Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lost Amidst The Unnamed Faces

What could be better for a family history researcher than to inherit scads and scads of family photographs?

What could be worse for a family historian than to discover that none of those photographs are labeled?

I’ve been seeking every way I know to figure out that one near branch of the more recent descendants of my Davis line—the one descending from my maternal grandfather’s oldest sister, Lummie Davis Moore. While I’ve done my due diligence to locate records online—and while, sadly, I don’t have the liberty to travel to Tennessee, Maryland, and most definitely not to Honduras to do hands-on research—I haven’t found what I’ve been seeking.

Meanwhile, thoughts of that family keep spiraling through my mind like some hypnotic computer screen saver from the nineties. Every unlabeled photograph from my aunt’s collection makes me jump to the conclusion that it must be them.

One of the few recollections passed down to me of my mother’s aunt Lummie was that she and her sister, Mabel, were tall women. If I could believe my family, they’d have me know the sisters were each six feet tall—quite a striking appearance back in their day, just after the turn of the century, when these women would have come of age.

As it turns out, I did find one document that served to set that family tradition aside: Lummie’s passport application in 1922. On the second page, the “Description of Applicant” plainly revealed her height to be five feet nine inches.

Close. But not exactly six feet. Perhaps, when I get to that point, I will discover her sister Mabel also wasn’t as towering a giant as family legend held her to be.

Whether truth or tall tale, I still can’t help myself, though, when it comes to these blank backings to family photographs. If only they contained labels. Every time I see a family picture of a tall, slender woman, I wonder if it might be Lummie. Or her sister. But I’ll likely never know.

Take this old picture—a little slip of a thing measuring just over two inches square. Faded now to a lighter shade of brown, it did brighten up a bit when I used a little Photoshop magic on it. Thankfully.

While the background of the composition offers no clues—not even a recognizable detail which could serve to provide some scale—my mind immediately jumps to the conclusion that this must be my missing relative, Lummie Davis Moore. Surely it is. Look how tall and slender the young woman looks. I’m convinced it is Lummie, so starved am I for search results. I struggle to rein in my racing imagination.

My mind fights back and tries to reason with me. “See,” I tell myself, “She has dark hair, just like the passport application indicated. And her face looks to be an oval. Doesn’t it seem to match the one included with the passport application?” (If you are an subscriber, you can take a look through Lummie’s passport pages here, and see what you think about the comparison.)

Then I look again at the photograph in my hand, and wonder who the young man is, standing so close to her. At first, I presume it is her husband, Wallace Moore. But then, something about the eyes, the forehead and the unmistakable ears reminds me of my own grandfather, Lummie’s baby brother. I’ve never seen a picture of him in his younger days. Could this be him?

I’d really like to know. Just thinking that makes me resent the unfairness of being deprived of anyone who could fill in the blanks for me! But it is what it is, and I have to relinquish these flights of fancy and unreasonable conclusions and get back to reality: it’s a photograph of someone. Standing next to someone else. Who each one is, I’ll likely never know.

Unless some distant cousin comes to my rescue. That I would always welcome.


  1. 5'9" is still pretty tall. Oh, maybe it's "short" in today's modeling world if you believe Tyra Banks and "America's Top Model" but if the other relatives were 5'1" they were looking up to Lummie and Mabel, for sure.

    1. Interesting you should mention models, Wendy. Actually, I recently found out that, in her younger years, Mabel was a model in New York City. I would love to find any shots of her, or items from her portfolio. I only knew her in her much later years--and, speaking of 5'1", that (or shorter) would be about the vantage point I was at when she last visited our family.

    2. Only 5'1"? You look much taller in your photo ;-)

    3. Oh, no, Wendy: when I was 5'1" (the last time I saw my grand aunt), I was a kid. Yes, you are right: I'm much taller than that, now...I've put that heritage of height to good use :)

  2. Perhaps a school yearbook would have a photo... Do you know where she and some of the others might of gone to school?

    1. About the best I'd be able to do regarding Lummie would be to seek her later training. She would have gone to a school too small and too early for the traditional yearbook photos. It was fortunate that her passport application, which included a photo, has been made searchable online, or I wouldn't even have had that!

    2. Going by Sarah Martha's yearbook photo - this could be her - and C J... and it might not be.

    3. It's kind of hard to tell from this photo, Iggy. What I love about it (I'm being mean here) is that apparently, someone snapped this picture before they should have. It looks like Lummie/Sarah Martha/whoever it was was trying to fix her hair before the picture was taken, and when she realized she was caught primping, scrunched up her nose and gave a disgusted look at whoever the impatient shutterbug was.

      But...making that face she does makes it hard to tell for sure who the person is.

      At any rate, I think the best way to guess would be to estimate the time frame such a photo format was in use, and work from there. Also, to judge by the clothing (she seems to be wearing a longer skirt) and the long hair in an up-do, rather than bobbed, etc.

      Details like that make me tend to favor a time frame for Lummie and Jack, versus the younger Sarah Martha and C.J.

      At any rate, thanks for locating Sarah Martha's yearbook photo, Iggy. She does resemble her mother quite strongly.

  3. Don't give up on the yearbook photos...I have photos at the museum of classes at the high school in 1900. Then about 1908 they began an High School Annual...the classes were increasing in size.

    When you are all done. Start over. Put the like paper and borders together. Sometimes it is like a big puzzle. I am working on those unidentified California Photos..which are turning out to be mostly Ohio photos I think. It is one big puzzle. I bet you will find some answers in the photos without names.:)

    1. Hmmm...Lummie would have been eighteen in 1904. You are convincing me to check into the possibilities. Although in a small town like Erwin,'ll be a stretch, but always worth the try.

      Thank you for your advice on checking all the borders of the photos. I've already noticed some are obviously in the same set. I'm still going through boxes and boxes, so when I get to the end of it all, it looks like I'll have to clear off my big work table and cover it up again with more photos...


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