Genealogics

a tree-rific journey into family history

The Agony and Mystique of Unknown Photographs: awesome old pictures included!

Pictures are one of the most exciting and sentimental parts of family history.  An old photograph or sketch of an ancestor can bring to life their time period and their humanity. Unfortunately, many of these treasured documents fail to tell us who we are looking at. Although I appreciate the mysteriousness of an unknown or unidentified picture, I would much rather know how I am connected to the subject. The most obvious hint comes from the photo’s source. You can gather some clues about the potential identity if you know who the photo once belonged to. In older photos, the names of the photographers and their city may be printed on the back. You may even think you recognize features that relate to known images. Unfortunately, none of these are absolute or anything more than educated guesses. In genealogy, we try to base our conclusions on more than just good guesses.

Below are samples from two batches of unknown photos. The first batch came from my great-great grandmother, Pearle Feeney Woods Holman (1879-1975). When she passed at 95 years of age, she left behind about 60 wonderful old family photos. The newest pictures appear to be the 1930s. The older items went back to the old daguerreotype prints of the 1800s. The only labels were for her father and for the family dog. Within a few years of her death, her only child and her remaining sisters passed away. By the time I began doing family tree research, there was no one left to identify these relatives. A couple of photos involving young girls were printed in Seattle which suggests they are of her sister’s family. The rest are a mystery. I assume the unknown pictures belong to either her family or her husband’s. Based on their parents’ names, these pictures are likely from the Feeney, Holman, Landess, and Woods families of Lincoln County, Tennessee. I sent copies to a genealogy society in the area, but no one was able to identify my people.

The second group of photographs recently came to me from my wife’s third cousin via his daughter in law on ancestry.com. Simply put, this man’s great grandmother and my wife’s great grandfather were siblings. Unfortunately, their branch left rural Conway County, Arkansas for the bright lights of Kansas City some 70 or so years ago. The twenty or so unidentified pictures came down through his mother, Cora Lee Govan Hayes (1926-1986). He seems certain the pictures are from his mother’s Arkansas roots. Her grandparents belonged to the Brockman, Clinkscale, Govan, and Tyus families of Center Ridge, Arkansas. Although there are some older people left in the community who remember Cora Govan’s parents and grandparents, their eyes and minds are not what they used to be. What a great reminder of the importance of labeling old photographs…

Maybe someday we will know the identities of these family members!

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