Photo Detective: Face Facts

By Lynn Ewbank Premium

Zoom in on details: If the youngest child, born in 1906, is still in a stroller, the photo may date from 1906 or 1907.

Any one can be a photo detective, deducing family-history facts from mysterious old photos found in attics and albums. You just have to start with what you already know, and work from there.

For instance, written on the back of this photograph’s frame is: “Edward N. Wiegel house, 3204 West 12th Street.” From the photographer Kettering’s mark on the mount, I figure out that the town is Little Rock, Ark.

First Steps

That lead sends me to the Arkansas History Commission biographical file. At home, you might begin with your collected family-history materials or genealogical software program. I find Wiegel’s obituary in the Arkansas Gazette, Aug. 26,1930, naming his wife and eight living children.

My next step — 1900 and 1920 Pulaski County, Ark., census records — gives me birth dates or ages of Edward, his wife Mary and their nine children.

More Clues,

Since the photo shows only seven children, I use Pulaski County marriage and Mt. Holly Cemetery records for clues to who is absent: probably oldest child Minnie, who married in 1902, and Walter, who died in 1903 at age 11. Because the youngest child, Susie (in the baby carriage), was born in 1906,I deduce the photo was made about 1906 or 1907.

Ask Questions

How was Wiegel able to support his family’s quality lifestyle as evidenced by the fine home and clothing? From cemetery records and the obituary I discover Wiegel was a brick manufacturer, rock-crusher and road contractor who built the first macadam road in Pulaski County. His road work benefited more than travelers: A History of Bauxite article identifies him as the one who brought geologist J. C. Branner a sample of the rock he was using to surface the road from Little Rock to Sweet Home, Ark., in 1887. The rock became the first discovery of bauxite in Arkansas and led to the mining of the rock in 1898 for use in aluminum production.

Based on this research, the Wiegel family members pictured are probably: On the porch (left to right) — David W Wiegel (b. 1890), Edward N. Wegel (b.1854), Mary V. Emerick Wiegel (b.1863) and Edward Wiegel, Jr. (b. 1887). On the ground (left to right) — Louis A. Wiegel (b.1900), Theodore Wiegel (b. about 1903), Susie Wiegel (in baby carriage, b. 1906), Nina Wiegel (b. 1893) and Robert Wiegel (b. 1896).

Try a little detective work with your own old photos — you never know what family mysteries you’ll solve.
From the January 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine