Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Where Was This Picture Taken?

Today, I am honored to present a post by guest blogger and genealogist Lorraine Arnold who specializes in the history of buildings and business. I met Lorraine via twitter (@LegacyRoots). Her intrest in buildings reminded me of a building in a particular photograph I was curious about. It's a photo of my great-grandfather William Bloomfield, standing tall, in front of a mysterious building. I came across this photo recently during my sorting and archiving project.

William Bloomfield, is one of my favorite ancestors. I've written more blog posts about William and the Bloomfields than any of my other ancestors (See links bellow to previous Bloomfield posts). I must admit to having a soft sport for him and if I'm completely honest, I'm kind of in love with him. William was the first of my ancestors to arrive in the United States (around 1904). He was the love of my great-grandmother's life. Researching William, lead me to the Bloomfield clan, all of whom were strangers to me three years ago. Since I've become very close many of my Bloomfield cousins and together we collaborate in research our family history. Yet, even though I now know quite a bit about William Bloomfield, many parts of his life remain a mystery. Prior to meeting Minnie in 1920, William was a wanderer who moved around in search of work. The photo in question, could have been taken anywhere. By comparing his approximate age to other dated photos of him, I can narrow down the time period to somewhere between 1914 and 1920. According to the 1914 Claremont City Directory William left Claremont NH in 1914 and moved to NY. From Minnie's writing I know he spent most of next five years in the state of Texas. Then in 1920, he returned to the North East where, spending time both in New YorkCity and Pittsburgh and finally he married Minnie and opened a grocery store Laconia, NH.

The photo could have been taken anywhere. It's unique, in that the building has a name, though almost illegible and partially obstructed by William's head. His clothes, especially the cut-off tie, to me signal a work outfit and my hunch was that the William worked at the building. I decided to solicit Lorraine's expertise. My hope was, that identifying the building would help date the photograph and shed light onto William's employment.

I sent the photo to Lorraine and she did the rest! It was a pleasure collaborating with Lorraine. Here is her guest post, where she tells the story of her amazing detective work!



I love buildings, their history, and the challenges that go along with them. So when Smadar BelkindGerson @StoredTreasures, a new Twitter follower, asked if I would look at a photo to see if I could identify the location of the building in the picture I couldn’t pass on the request. I immediately stated the caveat that I cannot claim to know all buildings, but encouraged her to send the photo to see what help I might be. 

Picture of William Bloomfield un labeled.
Smadar sent the photo (left) of her great-grandfather standing on a street somewhere in America.  At first glance my thought was, “How in the world could I possibly figure out where this building is?” Smadar gave great clues, but I have to admit that despite the hints I felt that I was searching for a needle in a haystack. I wondered where the directions were to locate the answer. Unfortunately none existed.

As fortune would have it within 15 minutes I had the answer; even I was surprised. The quick version of the discovery process includes searching for clues regarding the names listed along the top of the building starting with the name Speed; trying different vowels and consonants for the two letters which were obscured in the first name; and working through different internet search mediums such as Fold3, Google, and GenealogyBank. I also considered searching for names of law firms in the early 20th century, but dismissed that idea which would be a daunting task without more information. In this search Google became my best friend. After several failed attempts, the search “Guenard, Speed” returned about 74 hits, several of which came from The Houston newspaper, The Thresher, within that site gave the answer.
Knowing that newspapers are a great source, I checked the hits returned from, and discovered ads for Guenard, Speed & Clemens. The mystery of the building was solved with the collaboration of clues that Smadar gave and details in the ad: Houston was one of the cities she had mentioned (Guenard, Speed & Clemens was located in Houston); the building length in the photo appeared to span more than one address (The address of Guenard, Speed & Clemens was listed as 817 - 819 Commerce Street); the suspected era was 1914 to 1920 (The ads ran from 1923 to 1927 in “The Thresher” Houston papers). 
To solidify the conclusion I would suggest contacting a fashion history expert as well as someone who is familiar with early 20th century photos. I suspect the tie William Bloomfield is wearing is a Texan fashion of that era, but of course this is not my area of expertise. Using multiple experts can prove to be helpful and satisfying when seeking to identify the details of a building, its location, and the date of an ancestral photo.


Google.comFold3.comGenealogybank.comTexashistory.unt.eduJournal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Sixty-seventh Congress, First Session, 11 April 1921, Vol. No. 7917, page 338, no.17234.Guenard, Speed & Clemens ad, The Thresher, Houston, Texas, 9 January 1925, page 4. <>Guenard, Speed & Clemens ad, The Thresher, Houston, Texas, 29 November 1923, page 6, column 3. <>

Armed with this information, I turned to the Houston's City Directories from 1914-1920. Without confirming William's presence in Houston during those years, rather than somewhere else in Texas, finding William in the city directories was impossible. Bloomfield is a fairly common name, and so is William. This time, I searched for Guernard Speed & Clemens. Bingo!  I cross refferenced with Bloomfield and in the 1919 Directory, I found a Wm Bloomfield, working as a cashier at the Ho (Houston) Fruit and Produce Co. I looked up the Houston Fruit and Produce company in the business section of the directory and discovered they were located at 906 Commerce Avenue. Looks like Commerce Ave was the Wholesale Fruit and Produce. William did not work at the Guernard Speed & Clemens building. He worked across the street! 

My next step is to take Lorraine's advice and contact a fashion history expert to learn about the tie! 

To learn more about Lorraine Arnold, visit her blog Legacy Roots.

Follow up on this post: Friday's Faces From the Past: Mystery Man

More about the Bloomfields:
Roots Trips Series: Reports from a Vermont and New Hampshire road trip to research the Bloomfield family history:
Part I: Roots Trip Road-trip planning!
Part II: Three Tips for Genealogy Road Trips
Part III: Roots Trip Gem of the Day, Looking for Moses Bloomfield
Part IV: Why in the World New Hampshire
Part V: Springfield Vermont, Home of the Simpsons and the Bloomfields
Part VI:Which Ancestors to Research?
Where Was This Picture Taken?- Legacy Roots
Hot Off The Press 

Guest blog on How I Met The Bloomfields


  1. A jog through genealogy blogs this morning led me here. I read A Family Tapestry this morning and saw your suggestion that she contact Legacy Roots, so I went there to see what I had been missing. I read this post about your ggrandfather and soon realized that I have a photo from the same block of Commerce St. in Houston - where my husband's great-grandfather had a produce business. I thought is was a nice coincidence for a Saturday morning. Here is the link to my post about it:

  2. That is so cool Kathy! I just glanced at your post and saw the picture of the flood which clearly shows the Guenard building! I look forward to reading it more closely. Looks like my ggf and your husband's ggf crossed paths! Thanks for sharing!


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