Sunday, December 27, 2009

Who Is She?

For Christmas I received Maureen Taylor's Uncovering your Ancestry Through Family Photographs. I've been reading and studying it in hopes of learning the techniques I need to identify my own "unknown" photographs.

The woman above is one of those unknowns in my collection. When I first looked at her photograph, I had no clue as to her identity. But after working through Maureen Taylor's book, I realized that is not actually true. While as of this writing, I still do not know her identity, I know more than when I started.

Where I got her photograph may be an important clue. This photograph was originally in a red flocked photo album that belonged to my great grandmother Esther Lee Richardson Talbott. Esther Lee died at a young age and the album remained in the possession of her husband Bossy Talbott. Upon his death, the album went to their only living daughter, Elma Talbott Solomon. All three lived in Halifax County, VA. Upon Elma's death, the album and pictures went to her niece, and eventually to me as the family historian. At the time, I received the album, the photos had been removed from their places in the album (due to the deterioration of the album), but kept together. Unfortunately, any family groupings/associations were lost.

This photograph is actually a carte de visite measuring 4 1/4 x 2 1/2 inches. On the back is the photographer's imprint: Frayser and Co Photographers, Danville, VA. The imprint is quite elaborate. A Danville, VA photographer makes sense in the family history as Esther Lee's family was from Pittsylvania County, VA. No other photograph in my collection has this photographer's stamp.

I next turned my attention to her clothing. She is wearing a fitted dress with raised buttons and narrow sleeves. The dress appears to be black with a large white collar and black lacy decoration. I've wondered if she is perhaps dressed in extended mourning clothes. Her hair is pulled back and her ears are exposed. Determining her costume time period was the next step and I admit to being quite unsure of myself in this area. My best estimate so far would put her in between 1866-1868 or the time period 1878-1888.

I then turned my attention to the use of props or in this case, the lack of props. She is sitting in a chair that is only slightly visible on the right side of the photograph.

So, who is she? My guess so far (and this is a guess) would have her being a Richardson or an Elliott. Both families are from the Pittsylvania and Halifax County areas of south central Virginia. I also have correspondence showing that Esther Lee kept in close contact with both her Elliott and Richardson Cousins.

What next? More research, of course. I need to find more information on the photographer and the time period in which he operated. I also need to study more on women's fashions and hair styles to identify her costume time period. Once these questions are answered, I'll attempt to match her to someone in my family tree.

I just love a good mystery!

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