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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, August 02, 2015
Double-Checking Photo Clues to Solve a Mystery
Posted by Maureen

James Dinan and his wife solve their photo mystery using the resources of the Photo Detective archive. You can access it using the navigation on the left.

Here's the photo they submitted.


It's a group of men gathered for an outing. They call themselves The Fatal Nine Spot. The event is a clambake. These types of social occasions were quite popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I actually own one of some members of my family posed with watermelons at a clambake circa 1900.




The Fatal Nine Spot is likely the name of a social organization. Based on the number of men in the image, it was a popular one. There may be a listing for them in a city directory or a newspaper.


  At some point in the twentieth century (based on the ballpoint pen ink), a family member placed a circle around this man's head and wrote Grandpa Davis.  Ball point pens weren't available until mid-twentieth century.

It's great to have an identity for the person in a photo, but James Dinan's problem was simple. Which Grandpa Davis was depicted? It could be either Robert Washington Davis (b. 1835) or his son William Francis (b.1863).

I'm not sure which past columns helped them determine a time frame for their image. There are categories to the left organized by subject and date.

The clothing clues in this image such as the shape of the men's ties and jackets as well as the hair on their heads and faces determine a time frame of the late nineteenth century.  The format of the photo is also a clue. Large group portraits mounted on card stock of this color and size date from the period as well.

For this man to be Robert, he'd need to look like a man in his sixties. William makes more sense. James thought the picture was taken in the 1890s when William would be 27 to 37 years of age.

In the late 1890s the fashion for men was to be clean shaven. While older men lagged behind the times, young men generally followed the current fashion. Just about every man in this image sports facial hair. Most wear large mustaches which were popular in the 1880s.  I'd date this photograph to the early 1890s based on that fact.  Their jacket lapels and ties are a better match to this era as well.  Of course there are varieties of facial hair in every generation. There were mustache related clubs in the late nineteenth century as well. We have no idea at this point if these men wore this facial hair as part of their club rules or if they were just fashionable.

I'd love to know more about the Fatal Nine Spot club. To do this I'd use the following tips:
  • Use family history information to study resources local to where Grandpa Davis lived.
  • City directories often include information on organizations in the back near business listings
  • Newspapers usually include short news bits about events held by local groups.
  • The local historical society may have other photographs of these event or this group. It's possible the clambake was an annual event.
  • Utilize social media by asking followers if they recognize anyone in the photo. There are a LOT of men in this picture.  Photographers would photograph the group then offer them the option of purchasing copies. Grandpa Davis did and it's likely other men did as well.

It's a fabulous summer-time mystery.


Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1890s photos | men
    Sunday, August 02, 2015 2:42:11 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, July 27, 2015
    5 Clues to Solve an Old-Photo Mystery
    Posted by Maureen



    Every old mystery photo is full of clues if you know where to look. Let's break this one down into five steps:

    1. Consider the provenance.
    Phyllis Reakes' first cousin gave her this photograph. Phyllis knows the man sitting on the far right is her great-grandfather, born in 1839. That chain of ownership of this photo helps confirm the man's identity.

    2. Look at the faces.



    I love looking at these two faces. It appears to be a father and son, who share everything from the shape of their noses to the tilt of their heads when they pose for a picture. 

    3. Add up the genealogical clues.
    Which son is it? Phyllis told me that her great-grandfather had several wives and children. I'd date this photo to the early part of the 20th century based on the women's dresses, circa 1900-1910. A tentative time frame for the image helps determine which son is depicted and allows for possible identities for the rest of the individuals. The woman seated next to the son to our left could be his wife or his father's.

    It's important not to jump to quick conclusions about this picture. Depending on when great-grandfather was married for the last time and the age of his wife, those children could be his. Each identity has to be proven.

    4. Study the clothing details.
    The three young women in the back row wear interesting accessories.



    Two have decorated their dresses with ribbons. This could just be a simple way of accessorizing their outfits, without other significance. The woman in the middle wears a long beaded chain around her neck. This was generally worn with either a watch or a pair of pince nez glasses. Either could be tucked into a waistline pocket.

    5. Study the location.
    Phyllis believes this image was taken in Keiv, Volh, Russia. The studio name isn't on this image, but by reaching out through social media, she might be able to locate other pictures taken in the same area.  It's worth the search to see what turns up.  Photographs have a way of bringing families together. Each of the individuals in the picture likely had descendants. As families grow, these connections are lost. This image might re-connect them.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1900-1910 photos | eyeglasses | Immigrant Photos | men
    Monday, July 27, 2015 8:41:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, July 19, 2015
    Old Mystery-Photo Success Story: Six Years Later
    Posted by Maureen

    So how long does it take to identify an old mystery photo? Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes not. It all depends on how many facts you have about a photo and if you can rule out possible subjects. In Michael Boyce's case, it took six years.

    He's determined to bring together Boice/Boyce genealogy with family photos. In 2009, I wrote about this image from his collection in a post called "Family Tall Tales:"



    He initially submitted the photo of the man with a partial missing finger to try to sort out stories in the family  Name changes, migration to the West Coast and a message board contact eventually helped sort out the Boice/Boyce family connections. But what about the man?

    Who was he? John Boice (born 1794) had three brothers, Eli, Jacob and William. Michael Boyce tracked down images of two of the other brothers and was able to rule them out. Last week, he wrote to me and said he'd found a photo of William:
      


    Comparing two images of the same person requires studying the facts of his life and the clues in the image. It helps to put them in a timeline too. The same is true for comparing images of family members. Sometimes there is a striking familial resemblance.

    In the first image, taken in the 1860s, the man is balding. He has a full face. In this new image William is older and has a lot more hair.  Men wore their hair combed front in the late 1860s to early 1870s.

    Can you spot the family features? They both have blue eyes, prominent eyebrows and a down turned mouth. They also share an intense expression.

    Now that Michael's found pictures of all the other brothers he's pretty convinced that the man in the 2009 column is his ancestor John Boice. Through process of elimination and photo comparison it looks like Michael can finally put a name with a face. 

    You can check out all of Michael's Boyce family research on his new family history website.

    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now

  • 1870s photos | hairstyles | men
    Sunday, July 19, 2015 3:16:48 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, July 13, 2015
    Identifying Mystery Photos in an Old Family Album
    Posted by Maureen

    eileen poulin.JPG
    A family photo album opens the door to new genealogy discoveries, but reading the clues in an album isn't always easy. It often comes down to what you know about your family and who's depicted on each album page.

    The most important people to the person who laid out the album are usually at the beginning, especially the first three pages. Those individuals are significant. If you know who they are, it's a lot easier to figure out who else is in the album and who's been left out.

    Adding to the mystery is the fact that many people used their albums as part family photo collection and part scrapbook. You'll often find pictures of famous individuals and friends as well as relatives.

    For Eileen Poulin, the whole question of who's in her great-grandmother Josephine Payeur's album is complicated by the ancestor's four marriages. The album may represent her own family as well as those of her spouses.

    Josephine's family hails from Three Rivers, Quebec, Canada. She was born in Vermont and later moved to Connecticut. She had two children with her first husband and one each with the next two husbands. There were no children from her fourth marriage.

    To analyze who's who in Josephine's album, it's important to study the milestones of Josephine's life—such as her birth and death dates as well as those for each of her husbands and the birth dates of her children. I'd also like to know when they lived in various places. This data provides an outline in which to study the images.

    The next step is to place each of the images in to a time frame based on the usual clues of clothing, photographer's work dates and photographic format. For instance, she submitted a picture from the album (above). It's a lovely photo of a young woman posed with a puppy. Remarkably, the puppy stood still for the picture. The young woman smiles for the camera.

    Two fashion clues immediately place the photo in a time frame: puffy sleeves and an asymmetrical hat with high plumes. These date the picture to the late 1890s. If we estimate the woman's age at about 20, she would've born sometime in the late 1870s. Elaine can match that picture with her outline of people and facts. Unfortunately, there's no photographer's information on the picture to further narrow the possibilities.

    I'd love to know more about the album and see the first pages to help Elaine figure out the story behind it and the woman who created it.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1890s photos | dogs | women
    Monday, July 13, 2015 3:51:18 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, July 06, 2015
    Triple Tintype Mystery
    Posted by Maureen

    Most of us feel lucky to have one picture of an ancestor, but imagine finding three images of an identical person in family photos and not knowing who he is. Obviously this man was important to someone in Kyndahl Carlson's family. This triple mystery appears in a family photo album.

    Here are the three pictures:






    In this image, he's posed between two men. The two men each rest a hand on his shoulder showing a close relationship. Kyndahl has no idea who they are. One could be the young man's father and the other a brother or they could be other relatives. 

    The young man wears a suit from the 1860s, with a velvet collar and wide lapels. The other two men also wear suits from the 1860s, but the tie on the man on the right suggests a date of circa 1870. There was a market for second-hand clothing, so it's possible that the young man's suit is a hand-me-down.

    He wears the same watch fob in both images.



    The man on the left has light blue eyes. A few weeks ago I wrote about Spotting Light Colored Eyes. This could be an identification clue if there are family stories about this man and his blue eyes.

    The final tintype is very interesting!



    In this image, the same young man is posed with pants tucked into boots, no jacket, a fiddle, a pipe and an old hat. He's ready to perform. Is he really a performer, or was this arranged by the photographer? Fiddlers often tucked their pants into their boots and wore hats, but not necessarily this style.

    When faced with three images of the same person, it's helpful to arrange them in a timeline. In this case, that's difficult since all three images were taken around the same time. He doesn't age from picture to picture.  Here's the order that I think makes sense:



    A side-by-side timeline of images often reveals details overlooked when examining the images individually. What's apparent from this collage is the expression on his face. He's a solemn person with no smile and sad eyes. 

    Carlson's family lived in Maine, Wisconsin, Montana, South Dakota, Oregon and Idaho. The young man's identification depends in part on his branch of the family. At this point, that's unclear. I'd start by figuring out the following:
    • He's a teen. Who in Carlson's tree was in his mid-teens around 1870?
    • Does he look like anyone else in family photos? There could be another picture of him at an older age. He has a slim nose, a small mouth with narrow eyes and thin brows. Watch for men with similar features and facial shape.

    I'm hoping these additional details help Carlson figure out an identity.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1860s photos | 1870s photos | hats | men | unusual clothing | unusual photos
    Monday, July 06, 2015 6:05:40 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, June 29, 2015
    Our Ancestors' Fourth of July Celebrations
    Posted by Maureen


     
    How did your ancestral town celebrate the Fourth of July? In this image by John Lewis Krimmel, the citizens of Philadelphia honor the day in 1819.

    Researching Fourth of July celebrations in historical newspapers published in your ancestral hometowns can tell you how your family marked the occasion. I learned that in my city, the day started with cannon fire at dawn. Later in the day, a balloon ascension was held in the downtown.

    Providence, RI, was well known for featuring balloon ascensions on Independence Day. In the first such ascension, in 1800, the passengers in the basket were a dog and a cat. Local celebrity Prof. James K. Allen and his son experimented with balloons in Providence before and after the Civil War. During the war, the Allens flew surveillance balloons for the Union Army, under the command of Gen. Ambrose Burnside.

    Each generation celebrated the Fourth of July differently.

    In this Library of Congress print from circa 1875, families gather for picnics. Today, July Fourth fireworks, parades and concerts are common activities.

    Patriotic symbols like flags often appear in family photos. Count the stars in the flags to pinpoint a time frame for the image.  The number of stars changed throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries as new states joined the union.

    One of my favorite photos featuring patriotic symbolism is a stereograph of Fontanella Weller. Her father posed her as Columbia in 1876.

    If you want to learn more about how and why we celebrate the 4th of July, Peter de Bolla's The Fourth of July (2007) is an good read. 

    Happy 4th of July!


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 4th of July | patriotic
    Monday, June 29, 2015 3:23:03 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, June 22, 2015
    Twentieth-Century Childhood Fashion
    Posted by Maureen

    Kyndahl Carlson's aunt is writing down all the family stories she can remember. A family photo album in a cousin's collection may contain key details to add to those tales.

    The album may have belonged to the cousin's grandmother, Ruth Scrivner Laughter. The photos are laid out with the elders first, followed by images of Kyndahl's grandmother and Ruth's children and grandchildren.

    The context of the way all the images in an album are presented can tell you about who's important to the person who created the album, and can yield identification clues based on which photos are on which pages. I haven't seen the whole album, but I can add a few details about the individual images.



    This timeless photo of three children lacks any information about the photographer, but the clothing clues and chair help date the picture.



    The boys wear suits popular from about 1899 to World War I. There were subtle variations in the design of these suits over time, including ties, belts and different insignia. The insignia here is an abstract flower-like design, but I've also seen nautical anchors stitched into the placket of these sailor-collared outfits.



    This style was also popular for girls' dresses. The Sears Roebuck's catalog (searchable on Ancestry.com) sold suits similar to these for approximately $2. 

    Because these suits were common for more than a decade, it's hard to pinpoint a more-specific year without extensive research. 

    Wicker chairs as studio props first appear in the 1890s and continue in use for several decades. I own a wedding portrait from 1916 of my maternal grandfather leaning on a wicker chair.

    Posing three children together suggests a close relationship between them. I think this photo shows siblings, though I've also seen cousins posed together. Add up the family facts first before jumping to conclusions.

    Kyndahl can look at her family tree for a family with two brothers and a sister (or a brother) born close together. In the 19th century, girls wore center parts and boys wore side parts, but that's not so clear for the 20th century. All three children in this image part their hair in the center.

    The oldest boy could be about 5 years of age, the younger light-haired boy close to 3, and the baby could be 1 or 2. 

    Photo albums are collections of close family pictures, as well as images from friends and other relatives. There is no guarantee that these three are on the family tree. Fingers crossed!


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1900-1910 photos | children
    Monday, June 22, 2015 1:34:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [2]
    # Sunday, June 14, 2015
    Spotting Light-Eyed Ancestors in Old Family Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    Paul Newman, Frank Sinatra, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Craig and other Hollywood actors and actresses draw attention with their variously shaded blue eyes. Eye color is easy to spot in contemporary color pictures, but how can you tell if you inherited your baby blues from your maternal or paternal great-grandparent? The proof may be in a family photo. 

    Here's a quick identification tip: Look at your ancestor's eyes. Do their irises look dark or are they ghostly in appearance? Blues and light greens often appear pale and ghostly in old pictures. The lighter the eye color, the whiter they appear.

    Here's an example:



    This is one of my favorite images from the Library of Congress website. It depicts Maria Boyd of Warwick, RI, holding a weaving shuttle in the mid-1800s. Take a close look at her eyes. 



    Her irises are pale in color, suggesting blue or light green eyes. This one detail can help you identify the right ancestor if you have additional information such as:
    • a family story about the blue-eyed greatgrandmother
    • a pension or military service papers that mention eye color 
    • an already-identified photograph of a person with similar facial features and the same eye color

    However, identifying a person based on eye color comes with a warning. Not everyone liked the appearance of their light-colored eyes in pictures, or sometimes the pale eyes need additional definition to be clearly seen in a photo. Photographers sometimes added color in hand-colored images, or darkened the eyes in enhanced black-and-white pictures. 

    On a somewhat-related note, blue eyes and DNA have been in the news. Scientific studies suggest all blue-eyed people descend from the same ancestor. Interesting!



    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1850s photos | occupational | women
    Sunday, June 14, 2015 1:10:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Sunday, June 07, 2015
    Finding Your Ancestors' Graduation Photos
    Posted by Maureen

    This time of year makes me think about graduations. I live near two universities and often see graduates in cap and gowns smiling for pictures. Our ancestors also posed for school pictures, whether they were graduating from eighth grade, a trade school, high school or a college/university.

    In the mid-19th century, class books included actual card photographs of the graduates. The yearbook format we're familiar with debuted in the 1880s.

    Here are some tips on locating images of ancestral graduates in your family.
    • Contact the public library or historical society in the town where they lived to see if either institution has a yearbook collection. You can also try the local department of education, but usually older records are donated to a local historical society.

    • If your ancestor attended a private school, try contacting the school library to see if it has an archive. Most colleges and universities maintain an archive with yearbooks and other items. In some schools, incoming freshmen posed for pictures, not just when they graduated. Don't forget to check the school website in case there is a digital collection.

    • Try searching for yearbooks online. For starters, here are some websites with yearbooks:

      • Genealogy Today has a large collection of yearbooks and school materials. Search this list to see if a school your ancestor attended is mentioned.
      • Search for yearbooks and school materials published before 1922 on the Internet Archive. Enter the name of the school in the search box and narrow by year. 
      • Looking for a more recent yearbook? It might be worth subscribing to E-Yearbook.com. The cost is $19.95 a year or $4.95 for a month. 
      • The Library of Congress collection has a few graduation-related photographs. Search by surname and by school. 
      • Cyndis List.com has a category for Yearbooks and Annuals.

    In my book Searching For Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now! you'll discover other research tips for locating family photos.

    You may have a graduation photo and not know it. Watch for clues such as rolled-up diplomas. Some studio photographers used these as props.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • photo-research tips | school photos
    Sunday, June 07, 2015 6:51:21 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, June 01, 2015
    Head-to-Toe 1920s Wedding Fashion
    Posted by Maureen

    June is a popular month for weddings, so Diane Smith's submission of a mystery photo is a perfect way to start off the summer bridal season.



    Her maternal great-grandmother owned this picture. Could this be a picture of Diane's great-grandfather's parents, who married in Poland in 1876?

    Diane's in for a surprise! This image dates from the 1920s, not the 1870s.  It's a head-to-toe wedding portrait. Here's how the clues stack up:



    The young man's hairstyle was called a "boyish pomadour" by the Tonsorial Artist magazine (tonsorial meaning "of or related to a barber or barbering") in 1924. It would be easy to jump to conclusions based on a single clue, but it's important to add up all the facts first.

    Short hair was very fashionable for young women in the 1920s. The bride wears a variation of the wavy shingle, or short hair with waves. Those waves could be created by a permanent wave treatment or using a curling iron to "marcel" it. A few weeks ago I wrote about wavy hair in old photos and showed a picture of an 1870s Marcel wave, named after a hairdresser.

    In the 1920s, bridal bouquets featured long trailing ribbons, like the one shown here.

    Shoes are rarely visible in 19th century images, but are a prominent photo- dating clue in the 20th century. There were three basic shoe styles for women in the 1920s:
    • pumps
    • t-straps
    • ankle straps
    In the early 1920s, heels were thicker, but by the later part of decade thinner heals were common. This woman's shoes feature a cuban or spike heel. To view more examples of shoes from the 1920s, click here.

    Let's take another look at the picture and their wedding outfits.



    The bride wears an ankle-length satin dress with a bias cut and full sleeves. The groom's suit likely features a two-button front. He's wearing a formal shirt and a light-colored (perhaps white) bow tie.

    While his haircut came into fashion in the early 1920s, it likely remained popular for several years. Their wedding outfits, especially her shoes and sleeves, date from the late 1920s, probably between 1927 and 1929.

    To determine who's in this picture, Diane needs to re-check her family history for any weddings in that period. Because the picture was owned by her maternal great grandmother, the bride or groom probably has a connection to her. 

    There is one more clue in the picture: The groom has light-colored eyes, which might help in finding him in other, already-identified images.


    Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now


  • 1920s photos | men | wedding | women
    Monday, June 01, 2015 4:57:38 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]