I received a photo album of about ten pictures with NOT ONE LABEL or FAMILY NAME in it. This album came into my hands years ago. I took each photo out of the album, looking for names, etc., but then I did not return them to the album in their original order. That was a mistake. I know better now.
What do you do with something like this? How do you go about figuring out who these people are?
I searched city directories, census, and vital records, and correlated my findings with information I had on hand, and voila! I’m pretty sure I have identified these two people!
Here’s the steps to decoding your photos and my own process for this case:
- Keep the photo in its original order or grouping. This will help you correlate the clues. Too late for that this time, but I did group the photos according to the cities of the photographers.
- Determine the provenance of the photo. This is a fancy term for tracing how you got the photo and where they got it. My mother got the album from her Aunt Cora when Aunt Cora died in Michigan (My mother’s mother and Cora were half sisters with different mothers). Cora was married to Russell G. Watkins. Her parents were Olney Smith and Jane Walling Summers, daughter of Charles Summers and Jane Metcalf.
- Determine which family you want to search. Based on the provenance of the album, I decided it might be from the Watkins, Smith, or Summers lines. I decided to start my search with the Summers family since I already have photos of the Olney Smith family and these do not look like the Smiths.
- Search for clues in the picture. In this case, the parties are dressed up as if they might be bride and groom. He wears a boutonniere in his lapel and she is holding a bouquet.
- Check for a photographer’s name and address on the front or back of the photo. This photo has professionally printed at the bottom of the card, “Jos. C. Gomber, 229 Reed St., Milwaukee” [Wisconsin]. The street address is critical because sometimes photographers moved from one location to another, and when they did, you have the opportunity to narrow your search even more!
- Search city directories for the photographer at that address. Joseph C. Gomber appears as a photographer at 229 Reed in the Milwaukie city directories from 1889-1895, but he is not there in 1896. So, now I determine I’m searching for someone in the Summers family who got married in Milwaukee ca. 1889-1895.
- Correlate other information you already have on hand. I have an obituary for Jane Walling Summers’ mother, Jane (Metcalf) Summers. This clipping names her children of which one, Mrs. F. A. Boisclair, is living in Milwaukee at the time of Jane Summers’ death in 1922, but I don’t know which daughter married F.A. Boisclair.
- Search city directory for possible party to see if he is in the city at the time of the photo. In 1895, F.A. Boisclair is not listed, but one Frank A. Boisclair is found in the 1896 directory. Since the city directories are sometimes printed in advance, I don’t have a problem with Boisclair not being there in 1895.
- Search FamilySearch and other Internet sites of vital records for the event. FamilySearch has indexed Wisconsin Marriage Records that list one Frank Andrew Boisclair who married at Milwaukie, Lydia Summers on 14 Feb 1895. It lists Lydia’s parents as Charles Summers and Jane Metcalf. That fits with what I know of the family. I also checked the 1900 U.S. census for this family in Milwaukee. At the time of this census, Frank and Lydia Boisclair were living at 559 Reed St., Milwaukee, just a few blocks from the photographer. They had been married five years. That fits with the wedding date of 1895. [In this census, she is the mother of seven children, seven living, and six children are listed with the “Boisclair” surname in the census.]
- After thorough analysis and correlation write record findings on the back of the photo and in your files. I determined that, based on the information I have at this time, I believe the photo is most likely a wedding picture of Frank Andrew Boisclair and Lydia Summers who were married at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 14 February 1895.
If identities are not determined, repeat this process for other family possibilities.
Consider posting the image on the Internet for others to identify.
How have you decoded a family photo?
Related Posts: Clues Inside Photos.