Often when looking at photographs of our ancestors we overlook the other details that are in the picture that may tell a story or give us clues about the people themselves. I’m certainly no expert in this field, however, I have been learning to study my pictures more closely to see if I can learn anything besides what my ancestors looked like.
Taking a closer look at this circa 1899 photograph you can see it has been carefully staged to include a variety of personal items. The young boy in the center is my Grandfather, Gus, with his Aunt Pauline and Uncle Hans. While examining the photo I apply what I know about Gus and his early childhood. Gus was sent to live with his Aunt and Uncle when his father and older brother emigrated to the U.S. I notice a look of distant sadness on Gus’ face in the photograph. I know from a letter written in 1899 by Gus and his mother, Maria, that he is longing to see his father. I also know that being away from his mother and little sisters was also difficult. This could account for the sad look in his eyes. Gus appears to be wearing the new suit he was given for Christmas that year, this is yet another fact from the Christmas letter of 1899 that helps me date the photograph.
As I study the items on the table they seem to tell a story. On the left side of the photo is a miniature ship and on the right what appears to be some sort of wagon. Are they merely toys or do the represent something else? I believe they may have been placed there to symbolize his father’s trip to the U.S. In between is a picture of a man dressed in a military uniform. I have no evidence that his father was in the German military, nor has that information been passed down verbally. I suspect though that it is his father as most German men were required to serve. To the front of the table are two books. The rectangular one I believe is his fathers autograph book. I conclude this because it was a book that Gus brought with him and I now am the caretaker of. Some of the other items I cannot make out clearly.
On the wall are a variety of photographs. I tried to enlarge them, but unfortunately many of the details become fuzzy. On the enlarged photo of the top picture it clearly says “Interior Decorating”. This obviously was taken in the United States because it is in English. I believe this to be a picture sent to Pauline by Gus’ father of where he worked. The facial features are not clear enough to tell if he is in the photograph but it makes sense that he is.
Below that is a picture of his father. I am sure of this because it is clear enough that I can compare it to a picture that I have of him. The picture to the left appears to be of Pauline and Hans. The man in the picture on the right appears to have a full and long beard, but I have nothing to compare it to. Could it be Pauline’s parents? The bottom picture of the house with a group of people gathered I also have no clue to.
Could it be that this picture was staged this way because it was being sent to his father? Is it their way of saying that they are thinking of him? What happened to the picture of the man dressed in a military uniform? What is the other book that is prominently displayed? These are questions I’ll never have answers to.
Take time to examine your photo’s and apply the knowledge of your family history to them you may be surprised at what you see that you never saw before.