Monday, February 20, 2012

Forgotten Faces

In my childhood a box of  photos and a lumpy black photo album lived in the parlour cupboard of my Grampa Mac's house.
It was taken down infrequently. Possibly Grampa Mac found it difficult to visually recall the days before his wife Helen's too early death.  Grandma Helen's penciled scrawl captioned many of the photos precariously tethered to the pages with black 'corners' which were loosing their gummed adhesive allowing the fading snapshots to curl.
When my Uncle Bill died suddenly in 1984, the family treasures reverted to my Mother's keeping.
Mother made an attempt to sort the photos, transcribing her mother's labels directly onto the backs of the photos which had floated free of the pages.
She went on to label, in her neat school teacher's hand, any of the remaining studio portraits or snaps she recognized.
She made 3 albums, apportioning vintage photos and those from more recent times--an album for me and for each of my two younger sisters.
We were left with a number of photos unidentified.
My nephew the history teacher, my middle sister's daughter-in-law and various maternal cousins have made good use of current technology to scan and share these photos in the hopes
that identification could be made.
The pleasant looking gentleman above is one of those who remains nameless.
On the back of the portrait, apparently sent with a Christmas card, he noted his age in that year [late 1890's--I can't find my notes of that transcription!] but didn't add his name.
When I received the scanned photo I delved into possibilities--seeking a relative or close connection born in the designated year. 
The location of the photo studio, Rutland, Vermont, doesn't convince me that he was a Vermonter.
Most of my Mother's extended family were still "across the lake" in Ticonderoga or Hague, NY.
Snippets of news from the archives of the "Ti Sentinel" indicate that it was common for whole families to make a day trip to Rutland, particularly at Fair time.

There is no clue to the identity of this young man.
I've noted his curly dark hair and bold dark eyes, his plaid suit so casually worn.
Something about him suggests that he wasn't accustomed to sitting still for long!
Although the photo isn't dated, I'm guessing this is also from the last decade of the 1800's.

This lovely lady appears to be "past her first youth" as old novels delicately put it.
It was common for a bride to be photographed alone in her wedding finery.
The material of her gown is likely a dainty white lawn fabric, tucked, gathered and lace-trimmed.
The flowers pinned at her shoulder suggest a formal and special occasion.
Her pose, with hands behind the edges of her skirt, though relaxed, is rather unusual.
I love her serenity of expression and the elegance of her softly piled dark hair.
I have wondered if she might be Arabella Rising, sister of my g-g-grandfather.
Arabella was in her mid 30's, a spinster school teacher, when about 1872 she married
a man 12 years her senior.
I can invent stories around these 'unknowns"--how I would love to know their names!

There is some suggestion that this is a portrait of my g-grandfather Eddie Ross.
I have many photos of Eddie, several as a boy, others, both studio portraits and candid photos were taken through-out his life.
I look at this man, at rest with his dog for a moment at the edge of a wooded clearing.
There is a similarity to Eddie in the deep-set eyes, the fine straight nose.
Eddie wore a mustache from early manhood.
Man and dog eye the photographer with a quizical familiarity.
I am drawn to the man, wanting it to be my great-grandfather, that man of gentle humor and
a fine tenor voice.
It could be him---and yet?


  1. I wonder whether you will ever discover who these people really are? You guess for the lady in her wedding dress sounds very plausible. It must be maddening to have these lovely photos and not know who they are.

  2. Just going through a similar experience. My Cousin Pete, still in England has accumulated many photos from the one side of the family where there are eight cousins. He has passed many of the photos via computer to my sister who in turn passed them on to me. As the oldest I should know more of the 'unknowns' but I left home at eighteen and my sister though younger than I met many more of the family than I did. I have two sons who just don't seem to be interested in family history -- yet, though they do like to acknowledge their Welsh history.

  3. I loved this post. I have some unknown pictures myself and can understand your wanting to find out more about them.
    Lillian @

  4. The unidentified photos that i have sadden me you,I can create a story for them but I wish I knew the truth. Deductions can bring me close but am still with out proof of their identity frustrating. I have a gorgeous one of a lady with flowing hair I think taken in a studio. I guess it is early 1900's but so casual for that time ...she will remain a mystery I think. I have another who could be my great Aunt Jessie and one I am almost sure is my husbands great Aunt but with out proof they will remain un-named sad.

  5. After going through family photos after my Mother-in-law and then my Mother died I realized how important labeling photos is. We still have a bunch with no names but I'm working through all of ours trying to label them.

  6. We too have some "unknowns" from Victorian family albums. Fascinating.

    I do think that the lady in her wedding dress looks a little like you in your photographs. She must be a great aunt and not too far removed!