Those frustrating images of ‘the unknowns’

Old unlabelled and undated photographs… you could be looking at bona fide ancestors and not even know it.  A reminder that we should be dating and labeling our family photos so that someday—100 years from now—our descendants aren’t left in the same predicament. But I know how it is. We’re all busy, and for me, it always seems to be ‘mañana when it comes to the drudgery of dating and identifying my own photos.

Anyway, what can one do other than share these antique photos in the hope that someone out there can provide some clues? Here are five that I have come across; I think they all date back to the 1880s, but I could be wrong. Only the last one provides evidence of that. Two were taken in Philadelphia, one in Boston, one in NYC, and one in Plainfield, NJ.

Naturally, I would love to know who these folks were. The images may have belonged to Charles Conrad Martin (1866-1943), son of Moses Martin and Sarah Augusta Lewis, and brother of my great-grandmother Margaret Lewis (Martin) Brodhead. I found them in a box with some of Margaret’s correspondence concerning her late brother’s estate. The NY lady and the Philadelphia lady share some resemblance, I think. And the Philadelphia lady in particular looks a bit like my grandfather Frank Martin Brodhead, Margaret’s son. But, maybe I am just grasping at straws here…

Left photo taken by McCormick & Heald, 22 Winter Street, Boston. Right photo taken by Langhorne Photographer, Plainfield, NJ (both undated)

Left photo taken by McCormick & Heald, 22 Winter Street, Boston. Right photo taken by Langhorne Photographer, Plainfield, NJ (both undated)

Photo taken by Fredricks, 770 Broadway, NY. Image en verso says 'Copyrighted 1881'.

Photo taken by Fredricks, 770 Broadway, NY. Image en verso says ‘Copyrighted 1881’.

Left photo taken by Gilbert & Bacon, 820 Arch Street & 40 North 8th Street, Phildelphia, PA. Right photo taken by F. Gutekunst, 712 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Left photo taken by Gilbert & Bacon, 820 Arch Street & 40 North 8th Street, Phildelphia, PA. Right photo taken by F. Gutekunst, 712 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA.

Categories: Miscellaneous | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Those frustrating images of ‘the unknowns’

  1. Best of luck getting the names to your photographs. I have and am going through the same thing with our family pictures. This should be a lesson for us all to make sure out pictures are labeled.


    • Yes, I remember you wrote about your own frustrations with this. As for these five photos, I am not going to hold my breath. My dad may have known who they were, but he has been gone now for 22 years. It’s a shame the young don’t pick the brains of the old more. So much information gets lost. Good luck with your identifications, too!


  2. So frustrating, but I will tell you that very gradually I am making some headway on my own. I hope you will too!


  3. Lorraine

    Where the photos were taken may help, if you know where they lived when the census was taken.


    • Yes, I agree; the Boston and Philly ones baffle me the most as I don’t know of any ancestors on my father’s mother’s side who would have lived in those locations. But with time hopefully the answers will come! Thanks for your comment, Lorraine!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lorraine

    I also have a whole album full of people I may or may not be related to. Ugh!


    • You have my deepest sympathy; it’s very frustrating to see faces and not be able to put names to them. But at least the album is still in your family’s hands and not lying in an antique or thrift store. It’s truly sad when that happens.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I just had one of my loony thoughts…I wonder if you could give them facebook accounts (the photos of the people you for sure know from long ago) and then post the unknown’s on their page and see if facial recognition would kick in and try to tag them? Like if this is a GGGrandma who you only think you have a photo of from when she was 85, and maybe one of these is from when she was a much younger girl? I know my facebook sees and recognizes my cousins and sibs and me in some of the kiddy photos I post on Throw Back Thursday…I wonder if it would work?


  6. I have some albums of family photos, (Ireland) and I presume that the non Irish photos, mainly taken by photographers in Boston ,New York, and Ohama, are of relatives who emigrated. Only one is named and dated,
    It was, I think a custom, to post your portrait to your relatives and good friends. Many people only ever had one portrait taken, as far as I can gather, The photos were expensive, and it involved travel into the photographers studio, wearing your best clothes.


    • Hi, John; It’s very good to hear from you. What a shame you have so many of these unidentified photos, especially given the lengths folks went to back then to have them made. We are fortunate that most of our photos have been identified, although I wish my father was still alive since I think he would probably be able to help with some of the ones featured in this blog post.


  7. Most of the albums were of Bracken relatives, who were cousins of mine, My grandfather Rev W A Bracken stayed on occasions with a Nixon relative in NY


    • Did you see my post about the Nixon sisters? Louise and Jenny? They were cousins of my great grandmother Sarah Nixon Boles. The sisters’ mother was a Bracken. They probably met your grandfather given the fact that they had so many Nixon cousins in the NY/NJ area.


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