Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

One of the sad aspects of my hobby is that I find so many photographs of babies, couples, families etc., all unidentified. They wind up on ebay, in antique shops, and otherwise available for sale as “vintage ephemera.” It really is sad, when you think about how early photography was not just a simple “point and click” procedure. Studio portraits in the 19th century were carefully set up to emulate painted portraits, and photographers often considered themselves artist, or even came from an artistic background, such as watercolor or oil painting. With the advent of the personal camera it became possible for individuals to take ad hoc photographs of their own subjects, but so often these were not labeled. Following are five photographs from a large packet I bought from ebay. I call them the Mystery Family.

mystery family 3

The whole family

Here is presented the group with the obvious family patriarch seated in the center of the group and probably shows four generations or so. It’s interesting that this particular photo looks a bit like a copy of a copy. I assume that is due to imperfections in the processing at the time.

mystery family 2

Father and children?

Here the patriarch is singled out with four younger people. They could be his children & their spouses, or just all his children.

mystery family 1

Parents and daughters

The young girl front left is wearing a really cute pre-teen dress from about the 1900-1920 era. The two older girls are wearing very typical pre 1920 dresses as well.

mystery family

Siblings? Cousins?

Another fine grouping of fashions here. The dresses look to be 1900-1910 styles.

mystery family 6

A casual group shot

While it is difficult to see in this image, the family including a few small children are gathered on the back stoop or side door yard of a fine clapboard house, possibly the same one show in three of the other four photographs. Note the bit of whimsy with the stacked hats in the foreground. :-)

Whoever this family was, they appear to have been close and cherished one another enough to set up these photo ops. I do so wish they had names!

For more mysterious families from around the world, click over to Sepia Saturday. You will be happy you did!

Who were they, indeed?

20 thoughts on “Mystery Family

  1. Boobook says:

    Good luck with your ‘found photos’. It’s lovely that someone cares enough to rescue them.


  2. Though it is sad that these photos have lost family value, or lost family descendants who might appreciate them for their genealogical heritage, your blog gives them a new historical and social value. Printed census records and old documents just aren’t as interesting as a photo. It’s our imagination that really makes them a treasure, whether we know their names or not.


    1. Mrs Marvel says:

      A good friend of mine was given a large set of photos that were in a family trunk. They couldn’t really identify who the subjects were and she passed them on to me. So many of them are just “ordinary” people, which I agree tell us much more about our ancestors than words on a page.


  3. Wendy says:

    You made some good observations. I don’t buy old photos, but I make a point of looking at each one whenever I’m in an antique or thrift shop. It’s rather like paying respect at a cemetery.


  4. Bob Scotney says:

    The local flea market has albums of photos similar to these but few if any say who they are. The only thing that is marked is the price tag of £50 – £80 pounds – a price too high for me. It’s a shame that the detail is being lost – you have to hope that someone will stake a claim to them as a result of your blog.


  5. postcardy says:

    I don’t buy old photos, but I would buy your first one if I saw it at a reasonable price. I really like the composition and contrast as well as the subject.


  6. zimnoch says:

    I wonder if one of the reasons for having such portraits made was the desire to achieve immortality? Did our ancestors think that far ahead?
    Whatever…..they probably achieved their purpose at the time?
    Maybe one day, ‘face recognition’ software will be able to identify mystery faces via some central sepian database?
    These days its harder to ‘lose’ an image. Pre-Digital, I can think of several photos of myself that have disappeared/I would love to find/but am unable to locate (for example..I can remember other people taking my picture..but never received from them a copy for myself) .


    1. Mrs Marvel says:

      Except in the case of a hard drive failure! A girlfriend of mine lost 5 years worth of her son growing up. Ouch!


  7. I hope that somebody will notice them on here and be thrilled that you rescued these pictures. That grandfather looks very old … what a head of hair and beard he has.

    Kathy M.


  8. Kathy Hart says:

    I love the way you give these lost photos a home. I often think of the possibility that keepsakes of my family may be sitting in shops or online. I can only hope that such a kind person such as you is tending them!


  9. kristin says:

    Several good family photos have been lost over the years. I wish I would tune in one day and find them on a blog!!


  10. Viridian says:

    I appreciate your post of this mystery family. I think there will be many this week on sepia sat.


  11. Kathy says:

    I did notice those hats – on stumps, I think? I sometimes think of rescuing abandoned families but I often find the prices higher than I want to pay. I like Wendy’s comment about paying respect.


  12. Several look like family gatherings with husbands and wives. My aunt and uncle do this once in awhile and each time the faces get smaller as the group gets wider.


  13. Little Nell says:

    Mike is right, your blog is just the place for them. Here we can all admire them and there they will stay to be viewed by far more in the blogosphere than they ever would in a just a family album. Well done for preserving them.


  14. gluepot says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised, due to the format of these photos, if they were all taken with one of the early Kodak cameras. They certainly have the loook of amateur snapshots, and I think this format was used for one of the early cameras, such as a No 1 Brownie.


  15. Karen S. says:

    I kind of share your hobby a bit too. The unknowns, bringing to life who and where they may come from! I’m excited to follow your journey here!


  16. cassmob says:

    These are delightful images…don’t you wish they could be your family?


  17. Alan BURNETT says:

    If ever a blog and theme were perfectly matched, this is it. And you do the theme proud : some fine photos and interesting descriptions.


  18. he wasn’t a very good photographer..but at least he tried. I like the last photo. I bet all the hats were stacked up because they had them on and they covered up everyone else’s faces in the photo…so they were stacked on the ground:)


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