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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, August 27, 2012
Identifying Unknown Faces in Old Photos
Posted by Diane

Over the years, a lot of you have sent me emails talking about a "picture moment." Genealogists are taught to look at census records, city directories and vital records, but if you read this column then you know that a photo can trigger a genealogical response. Gazing at an ancestral face suddenly makes you want to know more about the person.


That's what happened to Julie Magerka of Ontario, Canada. This photo is the image that encouraged her to start researching her family tree. It's a nice image of an older woman surrounded by her descendants. In her email, Julie told me that her paternal roots "are in dark and mysterious Romania in a small village (now part of Ukraine) in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains."

Julie's great-grandmother Catherine is the woman seated in the middle. Her dad is the boy on the right, with his mother behind him. Only her grandmother immigrated to Canada and sadly, never talked about her family. She's surrounded by her siblings in this picture, but no one in the family knows their names. Julie's father saved other photos of his aunts, but unfortunately, they are a mystery.

This picture, taken circa 1916, generates some other questions:
  • Why was it taken?  
Individuals often posed for a family picture before moving away. That could the reason for this picture.
  • Where is Catherine's husband?
It's difficult to tell the color of Catherine's head scarf, but if her husband was deceased, she'd be wearing a dark-colored scarf. So why isn't he in this photo?
The persistent mystery in this picture are putting names with the faces of the siblings. I'm hoping that by posting this picture online that someone will recognize them. 

If you have a blog can you re-post this column to spread the word. Let's see if we can get the online community of genealogists to participate.

Catherine and her sisters were aware of the fashions being worn in the circa 1916 period. Skirts were at the ankle and blouses featured the variety of collars worn by these women.

The date for this image is based on the subjects' clothing but also on the birth date of Julie's father. He was born in 1911, and could be at least 5 years old in this photo.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1910s photos | group photos | Immigrant Photos | women
    Monday, August 27, 2012 3:11:56 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [3]
    Monday, August 27, 2012 7:19:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    It strikes me that if this photograph had been taken in Romania -- am I correct in inferring this from the story? -- it would not say "Cabinet Portrait" in English.
    Wendy Schnur
    Tuesday, August 28, 2012 9:20:41 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    The term Cabinet Card in English often appeared on foreign images.
    Thursday, August 30, 2012 9:29:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
    In Eastern European Cultures, or maybe just mine, the scarf isn't dark it is white. Here is some additional information:

    When a person died, all the relations and fellow-villagers were notified. For that purpose white kerchiefs and peremitka were hanged out on the windows of the house where the dead stayed. Among the highlanders it was customary to kindle a big fire before the hut of the deceased or to blow trembita (Hutsul folk music instrument in the form of a long wooden tube without vents).
    Comments are closed.