Photo Detective: Sibling Portrait Rivalry

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

Irene Uffrecht-Peters knows the names of the boys, but not the girls, in this captivating photograph of the Schiff children taken in Germany. Family lore identifies the little boy left front as her great-grandfather Ludwig Schiff (born 1864). His other brothers Felix (1854) and Paul (1862) are most likely the other two male members of the family. One child is missing from the image. The names of the female members of the family are unknown. Uffrecht-Peters would like to narrow down the time frame to place names with the faces.

There are several items of significance in this portrait. The symbols of family are very apparent in this photograph. The unity and closeness of the children are apparent in the matching costumes of the younger boys and the two oldest girls. The two oldest siblings dominate the picture because of their pose. In fact, they are placed in spots usually reserved for a mother and father. The eldest son is leaning on a volume that appears to be a family Bible while the oldest daughter is seated leaning towards her brother and holding a book. The book in her hands may signify that the family is educated and the women literate. The sister standing between them is actually in the background of the picture. The two young boys balance the photograph by being on either side of the eldest children. The youngest girl sits very close to her eldest sister in a pose that suggests a close relationship between the two.

Once again it is the clothing that dates the image. The entire family is dressed in the latest fashion for the early to mid-1870s. The girls’ neck ribbons suggest a date close to 1873. All the girls are wearing wide ribbons around their necks, and the two oldest have cameos with matching bracelets. Their dresses feature an overskirt and trim typical for the period. Their hair is braided and piled high on the crown of their heads. This may be their own hair or may be enhanced with a hairpiece as was the fashion.

Working with a date of 1873, Ludwig on the lower left would be 9, his older brother Paul 11 and the eldest Felix 19. The costume clues in this image confirm that her great-grandfather is the boy on the left. This information provides the basis for further genealogical research to assign names to the remaining siblings in this charming portrait.

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