Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Unidentified Photos

I saw my mother last weekend, and she handed me a little bag with two photos inside.  She said she'd found them among my grandmother's things after her death.  Could I identify the people in the pictures?  I took a look and my heart sunk.  My Grandma and I spent years going through her photos and family documents, but I immediately knew I'd never seen these portraits.  There are few things more heartbreaking to a family historian than having old, original photographs that cannot be identified.

A few relatives read my blog, so maybe someone will see these pictures and know immediately who the subjects are.  However, I suspect it won't be that easy.  Here's what I know about these photos:
  • They came from my maternal grandmother, so they'd be ancestors from my Smith/Murray or Rutherfurd/Dickson lines.
  • The male subject has a beard that reminds me of some I've seen in family photos taken around the time of the Civil War, so I'm going to guess we're dealing with ancestors from the late 1800s.
  • A closer examination of the frame reveals a tiny inscription above the stand that appears to read "May 19, 1898."

So, which ancestors would have been living near Boston in 1898? 

My third great-grandfather, Samuel G. Smith, was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.  However, he had moved to Illinois by 1864, when he married Ellen Partridge in Bunker Hill.  All the other Smith ancestors lived in New England much earlier than the late 1800s, by which time they'd gone west.  The Rutherfurds never lived in New England, nor did the Dicksons or Murrays.

I decided to read a little more about M.W. Carr & Co.  The book "Commerce, Manufactures & Resources of Boston, Mass: A Historical, Statistical & Descriptive Review" indicates that this company became successful to an extent that its goods were sold throughout the United States and Europe.  So, perhaps it is possible that the frame was not purchased in Boston, but elsewhere.

I took a closer look at some of the photos I already have and are definitely identified, to see if there was any resemblance to the mystery photos.  It seems that the subjects bear some likeness to my second great-grandmother and great-grandfather, John Bernard Murray and Catherine Daly.  Catherine Daly was born in Massachusetts, but was living in Alameda, California, by the time she married John Murray in 1877.  In 1898, John Murray would have been 66 years of age.  Catherine Daly would have been 48.  It appears that they liked to pose for photos, as I have several original studio photographs of each of them.

In the second photo of Catherine, she has the same hooded eyes and downturned mouth as the woman in the mystery photo.  The photos of John show a similar nose shape and beard style as the man in the mystery photo.  I see some resemblance, but not enough to conclusively say that these photos are of John and Catherine.  I'll keep working on this and see what else I can learn.


  1. Have you tried to load them to picasa to use facial recognition to see if anything pops?

    1. Hi Sierra! I did, but Picassa was inconclusive. I do think I've decided these are different relatives than the ones I mentioned above, but the January MCGS meeting comes at a perfect time, and might give me some more tips on identifying faces in photos. See you there!