I absolutely love old photographs of people. I am lucky to have several photographs of my ancestors and extended family that have been passed down through the years, and I am even luckier that the people in these photographs have been identified. It's wonderful to be able to attach faces to the names on my family tree. I also love looking at the clothing and hair styles, and at the props used in the photo studio. These images are a wonderful genealogical and historical resource.
Many antique and internet dealers have Victorian carte-de-visite (2.5 inches by 4 inches) or cabinet card (4.25 inches by 6.5 inches) photographs for sale. These photographs are plentiful, and tend to be inexpensive, so I have added a few "adopted ancestors" to my collection over the years. (I am always sure to note on the back in pencil that I BOUGHT them, rather than inherited them. No sense causing headaches for future researchers in my family!) These photographs sometimes come with information written on them, but often the only clue to their origins is the printed name and location of the photographer on the mounting card. I'll admit that it saddens me a bit that some of these photographs have traveled far, and have been around for a very long time, only to end up in a random "for sale" box in Canada!
I recently purchased two carte-de-visite photographs of sisters at a local antique sale. The backs of the photos have the printed name of the photographer, "Cramer", and the location of his studio in St. Louis, Missouri. The only other information on them is the first names of the girls written on the back of each photo - "Lucretia" and "Sallie". I liked the photographs themselves anyway, but I was unable to pass up the mystery included in the price. Using their names, and my sleuthing skills, would I be able to figure out who these girls were? (If their names were "Mary" and "Jane", I wouldn't even have attempted to search for them!)
The elder sister, "Sallie", appears to be about 12-14 years old, and "Lucretia" appears to be about 10-12 years old. They are well-dressed, in fashions most likely from the 1880s, and I know from the studio stamp that at some point around that time frame the girls were in St. Louis, Missouri. So now how to find them?
The Calgary Public Library subscribes to a database called "Heritage Quest Online", available in the "History and Genealogy" section of our E-Library. Heritage Quest's main focus is American history, and it gives you access to hundreds of scanned genealogical books, Revolutionary War records, Freedman's Bank Records (for researching African American ancestors) and PERSI (The Periodical Source Index), which is a collection of 2.3 million genealogy and local history articles. This database also gives you access to the full set of U.S. federal census records for 1790-1930, and all of these features can be accessed from home.
The best place to start with a search like this is often the census records. I went to Heritage Quest Online, clicked on the "Census" link, and then entered "Sallie" with no surname. With the girls’ fashions appearing to be from the 1880s, I selected "1880" as the census year to begin my search, and selected "Missouri" as the state.
On the 1880 census, there were 5075 women in Missouri named "Sallie". Of these, 643 lived in St. Louis County. Fortunately "Lucretia" is a far less common name, and it appeared only 537 times in the state of Missouri. Still a relatively large result, but only 57 of these entries appeared in St. Louis. A considerably narrower search! When I clicked on the name of the county to view the records, the ages of all the "Lucretias" appeared alongside their names. (Very helpful!) The younger girl in the photographs appears to be around the age of 10-12, but I decided to check those between 8-15 years old. (Victorian clothing styles sometimes make children appear to be older than they are.) These criteria eliminated all but six entries on the list. Could one of these "Lucretias" have had a sister named "Sallie"? I clicked on each possible match in St. Louis, and found that only one on the list, ten-year-old Lucretia Hazard, had a sister named "Sallie", who was twelve in 1880. Their father James is listed as a "merchant", which is a good match for the socioeconomic status indicated by the clothing of the girls. If this is the correct family, these photographs were taken around 1879-1882. These photographs are in very good shape, considering that they are 130 years-old, so they were obviously well cared for before they ended up for sale.
Of course, there is no way to conclusively confirm that these photographs are of the Hazard sisters without further research. It's possible that I could be off in my estimation of the date of the photographs. It could also be a coincidence that the Hazard family had daughters with these two names, and these girls could instead have been members of another family that was passing through St. Louis, or visiting from elsewhere. They may also have been cousins, rather than sisters. However the names of the girls, their ages, the city they lived in, the occupation of their father and the time frame indicated by their clothing are all a match, so it's quite possible that I have solved the mystery! (I have located a family tree online for these lovely ladies, so I’ll try to see if I can get them “home”.)