Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

Wow, this photograph is simply lovely. Look at the amazing crown of braids and the long curls draped onto her shoulder. Her earrings belie the misconception that Victorian women “didn’t pierce their ears.” I’d guess based on the hair and dress that I can see that the photo was made at the end of the 1870s or early 1880s.

The young woman was identified as Mary McNabb Donnelly.

We can assume she lived in or around Chicago as the studio she used was the Moore studio at 180 West Madison Street, Chicago. The location is just a block or two from the City of Chicago City Hall, but these days it’s a sky scraper and the original site is long gone.

Today’s image is identified as Amy Coffin on the back of the CDV. She was a young woman when the image was made around the 1880s-1890s. I can’t really tell from her dress more than a general sense of time. She does have some lovely, matching jewelry – earrings and a brooch. Someone once tried to convince me that Victorian women would never have pierced their ears, but the number of photographs I have seen showing earrings belies that assertion.

Amy sat for her photo at Richardson’s studio in Brooklyn, E. D. This is likely Brooklyn, Eastern District, New York. While it might be tempting to try to make the numerical notation into a date, I really can’t make it resolve into anything, and I suspect it was an inventory number or similar, either by the photographer or a later reseller.

This sweet boy is identified on the back of the photograph as Albert Linder Pope at age 3 years. At least, I think that is his name. The writing was in pencil, and of course in an older style of handwriting. Imagine what the kids of today are going to think when they have to figure out what their parents and grandparents have written in our non-standard script! In “the old days” students in school all learned to write in a similar style. We see this still today when people from other countries learn to write English in cursive – there are similarities that stand out to help identify regions of where people learned to write. What shall today’s young people do when they need to read the Declaration of Independence or great-uncle Fred’s journals?

Little Albert sat for his photo as the Bushby & Hart studio in Lynn, MA.

Let’s see if today’s name deciphering game is correct. The back of this CDV identifies the gentleman as Emil A. Gessner. I did find a matching person in New Haven, CT where this portrait was made. Assuming it is the same person, this is Emil A Gessner, born 1856 in Germany. Emil and his wife Martha (1857) had 6 children: Elizabeth (1878), Mabel (1881), Steven (1883), Everett (1885), Martha (1886), and Francis (1891). The census revealed that Emil was a druggist at the Apothecaries Hall in New Haven, and owned his home. The following drawing accompanies his Find A Grave page, suggesting he was in the military of some kind. He lived in New Haven his entire life until his death on February 3, 1930.

Up for consideration today is a portrait of Mr Milo Biler – updated: Biles. He was identified on the reverse of the image as having been born Feb 9, 1853, died Mar 16, 1890. With the birth and death dates, you would think I could find more information on him, but Mr Biler is surprisingly illusive. This may be due to a misspelling in his name – possible matches are Byler, Buller, Bailer, Biller, & Bilen. That’s just a few. He was photographed at the Lloyd gallery on Church Street in Wyalusing, PA.

UPDATE: Thanks to my excellent readers, the last name has been clarified to Biles.

Milo Biles was born in 1853 to Lewis and Catherine Biles, of Wyalusing, PA. He was one of four children: Mary (1851), Milo (1853), Sarah (1855), and Willie (1859). Lewis was a farmer and in the 1860 census claimed his real estate to be valued at $2000. By 1870, two more children had joined the family: Jennie (1862), and Puller (1865). Lewis was still a farmer. By 1880, Milo had married Tilla C (abt 1855) and they had a daughter named Olive (1871).

I further found a photograph of the Lewis Biles family:

Milo is standing at the back

According to Ancestry, Milo and Tilla (aka Theresa) had the following children: Ossie (1878), Kate (1880), Theresa (1883), Burt (1884), and Raymond (1890).

Tilla/Theresa died April 10, 1890, just a short time after Milo. This leads me to believe there was an illness that took them.

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