Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Facebooking Orphan Photos

Orphan Photo
Two Couples in A Car
I've been thinking a lot about orphan photos. Photographs have been my passion for quite sometime. My first 35mm camera was a wedding gift from my father in-law. Since then, I have been in love with photography ever since.  Though I am far from a professional photographer, I am what you might consider an amateur one.  It's not surprising therefore, that the amateur genealogist in me has combined my passion for the camera and family history into a fascination with vintage photos.

This month, thanks to my twitter friend Melissa Mannon, I've reexamined my Orphan photos. Photos of unidentified people. I've even submitted a couple to her on-line contest for orphan photos. The discussion around photos looking for a home, on my earlier blog post A Photo Worth a Thousand Words and on facebook, has inspired my cousin Ellen to scan a bunch of recently uncovered photos. Ellen (whom I haven't met in person yet), is my third and fourth cousin (yes, we are double cousin, long story). She recently came across what I consider a stored treasure. An album full of sepia prints from the twenties and thirties, maybe even earlier. This album belonged to her grandparents. Many of the photos are from Weddings. Elegant brides, accompanied by their loved ones. The wedding photos deserve a discussion of their own. I chose therefore, to feature in this blog—the above photo—a photo from Ellen's collection.

This remarkable print is actually a post card. I've found many photos made into postcard in my collection as well. Real photo postcards began to appear around 1903 with the inventions of Kodak's Folding Pocket camera, a popular camera which allowed people to print their photo on postcard size print.  It made it easy to send your photo to family and friends around the world. Even if you did not own a camera, you could easily afford to walk into a photo studio at the market or a tourist attraction and have your photo taken and turned into a postcard. Real photo postcard cost about a penny each around the turn of the century and another penny for the stamp.

As you can see, this postcard is in bad shape, cracked, folder and stained. Yet, it has been preserved. Ellen, sent me this orphan photo hoping that I can help identifying the couples. If you've been following my blog, you will immediately recognize the man in the far back. Will Crane, whom I wrote about in my last post "In Every Thing I Do", is wearing a top hat and bow tie, trying not to smile. Next to him, at a significant distance is his wife Luba. Who the couple sitting in front is still a mystery and is part of the reason I posted the photo on this blog. I'm hopeful one of my readers will come to our rescue and recognize this lovely couple.

The power of the internet is amazing. Ellen began posting photos from her treasure trove onto facebook over the weekend. I sent out this photo in an e-mail to the elder members of the Crane family and was able to draw several conclusions from the photo almost immediately. The post card has a white border. This dates the photo to no earlier than 1915, which is when the practice of leaving a white border to save ink began. My cousins, positively identified Will and Luba Crane in the back seat. We believe the photo was most likely taken sometime around 1918 after Will returned from WWI, consistent with the white border. Will looks very young and about the same as he did in his WWI photos. The fake back drop, the clothes, the car they did not own all point to a studio photo. One of the cousins suggested it has the feel of a photo taken in Atlantic City, on the board walk. She should know, she grew up there. Will and Luba actually visited Atlantic City on their honeymoon. From my research I know that Will and Luba married on October 23rd, 1920 in New York City and headed to Atlantic City to visit a maternal uncle, Harry Yarmovsky. Uncle Harry was a very successful contractor, building affordable housing for returning WWI veterans in Atlantic City at the time. When he discovered Will was a plumber, and his brothers were handymen, he recruited all of them to move to join him in Atlantic City—good, reliable help was in short demand and Atlantic City was in a boom. Will and Luba's honeymoon trip changed the destiny of three of the Crane families, all of whom relocated and settled in Atlantic City. This photo may well be from that milestone trip. It's certainly the kind of thing one would do while on a honeymoon—go down to the boardwalk, wander into a photography studio with friends (or cousins), get dressed up and have your photo mounted onto a postcard—a great, inexpensive souvenir to send home.

This is the kind of detective work, us genealogist do everyday. We piece together the clues. Who is the young man with the rounded face, split chin and glasses pretending to drive the car? Who is the woman next to him—the only one of the gang who could not contain her smile? If you have any clues or suggestions, please share! In the meantime, enjoy this little window into the past.

I hope you will get inspired to dig up your vintage photos and share them. Don't skip your orphan photos. Post them on facebook or your family tree. Ask your relatives for help. You will be surprised how much you may learn! If you find a special orphan photo, you might want to enter it in Melissa's orphan photo contest. Post it on ArchivesInfo and share the story. Maybe you'll win one of Melissa's great books!


  1. I hope your cousin Ellen has a blog or some way to post all those photos for the general public on the internet. The internet is a wonderful resource, and help will come from surprising places!

    There are several bloggers already posting orphan photos. Melissa Mannon is an inspiration, but there are quite a few others doing just that. It is always heartwarming when a mystery photo finds its way home. Take it from me--oh, how I wish someone had found photographs of my relatives from the late 1800s and turn of the century!

    1. You are right Jacqi, there are lots of great public places to post photos, though I really wonder how affective they are at identifying them. The chances are pretty slim. Unlike graves being posted with names and dates, orphan photos are very difficult that way. Is there one in particular you recommend?

      Ellen is just starting to scan them all and the first step is to share them with the family if anyone has any ideas. We have several extensive family trees where we post photos It's a great way to share them and to start a discussion as to who might be in the photo. Once we tag someone, than the hope is that one day one of the descendants will join the tree and find his/her ancestor's photos. But you are right, once we've done all that, and the photos are still orphan, we should think about where to post them next.

      Don't give up hoping to uncover photos and clues about your family. They do arrive in the most unexpected places. The earliest photo I have is from 1905. I have one that probably dates around 1900 or maybe earlier but I'm not sure. I do feel very lucky to have found them.


Thanks for sharing your comments!