The prompt for Week #14 of 52 Ancestors/52 Weeks Challenge is FAVORITE PHOTO: Who is in a favorite photo of yours? Tell the story of the photo itself–where was it taken, what was the event?
I love old photographs, and I love the detective work that goes into figuring them out. Someone who has managed to make a career out of their love for old photographs is Maureen Taylor, who bills herself on her website as THE PHOTO DETECTIVE. Her book is also excellent: Family Photo Detective: Learn how to find Genealogy Clues in old photos and solve Family Photo Mysteries.
One of my favorite photographs came to me a couple of years ago in a collection of papers (actually, it was a huge cardboard box) that belonged to my maternal great grand uncle, George Baxter, son of my 2x great grandparents, Alonzo Baxter and Elizabeth Robinson Baxter. George was a rancher who made lists of everything–like the daily temperature outside his barn for 47 years. By the time he retired from ranching, he was one of the longest-living residents of Prowers County, Colorado, and he became something of an amateur county historian, collecting information about his family and the county and giving talks that he illustrated with enlarged photos. There’s a receipt in his papers that shows he donated those photos to the Colorado Historical Society in Denver, which is now the History Colorado Center. I’m dying to see this collection, and I’ve made it a must-do on my next research trip to Colorado.
The photo is 8″ x 7″; the cardboard mount is 10.5″ x 8.5″.
There is an embossed photographer’s studio imprint in the right lower corner that I can’t read. It looks to be a stylized cursive stamp of the studio name–either one name of about 10 letters or two short names. Later I’ll discuss a possible location for this photo and then look to see if the name of the photographer might be found, based on the location. It’s possible that one of these families used this photographer for other photos that are in my collection. I’ll put that on the to-do list–to see if I can find a photographer’s stamp that is legible that appears to be the same as this one. Update: I went through every photo in George’s collection, but none of them have a stamp that looks like the one on this photo.
There is no writing on the front or the back of the photo.
The photo does not appear to have been altered.
One of the interesting aspects of this photo is that, unlike other studio photographs, the people aren’t perfectly groomed. This is particularly evident with some of the children, who look like they were grabbed in the middle of playing some game, their hair not particularly combed and their ribbons not straight. Alonzo Baxter, who normally looks so handsome in all of his studio portraits, looks in this one like someone said to him, right before the photo was shot–“Take off your hat, Alonzo!”
Dating the Image
This photograph is unique in my collection in that the others I have of these families are either a good deal earlier or later. I was so excited to find this photograph, because it shows all the women before they bobbed their hair. It also shows my grandmother as a little girl at an age that is undocumented in any other photo I have of her. Based on the apparent age of my grandmother in this photo and other internal clues, my best date for this photo is sometime in 1907, probably spring or fall, since the clothes they’re wearing would have been very hot for summer.
The Families of this Photo
When I set out to identify everyone in this photo, I knew for sure who several of the people in it were. This was a multi-family, extended family photo that included the patriarch and matriarch, Alonzo and Elizabeth Baxter. Also included were many of their children, plus grandchildren. Some of the easiest people to identify in this photo weren’t blood relations, but rather they were the in-laws–George Witzke, Tom Sanborn, Welby Fertig, and Etta Pearl Hodge Baxter–all married to children of Alonzo and Elizabeth. What was a more difficult was to identify Alonzo and Elizabeth’s daughters, since there was such a family resemblance between them and also they hadn’t yet bobbed their hair, so they looked very different from the later photos of them that are part of my collection. The grandchildren tended to be more difficult still, although there were two who I knew for sure–the little boy and girl sitting together in front.
These are the children, as of 1907, appearing in the group photo of George and Emma Baxter Witzke. Of course I had to convince myself that I had each one right.
The little girl sitting in the front is my maternal grandmother, Margie Witzke. She is there with her parents and siblings. Like her mother and grandmother, Margie had a prominent forehead, which helps in identifying her in the group photographs. In most of her early photos, she doesn’t appear to be particularly comfortable with being photographed. If this photograph was taken in 1907, then Margie was 7-8 years old.
I looked closely at all of the other children, not only to identify them but also to see if their apparent ages fit the year I’ve assigned to the photo, 1907. The next are the two boys of Welby and Olive Baxter Fertig. Their apparent ages fit with the 1907 year. Margie is sitting next to her cousin, her pal Wendell Fertig. I think Margie and Wendell were of like minds. She was always well-turned-out, and it looks as if Wendell is one of those little boys who could be trusted not to get dirty in his Sunday clothes. Wendell almost has a “Little Lord Fauntleroy” look about him, probably due to his mother Olive’s prissy ideas about her two boys, her only children, a point of view that is evident in Ollie’s letters. That Fauntleroy look is ironic, since Wendell grew up to be a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army during WWII and gave the Japanese more than they bargained for on the Island of Mindanao.
My grandmother Margie was the daughter of George and Emma Baxter Witzke. Several of Margie’s siblings are found in the photo. These are my mother’s aunts and uncles, so Mom knew them well, although I never met them. My mother used to take out her photo collection and flip through them, telling me stories of her mother’s sisters. The oldest child was Earnestine, although she was always called Ernie. Again, I confirmed the identification using other photos; the apparent date of 1907 would make Ernie 16 years old, which seems right for this girl.
The second child of George and Emma is Emma Witzke. This one was a difficult identification, but process of elimination and also comparing this photo of her with photos at different ages convinced me I had identified her correctly. It doesn’t help that in this photograph she isn’t part of the Witzke family grouping.
The next child in line belonging to George and Emma Witzke is their third child and oldest son George. I didn’t identify him until late in the process, relying on process of elimination. In the earlier known photos of him, George always has a prominent part in his hair. This little boy does as well, although clearly his hair wasn’t combed right before the photo was taken. It makes logical sense that an 11-year-old would appear in a family photo and not be somewhere else that day, like working at a job. This boy isn’t sitting near his parents, George and Emma, perhaps for the simple reason that he wanted to sit near his playmate cousin.
George & Emma Witzke’s fourth child was Margie, my grandmother, who has been discussed. Their fifth child was Leona (not to be confused with her aunt Leona Baxter–an unfortunate confusion to this day in many of the family trees found at Ancestry.com).
to be continued. . .Unfortunately, due to life getting in the way, this post isn’t going to be finished in time for Thursday’s Week #14 posting. I worked on this photo as an assignment for my Boston U genealogy course. I went through each person in the photo the way I did here for Margie Witzke and her cousin Wendell Fertig, proving to my own satisfaction each person’s identity. To my surprise I was able to identify the two “mystery people” who turned out to be Elizabeth Baxter’s sister and brother-in-law, visiting from Indiana, perhaps on their way to Oregon. It was an interesting exercise, and I learned a lot about photo identification.