Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Identifying an Unknown Photo

This was another photo from Great Aunt Gladys' album.  Fortunately, that gives me a good starting point for identifying it since all of the old photos in the album seem to be Gladys' family. Gladys didn't appear to be in contact with her father's side at all and her close sister Hazel married her Cole first cousin once removed, so I should be related to pretty much everyone in the album. I didn't immediately recognize any of these people, although they do have a family resemblance to some of my known Cole relatives.

This is a Real Photo postcard with AZO symbols and arrows pointing up. This website is a great resource for identifying antique postcards and tells us that this postcard was made between 1904-1918. Now, assuming that the photo wasn't a copy of an older one, that narrows the time frame down to a very manageable window. Someone familiar with old fashions could probably tell me the time period of the clothes as well, but I don't know much about that myself.

Next, I looked through all of my other photos to see if I could recognize anyone from identified photos. These three looked like hits:
1. Jessie and Nettie (Cole) Smith
2. Betsy Jane (Thompson) Cole
Photo #1 is Nettie Cole and her husband Jessie Smith. Nettie was the daughter of Samuel Cole who was the brother of my ggggrandmother Amanda Cole. She was also the sister of Ned Cole who married Gladys' sister Hazel. Nettie and Jessie were married in 1908 in Washington. In the postcard above, I believe that the man standing on our right is Jessie and the young woman sitting in front of him is Nettie.
Photo #2 is Betsy Jane Cole (1852-1927), the wife of Samuel and mother of Nettie. I believe that she is also the woman sitting next to Nettie in the photo above. She is quite a bit older in this photo, but her facial structure looks exactly the same to me. The photos are even taken from the same angle, which helps a lot for identification.
3. Edward "Ned" Cole
Photo #3 - I only have this one photo of Ned Cole that is positively identified. Again, it is obviously many years later, but the facial structure, and even the ear, of the man standing next to Jessie looks extremely similar to this photo. Its even the same angle again! The timing also fits since he is Nettie's closest sibling and he didn't get married until three years after she did.

This photo was most likely taken sometime between Nettie and Jessie's 1908 marriage and Ned and Hazel's 1911 marriage (since Hazel is not pictured). All of the identified people were living in Washington at that time. Knowing the approximate time and place helps to narrow down who the other two family members may be. I am pretty confident that this is a photo of Samuel and Betsy Cole's family. Based on the probable time frame of 1908-1911, we can exclude most of their children.

Samuel and Betsy had nine children:
1. Earl (1869-1905) - passed away before this photo was taken
2. Mertie (1875-?) - married and living in Minnesota when this photo was taken
3. Maude (1877-?) - no information, but too old to be the young girl standing next to Ned
4. Lucy Blanche (1879-1962) - married with children when this photo was taken
5. Cora Bell (1881-1967) - married with children when this photo was taken
6. Edward "Ned" (1885-1964) - pictured standing third from left
7. Nettie Beatrice (1887-1955) - pictured seated in the front second from left
8. Nora (1890 - ?) - no information, but the right age to be the girl standing second from left
9. Daniel (1892 - ?) - no information, but the right age to be the boy standing first from left

My conclusion is that this is a photo of Samuel and Betsy Cole's four youngest children plus their mother and brother-in-law. I was discouraged when I first saw that this photo had no identification on it. However, with a little systematic sleuthing, it is often possible to, at least, partially identify and date your old family photos. So, treasure all your photos - identified or not. One day, with a little luck, you may be able to figure out who they are.

For more great Sepia Saturday posts, please visit my friends here.

[If you enjoy reading this blog, I hope you will consider voting for it in the Family Tree Magazine Top 40. Look for "My Tangled Vine" under Category 7. Thank you for your support!]


  1. Great post. Did indeed go over and vote. Congratulations and good luck. Blessings to you and family.

  2. I enjoyed reading about the Coles, the photos and your research and ability to find things out from what was unknown. This is the fun of genealogy. My favorite photo in this post is the one of Nettie sitting in the chair, elderly. Facial structure is a good clue. I am not familiar with that website....research can really consume the time. Merry Christmas

  3. Thank you, Peggy and Pat! Merry Christmas to you too.
    Pat - The elderly woman sitting in the chair is Betsy, Nettie's mother. In case I wasn't clear enough, I added captions and numbers. (It was late when I wrote it...;-)) Thanks for commenting!

  4. I love old photos and trying to figure out who is who. I think you nailed these. i'm on my way to vote for you again. good luck!

  5. as usual, your patience and perseverance paid off!! nicely done!!

  6. Another fascinating post (and thanks for that link to the antique postcard site). Although brimming over with facts and research your posts always make great reads. And good luck with the competition.

  7. Wonderful how you tied so many loose threads together from that one great photo. Love the cut out frame on the first one. Simply amazing.