Examining Photos for Clues

For a long time, I have been looking for a specific set of genealogy clues. (If you read this site, you might even be able to guess where this particular search belongs.) It is ‘safe’ to say that these images could be central to solving some of my mysteries.

Image of child, enhanced.  Place and time uncertain.
Image of child, enhanced.
Place and time uncertain.

Because of this mystery and search, I thought I’d ask a knowledgeable population, what they saw in these images.  Would others see things that I’d missed.  The answer is, Yes, they did see many things I did not.

What follows is a summary of what I learned from my discussions with several dozen genealogists.  Enjoy!

Here’s what I gathered from the group’s discussion, in terms of ideas and observations:

  • Firstly, it would be best to have original photographic images to work with.  Sadly, all I have are photographic copies (taken from a stand mounted SLR about 15 years ago).  The originals are being sought out.

Child’s image

  • It seems almost certain that child’s photo is not that of a person born in 1829.  Both the existence of the image itself and the clothing are more suggestive of a time after 1870 and before 1900.  Meaning this image would be of someone born in that time frame.
  • Additionally, the child may or may not be female. Dresses and long hair were born by children of both genders in that time frame.

Man’s image

This image due to its size, quality and detail suggested more possibilities.

  • The smock is an item for which there is broadest variation of opinion.
    • To some, the smock suggests a laborer or farmers attire. To others that of a tradesman, merchant or artist.  To yet a third group it suggested that of a professional such as a lawyer.
    Enhanced Image of man from Hesse
    Enhanced Image of man from Hesse
    • What is more clear is that the smock is an over-shirt.
    • The detailing and fabric suggest better than average quality and more than typical detailing and skill employed in its creation.
    • The smock does appear similar to those of people living in the Hinterlands of Hesse during the mid to late 1800s.  See: Tracht Hinterland.
    • There has been no firm evidence of the smock as traditional, regional attire/ costume.
    • Other comments about his smock included:
      • It looks like the smock had ‘fitted’ cuffs,
      • the ‘sheen’ on the fabric (suggests a better than average fabric)
      • the collar is detailed and suggests higher than average detailing and perhaps cost
  • His neck wear is suggestive of being pre-1880s.
  • The man’s hands suggest to many as being those of a person who did not perform excessive amounts of manual labor.
  • The man’s complexion and features suggested those of a native American to some.  The man lived in Hesse so this is unlikely, however, this brought to my mind a new view, which was that of a person who spent a lot of time outdoors, in the sun.
  • Most seemed to believe that this image was likely to be from the 1870+ time frame.
  • The fur hat was noted although no specific conclusion or observations were suggested although a similar English Image was identified.

General items of note

  • The type and style of the photographic images were impossible to pinpoint although there was no suggestion from the participants that either was an image taken from a Camera Obscura (really old, pre 1830 ‘camera’).
  • The cost and ‘uniqueness’ of having these images taken was a point of discussion although I was unable to draw any real thematic message beyond;
    • some people thought these could be studio images,
    • some thought they might be home images,
    • the photos could have been expensive,
    • they might have been associated with a special event
    • it was noted that caution should be taken about using the state of technology in the US when dating European photographs. Photography was more rare in Europe.
  • Clothing isn’t really all that reliable as a dating method.

Recommended texts and websites/organizations included:

My sincere thanks to everyone who participated and took the time to share their observations and insights.  Should anyone out there have additional insights, please feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment here.