Fam­ily Photo Reunion

A pas­sion for ge­neal­ogy led to one woman’s quest to help old fam­ily pho­tos find their way home.

More of Our Canada - - Contents - By Carol Mackay, Qualicum Beach, B. C.

It pains me to see old fam­ily pho­tos for sale in an­tique stores and thrift shops. I won­der how a por­trait of great-great grand­fa­ther Hi­ram could end up with a price sticker on it when, surely, there is some fam­ily mem­ber, some­where, who would cher­ish the im­age. Af­ter all, ev­ery fam­ily seems to have at least one ge­neal­o­gist!

Hav­ing been a ge­neal­o­gist my­self for the past 35 years, I know what a coup it is to find a pho­to­graph of a pre­vi­ously un­seen an­ces­tor from the 1860s. It’s exciting—al­most as good as win­ning the lot­tery. It’s also very rare. As a first gen­er­a­tion Cana­dian, I don’t have deep Cana­dian roots so it’s un­likely I will wan­der into an an­tique shop and find a photo of my great-great grand­fa­ther sit­ting atop a Rogers Golden Syrup tin from the 1930s. Very lit­tle was brought over from the home­land to Canada by my par­ents, so I’ll prob­a­bly never ex­pe­ri­ence that mo­ment, still, I can hope. In the mean­time, I de­cided to do my best to re­unite some of these aban­doned im­ages with their fam­i­lies, where I could.

In 1998, I bought my first set of “iden­ti­fied” por­trait pho­to­graphs at an an­tique shop. The plan was to re­search the names of the in­di­vid­u­als writ­ten on the photo and lo­cate a fam­ily mem­ber who wanted it. To get a clear idea of who the sub­ject was, I’d have to use all of the clues the pho­to­graph pre­sented. It’s most help­ful when some­one has writ­ten the iden­tity of the peo­ple in the pho­to­graph on the back, but it’s not al­ways there, and when it is, it’s of­ten the bare min­i­mum of in­for­ma­tion. The pho­tog­ra­pher’s im­print or stamp, a neg­a­tive num­ber, the type of dress or hair­style of the sit­ter, and the style of the pho­to­graph it­self all work to­gether to help nar­row down the date of a pho­to­graph and can help iden­tify in­di­vid­u­als as well.

I’ve been lucky with a few im­ages that only had the pho­tog­ra­pher’s name and a neg­a­tive num­ber on them. Some­times, that neg­a­tive num­ber can be use­ful. If the pho­tog­ra­pher is a prom­i­nent one, their works might be archived in a mu­seum col­lec­tion, and that num­ber might al­low you to find out the name of the sit­ter, as was the case with a cou­ple of my finds. But again, this is rare. Most uniden­ti­fied pho­tos will stay uniden­ti­fied for­ever more. So, if you have any old pho­tos in your fam­ily ar­chive, please la­bel them now.

For a ge­neal­o­gist, one of the added ben­e­fits of try­ing to learn more about the peo­ple in old pho­to­graphs is learn­ing about ge­nealog­i­cal re­sources in ar­eas where you wouldn’t nor­mally re-

search. Most of my fam­ily roots ex­tend to Scan­di­navia and Ger­many. When I had an op­por­tu­nity to look into the lives of Lieu­tenant Colonel Mathew Brown Har­ri­son (born 1837) from Mac­can, N.S., or David and Cor­nelia Cram­mond ( pre- 1865 photo) from Fron­tenac County, Ont., I en­joyed learn­ing how to re­search Cana­dian records. My own fam­ily his­tory re­search in­volves us­ing over­seas records. Re­search­ing in­di­vid­u­als in these found pho­to­graphs pro­vided me with the op­por­tu­nity to learn more about Cana­dian ge­neal­ogy and his­tory. I man­aged to re­unite those first pho­to­graphs with their de­scen­dants, so I sought out and pur­chased more pho­tos, and more af­ter that.

In 2011, I started a Fam­ily Photo Reunion blog to share these found im­ages along with my re­search. To­day I’ve re­united var­i­ous fam­i­lies with more than 300 pre- 1927 pho­to­graphs, bibles and other ge­nealog­i­cal doc­u­ments.

One of my favourite re­unions oc­curred when try­ing to learn the iden­tity of an early 20th cen­tury fam­ily fea­tured on a real photo post­card. A man, a woman hold­ing an in­fant, and a lit­tle girl were cap­tured by the pho­tog­ra­pher stand­ing on the front porch of their new-ish-look­ing home. The post­card pho­to­graph was taken by the Lyall Photo Co., Ltd. in Win­nipeg. In ad­di­tion to the pho­tog­ra­pher’s in­for­ma­tion on the re­verse of the card, the card was also ad­dressed to “Mrs. Ed­wards, 35 Queen Street, Strat­ford, New Town, Es­sex, Eng­land.” I didn’t know if Mrs. Ed­wards was a rel­a­tive, friend or ac­quain­tance, as there wasn’t a mes­sage on the post­card. In­stead of try­ing to fig­ure out who Mrs. Ed­wards was, I de­cided to try an­other ap­proach. Look­ing more closely at the pho­to­graph, I no­ticed a house num­ber on the front porch: 421. Based on the cloth­ing styles, I guessed that the pic­ture was taken some­time be­tween 1910 and 1915. I headed to the 1916 Cen­sus of the Prairie Prov­inces to see if I could find any Ed­wards re­sid­ing in Win­nipeg with a house num­ber 421. I found one fam­ily:

Ge­orge Thomas Ed­wards, born 1883, Eng­land, to Canada in 1903; Sarah Ed­wards, born 1885, Eng­land, to Canada in 1908; Grace, daugh­ter, age six; Clarence, son, age four; Al­fred, son, age three. I used Google Maps to see if the house was still stand­ing—there it was, ren­o­vated, but clearly the same house in the pho­to­graph. Af­ter I posted the story on my blog, the pho­to­graph was re­united with the grand­son of one of the chil­dren on the porch.

Now when I see a way­ward pho­to­graph in an an­tique store or thrift shop, I’m not nearly as sad about it. It’s com­fort­ing to know there is a chance it may still find its way back home. ■

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