sailor suit with short hair parted off-center is a boy. (Girls wore their hair long and parted in the middle.) I’d estimate he’s four or five years old, because he still has the full, round cheeks of a young child.
  • We can’t tell the baby’s sex—mothers clothed baby boys and girls in similar loose dresses. The round lace-yoked bodice dates from the mid-1890s into the 20th century. I think the baby is one year plus a few months.
  • The third child is a boy of about three or four years. Photos of clothing for boys and girls younger than five often show both sexes in dresses, but only boys wore short, full knickers like this child’s. Dresses and shirts featured sailor collars in the 1880s and the following decades, but the style was very popular around the turn of the century. It wasn’t uncommon for little boys to wear curls with bangs. See more photographs of children’s hairstyles in Marian I. Doyle’s An Illustrated History of Hairstyles, 1830-1930 (Schiffer, $39.95).

U’Ren thought the child in the front left was a girl, but I disagree based on the clothing clues and family information. I believe this picture depicts the three Tierney boys—Joseph, Raymond and Thomas—and it was taken in 1902 or 1903. That would mean Joseph was four and Raymond was three, and Thomas is the baby. To confirm my theory, I’d need other pictures of them as small children. <!–

Time Frame–>

Since the original photograph is dark and blotchy, U’Ren used Adobe Photoshop to remove some of the marks and sent me the image as a grayscale picture. By doing so, she turned an unreadable image into one with visible clues. You can do the same for your photos by following the advice in the June 2003 Family Tree Magazine. <!–


Helping Hands
Although family recollections are usually the best way to identify a photograph, relatives don’t always know who’s pictured. –>