Photo Detective: Hoppin’ Fun

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

Once our ancestors got over feeling uncomfortable in front of the camera, they began having fun with photography. By the 20th century, family and friends encouraged silly poses for candid shots. This image shows three men, likely farmers, struggling against an oversized replica of the crop’s foe—the grasshopper.
Larae Schraeder owns this snapshot, part of a collection she inherited from her great-grandparents Ralph M. and Nettie (Finley) Jeffers. Knowing the provenance of a photo can help you narrow down who’s in it. Schraeder also shared dates, documents and photos with me to aid the identification.
She believes these men might be related to Eliza (Jeffers) Coon, also spelled Kuhn, born in 1847 in Gallia County, Ohio. Eliza died in 1929 in Vernon, Mo. A branch of the Jeffers family had settled in Kansas by 1880. Schraeder knows that members of the Ohio Jefferses stayed in touch with the Missouri branch until the second decade of the 20th century.
Eliza’s brother Charles Phillip Jeffers also moved west from Ohio and died in January 1919 in Marion County, Kan. According to the 1880 census, he was a farm laborer on his future father-in-law’s property. Charles married Rebecca Jane Riggs and they had two sons: Guy, born in 1889, and Ulysses Grant, born in 1883.
The man in the center has a long face, just like an 1880s image of Charles Jeffers that Schraeder shared with me. The young man to the left, who has similar features, could be his son Guy. But other clues suggest this photo was taken after World War I, when Guy and Ulysses would’ve been too old to be the young men in this image.
The men’s identities are a persistent mystery. Whoever they are, they enjoyed playacting for the camera. This is photographic folklore relatives must have chuckled about, but neglected to pass down to the next generation.
military mystery men 
1. The largest swarms of grasshoppers plagued the American West and Midwest from 1874 to 1876, but there were also onslaughts in 1931, 1934, 1936 and 1939. Kansas became known as the Grasshopper State after the Great Swarm of 1874. The origin of this oversize metal insect is unknown, but it may have been meant to scare off the real ones. For more on grasshopper swarms, see the Dictionary of American History <>.
2. This large farm grew cabbages. Heads to the left have been cut off at the ground, while the specimens to the right remain mostly intact. Both the size of the farm and the house in the background may help Schraeder discover who near her ancestors’ homes grew cabbages as a crop.
3. Schraeder can use family information, land records and topographical maps to determine the location of this farm. Where is the land mostly flat with a slight rise in the distance? The Jeffers family was large with siblings in Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, Washington and Kentucky. Researching each location, finding land documents and studying the terrain could help narrow the possibilities.
4. The men’s apparel suggests cool weather (though the crops show we’re still within the growing season). This young man wears a sleeveless sweater. A search of historical newspapers on subscription website GenealogyBank <> for sleeveless sweater confirms this was a fashion innovation popular after World War I. The sweaters were available for around $3.50 from department stores and the Sears catalog, or knitted by crafty wives and mothers.
5. The style of these hats was also common after World War I.
Have you found an unusual family photo? Submit the image and your story following the instructions at <>. It may appear here or on the Photo Detective Blog <>
From the October/November 2012 issue of Family Tree Magazine.